On January 4, 1993, Krakauer receives a letter from eighty-one year-old Ronald Franz, requesting a copy of the article Krakauer published in Outside magazine. Ron knew “Alex” and wants to confirm what became of him.
From Krakauer’s articles Chris becomes famous, but his story still remains a mystery to those who knew him. Though known by many, Chris is never truly known by anyone.
After leaving Jan Burres in Salton City, California, McCandless hikes into the desert, setting up camp in Anza-Borrego, Calif. On one of his day hikes into Palm Springs, he meets Ronald Franz, an eighty-one-year-old man and a devout Christian, who gives him a ride to Oh-My-God Hot Springs, a winter refuge for hippies and nomads, that is close to Chris’ campsite.
Chris’ campsite near Oh-My-God-Hot-Springs represents Chris’ mission to live on the borders of conventional society. That Ron drives Chris out to this remote location signals Ron’s connection to him, and foreshadows that Ron will soon follow in Chris’ footsteps.
Ron, having lost his son in a car accident many years earlier, enjoys McCandless’ youthful company. Chris urges Ron to abandon his sedentary life, sell his belongings and live on the road. Franz teaches McCandless how to do leatherwork. Chris creates a tooled leather belt, which records his wanderings in pictures, symbols and initials.
Bonding over long talks and handiwork, Chris and Ron’s relationship is akin to that between a father and son. That Chris befriends Ron readily, yet abandons his family so carelessly highlights the tension between isolation and intimacy that exists in all his relationships.
In February, McCandless decides to go to San Diego to find a job. He reluctantly accepts a ride from Ron to that city. Yet Chris leaves San Diego soon after arriving because he can’t find work.
Chris’ tenacious endurance fails when it comes to conventional jobs and common courtesies, further illustrating his difficulty at meshing with societal norms.
Restless, McCandless rides the rails up north to Seattle, where he sends postcards to Jan and Ron, gleefully bragging about his near violent run-in with a railway security guard.
Chris’ cavalier disregard for authority not only brushes up against the law, but also compromises his personal safety, becoming increasingly dangerous and life threatening.
Stranded in Coachella, California, McCandless calls Ron to ask for a ride to Salton City. Ron offers to drive McCandless all the way to Grand Junction, Colorado so that he can make it to a job he has arranged with Westerberg in Carthage on time (. During the drive, Ron asks Chris if he can adopt him, but Chris dodges the question, slipping out of Ron’s life.
While Ron gives greatly of himself, Chris is unwilling to reciprocate emotionally in spite of the many kindnesses Ron has shown him. This imbalance situates Chris’ relationships at emotional extremes—fast friends or distant relatives.
In April, Ron receives a long letter from Chris, exhorting him to turn to the road to find life’s great joys and meaning. Ron takes Chris’ advice to heart, moves out of his apartment and camps in the desert, waiting for his friend Chris to return.
By taking to the road, Ron becomes a devotee of Chris’ way of life and idealizes Chris almost as a Christ-like figure, Like a disciple, Ron receives the word and waits upon his Chris’ return. Chris’ devotion and idealism makes him extremely charismatic—even great—to some people.
Eight months later, Ron picks up two hitchhikers who share a story from Outside magazine about a hiker who froze to death in Alaska. Ron realizes it is “Alex.” Grief-stricken, he denounces God and takes up drinking
Ron believed in Chris. For him Chris had a kind of connection to God. Again Krakauer is showing that Chris had a kind of greatness in him, and yet at the same time that this greatness was connected to his self-destructiveness and even willful foolishness.