PDA

View Full Version : Want your opinion on the book: Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer



ShoelessWanderer
08-08-2009, 21:17
http://tbn2.google.com/images?q=tbn:-d364ACjSWtL9M:http://www.palomar.edu/english/versaci/images/Into%2520the%2520Wild.jpg

I want your opinion on the book. Everyone I've talked to (non-hikers) have thought Chris McCandless was a great hero to be hailed. I personally think was a fool for committing basic errors that basically led to his death. The book frustrated me because the author seems to try and justify this to the reader.

So...I want to know, what'd you think?

chknfngrs
08-08-2009, 21:40
Long thread elsewhere on the board regarding this topic. Search function=results/opinions.

bishopj
08-08-2009, 21:46
I think your right he when out their with out knowing how to read a map and compass. He did not know what plants he could eat. He did have a gun so he could have shot food and smoke it He could have took a book that show him what plants he coild eat. I read the book and saw the movie and they both try to make out to be a hero. I just hope no one else try to do what he done
Oh yet he could have got some fishing line and hooks to all king of fisk where he was. Sand ending to a very bad plan trip.

bishopj
08-08-2009, 21:46
I think your right he when out their with out knowing how to read a map and compass. He did not know what plants he could eat. He did have a gun so he could have shot food and smoke it He could have took a book that show him what plants he coild eat. I read the book and saw the movie and they both try to make out to be a hero. I just hope no one else try to do what he done
Oh yet he could have got some fishing line and hooks to all king of fish where he was. Sand ending to a very bad plan trip.

bloodmountainman
08-08-2009, 23:39
The kid formerly known as Alexander Sumpertramp was no hero. He was a narcisstic dreamer ,who could not distinguish fantasy from reality.
He died from eating a poisonious plant. He had nothing but time to study these plants before eating. He passed a shot on a cow caribu simply because it had a fawn. In his situation he should have shot both. He lived beside a river but could not tell the water was rising due to snowmelt, He could'nt figure out how to save his moose meat in the water and let it go to ruin. The kid was an idiot.

OutdoorsMan
08-09-2009, 00:00
The kid formerly known as Alexander Sumpertramp was no hero. He was a narcisstic dreamer ,who could not distinguish fantasy from reality.
He died from eating a poisonious plant. He had nothing but time to study these plants before eating. He passed a shot on a cow caribu simply because it had a fawn. In his situation he should have shot both. He lived beside a river but could not tell the water was rising due to snowmelt, He could'nt figure out how to save his moose meat in the water and let it go to ruin. The kid was an idiot.


I agree. He was an idiot.

Lone Wolf
08-09-2009, 00:00
http://tbn2.google.com/images?q=tbn:-d364ACjSWtL9M:http://www.palomar.edu/english/versaci/images/Into%2520the%2520Wild.jpg

I want your opinion on the book. Everyone I've talked to (non-hikers) have thought Chris McCandless was a great hero to be hailed. I personally think was a fool for committing basic errors that basically led to his death. The book frustrated me because the author seems to try and justify this to the reader.

So...I want to know, what'd you think?

i read some. i thought it sucked. not much of a story there

Cabin Fever
08-09-2009, 08:14
The kid formerly known as Alexander Sumpertramp was no hero. He was a narcisstic dreamer ,who could not distinguish fantasy from reality.
He died from eating a poisonious plant. He had nothing but time to study these plants before eating. He passed a shot on a cow caribu simply because it had a fawn. In his situation he should have shot both. He lived beside a river but could not tell the water was rising due to snowmelt, He could'nt figure out how to save his moose meat in the water and let it go to ruin. The kid was an idiot.

+1 on that.

That situation is a legitimate reason for us being at the top of the food chain. Beggars can't be choosers.

Ladytrekker
08-09-2009, 08:15
http://tbn2.google.com/images?q=tbn:-d364ACjSWtL9M:http://www.palomar.edu/english/versaci/images/Into%2520the%2520Wild.jpg


I want your opinion on the book. Everyone I've talked to (non-hikers) have thought Chris McCandless was a great hero to be hailed. I personally think was a fool for committing basic errors that basically led to his death. The book frustrated me because the author seems to try and justify this to the reader.

So...I want to know, what'd you think?

I read an article with some opinions of people in Alaska shortly after the movie came out in which I did go see. Many Alaskans were very upset by him being hailed heroic or idolized, because he did not respect the wilds of Alaska and was totally unprepared and did not research where he was going and his death to them was a joke. He was in fact 6 miles from civilization and did not know it, if he had taken the time to research the area he would have known that.

On the other side I can appreciate him trying to find "himself" but ignorance sometimes is bliss to people and he was ignorant in many ways.

Old Grouse
08-09-2009, 08:16
I found as I read the book that I had no tolerance for him.

ShoelessWanderer
08-09-2009, 08:32
Long thread elsewhere on the board regarding this topic. Search function=results/opinions.

I tried that and didn't find anything. That's why I started this one. But thanks.

ShoelessWanderer
08-09-2009, 08:39
I think your right he when out their with out knowing how to read a map and compass. He did not know what plants he could eat. He did have a gun so he could have shot food and smoke it He could have took a book that show him what plants he coild eat. I read the book and saw the movie and they both try to make out to be a hero. I just hope no one else try to do what he done
Oh yet he could have got some fishing line and hooks to all king of fish where he was. Sand ending to a very bad plan trip.

I would assume he knew HOW to read a map and compass. He grew backpacking in the SNP with his father. But either way, he didn't actually take a map with him. So, wouldn't have helped even if he could have.

He did have a gun, but most alaskans agree that it was not as large of a gun as you'd need in alaska.

He actually did take a book with edible plants and they think that may have lead to his demise from eating the seeds of a plant that he'd previously been eating the roots of. Nothing in the book stated that the seeds were poisionious, but it didn't say they were safe either...so...


I read an article with some opinions of people in
Alaska shortly after the movie came out in which I did go see. Many Alaskans were very upset by him being hailed heroic or idolized, because he did not respect the wilds of Alaska and was totally unprepared and did not research where he was going and his death to them was a joke. He was in fact 6 miles from civilization and did not know it, if he had taken the time to research the area he would have known that.

On the other side I can appreciate him trying to find "himself" but ignorance sometimes is bliss to people and he was ignorant in many ways.

Ignorance is bliss unless it gets you killed, at least in my opinion.

If he'd have had a map he would have known he was cloe to civilization, and also would have known how to get out of the wilderness which he attempted to do but his plan got thwarted when he couldn't cross the river. If he would have had a map he would have known there was a crossing 1/4-1/2 mile up the river.

bigcranky
08-09-2009, 08:51
I enjoy Krakauer's books, and this was no exception. I empathize with McCandless, though I certainly wouldn't call him a "hero." The book is a fine exploration of the intense human desire to explore. Think of it as a road book with a bad ending.

Was McCandless an idiot? No, he was just young and inexperienced, and like many young people he assumed he knew far more than he did. One luxury of living in America is that youth and inexperience is rarely fatal, and is generally self-correcting -- making stupid mistakes provides the needed experience. Unfortunately, McCandless ended up in a place where even a minor mistake can kill you.

America was built by people who weren't satisfied to stay in their home towns and be "responsible." They pushed West, and North, looking for the wide open spaces of the frontier. Many of them died in the process.

birdog
08-09-2009, 09:22
It's interesting to note that the author hails this bufoon as a hero who died from stupidity and, in an earlier book, ( Into Thin Air) he crucifies experienced mountaineers who, through no fault of their own, lost their lives on Everest. I dont get his thinking. Maybe book sales are more important than the truth.

kythruhiker
08-09-2009, 09:50
It was a very enjoyable read. I have no opinion on whether he was an idiot or a hero, I simply enjoyed the story.

double d
08-09-2009, 10:54
Krakauer writes from a perspective of an "adventure journalist", but I think his publishing of interesting events do spark a lot of debate, which in the end is good. I personally think Supertramp was very foolish, but thats just my opinion. Like a drowning person, maybe he panicked when he realized he was way in over his level of experience.

fiddlehead
08-09-2009, 11:06
It's interesting to note that the author hails this bufoon as a hero who died from stupidity and, in an earlier book, ( Into Thin Air) he crucifies experienced mountaineers who, through no fault of their own, lost their lives on Everest. I dont get his thinking. Maybe book sales are more important than the truth.

I agree.

Once i read "Into Thin Air" and then read some other stories from that disaster on Everest, i lost my faith in Krakenow.
So, i read the Alaska one with a grain of salt.

I liked the kids adventurous spirit.
No one knows what was going through his mind.
He was a bit spiritual as i remember.

Ladytrekker
08-09-2009, 11:48
I think that the only thing that made McCandless fascinating was his need to remove almost all the material items in his life. He had lived a life of plenty and had everything he could want or need provided for him and he made such efforts to feel life without abundance and he seemed to find that the need for them was not as important as his family had made them out to be.

He was the extreme he went searching for what felt right to him, most of us do not realize this until we are much older and some of us never do. I know as I age that material items (other than my truck) means very little to me. I do love my truck though.

ShelterLeopard
08-09-2009, 12:31
I sympathize with him a bit, but I would never call him a hero. He did what he needed and wanted to do, why other people would call him "hero" is beyond me. (I do undertsand why they would, just don't agree) I thought it was interesting at first, but then it started to really irritate me.

Egads
08-09-2009, 12:58
Not worth reading

scope
08-09-2009, 14:58
Yeah, I remember that thread, opinions all over the place and mostly extreme from idiot to romantic. I personally enjoyed the book and the movie. At no time did I think he was painted as a hero. He made deliberate choices that seem idiotic to most people, but there is a sense of romantic adventurer there that is not often found in modern stories. He saw a lot of this country that not too many people get to see, and to me, that's sort of what I get from the AT, so that appealed to me.

In the end, I'd say he was a seriously flawed person, definitely not a hero. I don't think tagging him as an idiot really says much - couldn't we all be tagged as an idiot at some point in our lives? I don't know, maybe there's some here for which that doesn't apply to. Anyway, his journey was engaging, if not tragic.

rickb
08-09-2009, 16:00
Good book.

None of us is exactly like McCandless, and most of us are very different.

That said, I think many of us (myself included) could see certain aspects of ourselves at that age being played out to one degree or another. And that is what made the book compelling (to me) when I read it.

Plodderman
08-09-2009, 16:18
I think there is a better view of the book and Chris outside of the hiking community. I liked the movie and the book but it is sad that a the young man passed away.

scope
08-09-2009, 16:25
I think there is a better view of the book and Chris outside of the hiking community. I liked the movie and the book but it is sad that a the young man passed away.

Probably true. My wife, who unfortunately is a total girly girl non-outdoorsy non-hiker, really enjoyed the movie. A lot of hikers would never not do the things he didn't do (is that a triple negative?) and I think getting bothered by that distracts from other elements of the story.

Yahtzee
08-09-2009, 16:42
Good book. Good read. Easy read. Short read. Just a story. Nothing to get worked up about.

Homer&Marje
08-09-2009, 16:43
Watch the PBS special on the whole story. Turns out the whole community of South Dakota that he lived in was bought off for their story from Hollywood, the whole investigation into his death was a sham because they never found his backpack that was in the bus.

The gentleman who has a cabin a few miles down river from the Magic Bus (that got broken into while Chris was starving) went back and found that backpack...what he discovered in the inside pocket, and still possesses to this day is 2 drivers licenses, 1 social security card and a passport I believe, birth certificate and $300 US currency.

Said in the book and the movie he paid his last $0.87 to the guy he hitched a ride from into the Alaskan Bush.

Later chemical analysis said that he did not die from intoxicating himself with a lethal substance but rather that he was injured, possibly severely on his right shoulder, not his leg like is claimed, and he was unable to sufficiently hunt and provide enough calories for himself.

Despite that....good kid, good story...wish he had made it.

Arizona
08-09-2009, 16:45
I want your opinion on the book.

Krakauer, the author, is a journalist, and he writes like one. Journalists often stretch out articles by adding fluff and filler. Krakauer stretched out his original magazine article into a whole book. He should have kept it as an article. An example of fluff: He wastes a lot of pages talking about the evils of potato seeds. He also threw in many things that were not part of the story. An example is when Krakauer tells us about his dysfunctional and distant relationship to HIS father. He should have kept that out. In fact, Krakuer pads a lot of the book with information about himself. He should have left all of that out. Another example of stretching is when Krakauer ran out of ideas on the main character's death, so, he rambled on about other people who died in the Alaskan wilderness. The main character never knew any of these people. They had nothing to do with the story. Krakauer is long winded, boring and has a very wordy writting style. Another book he wrote, Into Thin Air was worse. It had lots of filler and he spent a lot of time telling about the occupations, sex lives etc. of minor characters that had nothing to do with the story. He changed an exciting adventure into a dull, long winded book. There is a reason his books go for $2 on Amazon.

ShelterLeopard
08-09-2009, 20:44
ALTHOUGH- (I just remembered) he didn't actually write the book... I had forgotten that. I suppose it makes a bit of a difference.

scope
08-09-2009, 22:03
Krakauer, the author, is a journalist, and he writes like one. Journalists often stretch out articles by adding fluff and filler. Krakauer stretched out his original magazine article into a whole book. He should have kept it as an article. An example of fluff: He wastes a lot of pages talking about the evils of potato seeds. He also threw in many things that were not part of the story. An example is when Krakauer tells us about his dysfunctional and distant relationship to HIS father.

I actually thought a lot of the "fluff" in the book did a good job of enhancing the story. Without it, I think one would question the authenticity of the story being told. Sure, he did the research, but the book is not a mere reporting of his findings, it attempts explain a bit about McCandless and why he did the things he did and made these deliberate decisions that ultimately cost him his life. The things that are reported that he did don't add up to much of a story without some sort of explanation of why he did them. Without the fluff, I doubt we're even talking about it.

However, I sort of agree on the Into Thin Air book. That's something that is done every year, and we know why its done, more or less.

Homer&Marje
08-10-2009, 08:01
I actually thought a lot of the "fluff" in the book did a good job of enhancing the story. Without it, I think one would question the authenticity of the story being told. Sure, he did the research, but the book is not a mere reporting of his findings, it attempts explain a bit about McCandless and why he did the things he did and made these deliberate decisions that ultimately cost him his life. The things that are reported that he did don't add up to much of a story without some sort of explanation of why he did them. Without the fluff, I doubt we're even talking about it.

However, I sort of agree on the Into Thin Air book. That's something that is done every year, and we know why its done, more or less.

The fluff of the story is what made it a story. The kid never "ceremoniously" burned all of his money and his identifications...had it with him until he died.

If it weren't for a faulty police investigation they would have known who the body was from the start.

Could have got himself to safety but his stubbornness and lacking the skills to provide himself with enough sustenance to survive is what killed him.

If you look at the famous last photo of him sitting in front of the bus it looks as if his right shoulder is out of socket and possibly severely damaged...which ultimately, more than likely, led to his demise.

The story was all fluff. Watch the real story on PBS...well worth a look into how some "Non-Fiction" books and movies come about. By the way, Sean Penn owns the rights to most of the stories to the people involved besides McCandless.

Jim Adams
08-10-2009, 08:19
Good book, good story, sad outcome. Krakauer can write some good stories but take his writing with a grain of salt...it can be a good story but rarely all the facts.

geek

ShoelessWanderer
08-10-2009, 12:24
I didn't realize PBS did something on it. Will have to go search and find that! Would be interesting. I have no desire to see the movie.

And I have to 2nd the persons opinion who said the fluff was annoying. I 100% agreed!

Jrickey
08-10-2009, 12:30
I enjoyed the book, but I almost wish they never made the movie. When I tell people that I would like to hike the Appalachian trail and they reply

"Like into the wild?"

I dont know how to respond anymore. I just shake my head.

John B
08-10-2009, 13:09
"Call of the Wild" is a documentary about Chris McCandless. I bought it, have watched it twice, and while it is interesting in terms of the bit of new evidence discovered about McCandless and his death, the documentary in itself is one of the very worst I've watched regardless of the subject. It's more of a documentary about making a documentary about McCandless than it is about McCandless himself. (http://tifilms.com/wild/call_intro.htm)

As was mentioned above, he didn't burn his money or destroy his ID -- cash, drivers license, library cards, etc. were found in his wallet which was in a backpack left on the bus that the cops missed on their search.

He didn't die from food poisoning, either -- the toxicology reports mentioned in the book were preliminary results; the final results showed that the variety of wild potato that he ate were not toxic at all (Ron Lamothe, the fellow who produced/directed the documentary, makes a good point that subsequent editions of the book should include a post script updating the new material).

It is indeed speculated that he dislocated his right shoulder, and that injury prevented him from crossing the creek and enabling him to reach help; however, the only evidence for that injury is the infamous pic of McCandless sitting and leaning against the bus -- an ortho. doc was shown the pic without background and said immediately that the subject had a dislocated shoulder. Note, however, that McCandless' diary, while it mentions a catostrophic injury, doesn't specifically say it was his shoulder.

The documentary concludes that a physician's analysis based upon a simple calorie count of the food he ate during the last mths of his life (recall that McCandless detailed what he ate) showed that he simply starved to death. He weighed less than 90 lbs when he died, and the huge drop in body weight combined with living in harsh conditions were what killed him. Not a very romantic way to die.

I hated the documentary because I think it's very poorly done (although the last scene is pretty powerful). The book is better -- I don't get the criticism that it romanticizes McCandless; if someone would like to provide specific page cites where it does, I'd be curious to reread them -- but I agree that current editions of the book should be updated with a postscript to clarify the food poisioning theory, etc. And I think that Sean Penn's movie was total bullsh--, but then I really don't expect anything but BS from Hollywood.

There are other interesting elements to McCandless' life presented in the documentary, and maybe someone will take that material and do another book or feature essay about him that's more accurate and complete. For a variety of reasons, a lot of people are interested in his life and how he came to die.

jersey joe
08-10-2009, 13:09
I thought it was a good book. Short and well written. Leaving everything you have to go walk around the country and lead a "simpler" life has appeal to many.

Homer&Marje
08-10-2009, 13:34
"Call of the Wild" is a documentary about Chris McCandless. I bought it, have watched it twice, and while it is interesting in terms of the bit of new evidence discovered about McCandless and his death, the documentary in itself is one of the very worst I've watched regardless of the subject. It's more of a documentary about making a documentary about McCandless than it is about McCandless himself. (http://tifilms.com/wild/call_intro.htm)

As was mentioned above, he didn't burn his money or destroy his ID -- cash, drivers license, library cards, etc. were found in his wallet which was in a backpack left on the bus that the cops missed on their search.

He didn't die from food poisoning, either -- the toxicology reports mentioned in the book were preliminary results; the final results showed that the variety of wild potato that he ate were not toxic at all (Ron Lamothe, the fellow who produced/directed the documentary, makes a good point that subsequent editions of the book should include a post script updating the new material).

It is indeed speculated that he dislocated his right shoulder, and that injury prevented him from crossing the creek and enabling him to reach help; however, the only evidence for that injury is the infamous pic of McCandless sitting and leaning against the bus -- an ortho. doc was shown the pic without background and said immediately that the subject had a dislocated shoulder. Note, however, that McCandless' diary, while it mentions a catostrophic injury, doesn't specifically say it was his shoulder.

The documentary concludes that a physician's analysis based upon a simple calorie count of the food he ate during the last mths of his life (recall that McCandless detailed what he ate) showed that he simply starved to death. He weighed less than 90 lbs when he died, and the huge drop in body weight combined with living in harsh conditions were what killed him. Not a very romantic way to die.

I hated the documentary because I think it's very poorly done (although the last scene is pretty powerful). The book is better -- I don't get the criticism that it romanticizes McCandless; if someone would like to provide specific page cites where it does, I'd be curious to reread them -- but I agree that current editions of the book should be updated with a postscript to clarify the food poisioning theory, etc. And I think that Sean Penn's movie was total bullsh--, but then I really don't expect anything but BS from Hollywood.

There are other interesting elements to McCandless' life presented in the documentary, and maybe someone will take that material and do another book or feature essay about him that's more accurate and complete. For a variety of reasons, a lot of people are interested in his life and how he came to die.


The documentary lacked most of it's meat in the middle because of people denying the film maker their story.

He clearly states that the Hollywood team signed contracts with many people to the rights to their story. In the contracts was a peculiar wording of how long they had the rights to that story, which was indefinitely.

So considering that he, 1, lacked the main focus of the documentary as a source due to his untimely death....2, lacking most first hand accounts from the people he lived and worked with in South Dakota, and lastly that this documentary proves so much against the glorified story of the book or the movie....

I thought it was a great documentary:D Considering.

~Ronin~
08-10-2009, 18:05
I thought it was a good book. Short and well written. Leaving everything you have to go walk around the country and lead a "simpler" life has appeal to many.


I know that appeals to me. Maybe not completely giving up everything, but selling many of my material possesions and hiking the Appalachian Trail sure seems like something I wanna do. I like the idea of a simpler life. Living in the city has become too much of a "rat race" for my liking. A six month hike in the woods seems better and better every day.

kolokolo
08-10-2009, 19:07
I liked the book. I thought that Chris McCandless was irresponsible and naive, and not a hero at all, but I admired some things about him. He seemed to make friends easily, so he must have had some likeable qualities. The people that he met along the way had positive memories of him, and wondered why he moved on so fast.

He definitely was not a seasoned outdoorsman. He overestimated his survival skills, and got himself into a bad situation.

SassyWindsor
08-10-2009, 19:21
In good mind or not, McCandless, like Timothy Treadwell, was recklessly suicidal. The unfortunate one was Treadwell's girlfriend, who also got eaten. But sometimes crazy people make for good stories.

hoz
08-10-2009, 19:35
Every "adventure" Chris went on he wound up needing help. The Alaskan journey took him beyond his edge, and there was no one there to help him out.

Poorly planned, no exit strategy, he was an educated idiot.

Jim Adams
08-10-2009, 20:21
The book was a good story.
The movie was a good story.
Come on people...they are just entertainment...nothing more, nothing less.

Everbody does reckless things at times in their life...McCandles just ran out of luck.

geek

Lemni Skate
08-10-2009, 20:37
I saw the movie, never read the book.

I loved the movie, and had no idea how much was conjecture, fictionalized, whatever.

After watching the movie, I read a lot of articles about him on the Internet.

My thought (pure supposition on my part) was that he might have had the beginnings of some mental illness. He was at an age where schizophrenia often appears for the first time. I have no evidence, just the thought that some of what he did seemed a little more irrational than my "got-to-get-away-and-hike-the-AT" obsession.

Plus, he turned down romance with Kristen Stewart. That really is crazy!

yaduck9
08-10-2009, 20:59
Could never understand why he did not hang out in Alaska and work for a while and pick up some of the local knowledge.

It just seems odd that a highly educated kid would not do a little research before heading out into the sticks.

It was like he was very smart and very dumb, simultaneously. Perhaps it was a form of Schizophrenia.

Lone Wolf
08-10-2009, 21:01
Poorly planned, no exit strategy, he was an educated idiot.

******* world's full of that species

Jim Adams
08-10-2009, 22:32
Could never understand why he did not hang out in Alaska and work for a while and pick up some of the local knowledge.

It just seems odd that a highly educated kid would not do a little research before heading out into the sticks.

It was like he was very smart and very dumb, simultaneously. Perhaps it was a form of Schizophrenia.

...lots of inteligence, no common sense.

geek

ShoelessWanderer
08-12-2009, 12:32
The book was a good story.
The movie was a good story.
Come on people...they are just entertainment...nothing more, nothing less.

Everbody does reckless things at times in their life...McCandles just ran out of luck.

geek

hmm...maybe we should ask his parents if they agree with that? I'd hate to think the only reason for someone to lose their life is for good entertainment.

scope
08-12-2009, 13:24
hmm...maybe we should ask his parents if they agree with that? I'd hate to think the only reason for someone to lose their life is for good entertainment.

I'm pretty sure you've misunderstood what he was saying.

MintakaCat
08-12-2009, 14:52
I saw the movie, never read the book.

My thought (pure supposition on my part) was that he might have had the beginnings of some mental illness. He was at an age where schizophrenia often appears for the first time. I have no evidence, just the thought that some of what he did seemed a little more irrational than my "got-to-get-away-and-hike-the-AT" obsession.



That was kinda my first impression when I read about this. Seemed like the guy had a crossed circuit in his brain. And the Alaskan wilderness is no place to screw up.

ShoelessWanderer
08-12-2009, 16:35
I'm pretty sure you've misunderstood what he was saying.

My point was it's not JUST entertainment. That's someone's life we're talking about. And because of the books/movies it's encouraged other people to go out and act careless and they may very well loose their lives.

Nasty Dog Virus
08-12-2009, 20:23
I enjoyed the book. Didn't see the movie.

Interesting essay on the subject...

Chris McCandless from an Alaska Park Ranger’s Perspective
by Peter Christian


Both Chris McCandless and I arrived in Alaska in 1992. We both came to Alaska from
the area around Washington, D.C. We were both about the same age and had a similar
idea in mind; to live a free life in the Alaska wild. Fourteen years later Chris McCandless
is dead and I am living the dream I set out to win for myself. What made the difference
in these two outcomes?
There was nothing heroic or even mysterious about what Chris McCandless did in April
1992. Like many Alaskans, I read Jon Krakauer’s book “Into the Wild” when it first
came out and finished it thinking, “why does this guy rate an entire book?” The fact that
Krakauer is a great outdoor writer and philosopher is the bright spot and it makes a great
read, but McCandless was not something special.
As a park ranger both at Denali National Park, very near where McCandless died, and
now at Gates of the Arctic National Park, even more remote and wild than Denali, I am
exposed continually to what I will call the “McCandless Phenomenon.” People, nearly
always young men, come to Alaska to challenge themselves against an unforgiving
wilderness landscape where convenience of access and possibility of rescue are
practically no nexistent. I know the personality type because I was one of those young
men.
In fact, Alaska is populated with people who are either running away from something or
seeking themselves in America’s last frontier. It is a place very much like the frontier of
the Old West where you can come to and reinvent yourself. In reality, most people who
make it as far as Alaska never get past the cities of Fairbanks and Anchorage because
access is so difficult and expensive (usually by airplane), travel is so hard, the terrain is
challenging, the bears are real, and so on.
A very few competent and skillful people make a successful go at living a free life in the
wild, build a home in the mountains, raise their children there and eventually come back
with good stories and happy endings. A greater number give it a try, realize it is neither
easy nor romantic, just damn hard work, and quickly give up and return to town with
their tails between their legs, but alive and the wiser for it.
Some like McCandless, show up in Alaska, unprepared, unskilled and unwilling to take
the time to learn the skills they need to be successful. These quickly get in trouble and
either die by bears, by drowning, by freezing or they are rescued by park rangers or other
rescue personnel–but often, not before risking their lives and/or spending a lot of
government money on helicopters and overtime.
When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did
wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic and inconsiderate. First off, he spent
very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived at the Stampede Trail
without even a map of the area. If he had a good map he could have walked out of his
predicament using one of several routes that could have been successful. Consider where
he died. An abandoned bus. How did it get there? On a trail. If the bus could get into
the place where it died, why couldn’t McCandless get out of the place where he died?
The fact that he had to live in an old bus in the first place tells you a lot. Why didn’t he
have an adequate shelter from the beginning? What would he have done if he hadn’t
found the bus? A bag of rice and a sleeping bag do not constitute adequate gear and
provisions for a long stay in the wilderness.
No experienced backcountry person would travel during the month of April. It is a time
of transition from winter’s frozen rivers and hard packed snow with good traveling
conditions into spring’s quagmire of mud and raging waters where even small creeks
become impassible. Hungry bears come out of their dens with just one thing in mind—
eating.
Furthermore, Chris McCandless poached a moose and then wasted it. He killed a
magnificent animal superbly conditioned to survive the rigors of the Alaskan wild then,
inexperienced in how to preserve meat without refrigeration (the Eskimos and Indians do
it to this day), he watched 1500 pounds of meat rot away in front of him. He’s lucky the
stench didn’t bring a grizzly bear to end his suffering earlier. And in the end, the moose
died for nothing.
So what made the difference between McCandless and I fourteen years ago? Why am I
alive and he is dead? Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide while I
apprenticed myself to a career and a life that I wanted more badly than I can possibly
describe in so short an essay. In the end I believe that the difference between us was that
I wanted to live and Chris McCandless wanted to die (whether he realized it or not). The
fact that he died in a compelling way doesn’t change that outcome. He might have made
it work if he had respected the wilderness he was purported to have loved. But it is my
belief that surviving in the wilderness is not what he had in mind.
I did not start this essay to trash poor Chris McCandless. Not intentionally. It is sad that
the boy had to die. The tragedy is that McCandless more than likely was suffering from
mental illness and didn’t have to end his life the way he did. The fact that he chose
Alaska’s wildlands to do it in speaks more to the fact that it makes a good story than to
the fact that McCandless was heroic or somehow extraordinary. In the end, he was sadly
ordinary in his disrespect for the land, the animals, the history, and the self-sufficiency
ethos of Alaska, the Last Frontier.

Homer&Marje
08-13-2009, 07:29
Great little essay there. So true....

JokerJersey
08-13-2009, 09:12
While I understand the need the kid felt to get away from everything and just "live", the things he did (or didn't do, in this case) directly led to his own death. He may have been "classically" educated, but he was woefully ignorant of any type of wilderness education. Knowing calculus and advanced business theory means exactly squat once you leave the bounds of civilization. Being educated is situational, and his education was not the one needed for his situation.

Sometimes during the time it took from when he left home till he wound up in the wilderness, he could have taken the time to learn how to butcher, smoke, and preserve his own meat. He could have taken more than a bag of rice with him. He could have taken ROPE with him. He could have explored the area where he was staying to look for fords or natural crossings. He could have improved his shelter on a daily basis. He could have taken a map. He could have spent time learning from the locals. He could have spent some of his time in college researching edible plants, wilderness survival, and hundreds of other things. Hell, instead of "donating" his savings (dunno if that is true or not), he could have taken wilderness survival courses at one of the MANY schools located in the Northeast.

In the end, his ignorance killed him. I don't idolize him, though in a way, I understand him. The need to run, the need to explore, the need to see what is out there and find yourself in the process. Mother Nature doesn't pull punches and he took one right on the chin. Sad, but it could have been avoided in so many ways.

Lone Wolf
08-13-2009, 09:39
he shoulda learned from Sam Gribley from My Side of the Mountain

horicon
08-14-2009, 14:17
I think he had a death wish.

ShoelessWanderer
08-14-2009, 16:01
he shoulda learned from Sam Gribley from My Side of the Mountain

I loved that book as a kid!

Farr Away
08-14-2009, 17:08
he shoulda learned from Sam Gribley from My Side of the Mountain


I loved that book as a kid!

+1 Except I still love it. She wrote 4 sequels to it, the first 30 years after the original was published.

Surplusman
08-14-2009, 20:22
Prior Planning Prevents Piss-Poor Performance

Jim Adams
08-15-2009, 14:02
My point was it's not JUST entertainment. That's someone's life we're talking about. And because of the books/movies it's encouraged other people to go out and act careless and they may very well loose their lives.

The book and the movie are indeed just entertainment.
His life although strange at times was just the way he chose to live.
Nasty Dog Virus... So true, so true. Great essay!

geek

350
08-15-2009, 19:08
I lived in alaska for 4 yrs you really need to have your **** together to even attempt what he did. The last winter we lived there it was 60 below 0 to this day can't even discribe that kinda cold. I think he was selfish and brave and stupid and careless with other people.

Lemni Skate
08-17-2009, 19:50
Knowing calculus and advanced business theory means exactly squat once you leave the bounds of civilization.

You are so wrong. I can't tell you how many times I'm half way up a mountain and start wondering what the volume of the mountain is and I pull out my topographical map and sit down and work out a few integrals to answer the question.

Homer&Marje
08-17-2009, 19:54
Volume of firewood and food would be more important in his situation.

You could still sit down and do the calculations, but in the time you've spent you have wasted too much energy to go get firewood and food.

Your choice though......always your choice what to do.