In trying to understand McCandless, I inevitably came to reflect on…the grip wilderness has on the American imagination, the allure high-risk activities hold for young men of a certain mind, [and] the complicated, highly charged bond that exists between fathers and sons.
Some readers admired the boy [Chris] immensely for his courage and noble ideals; other fulminated that he was a reckless idiot, a wacko, a narcissist who perished out of arrogance and stupidity—and was undeserving of the considerable media attention he received.
This is the 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.
The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything. [McCandless] had spent the previous four years, as he saw it, preparing to fulfill an absurd and onerous duty: to graduate from college. At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.
…[McCandless] intended to invent an utterly new life for himself, one in which he would be free to wallow in unfiltered experience. To symbolize the complete severance from his previous life, he even adopted a new name. No longer would he answer to Chris McCandless; he was now Alexander Supertramp, master of his own destiny.
Chris was very much of the school that you should own nothing except what you could carry on your back at a dead run.
Can this be the same Alex that set out in July 1990? Malnutrition and the road have taken their toll on his body. Over 25 pounds lost. But his spirit is soaring.
[Chris] was so enthralled by [Jack London’s] tales, however, that he seemed to forget they were works of fiction, constructions of the imagination that had more to do with London’s romantic sensibilities than with the actualities of life in the subarctic wilderness.
‘I’d thought he’d be fine in the end…he was smart. He’d figured out how to paddle a canoe down to Mexico, how to hope freight trains, how to score a bed at inner-city missions. He figured all of that out on his own, and I felt sure he’d figure out Alaska, too.’
McCandless…relieved that he had again evaded the impending threat of human intimacy, of friendship, and all the messy emotional baggage that comes with it. He had fled the claustrophobic confines of his family. He’d successfully kept Jan Burres and Wayne Westerberg at arm’s length, flitting out of their lives before anything was expected of him. And now he’d slipped painlessly out of Ron Franz’s life as well.
Both father and son were stubborn and high-strung. Given Walt’s need to exert control and Chris’s extravagantly independent nature, polarization was inevitable. Chris submitted to Walt’s authority…but the boy raged inwardly all the while. He brooded at length over what he perceived to be his father’s moral shortcomings, the hypocrisy of his parents’ lifestyle, the tyranny of their conditional love. Eventually, Chris rebelled—and when he finally did, it was with characteristic immoderation.
No, I want to hitch north. Flying would be cheating. It would wreck the whole trip.
Such willful ignorance [on the part of McCandless]…amounts to disrespect for the land, and paradoxically demonstrates the same sort of arrogance that resulted in the Exxon Valdez Spill—just another case of underprepared, over-confident men bumbling around out there and screwing up because they lacked requisite humility…McCandless’s contrived asceticism and a pseudoliterary stance compound rather than reduce the fault.
McCandless didn’t conform…well to the bush-casualty stereotype. Although he was rash, untutored in the ways of the backcountry, and incautious to the point of foolhardiness, he wasn’t incompetent—he wouldn’t have lasted 113 days if he were. And he wasn’t a nutcase, he wasn’t a sociopath, he wasn’t an outcast. McCandless was something else…. A pilgrim, perhaps.
As a youth, I am told, I was willful, self-absorbed, intermittently reckless, moody. I disappointed my father in the usual ways. Like McCandless, figures of male authority aroused in me a confusing medley of corked fury and hunger to please. If something captured my undisciplined imagination, I pursued it with a zeal bordering on obsession, and from the age of seventeen until my late twenties that something was mountain climbing….Climbing mattered.
…like McCandless, I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic. I thought climbing the Devils Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams. And I lived to tell the tale.
Two years he walks the earth…an aesthetic voyager whose home is the road….After two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventures. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual revolution….Ten days bring…him to the great white north. No longer poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild.
HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.
Many people have told me that they admire Chris for what he was trying to do. If he’d lived, I would agree with them. But he didn’t, and there’s no way to bring him back. You can’t fix it. Most things you can fix, but not that. I don’t know that you ever get over this kind of loss. The fact that Chris is gone is a sharp hurt I feel every single day. It’s really hard. Some days are better than others, but it’s going to be hard every day for the rest of my life.