Into The Wild - Kevin Wikland          

Into The Wild Essay

Kevin Wiklund
One of the first books I can remember feeling a strong connection to as a young man, was Jon Krakauer’s Into The Wild. I had previously read some of Krakauer’s earlier work, and while bored out of my mind at my desk job in Madison, WI, I purchased the audiobook of Into The Wild on an iTunes special. Listening to Krakauer read his novel, as he related McCandless’ journey to that of his own, and not different from many young men, the book and McCandless’ story became intriguing. I enjoy how something so personal and individual can also have such a huge social implication. He was alone and wanted to be alone, yet his story involved so much of society; so many other people and their stories as well. It was truly incredible to hear the accounts of people that he interacted with along the way, and how their stories intertwined with his own.

Many Alaskans feel strongly about Chris McCandless, the young man from West Virginia who was found starved to death in a bus on the Stampede Trail in nearby Healy, Alaska. They feel his attempt of walking “into the wild” to live off the land and find himself alone in nature was arrogant, foolish and irresponsible. Some feel stronger than those words. However many non-Alaskans feel a strong connection to this young man and his attempt to find and create his own happiness in a world where we’re told happiness is in all the wrong things. McCandless may have been ill prepared for his adventure, and many judge him so harshly because of the outcome of his personal trials, not his intent. Maybe the spirit that McCandless carried so boldly on his sleeve is inside of us all, and his intentions weren’t so foreign to a young man looking for an adventure.

Chris McCandless walked into the bush east of Denali National Park on April 28, 1992. His starved body was found 4 months later in an abandoned bus on the Stampede Trail. He took with him a .22 caliber rifle, a ten pound bag of rice and some necessary tools and utensils. More importantly, perhaps, was what he did not take; a compass or a map. McCandless was looking to find a place of his own in a world where everything is already claimed. Author Jon Krakauer described it as a such, “People don’t get it. ‘He didn’t have a map. What kind of idiot...’ That was the point. There’s no blank spots on the map anymore, anywhere on earth. You want a blank spot on the map, you’ve got to leave the map behind.”(Krakauer 174) McCandless wasn’t careless or delusional. He was determined, and focused on his task at hand; to, in his own words, “no longer be poisoned by civilization, and walk alone to become lost in the wild.”

Walking into Denali National Park with a .22 caliber rifle and a 10 pound bag of rice isn’t necessarily ludicrous, but expecting to survive an entire summer off nothing but the land and wild game may, perhaps, dabble in that area. Alaskans have seen it far too often. Idealist teens from the “Lower 48” who come to Alaska “looking for themselves” and looking for adventure. Too often this wanderlust leads them into expensive search and rescue missions at the expense of Alaskan tax dollars or in certain cases, death. They feel people like McCandless don’t respect the land, it’s vastness, or it’s unforgiving terrain. In some regard, perhaps they are correct. Thinking you can survive in the nation’s most isolated and desolate state with no map, no compass and a very small gun is arrogant. In some instances, downright foolish. Alaskan State Trooper Peter Christian said “When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that he wasn’t particularly daring; just stupid, tragic, and inconsiderate. If he had a good map he could have walked out of his predicament. Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide.” (Christian) Maybe in this eyes of this state, his story is that of a foolish greenhorn, who’s imagination and ideals led him to his own death, a mere 15 miles from civilization.

On the contrary, when you look at McCandless’ story from his perspective, he was hardly suicidal or ignorant. His story may have ended in a tragic way, but it was the story he was writing. He prepared for two years to “walk into the wild.” He took with him a guide of the local flora and fauna, to sustain himself when game wasn’t plentiful. Most importantly, he planned to walk out. He tried to leave. It was the summer melting of the mountain snow, that raised the level of the Teklanika river from a small stream he waded in April, to an unpassable raging rapids in late July. Eventually the calories he was burning every day weren’t replenished by the lean game he was consuming and he starved to death. Alone. In the wild. However, even in his demise, he blamed no one. He wrote of no regrets. In fact his final message to the world, left on the door of the bus he perished in read “I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all.” McCandless didn’t plan to die in that wilderness, but he accepted his fate with open arms because it was the fate that he wrote. Not many of us can say that we alone wrote our story. And in a sense, had the ability to tell that story to the world.
In conclusion Chris McCandless’ story isn’t all that unfamiliar in the timeline of young men. In primitive cultures it was customary for a man to walk into the wilderness to test himself, bridging the gap between boyhood and manhood. Solidifying his place in the community. McCandless knew exactly what the challenges were that lay ahead of him and he welcomed them with open arms. He wasn’t reckless. McCandless did what was necessary for him to take his next steps in life. Many young men of his demographic dream of breaking away and carving their own place in the world. McCandless did it. He shunned his worldly pleasures for those of enlightenment and self discovery. Often our story is contingent on the outcome of our endeavors. Had McCandless walked out of that wilderness in late July, he wouldn’t have been regarded as a reckless young man, with no respect for his environment. We’d probably never know his story. Perhaps we too would be regarded as fools, had decisions we made ended differently. I will leave you with the words McCandless wrote before he walked into the wilderness that April. “I read somewhere, how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong, to measure yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions, with nothing to help you but your own hands and your own head.”(Levi)

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