“The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun”.
After seeing bits and pieces of the movie Into the Wild with my son, I decided to read the book which described his adventure and eventual death. I generally like reading a book before watching a movie and, like usual, the book provided additional details. It was a coming of age story with a very sad ending.
Chris McCandless finished college, gave away almost $25,000 to Oxfam and set out to travel the American midwest in his Datsun. He ceased all contact with his family who had no idea where he had gone. He worked odd jobs and met interesting individuals who became his friends and supported him along the way. He started going by the name of Alex Supertramp.
In the spring of 1992, he hitchhiked to Alaska to live “in the wild.” He ended up living in an abandoned bus, foraging and hunting for his food. Living in the wild, with minimal supplies, was not easy. He hunted and ate small game such as squirrels and porcupine. Once he killed a moose but felt terrible when he was unable to preserve the meat and most of it went to waste. He had a book on foraging plants and started eating plants burning more calories than he was taking in.
There is controversy surrounding his cause of death. The movie portrayed him mistaking an edible plant for a poisonous one. The book talked about this theory and also postulated that he had consumed edible seeds that were contaminated by a toxic mould. It was thought that the combination of starvation with the mould could have been responsible for his demise. Others felt that he died of starvation alone. Regardless of the ultimate cause of death, he did not make it out of the wild and his body was found in a sleeping bag 19 days following his death.
His family was devastated. They finally had found out where McCandless had gone but instead of being reunited, had to bring home his ashes. The family did travel (by helicopter) to the bus site and have since set up a foundation in his name. It is hard to know whether McCandless planned to ever leave the wild, whether he thought he was immortal and could remain safe despite being unprepared for the terrain or whether he had been encouraged by the wilderness tales of Jack London to take risks.
Krakauer clearly spent a long time researching the experience of Chris McCandless, pouring over old letters and retracing some of his steps. He received many comments from individuals that had read his article and many opinions from those that could not understand his lack of preparation. He shared his own experiences as a young man, taking risks in the wild. This author brought the story of Chris McCandless to life and countless young men can likely relate to this experience as they seek time alone in the wilderness.
“If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t ever hear from me again I want you to know you’re a great man. I now walk into the wild”.