Into The Wild

Those that are familiar with the legend of Christopher McCandless (Wiki-Chris McCandless) will undoubtedly recognize the kick off photo of me and my rig.  It is indeed a depiction of the well-known photo of Chris found in undeveloped film recovered from his belongings.  The vibrant smile in the shot seems to say it all.  He looks rather happy and bears a peaceful, almost serene, look in his eyes.  An adventurer, who at last, found himself in his long sought after Eden in an old run down bus in the middle of nowhere.  The photograph is believed to have been taken upon his arrival in the Alaskan bush in Spring of 1992, long before the term selfie was conceived, and it beamed of a newly discovered inner joy.  A few months later he took another photo (Last Photo).  He was gaunt by comparison to the first shot and just days away from succumbing to starvation.  He was bearing a foreboding hand-scrawled sign foreshadowing his death yet wearing the same broad and peaceful smile.  Throughout my adult life, I have been compelled to reflect upon the details of his story as I coincidentally was in Alaska at the same time he was. A few years later I left the last American frontier but his polarizing legacy was all that remained of him. The folly of McCandless’s free spirited actions haunted my thoughts and eventually I gleaned some great wisdom from indulging the sad details of his tale. Alas, Chris possessed an obsessive propensity for truth yet the true nature of his intentions surrounding his fatal sabbatical has been shrouded in mystery and debate resulting in a cautionary lesson to those considering abandoning the many comforts and conventions of “normal” life to go wander about in the wild within a land predominantly focused on consumerism, capitalism and conformity.  Both situations possess value (Importance) and both evidence worth (Cost). The degree of each, however, is determined entirely by an individual’s perspective of either choice.

“Circumstance has no value. It is how one relates to a situation that has value. All true meaning resides in the personal relationship to a phenomenon… what it means to you.”– Christopher McCandless

McCandless was setting out on Stampede Trail on what would become his mythic pilgrimage across the Teklanika River to the now famous Fairbanks City Transit bus 142, about the same time I was boarding a plane from South East Asia bound for Anchorage.  It was the end of April in 1992 and after experiencing record breaking high temperatures exceeding 115 degrees in the north-eastern jungles of Thailand, I transitioned from one extreme environment to another.  Around 113 days later, Chris reached the pinnacle of his tragic sojourn and perished.  At the time, I had experienced a few years in the Alaskan interior.  I had hundreds of VB boot miles up and down the frigid state, climbed up mountains with crampons and slid down them on skis, traversed glaciers, climbed crevasses, navigated muskeg, snared squirrel, ate moose shit, and fled in full sprint more than once from Alaskan mosquito swarms, which during Spring break up, are seemingly life threatening.  I had travelled by snowshoe, sled, plane, chopper and SUS-V deep into the heart of the arctic circle and weathered near triple digit lows.  I witnessed volcanic eruptions, twenty-foot snow drifts, avalanches, earthquakes, deadly mud flats, combat fishing, an overprotective maternal moose or two and did I mentioned the freaking mosquitos?  Alaska, and its indigenous and assimilated population deserve every inch of their burly and rugged lumbersexual reputations.  It’s not an easy, much less comfort yielding, land.  I say with due reverence that learning of Chris’s demise from The Anchorage Daily News invited my harsh criticism (Original Article-Anchorage Dispatch).  I couldn’t wrap my head around his actions.  One does not simply wander into the Alaskan wilderness and expect to survive for very long.  He left behind a diary that chronicled his misfortune making for a rare exposure into the mind of a hiker knowingly facing his undoing.  His obvious and deliberate lack of preparedness; no compass, no map, little local knowledge, etc. led my contingency-oriented mind to chalk it up to a simple matter of naiveté and Darwinian selection.  After all, this was Alaska and he was not the first of that ilk.

I went forward in adventure while Alexander Supertramp, McCandless’s assumed alias, did not enter my consideration again until 2007 with the release of Sean Penn’s movie “Into the Wild” (IMDB) a powerful and extraordinarily crafted depiction of Chris’s saga and his untimely passing based upon Jon Krakauer’s 1993 “Outside” magazine article covering the story (Article-Outside Magazine) and subsequent novel by the same name (Get the book here).  The movie was scored by Eddie Vedder with an equally potent soundtrack that evoked the fervent and familiar stirring of wander-lusting souls and an easy connection to the subject of Penn’s film (get MP3 here).  This second exposure to the McCandless story, filtered through these creative depictions, roused a completely different reaction in me.  A strong mercurial, yet, intangible pull that beckoned like a siren song.  I suddenly needed freedom.  I yearned to be unrestrained in the wild.  I wasn’t the only one experiencing conflicted affect as the “Outside” article garnered the most responses in the periodical’s history and after the book, movie and album went mainstream, a posthumous cult of personality began to emerge.  Truth seekers, adventurers and the existentially curious began pilgrimages to bus 142 to pay homage, reflect and even perish as McCandless did. (McCandless Obsession Problem Article-Outside Magazine) A fierce debate simultaneously emerged regarding Chris’s actions and cause of death which have been repeatedly hashed over and measured against the backdrops of value, worth and legitimacy. The Anchorage Daily News has published over 170 articles on McCandless in the last 26 years.  A determined Krakauer spent decades researching the potential science of McCandless’s passing in defense of his competency (New Yorker Article).   The ensuing speculation reveals two distinct ideological responses, both of which I now find myself party to: Chris was a philosophical prophet, a competent pioneer and an inspirational pilgrim in search of his place in the world with the opposition disdainfully proclaiming him an narcissistic non-conformist and freeloading poacher (From Poacher to Saint-ADN Article).  It is clear that his legacy has inspired, as well as evoked the ire within, many of us. In 2014, Carine McCandless, Chris’s sister, tried to offer some clarity to Chris’s motivations with her own book “The Wild Truth” (get the book here).  The tell-all did little to prop up my footloose aspirations as it further reiterates the notion that Chris was extremely disenfranchised and while not without purpose and deliberation, was reckless to the point of demise.  What appears to eclipse the judgements of the nay-sayers is that smile in that final eerie photo. McCandless seems to have created value of his circumstances and harnessed them on his own terms demonstrating some sort of reconciliation in that brave and bewildering gesture of acceptance scrawled on a sign and the peace reflected in his knowing grin that seems to say “it was worth it”.   Toss in a little Penn, Krakaurer and Vedder and the romance ensues.

It is important to remember that the directors, authors and musicians of today are the equivalent of the minstrels of ye ole times of yore melodically spinning the sojourns of the infamous and notorious.  Plucking the visceral and carnal feelings surrounding the exploits of Heroes, recounting of exaggerated victories and humiliating defeats and generally taking universally human experiences and repackaging them into an emotive arousing form of unifying and captivating artistry.  Ballads, epics, sagas and the sort.  Krakaurer and Penn admittedly took many liberties with the facts in their construction of their renditions (The Fiction That is Jon Krakauer).  Minstrel case in point.  Not unlike Thoreau, London and Twain have done for so many of us before, “Into the Wild” taps deep into the highly romanticized biofilial hypothetical call of nature that seems to lie within each us and while each depiction is superbly beautiful, provocative and moving, they are white washed renditions of very harsh realities as seen through each creative lens.   The families of adventurers whose lives have been claimed, The Alaskan first responders that assume risk rescuing McCandless disciples and the residents of the state of Alaska that flip the bill and other conservatives, survivalists and adventurers have a very different and reasonable perspective.  I am sympathetic to both sides but for what it’s worth, I obviously value the side of McCandless and that of an adventurous spirit.  I encourage you to read the book, watch the movie, then research the facts presented by the National Park Service, local authorities, investigators and those that interacted with Chris along the way and draw your own conclusions.  Your personal values and perceptions of worth will determine if Christopher McCandless merits admiration or condemnation but in both cases it is clear that the efficacy of his death has been profound.

Which brings us to my exodus from the average…and my obvious and dubious lack of talented minstrels. While it may come as a surprise, I have zero intentions of trekking to Bus 142.   While Chris has inspired me and my exodus from the average, my efforts have very few parallels to that of McCandless other than sharing a sensation-seeking spirit and a fortitude to explore it.  A simple willingness to “Happen”. Therein lies what I hope to do for others in the same way Chris has done for so many: Inspire the impulse to Happen.  Whatever that is to you, whatever you find of value and is worthy of you…Just do it.  I hope you will join me in this exploration of that idea and as noted before, I currently have no personal cache of glory yodeling balladeers…yet…thus the reasoning for this site as a creative reflection of my experiences.  Perhaps I will inspire you to assume new risks and perhaps I will reiterate the benefit of a secure existence but I firmly believe joy lies somewhere balanced in between.  Many people I have shared my preliminary plans with have immediately romanticized the endeavor.  Don’t get me wrong, I relish the support but as they chimed on about dream vacations, chances of lifetimes and escapes from the mediocre and mundane, my brain was spinning with concerns over the logistics of where I can park, or perform the noble task of pumping the shit out of my RV, or missing a turn on a narrow road in a 50-foot land yacht with no turn around for miles amongst banjo playing purdy mouth-lovin’ locals.  There is simply no escape from the realities of existence but Life presents greater opportunities than a mere existence…one must simply choose to make it Happen…

  1. The journey begins…
    I look forward to following your adventures and send my love and thoughts!


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