Source: Into The Wild
Many Alaskans have long been exasperated or downright hostile over the mythologizing of Chris McCandless, the hapless college graduate who starved to death in a derelict bus a day’s walk up a mining access road on the north side of Denali National Park. Here is an essay by Alaska writer Craig Medred, with new reporting and insight into what really drove McCandless “into the wild.”
Already the Interior Alaska winter has locked the spruce forests along the Stampede Trail in its long, cold embrace. Gone back to the central-heating comfort of civilization are the pilgrims who made the summer trek out to the “Magic Bus.” And playing in movie theaters across America is the story of the hero who died out there.
It was on a fall day 15 years ago a trio of Alaskans hunting moose not far from the George Parks Highway north of Denali National Park found a disturbing note tacked to the old school bus long before abandoned along the rough, old mining road.
“SOS,” it said. “I NEED YOUR HELP. I AM INJURED, NEAR DEATH, AND TOO WEAK TO HIKE OUT OF HERE. I AM ALL LONE. THIS IS NO JOKE. IN THE NAME OF GOD, PLEASE REMAIN TO SAVE ME.”
Inside the rusting vehicle, the hunters found the starved and rotting remains of a young man. The body was later identified as that of 24-year-old Christopher McCandless, a continental wanderer originally from Annandale, Va. Death was attributed to starvation.
As McCandless’s story of suffering and failure on the fringe of the last great American wilderness emerged, Alaskans largely wrote him off of as yet another of those poor, unprepared fools fallen victim to Jack London’s Great White Silence.
Four years after his death, however, author Jon Krakauer elevated McCandless to iconic status in the best-selling book, “Into the Wild.” Krakauer saw in the cross-continent wanderings of McCandless and his final, tragic Alaska death the footprints of “the grip the wilderness has on American imagination, the allure high-risk activities hold for young men of a certain mind, the complicated,highly charged bond that exists between fathers and sons.”
The fact the journey ended early in an old bus with little left behind but some sketchy journals (not nearly enough for a book), Krakauer blamed on the seeds of the wild potato. The seeds, he theorized, poisoned McCandless.
That theory was quickly debunked. The seeds weren’t poisonous.