Back Into The Wild

Eva Holland recounts her journey to the site where Christopher Johnson McCandless, the idealistic hiker depicted in Into The Wild, died in the Alaskan wilderness in 1992. Admirers of the young adventurer – some of whom Holland met in the above video – still retrace McCandless’s steps to see the abandoned bus where he spent his last days:

Fairbanks City Transit System Bus #142 has become a shrine, its rusting shell etched with motivational phrases left by visitors. But the pilgrimage is risky. One hiker died while crossing the Teklanika [River] in 2010, and dozens more – 12 in the summer of 2013 alone – have become lost, hurt or stranded by the rising river and have needed to be rescued by local authorities. …

The trail is nobody’s idea of a lovely hike – one of many things that mystify the Alaskans who watch the McCandless pilgrims set off each year. (“Of all the places you could hike in Alaska …” one local had said to me two nights earlier, shaking her head in disbelief.) The Stampede Trail is a boggy thoroughfare for motorized off-roaders. During the day that I spent on it, I counted seven bus-bound hikers, 22 four-wheeling moose hunters, two guided Jeep tours and one guided ATV [all-terrain vehicle] tour. Hiking there today is no way to capture the solitude and engagement with nature that McCandless was seeking. As I slogged back to my waiting car, I could not see the point of the pilgrimages. Nor could I fathom how the loss of more young lives honored his memory.

The pilgrims, of course, see the journey differently.

A spiral notebook left in the bus by the McCandless family when they visited by helicopter in 1993 has since been filled with handwritten entries, each praising McCandless and the impact his story has had on the writer’s life. One 2002 visitor left a poem: “I came up here to get away / It’s the last frontier they say / I came across this bus today / It’s gorgeous here I think I’ll stay.” Another entry, left by a man in 1999, reads: “I started my journey here hoping for two things, one that somewhere out here I would find myself, and two that I would find some hope for the future. Now I am here at the bus, and I am happy because the future looks up and I know who I am.”

One undated entry, written in pencil, is addressed directly to McCandless: “Christopher J McCandless, AKA Supertramp, I envy the ability you had to put this world aside and live out your dream, something so many of us lack. If your spirit still looms here, if this is your eternal paradise and you watch us come and go year by year season by season, I hope you help instill some of your awesome qualities in each of us that make the grueling trip to your resting place.”