On a cold March day, McCandless arrives at Westerberg’s grain elevator in Carthage, ready to work. He plans to raise enough money and supplies for his departure to Alaska on April 15. For four weeks, McCandless eagerly works at dirty and tedious jobs around the warehouse.
Though considered arrogant and incompetent by his critics, Chris shows humility and a tenacious work ethic by taking on undesirable and menial tasks to achieve his goal of traveling to Alaska.
In an interview with Krakauer, Westerberg comments on Chris’ absentminded behavior, recounting an instance when the usually tidy McCandless failed to notice an odorous mess of rancid chicken grease, leftover in the microwave.
While extremely intelligent, Chris is more book-smart than street-smart. His lack of common sense and forgetfulness is a foreboding indicator that Chris may not be fully prepared for Alaska.
During his stay in Carthage, McCandless engages in deep conversations with Westerberg’s girlfriend Gail Borah, a mother of two, who becomes Chris’ confidant. Westerberg doesn’t press Chris about his family, but suspects that McCandless has fallen out with his father.
Though alienated by his own parents Chris becomes easily attached to strangers, like Gail and Wayne, who take on a parental role in his life. They seem to know more about Chris than his own parents, painfully pointing out Chris’ severe disconnect from his biological family.
Krakauer describes Chris’ “sexual innocence,” noting that Chris showed interest in girls, but likely lived a chaste and celibate life, much like his hero Thoreau who remained a lifelong virgin.
Chris’ innocence about intimacy mirrors his naïveté about the world, but also highlights his disconnection from it. Like Thoreau, Chris’ chastity embodies his dedication to a pure and simple life, but also removes him from some of life’s pleasures and connections.
Meanwhile, in Carthage, McCandless takes every opportunity to talk about his Alaskan voyage by seeking out the advice of experienced hunters. Westerberg tries to persuade McCandless to stay for a few more weeks to work. He even offers to fly McCandless out to Alaska, but Chris refuses, determined to hitchhike all the way north without “cheating.”
Even to achieve his dream, Chris is unwilling to take a more convenient mode of transportation to Alaska. His steadfast dedication to hitchhiking makes his journey quite noble, like a quest or pilgrimage, but also highlights Chris’ penchant for taking the hard road instead of the easy one. The hard road is the road Chris wants.
Upon leaving, Chris gives Wayne his journal, photo album and leather belt for safekeeping, and tearfully says goodbye to Gail Borah, who senses that she will never see him again. From Alaska McCandless sends postcards to Wayne, Jan Burres and Bob, bidding them a final farewell before walking “into the wild.”
In giving his belongings to Wayne, Chris entrusts his legacy to Westerberg, much like a father passes on his inheritance to his son. Gail’s premonition casts an ominous shadow over Chris, pitting fate against the serendipitous circumstances that have unfolded in Chris’ life.