The Man Who Disappeared Into the Wild

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By: Isabel Sociedade | Published: Apr 05, 2022

Books and movies have been made observing the life and death of Christopher McCandless, the young man who left his entire life and family behind for a life in the wilderness. Many argue that he was spiritually awakened, or wanted to be, and was seeking something more.

Others argue that he was an arrogant kid who didn’t know what he was doing. Either way, his story is just as fascinating as it is tragic. Read below to learn the story of Christopher McCandless.

An Academic

Christopher McCandless grew up in a suburb in Washington D.C.. He excelled in school and enjoyed traveling. During a summer vacation from college, Christopher took a road trip to Alaska, which likely got his wheels turning for what he wanted out of life. His parents were wealthy entrepreneurs who tried to give their children a good education and life.

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However, much to his family’s despair, after receiving his bachelor’s degree, Christopher donated all of his savings to charity and cut off contact with his family. He started a new life.

A Rolling Stone

Christopher drove his car to Arizona where it was disabled in a flash flood. Undeterred, he set off on foot. He traveled throughout the Western United States, sometimes on freight trains but mostly from hitchhiking.

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At one point Christopher acquired an aluminum canoe and paddled from the Colorado River into Mexico. When he entered back into the United States he took up work at a McDonald’s in Arizona. He bounced between states like California and Missouri, his grand idea for himself was taking shape.

A Novice with a Mission

Christopher hiked through Canada and reached Fairbanks via the Alaska Highway, then through a three day journey made it to the Stampede Trail. He was ill-prepared in his equipment.

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He only had a small bit of rice, some books, a shoddy map, and a .22 rifle, which had insufficient firing power for big game or defense against bears. Nonetheless, he forged ahead, certain that he was doing right by himself and his mission.

A Place to Rest

Christopher’s original plan was to hike to the Bering Sea. However, 20 miles into his journey he came across an abandoned bus on a little-traveled trail. Plants had overgrown inside of it and the tires were flat. Christopher decided to set up home. 

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For the next 16 weeks, Chris would live in this bus, all the while keeping a diary of the perils he was facing, which involved food shortage, being snowed in, and becoming weaker.

Trying to Survive

Christopher survived off of the rice he had brought, scavenging for berries, and hunting small game like squirrels and geese. At one point he was able to kill a caribou, however its carcass rotted before he could make use of it.

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After two months of trying to survive, Christopher had had enough of living as a recluse outside of society and decided to return. He packed up his camp and began the trek back to return.

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No Way to Return

When Christopher tried to take the path of the frozen Teklanika River back to civilization, he was confronted by surging waters of a 75-foot-wide river fed by melting snow. There was no way for him to pass.

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From Christopher’s perspective, he had become trapped on the wrong side of the river. However, he was missing crucial information due to his lack of preparedness, and reliance on out of date maps. 

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The Options He Couldn’t See

Christopher didn’t know that a mile downriver from him there was a hand-operated tram that would easily allow him to make the river crossing.

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He also did not know that six miles south of the bus he had holed up in, there was a cozy cabin stocked with food and supplies. Both of these destinations were marked on most maps in the area.

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“Lonely, Scared”

Unable to cross the river, Christopher headed back to the bus to reconvene. His diary entry from that day read: “Rained in. River looks impossible. Lonely, scared.”

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After he reached the bus that day, his diary entries became much shorter and much more bleak. He continued to try to hunt and scavenge for plants, but he was growing weaker everyday.

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Christopher Begins to Fade Away

Christopher’s last diary entry was entered on the 107th day of his stay in the bus said only “Beautiful Blue Berries.” From that day until day 113 (his last day alive) the entries were simply marked with slashes.

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On September 6, 1992, a pair of moose hunters came across the bus and saw a note that read: “ATTENTION POSSIBLE VISITORS. S.O.S. I NEED YOUR HELP. I AM INJURED, NEAR DEATH, AND TOO WEAK TO HIKE OUT OF HERE. I AM ALL ALONE, THIS IS NO JOKE. IN THE NAME OF GOD, PLEASE REMAIN TO SAVE ME. I AM OUT COLLECTING BERRIES CLOSE BY AND SHALL RETURN THIS EVENING. THANK YOU.”

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A Grim Discovery

When the hikers entered the bus they found Christopher gathered inside his sleeping bag, evidently dead. 

The cause of his death has been debated, some argue he died of starvation, while some say it was mold.

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Another theory is that he accidentally poisoned himself. In a healthy person the Hedysarum alpinum seeds would not do much, but in a weak person the poison may be too much.

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