Understanding Christopher McCandless

Chris McCandless, a 24 year old college graduate, sets out to explore North America in July of 1990, amassing notable ventures.

  • He drives his Datsun out West to Detrital Wash, Arizona- only to abandon it after a flash flood.
  • He takes off to South Dakota, working in a grain elevator in Carthage, South Dakota. When his employer is arrested, he heads south.
  • Arriving in Topock Arizona, he impulsively buys a canoe and paddles down the Colorado River to the Gulf of California.
  • Once past the floodgates of the Morelo Dam, he meets duck hunters who take him back to their base camp and subsequently drive him to El Golfo de Santa Clara.
  • He hitchhikes back to Carthage and resumes work at the grain elevator.
  • He hitchhikes from Carthage, South Dakota to Fairbanks, Alaska.
  • He is last seen alive at the Stampede Trail on April 28, 1992.

Why would someone leave a comfortable life to go into the wild?

Although McCandless is an extreme case of self-exploration, all of us have had similar thoughts- to take off for an indefinite period of time. To ensconce ourselves in nature where the possibilities are endless and responsibilities don’t exist- except for existing. To rid ourselves of materialistic things we consider necessities, but don’t really need. To stave off the conventional thinking that the only life to live is the one that finds us- upon graduating college- on the path to a 9-5 job, getting married, and having children.

Where McCandless missteps in his journey is his inability to recognize his own naivety. McCandless cuts off all relational ties, burns his money, deserts his car, and lives off the land in the Alaskan Wilderness without the proper knowledge and gear. By the end of his journey, we see he needs all of these things in order to survive.

Chris McCandless is the embodiment of youth- questioning, exploratory, uncertain. Who am I? What is my purpose? Why am I here? Am I doing what is right for me?

What are your thoughts? How do you understand Chris McCandless?

“If you want to get more out of life, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty.”- Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild


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