McCandless’ Story: Glorifying a Senseless Death?

Chris McCandless' self-portrait outside the abandoned Fairbanks City Transit System Bus 142 on the Stampede Trail in Alaska.
Chris McCandless' self-portrait outside the abandoned Fairbanks City Transit System Bus 142 on the Stampede Trail in Alaska.
Chris McCandless’ self-portrait outside the abandoned Fairbanks City Transit System Bus 142 on the Stampede Trail in Alaska.

Born on February 12, 1968, in El Segundo, California, Christopher Johnson McCandless, also known by the name “Alexander Supertramp,” was the 24-year-old American survivalist who died of starvation in August 1992 inside an abandoned Fairbanks City Transit System Bus in Alaska, USA.

Moose hunters seeking shelter for the night outside the northern boundary of Denali National Park spotted his body decomposed and weighing only 66 lbs inside a sleeping bag in the converted bus on September 6. The young man may have suffered a slow death due to starvation, possibly brought by poisoning.

After studying at Wilbert Tucker Woodson High School in Fairfax County, Virginia, Chris McCandless attended Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia, graduating in 1990 with a bachelor’s degree in the double majors of anthropology and history. Following his 24,000 dollars personal savings donation to charity and inspired by the American writers Jack London and Henry David Thoreau, the young hiker traveled by car to the American states of Arizona, California, and South Dakota on a quest of self-discovery. Although a flash flood destroyed his Datsun car, he arrived at his next stop, Fairbanks, Alaska, in April 1992 hitchhiking and with limited camping equipment and supplies, including 9.9 lbs of rice, a few books, and a riffle. In Alaska, Chris lived off the land, eating animal flesh and edible plants.

According to McCandless’ journal, the young man stayed 113 days in the rusting bus because of the swollen Teklanika River that had blocked the trail. In his effort to escape the area, he left a note scrawled on a page torn from a Nikolai Gogol’s novel outside the bus’ door asking for help: “Attention Possible Visitors. S.O.S. I need your help. I am injured, near death, and too weak to hike out. I am all alone, this is no joke. In the name of God, please remain to save me. I am out collecting berries close by and shall return this evening. Thank you, Chris McCandless. August?

Christopher McCandless’ story drew national and international attention after American writer Jon Krakauer published a 9,000-word piece entitled “Death of an Innocent” in Outside magazine in January 1993. Chip Brown also published the article “I Now Walk Into the Wild” in The New Yorker the same year. Three years later, Krakauer narrated the same story most extensively in a biographical book that he named “Into the Wild.” His book inspired the creation of the 2007 same name, award-winning film “Into The Wild,” under the direction of Sean Penn and with Emile Hirsch in the leading role. The Krakauer’s book also turned into Ron Lamonthe’s “The Call of the Wild” documentary, as well as the 2014 PBS’ documentary “Return to the Wild: The Chris McCandless Story.”

While there are people who express non-sympathetic views about McCandless claiming that the young man died due to his arrogance and inconsideration, there are others who romanticize his fate elevating his life to the status of modern legend. For them, Chris Mccandless was a man who valiantly tested his limits to discover what is authentic in life rejecting materialism and conformity. In the diary found among his possessions, Chris strongly reassured people that “Happiness only real when shared.”

American wanderer Chris McCandless.
American wanderer Chris McCandless.

The Magic Bus,” as people use to call the 1946 International Harvester that was abandoned by road workers in 1961 and hosted Chris’ last adventures and death is still in its original location. The bus from the movie “Into the Wild” is 10-miles north of the entrance to Denali National Park at 49th State Brewing Company in Healy.