Into The Wild - Kyra Sallans

Into The Wild Essay

June 12, 2015

How Christopher McCandless’s Story Affected Me
-A Thank You to Jon Krauker and Carine McCandless-

Nobody goes into reading a story like Chris McCandless’s thinking that their strong connection to a stranger is commonplace. When you read a story like Chris’s, you feel like somebody finally gets you; you feel less alone; you feel like there is hope. Most importantly, you feel like if you would have met him, the two of you would have been best friends—and in a way, his spirit does become your best friend.

But once you finish the story, realize that your life, traumas, and adventures are far different than his life, traumas, and adventures, you can start to see how accessible Chris’s story is to any conscious human being; because thee entire point of McCandless’s journey was a quest of authenticity and fulfillment. I first heard of Chris McCandless’s story when I was talking to a regular customer, Gina, at Crescent Moon. I had recently dropped out of school because I was tired of living in what I believed to be, a life of falsity.

Being in the academic world for so long…I felt a life of independence and “reality” looming over me, but I was trapped in the confines of rhetorical texts, “superior” professors, and mindless peers whom settled for the torment of working for somebody else because they didn’t know or imagine any better. I knew that even though the highly prestigious film making program I had just gotten accepted into had the possibility of taking me any place I wanted, I wasn’t ready to embrace a world of unknown potential.

My final thoughts before I made the decision to leave, sitting in a script analysis class, were: “I know this is a great opportunity, or maybe it’s not, but either way…I have to piss this away. I know that my education is free right now, but I would rather pay for it and want it…than take it just because it’s free. I need to do my own thing for a while, without the ‘guidance’ or rather ‘agenda’ of someone else.” –Do this project so I can give you a grade on it and make you look great on paper, based on my opinion of course—Bull shit. I needed to learn how to create my own self value.

So going back to Gina, she knew that I had left school after how hard I had worked on the application. (I spent five months putting my artist statement, portfolio, and recommendation letters together.) Naturally, she inquired about what I was going to do now. I knew that I wanted to travel, so I had been tossing around the idea of converting a school bus into an RV and “touring” the United States with my music. I planned to create a green-house loft to grow my own food, and maybe even have a mobile coffee shop called “Unwarranted Path Coffee,” as a means of income on the road. She was amused at the thought and said, “You’re not going to be like that kid who died in Alaska, right?” I had no clue what she was talking about. “Well there was this kid…who went out into the Alaska wilderness and lived in a school bus, and died from starvation.”

The picture her tone and demeanor painted for me, was a reckless, impulsive, wild haired kid who took adventure stories too seriously. She told me I should watch the movie, called “Into the Wild,” which made it sound like even more of a hilarity. So while I was fascinated by it, considering that I was conspiring my own escape on a school bus, I didn’t seek out the movie right away.

But a week later I went to Barnes and Nobel to find that on their front display table, was the book “Into the Wild.” Reading the cover, “In April 1992 a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mr. McKinley…He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself…” I knew that I had to check out this story. Already, my impression of him was far different than when Gina had told me about it. I, once again, was experiencing an enormous amount of guilt and doubt that I had chosen to throw away a free education in a sought after creative field. I thought that maybe something was wrong with me, that I was too spoiled (even though my parents have no money to spare me, and I’ve worked for my own belongings and well-being since it was legal to do so) or privileged to be appreciative of what could be called “a gift of the universe.”

That night, I went to bed sobbing after watching “Into the Wild.” However, the tears were not born in sadness of Chris’s death…because he died very peacefully, and certainly not in vein. They were tears of deep internal movement, realization, and solace. At the time, it had been exactly a year since I left school. I started to see the life I had created for myself in doing so. It was safe, it was predictable, it was completely under my own control…I hated it. I hated waking up to an apartment filled with stuff that didn’t mean much to me, I hated how much my life had plateaued, I hated that I left school because [I later realized] I was purely scared of how my life would change if I became a “successful” film maker. And watching Chris’s story (even through the embellished lens of cinema) touched me so deeply on various levels.

Chris was so young, but had died following his heart and striving for the betterment of himself. He was scared of neither life nor death. Somehow, you get the feeling that Chris knew whatever happened, everything would be okay and the world would move on; whether he left behind a legacy or not. I believe that is a lesson we can all take with us no matter what the specific circumstances are. It doesn’t have to be about literally leaving behind everything you own and living off the land; just risk taking in general. It can be applied to any aspect of life. It boils down to trusting your own heart, and allowing yourself to drift into unwarranted territory of the self.

At some point, you have to decide to drop everything you have ever thought about yourself, any statement of purpose, any feeling of identity, any backstory you have created…in order to let growth and independence really happen. Life and evolution are synonymous. But not everybody has the courage or gives themselves the chance to face their demons.

However, I am lucky enough to have gifted myself with my own adventure. I am sitting in a coffeeshop in Lyons, Colorado. I left both my apartment and jobs after 4 months of 80 hour weeks, in order to purchase and new car…and afford about a month of travel with no obligations but to observe, explore, and make myself vulnerable. This is no longer a quest of identity, but rather a quest of soul replenishment. Most importantly, it has become a mission to learn how to avoid living a life of predictability. In the words of McCandless, “The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences.”

-Kyra Sallans, age 20

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