On April 15, 1992, McCandless leaves Carthage for Alaska, hitching a ride with RV driver Gaylord Stuckey along the way. Reluctant to help “Alex” go off on what seems to Stuckey an ill-considered adventure, Stuckey is nonetheless charmed by Chris and ends up driving him all the way to Fairbanks. On the road, Chris expresses his displeasure with his father’s past infidelities and his excitement about living alone in the woods. Stuckey warns him that the snow is still thick and that there will be few plants and berries to eat.
Usually as Chris grows closer to someone, he becomes more withdrawn, but with Stuckey he divulges more information about himself than he has to any other stranger. This uncommon candor and openness on the Alaskan border shows that even as Chris moves farther away from civilization he actually starts to extend himself towards others.
Preparing to head into the forest, McCandless picks up a guide to edible plants and purchases a rifle. He hitches a ride from Jim Gallien, then enters the Alaskan bush alone, carrying nothing else but his rifle, his backpack filled with rice, and a small collection of books.
While Gallien is alarmed by Chris’ lack of supplies, Chris carries all that he feels he needs—rice for food, a rifle for hunting, a guide for foraging, and books to feed the soul. That Chris carries books over supplies suggests again that his true hunger is for a search for truth, or for himself.
On the Stampede Trail, McCandless crosses the unseasonably low Teklanika River waters and discovers the bus, where he makes camp.
Krakauer’s notation that the river is low foreshadows the pivotal role that the height of the river will play in Chris’ demise.
Struggling to shoot game in the wintry weather, McCandless finally starts to thrive when the summer days turn warmer and longer, allowing him to hunt and forage successfully. Buoyed by this change, Chris decides to continue walking westward, but bogged down by the terrain’s thawing muck, realizes his folly and turns back to the bus.
The harsh Alaskan weather and terrain dramatically illustrate to Chris the limits of his will power in the face of nature strength and disregard for human life. Through this reality check, Chris adjusts his routine and adapts to environmental conditions.
In June, Chris proudly shoots down a moose. Yet butchering it traumatizes Chris, making him regret killing the animal. By reading Thoreau and Tolstoy, Chris comes to terms with his “errors,” and decides to return to civilization in July.
The experience of butchering the moose seems to make Chris see how extreme and rigid his actions have been. He gains a different sort of respect for nature, and an ability to reconcile his mistakes, an indication of personal development.
When he tries to return, however, he encounters the rising summer floodwaters of the Teklanika River, and realizes that he cannot safely cross. He turns back towards the woods and the bus to wait for the rapids to recede. Chris’s failure to realize that he could re-cross the Teklanika in the spring is the first of McCandless’s “insignificant blunders.”
Yet Chris’ decision to return is not enough. The Teklanika’s waters present a dangerous challenge to Chris, but having been chastened and humbled by nature he makes a prudent move, instead of a risky one, by deciding not to try to cross. Ironically, this smart decision is actually a fateful one as it leads to Chris’ demise.