Christopher Johnson McCandless (February 12, 1968 – mid-August, 1992) was an American itinerant who adopted the name Alexander Supertramp and hiked into the Alaskan wilderness with little food and equipment, hoping to live a period of solitude. Almost four months later, weighing only 67 pounds (30 kg), he died of starvation near Denali National Park and Preserve. Inspired by the details of McCandless's story, author Jon Krakauer wrote a book about his adventures published in 1996 titled Into the Wild. In 2007, Sean Penn directed a film of the same title, with Emile Hirsch portraying McCandless.
McCandless's story is also the subject of a 2007 documentary by Ron Lamothe named The Call of the Wild. In his study of McCandless's death, Lamothe concludes that McCandless starved to death and was not poisoned by eating the seeds of the wild potato, as had initially been suggested by author Jon Krakauer based on a passage near the end of McCandless' journal.
After graduating in 1990, he donated the remaining $24,000 of the $47,000 given to him by family for his last two years of college to Oxfam International, a charity, and began traveling under the name "Alexander Supertramp" (Krakauer notes the connection with W. H. Davies, Welsh author of The Autobiography of a Super-Tramp, published in 1908). McCandless made his way through Arizona,California, and South Dakota, where he worked at a grain elevator. He alternated between having jobs and living with no money or human contact, sometimes successfully foraging for food. He survived aflash flood, but allowed his car to wash out (although it suffered little permanent damage and was later reused by the local police force) and disposed of his license plate. He also paddled a canoe down remote stretches of the Colorado River to the Gulf of California. McCandless took pride in surviving with a minimum of gear and funds, and generally made little preparation. He was, however, frequently fed or otherwise aided by people he met on his travels.
For years, McCandless dreamed of an "Alaskan Odyssey" where he would live off the land, far away from civilization, and keep a journal describing his physical and spiritual progress as he faced the forces of nature. In April 1992, McCandless hitchhiked to Fairbanks, Alaska. He was last seen alive by Jim Gallien, who gave him a ride from Fairbanks to the Stampede Trail. Gallien was concerned about "Alex", who had minimal supplies (not even a compass) and no experience of surviving in the Alaskan bush. Gallien repeatedly tried to persuade Alex to defer his trip, and even offered to drive him to Anchorage to buy suitable equipment and supplies. However, McCandless ignored Gallien's warnings, refusing all assistance except for a pair of rubber boots, two tuna melt sandwiches, and a bag of corn chips. Eventually, Gallien dropped him at the head of the Stampede Trail on Tuesday, April 28, 1992.
After hiking along the snow-covered Stampede Trail, McCandless found an abandoned bus used as a hunting shelter and parked on an overgrown section of the trail near Denali National Park, and began to try to live off the land. He had a 10-pound bag of rice, a Remington semi-automatic rifle with 400 rounds of .22LR hollowpoint ammunition, a book of local plant life, several other books, and some camping equipment. He assumed he could forage for plant food and hunt game. McCandless poached porcupines and birds. He managed to kill a moose; however, he failed to preserve the meat properly, and it spoiled. Rather than thinly slicing and air-drying the meat, like jerky, as is usually done in the Alaskan bush, he smoked it, following the advice of hunters he had met in South Dakota.
His journal contains entries covering a total of 112 days. These entries range from ecstatic to grim with McCandless's changing fortunes. In July, after living in the bus for three months, he decided to leave, but found the trail back blocked by the Teklanika River, which was then considerably higher and swifter than when he crossed in April. Unknown to McCandless, there was a hand-operated tram that crossed the river only 1/4 of a mile away from where he has previously crossed. McCandless lived in the bus for a total of 113 days.
On August 12, McCandless wrote what are assumed to be his final words in his journal: "Beautiful Blueberries."
- Death's a fierce meadowlark: but to die having made
- Something more equal to centuries
- Than muscle and bone, is mostly to shed weakness.
- The mountains are dead stone, the people
- Admire or hate their stature, their insolent quietness,
- The mountains are not softened or troubled
- And a few dead men's thoughts have the same temper.
On the other side of the page, McCandless added, "I HAVE HAD A HAPPY LIFE AND THANK THE LORD. GOODBYE AND MAY GOD BLESS ALL!"
His body was found in his sleeping bag inside the bus on September 6, 1992, weighing an estimated 67 pounds (30 kg). He had been dead for more than two weeks. His official cause of death wasstarvation. Biographer Jon Krakauer suggests two factors may have contributed to McCandless's death. First, he was running the risk of a phenomenon known as "rabbit starvation" due to increased activity, compared with the leanness of the game he was hunting. Initially, Krakauer claimed McCandless might have ingested toxic seeds (Hedysarum alpinum). However, extensive laboratory testing proves conclusively there was no alkaloid toxin present in McCandless's food supplies.
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