Into the Wild

Alaska - big bull mooseBy Judy Berman

I was just 17. Mad at my folks because they wouldn’t let me go on an end-of-the-year school picnic.

It was 5:30 in the morning. I stepped out of my bedroom window onto the back porch. No packed bags. No money. I got as far as turning the corner of our ranch-style home by our front porch.

Dad always said I thought seven steps ahead. Sure enough, I begin to fret on how I’d make a go of it with no money, no skills, not even a high school diploma.

Then, I turned around and entered the house the way I’d left and went back to bed. I never mentioned this to my folks.

But, what if? What if I’d left? Forget the gender ramifications. In all likelihood, like “Alex Supertramp” in Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild,” I probably would have starved to death.

“Alex’s” real name was Christopher Johnson McCandless. On the book’s cover, we learn that, in April 1992, this “young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mount McKinley.”

“He had given $25,000 in savings to charity, abandoned his car and most of his possessions, burned all the cash in his wallet, and invented a new life for himself. Four months later, his decomposed body was found by a moose hunter.”

I read Krakauer’s book after we returned from Alaska years ago, and Alex’s experiences haunt me still.


It’s odd how I can relate to a character that I have little in common with. What intrigued me about Alex is that he did what I’d wanted to do for decades – just run off, on my own and see the world. The difference is I thought about the ‘what if’s’ and how I wouldn’t want to hurt my family.

Alex was a likeable guy, intelligent, musically talented and well-read. But it seems that any time people got close to him, he’d pull another vanishing act. He’d bummed around the country for about two years, doing odd jobs and living with people he met along the way.

He aimed for Alaska, a place he’d dreamed about since he was a kid. Alex/McCandless told a friend “about his intent to spend the summer alone in the bush, living off the land.” He wanted to be alone in the wilds and “wanted to prove to himself that he could make it on his own, without anybody’s help,” said Gaylord Stuckey, a trucker, who drove Alex to Fairbanks before they parted ways.

Jim Gallien was the last one to give Alex a ride. He thought Alex’s “scheme was foolhardy and tried repeatedly to dissuade him.“ When Gallien couldn’t, he insisted that Alex take “an old pair of rubber work boots.”

The only food Alex carried from Gallien’s truck was a 10-pound bag of long-grained rice he’d purchased, “plus two grilled-cheese-and-tuna sandwiches and a bag of corn chips” that Gallien had contributed. Alex’s backpack also contained library books that included Thoreau and Tostoy.

Grizzly Bear, Denali National Park, Alaska

Grizzly Bear, Denali National Park, Alaska

Some 20 miles into the wild, “he stumbled upon the old bus beside the Sushana River. It was “outfitted with a bunk and a barrel stove” and other provisions left by previous visitors.

In time, he missed the companionship. In his remaining days, he noted: “Happiness is only real when shared.”

Perhaps, Alex discovered some truth in Henry David Thoreau’s quote: “Not until we are lost do we begin to understand ourselves.”

Young moose, Alaska

Young moose, Alaska

In August, “McCandless penned a brief adios: “I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!”

“Then he crawled into the sleeping bag his mother had sewn for him and slipped into unconsciousness. He probably died August 18, 112 days after he’d walked into the wild, 19 days before six Alaskans would happen across the bus and discover his body inside,” Krakauer wrote.

No longer that starry-eyed teen who once fantasized about running away, I now look at Alex’s journey thru a mother’s eyes. I wish he’d been able to say good-bye to his parents, as well as others who missed and loved him.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Movie trailer, “Into the Wild:” 

Photo: Alaska – big bull moose. Photo was taken in 2005 in Chugach State Park, Alaska.

Photo: Denali – Grizzly Bear, picture taken by Jean-Pierre Lavoie in 2004.

Photo: Alaska – Young moose near Point Woronzof, Anchorage. Taken: April 2008.

Another Roadside Attraction

Alaska– Part 2

by Judy Berman

The Land of the Midnight Sun, Alaska, is a wild frontier. It has a vast wilderness populated with bear, moose and wolves. Some of its communities are reachable only by plane.

In the time we spent in Alaska, we had just one regret. We never got to see Denali National Park. We were headed to the park – about 200 miles from our hotel in Fairbanks – when our trip was abruptly cut short just past Cripple Creek Road. About 14 miles outside of Fairbanks, we became another roadside attraction.

I was used to driving on icy roads, but I hit a patch of ice and overcorrected the car when it began to skid.

Huge mistake. The Ford Explorer veered into a ditch and flipped onto its roof. We were unhurt, but the rented vehicle was totaled.

Still, that wasn’t our most memorable experience in Alaska.

Ice Alaska had just wrapped up shortly after we arrived in Fairbanks. But the frozen images of a full dog sled team and musher, a huge ship and an ice castle were still intact. It’s amazing what works of beauty ice artists can create from a block of ice.

This year, the World Ice Art Championships runs from Feb. 28 to March 25.  Seventy teams from all over the globe will compete in this event that attracts more than 100 ice artists and 45,000 visitors.

Another first for us was to see greenish Northern Lights in an inky sky dotted with stars above our hotel. (That story about the aurora borealis was in my previous blog: “Kaleidoscope Skies, Alaska, Part 1.”)

One morning after brunch, we flew in a small plane from Fairbanks to Fort Yukon – eight miles north of the Arctic Circle. It held only two other passengers and the pilot. Mail and boxed items took up most of the plane’s remaining space.

The folks at Frontier Flying Service must have alerted Richard Carroll that two tourists were on their way. He met us at the airport and gave us an exclusive two-hour guided tour of the village. Typically, this owner/operator of Alaska Yukon Tours has a busload of people. He also conducts river tours, lake tours, gold panning and wilderness camping.

The village seems to have one foot in the past and another very much in the future. Carroll said about “150 years ago, my people were in the Stone Age. Then, as if by slingshot, they were catapulted into the 20th century.”

To emphasize that point, he showed us the dinosaurs of technology left behind when the Air Force left town. A long-range radar site that look like a giant white golf ball with huge antennas. There is a string of these – 25 of them – from the Aleutian Islands across North America.

Just how cold does it get here? Wikipedia says: “The highest temperature ever recorded in Alaska was in Fort Yukon on June 27, 1915” when it reached 100 degrees Fahrenheit (38 degrees Celsius). “Until 1971, Fort Yukon also held the all-time lowest temperature recorded at 78 degrees below zero.”

When we visited, the high was 38 degrees in Fort Yukon and the low was 5 below zero. It actually seemed milder than the weather we left behind in Central New York (where we lived at the time).

That lured us into thinking it’d be a great day for a drive, and off we went toward Denali National Park.

About 15 minutes later, our drive ended with our vehicle upside down in a ditch. Every passing motorist stopped and offered to help. Two great guys from the Department of Transportation – Mike Rogan and Chris Tilly – freed us from the car, made sure we got out of the Explorer unharmed, called state police and waited with us until a trooper arrived.

I wrote a letter to the local paper and to their boss thanking Rogan and Tilly for their help.

Months later, I got a postcard at work featuring the Northern Lights and I burst out laughing. It was from Rogan and Tilly, the guys at the DOT. The message? They invited us to come back to visit Alaska.

This time, Rogan ribbed us, we should see the Northern Lights right side up.

COPYRIGHT NOTICE: Judy Berman and earthrider, 2011-15. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to (Judy Berman) and (earthrider,, or earthriderdotcom) with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Photo caption: A trip interrupted. Dave and I next to our rented vehicle.

Photo caption: A 9-foot-tall ice sculpture depicting New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees in the midst of a throw. Dawson List (the owner of the photo as well) sculpted it in Fairbanks, Alaska

Photo caption: On the way into Denali National Park and Preserve. It is located in Interior Alaska and contains Mount McKinley, the tallest mountain in North America. The park covers 9,492 square miles.

For humorous comments about mosquitos in Alaska and serious info, go to Alaska Wildlife: