Into the Wild

Originally an article in Outside magazine, Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild was received rather contemptuously by many Alaskans. It is the true story about a young man from a well-to-do family who starved to death in the shadow of Denali. They said he was an idealistic fool. He didn’t have the proper equipment, couldn't tell moose from caribou, didn't know Alaskan rivers become unfordable torrents as the summer melt comes down; they said youthful ignorance dictated his fate. He had headed into the brutal Alaskan wilderness without the skills to keep a job, let alone keep alive.

But he did. In September 1992, Chris McCandless walked into in the Alaskan bush in borrowed boots and survived, at times even prospered, for eight months. He finally starved to death from a little-known side effect of one of the nuts he had been collecting to supplement the moose he’d killed. And in the meantime, had found shelter, explored the area, and spent three seasons in a place many wouldn’t last the week. But the real adventure started years earlier, many towns, hitched rides, and odd jobs before he got to Alaska.

Chris McCandless had come from a financially wealthy family, no doubt. With some school and a little work, his success looked to be assured. But one day he gave his $30,000 trust fund to charity and left home. With nothing but a couple of books and a few clothes, he set on a journey across America. He had decided, like Thoureau, to live a more deliberate life. But unlike Thoureau, McCandless was on his own.

Krakauer writes with a casual and investigative style as he takes the reader across the U.S. to Mexico, across Canada, and finally to Alaska, following clues, unraveling mysteries, and talking to people who had come into contact with Chris McCandless. Through all this, one thing remained constant: the people Chris met, even briefly, were all taken with the young man. His magnetic, unassuming personality set people at ease and made him friends wherever he went. Krakauer received calls from people that had read his Outside article and offered up what information they could; but mainly they wanted to find out if Chris was still alive. One man, a seasoned Alaskan and the last to see Chris alive, picked him up hiking along a remote highway, underdressed and undernourished. By the time he got down the road to where Chris had wanted to go, the man had given him some food and his boots. Krakauer weaves in some of his own personal mountaineering anecdotes to perhaps shed light on the motivations behind Chris’s actions. Into the Wild uproots themes that run through many American lives: the complex, charged relationship between fathers and sons; the search for a meaning to life; the profound pull of the American wilderness on our imaginations; and the allure of high-risk activities to young men.

What the alert reader finds is that no one’s life is simple, that we all struggle but in different ways and that complete freedom is rare and requires a sacrifice that few of us are willing to make. Into the Wild is, ultimately, a subtle classic and a necessary addition to any outdoor library.