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.
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.”
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.
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Movie trailer, “Into the Wild:” http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2LAuzT_x8Ek
Photo: Alaska – big bull moose. Photo was taken in 2005 in Chugach State Park, Alaska. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/4/47/Bigbullmoose.jpg/622px-Bigbullmoose.jpg
Photo: Denali – Grizzly Bear, picture taken by Jean-Pierre Lavoie in 2004. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/3/36/Grizzly_Denali_edit.jpg/640px-Grizzly_Denali_edit.jpg
Photo: Alaska – Young moose near Point Woronzof, Anchorage. Taken: April 2008. http://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/thumb/8/8a/Young_moose_with_the_munchies_near_Point_Woronzof%2C_Anchorage%2C_Alaska.jpg/526px-Young_moose_with_the_munchies_near_Point_Woronzof%2C_Anchorage%2C_Alaska.jpg