Krakauer opens the chapter with a postcard, dated April 27th, 1992, that McCandless, (going by the name Alex), wrote in Fairbanks, Alaska and sent to Wayne Westerberg in Carthage, South Dakota: “This is last you shall hear from me Wayne…If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t ever hear from me again I want you to know you’re a great man. I now walk into the wild…”
McCandless’ postcard to Wayne is eerily prophetic because it anticipates Chris’ untimely and tragic death. By suggesting that he won’t be heard from again and that his venture could be “fatal,” Chris broadcasts his willingness to face death and seems to predict his own death, as well as speak from the grave.
Jim Gallien, driving on the outskirts of Fairbanks, Alaska spots a young hitchhiker shivering on the road and picks him up. Though carrying a rifle, the young man is friendly and introduces himself as “Alex.” He requests a ride to the edge of Denali National Forest, where he intends “to live off the land for a few months.”
While Chris’ rifle appears threatening, it actually highlights Chris’ fragility, inexperience and naiveté. Chris’ friendly demeanor does not match up with his fierce exterior, suggesting that he may not be wholly prepared for the wild land and experiences he pursues.
Though Gallien suspects “Alex” of being a Jack London fanatic, bent on living out his “ill considered fantasies” in the Alaskan wilderness, he agrees to drive him to the park. Gallien also notices that Chris’ backpack is especially light for an extended camping trip. While Chris admits to only carrying a ten-pound bag of rice, Gallien observes that the quality of the boy’s hiking boots is poor for the wintry weather and his rifle—.22 caliber—is too small to take down big game.
Gallien’s suspicion of Chris reflects Krakauer’s mistrust of romantic portrayals of the American wilderness, propagated by London’s canon of adventure fiction. Meanwhile, Chris’ lack of suitable supplies shows that he is ill prepared for the hike, suggesting that he is either extremely confident in his camping skills or very naïve about conditions on the trail.
On the drive, “Alex” appears to be a charming, well- educated, and adventurous young man because he boasts about nearly dying off the coast of Mexico during a storm. He shows Gallien his “crude map” of the national park, pointing out his intended hiking route: the Stampede Trail.
Chris’ well-mannered ways contrast with his itinerant lifestyle, as well as Alaska and Mexico’s rough and risky landscapes. Chris’ “crude map” again signals that he is ill prepared—or wants to be unprepared—for the hike ahead.
Sensing that “Alex” is unprepared, Gallien attempts to dissuade him from hiking alone into the forest. But Chris refuses his advice, declaring that he will handle all obstacles on his own and without the help of anyone, including his family, with whom he has cut ties.
Chris’ unwillingness to listen to Gallien, or receive help from anyone, demonstrates his fierce independence and extreme self-reliance. Chris’ lack of preparation, however, signals that he may not be ready for the life in the Alaskan woods.
Gallien drops “Alex” off on the edge of The Stampede Trail. Chris attempts to give Gallien his watch and loose change, but Gallien implores “Alex” to take his leftover lunch and pair of rubber work-boots, so that his feet will stay warm and dry. Chris reluctantly accepts these gifts and hikes onto the trail. Gallien believes that “Alex” will be all right, figuring that he will turn back once he gets hungry.
While very generous with his own possessions, Chris is reluctant to accept Gallien’s gifts, highlighting Chris’ generosity, but also his misunderstanding of material goods. By compensating Gallien, Chris recognizes the monetary value of his things in society, but underestimates the practical value that Gallien’s food and sturdy boots will serve in the wild.