The story of Chris McCandless has played a big part in my life lately. I’ve looked up to him and respected what he has done by traveling, trying to find himself and experience the world in its freedom and simple beauty. I’ve wanted to follow in his footsteps by experiencing traveling the way he did by himself – one backpack and an endless road in front of him. He hitchhiked and walked around America, meeting new people and finding new places.
Chris hitchhiked across America for two years and his dream was to get up to Alaska and live off the land there. When he finally got up there, he was dropped off at the Stampede Trail head outside of Healy, Alaska. He hiked 26 miles into the wilderness and came across an abandoned bus that had been sitting there for years. It was gutted out and had two cots in it (only one with a mattress), a wood fireplace made out of a barrel, and a couple of little tables. Some of the windows were broken out and the outside was painted green and white. It had been used for campers, travelers, and hunters. Now it was going to be Chris’ home in the wild.
In the Wild
Chris lived in this bus for four months hunting game, making trails, exploring the land, and experiencing the silent & calm freedom of the Alaskan wilderness. When the hunting slowed, he turned up surviving off of edible plants for the time being. He ate a very poisonous plant without knowing, and for the next couple weeks he starved.
It’s believed that he ate Wild Potato Root that had a fungus on it. When ingested, it shuts down the digestive system and if not treated it leads to starvation and death.
Chris died August 18th 1992. 22 days before I was born.
His body wasn’t found until September 6th, 1992. An autopsy determined starvation was the cause of death. When he was found his body weighed in at 67 pounds.
I’ve watched the movie (Into the Wild) and read the book several times. Every time I see the movie or read the book, I can’t seem to get enough. And I can’t wait for the day when I step foot in the bus that was home to him, and get to experience the silent beauty for myself.
August 18th, 2009
I wanted to do something to celebrate his life this year on the day of his death, 17 years later. My friend James and I went hiking on the Barton Creek Greenbelt here in Austin TX. Even though I wanted to do something bigger and longer, this is what I could do right now. I was okay with that and it turned out to be great. Jumping into the cold water at Barton Springs cooled us down before we hiked into the greenbelt. The Greenbelt is covered with trees, bushes, and tons of rocks all around. There were other hikers, joggers, and some bikers on the trail with us that day. Usually James and I have our bikes and do this kinda thing on wheels, but we spent the day on foot and had to be fine without being Rubbertramps.
Parts of the way we got off the trail and hiked the dry riverbed. Because of the drought that Texas has been in, everything is dry. So when we walked the dry riverbed, we were stepping on dry cracking leaves, and the hot rocks from the intense sun (Big Hard Sun). All the trees have that brown dry look, and the ground was covered with fallen leaves. It wasn’t completely dead all around, there was still green and healthy plants that got enough water to still live.
While we were walking, I pulled out my harmonica and started playing to give it that “we’re walking in a riverbed while playing harmonica” kinda feel… We got a little ways in before setting our packs down on a rock and resting for awhile. I had forgotten my MP3 player at the house, but James brought his so we cranked up some Eddie Vedder (who had done the soundtrack for the movie) sat down and started thinking.
I had a lot of different emotions going through my head at that moment. First of all, I was grateful that I was there, sitting on the Greenbelt on a very special day. I was thinking of my family and what we’ve done. And I was thinking of my future as a traveler.
“How would I do it?”
This was one of the biggest questions I asked myself. Well, I’d have my pack with a tent, compass, sleeping bag, knife, etc… Typical set up for a camper. But where would I go? Who would I meet? How long would I do it for? I stopped myself right there, because If I did, I wouldn’t know where I’d go, I don’t know who I’d meet, and I don’t know how long it’d take me. I’d just have to let it happen. After sitting on that rock for a good 15-20 minutes, it was time to head back. So we rounded up our water, MP3 player, put our packs on and headed back. On the way back, we passed rock climbers climbing rocks up to 30 feet. We watched them for awhile before getting back to the busy city and Barton Springs area.
After getting picked up we went to our happy place, Whole Foods. The one we go to in downtown Austin is the world headquarters. This is a regular stop James and I make on our bike rides for our usual: Sweet Leaf Tea, and parfaits. Whole Foods Tres Leches parfait is like heaven in a cup. I recommend it for everyone. We wrapped up the day by watching some old home videos while James and I made dinner for everyone.
This was an important day for me and it meant a lot that I could go and do something in honor of Chris McCandless. I could go on and on about how much this guy has affected my life, and how much he will keep inspiring me for the rest of my life.
But I’ll keep it short for now…
Thank you Chris,