Into The Wild - Chris Ingram          

Into The Wild Essay

'Remove The Bus'

by Chris Ingram
Lots of you know the story of "Into The Wild", Christopher McCandless/Alexander Supertramp and the Magic Bus along the Stampede Trail. Perhaps we are over-enchanted by the zeal of his story, over-sympathetic, feeling a sense that we can relate, or perhaps a Hollywood movie has mesmerized, idealized and over-romanticized our thoughts and beliefs beyond our own lives that we fantisize away from them. So now you have it, that hundreds of people are finding the need to hike to the bus themselves, coming from around the globe, on a whim, a fantasy, and I feel, a false pretense. So I along with they, decided to plan for my own pilgrimage to Chris' Magic Bus, Fairbanks City Transit Bus 142 along the Stampede Trail just west of Healy, AK, south of Fairbanks. My work had taken me up to Alaska and I finished my project and travelled to Fairbanks with the intention of hiking the trail to the bus to have my own survial experience in Wild Alaska and to pay my respects to a person I adored and admired. I knew it would not be easy, the Alaskan bush is unforgiving of the ill-prepared and inexperienced. I knew I would have to be extremely careful and constantly mindful and aware because I would go it alone and no one truely knew where I was. There was raging rivers, flooded beaver ponds, bears, sticky bogs and ill-weather to be faced.

On Day 1 I drove down towards Healy and turned onto Stampede Road, the paved road gives way to a rough, pitted gravel trail just a few short miles in. I parked my rental car and packed up and hiked in a mile or so and made camp in the magestic, wind-swept valley.

Day 2 found me with an early rise due to the wind and rain and lack of good sleep. The trail runs through the northern foothills of the Alaskan Range, Mt. McKinley and Denali National Park. Several miles in I stumbled upon an unexpected kitchen camp for a local jeep tour. At this point I learned of a tragedy that occured on the trail just 2 days earlier on Saturday August 14th. A young woman had drowned trying to cross the Teklanika River (Tek), halfway from the highway and Bus 142. This discovery shocked me and broke my heart. The camp cook had urged the young female, along with her partner to head upstream from the trail crossing, where the river braids out and forms several smaller, wider channels just a short half mile of the trail crossing. The two were urged not to tie or secure themselves together and to refrain from the use to ropes alltogether.

(The details of this tragedy are that the two came to the point where the trail cross the Tek, where Chris had made his crossing 18 years earlier. Whether a rope had been previously fashioned across the river or the two had secured it themselves, they proceeded to tie themselves to the rope and ford the river, this was their first mistake. One cannot effectively secure a taught rope across several tens of feet of raging river. Their second mistake was tying themselves to this rope and the third was failing to unbuckle all of their backpack straps. The official investigation revealed that at the time of the incident the Tek was 52" high and speeding at 8 miles per hour, this knocked the gal off her feet but she was helpless to recover having been tied to a rope that was underwater and unable to free herself from the binding straps and the heavy weight of her pack. Her partner managed to unstrap himself, find his knife and free himself from his tie to the rope but was unable to save her in time. I figure she perished in combination of drowning and the physical trama of being stuck at the bottom of a rumbbling, tumbbling river bed(I could hear rocks the size of bowling balls rolling and grinding along the river's bottom). I was advised by the cook and guides that since I had been the only visitor since the incident to sever the death rope and was urged with extreme caution to continue along my journey.

I arrived at the Mighty Tek early the second afternoon. I was in complete and utter awe of the power of this magestic river. After several days of hard rain, the river was swollen with snowmelt and rainfall, draining the upper reaches of the Alaskan Range. It became apparent to me immeditaley through the chalky colored water, that the sole purpose and function of this river was to transport precipitaion and aid in the erosion of the tallest peaks in North America; the river supports no life and does not foster a crossing of anyone or anything. The river made me drunk and dizzy seeing its speed and feelings its force. I made my way down the east bank to where the Stampede Trail crosses the river to the other side. (Chris had made this crossing nearly effortlessly 18 years earlier in April, when a shield of ice/snow and lack of meltwater aided in his crossing, what I now witnessed was the same late summer ranging river that kept him on the west bank of the Tek, ultimately leading to his death). I stumbled upon the death rope and immediately cut it with my knife. No one would be crossing here with the same rope if I had anything to do with it. There was absolutely no way I was going to make the same mistake. I value my life too much and could not put that on my loved ones. It felt it would have been too selfish and too reckless a decesion, THERE IS NOTHING IN OR ABOUT THAT BUS THAT IS WORTH YOUR LIFE. I planned to turn around and hike out in the morning and made camp along the river. Suddenly the sound of the rumbbling river was broken with the roar of a helicopter that circled and came closer and closer until I knew it had landed, and close. I ran down to find Denali Park Rangers and Alaska State Troopers, my guts turned and my heart sank, not again, not another one. I immediately identified myself and they stated that they were completing their investigation of the drowning that occured just days ago. I told them that I cut the rope that was used in the ill-fated attempt at her passage and they thanked me for that. I answered a few more questions and told them they need not worry about coming back to fish my corpse from the river, that there was no way I was even thinking about crossing that river just to see a bus. The second night was met with more rain and was an errie, spooky, lonely evening, I couldn't wait to awake early the next day and blaze through the 8 miles of trail back to my car and return myself to the normal comforts of life I enjoy.

Epilouge:

I had an ample amount of time along the trail to contemplate Chris' story, as well as my own life. The wilderness is a poor place to put your worries, your concerns, your dreams, your hopes, thoughts, wishes and happinesses. The wild simply is just that, wild. Unchanging, unforgiving, it knows nor cares not for your own life. It exists on its own unaffected by the dreams or cares of man. It kills the unprepared and unaware.

I believe that Chris was overzealous and overconfident that he would live in communion with the land. He was grossly unprepared, and engaged in reckless behavior. For him to sever contact with his family and loved ones and die of simple starvation is just terribly sad and selfish. I do not believe that he "discovered" or "stumbled" upon Bus 142, all of the locals have known of its existence since 1963. He had visited Fairbanks the summer before walking out the Stampede Trail and I am convinced, learning about Bus 142 then. The trail is used by hikers, 4-wheelers, and hunters as a shelter. If Chris thought he was all alone in the wild, miles and miles from anyone or anything, he was severly mistaken. He died 25 miles east of a highway and city, and minutes from the border of Denali National Park, one of this countries most visited park destinations. There are several park ranger and private cabins within a few miles of his bus. If would have remained strong and healthy enough, he could have discovered that about a half-mile downstream from the trail crossing across the Tek, there was a USGS gauging station along with a hand-operated tram car. He could have put himself in the tram car and made his way to the east side of the river and back to the highway.

My viewpoints of Chris have radically changed and modified during my journey to the bus. Compounded with the sad death that I was involved with, has left me upset, almost angry at the ignorance and unappreciation that the Alaskan bush is given. We as humans and a society are too long and too far removed from living harmoniously with and conquoring the land. And we are soical beings that trive on relationships, there is a fundamental need to be in the company of others. I have for the last several years attempted to achieve personal happiness in solitude, have failed, and affirmed with this trip, echoing McCandless' dying words, "Happiness only real when shared." Why are so many of us compelled to measure our lives in feats and acomplisments, testing death and pushing limits. I can relfect and find myself identifying with being most alive during times in the company of family, friends, and lovers. We should measure ourselves in what we are a part of, not what seperates us from them.

Bus 142 has become a tourist destination, a mecca of McCandless followers. The local guides have stated that an average of 50 pilgrims make the hike along the Stampede Trail weekly. I do not support such behavior. How many more deaths will it take? Is it really worth risking your life to visit a rotted, rusting bus? I blame the movie for over-romantizing the story of Chris and giving all viewers a falseness of his life and what really happened. Anyone can now get a flight to Fairbanks, rent a car, gear up at the local outfitter, and hike in to their preventable death. I support and advise that the Bus be removed from the trail to prevent future deaths.

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