Education

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

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Hello, everyone!  Read any good books lately?

Because I’ve had my nose in a book nonstop since last year, when I published a post about the importance of reading for travelers and adventurers (a post that you can access here). I’ve been making a conscious effort to live up to my own words, which is why I have been reading a lot in my down time. One of the adventures I’ve recently had the pleasure of vicariously experiencing is that of Chris McCandless, as told by journalist Jon Krakauer in his book, Into the Wild. This particular piece of investigative journalism hits on a lot of important topics in the world of wanderers, so I’ve got to spread the word. Let’s jump right in!

Quick Stats

Title: Into the Wild

Author: Jon Krakauer

Genre: Non-fiction / Travel Biography

Length: 212 pages

Preview: “In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. His name was Christopher Johnson McCandless.  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…” – John Krakauer

Summary

May contain spoilers.

Into the Wild follows Chris McCandless’ journey from his original home in Annandale, Virginia across the United States and eventually to the Stampede Trail outside of Healy, Alaska. He begins this epic trek shortly after graduating from Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia in 1990. Although he let his family know that he intended to be away traveling after his schooling, they had no idea that his plans were so extreme and long term.

McCandless soon after changed his name (unofficially) to Alexander Supertramp, and spent the following two years exploring the US. His travels took him through Nevada, California, Arizona, Mexico, Texas, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, South Dakota, Canada, and Alaska — returning to some of those states two or three times before venturing off again, and meeting several good friends along the way with whom he kept in contact.

The trip into the Alaskan bush was meant to be McCandless’ final undertaking before settling down in one of the towns he had grown familiar with and fond of over the years. He had planned on staying in the forest and living off the land for several months, but entered the Interior with minimal provisions.  Although this struck many as concerning, perhaps even idiotic, it appears as though McCandless intended to test himself with a very small margin of error.  And for the most part, he was very successful.

Unfortunately, upon his attempt to leave, he realized that the Sushana River had risen greatly since he’d originally crossed it on the trail. He retreated back into the forest and, forced to stay in the area, ended up eating the seeds of a wild potato plant, which ultimately poisoned him. Despite his circumstances, McCandless proclaimed shortly before his death that he’d “had a happy life,” and said goodbye.  He died around mid-August, and was discovered weeks later by hunters who happened upon his notes in the area, which led them to his body.

You should read this book if…

1. You empathize with restlessness and idealism.

Chris McCandless’ presents as being strongly driven by idealistic beliefs and morals. He seems to have felt strongly about the current state of society, and how to best remedy that state on an individual level. Obviously, one of his primary methods of saving oneself was through travel, and the trials that come with it. He believed that the best way to find oneself was to strip away the materialistic and unnecessary indulgences of typical life, to see what someone is made of with only their wits about them to ensure their own success. If this yearning for a simpler, wholesome, mobile life is something you identify with, you’ll probably find McCandless to be a great person to read about!

2. You like investigative journalism.

This book is biographical, so it was written from the speculative perspective of Jon Krakauer. To some, this may make the book less appealing, as it isn’t a firsthand account.  However, for those who enjoy a little investigative work, this book is a real treat. Readers get to follow Krakauer’s process as he gathers information and makes suggestions as to what McCandless was up to during his travels, and how he ended up where he did.  Luckily, the way Krakauer spins his investigation in writing is very much like a story, making it entertaining beyond the satisfying idea of doing some digging and finding some answers.

You should probably not read this book if…

1. You prefer stories to be told in chronological order.

Because Krakauer investigated McCandless’ death after the fact, his book does not present all of the information in chronological order. Rather, Krakauer gives the reader a general outline of McCandless’ journey, and then fills in the details as the timeline progresses leading up to his death. This is beneficial for establishing the investigative journaling niche (the information is presented in the order that it was discovered), but for people who prefer not to move back and forth along a story’s timeline, this written work might not be a good choice.

2. You don’t like knowing the ending from the get go.

There are no secrets at the beginning of the book. Even in the blurb on the front cover, it is explicitly said that McCandless is found dead. Throughout the entire book, the reader knows that his end is approaching. If you’re the type of person who likes to wholeheartedly ride every twist and turn in a story, this book may be boring for you.

The Big Take Away (On Overestimating Your Abilities)

If I realized one thing from reading Into the Wild, it’s the importance of minding your capabilities. I often encourage myself and others to be wary of underestimating, which can lead to opportunities lost to fear. But there is clearly a fine line between under- and overestimating, and that line needs to be appreciated.

Chris McCandless was ridiculed by many after his death for being a fool-hardy kid without any common sense. I wouldn’t go so far as many of the critics Krakauer quotes in his book, but I will acknowledge that McCandless entered into situations without being fully prepared. Although I commend him on his confidence and his desire to test himself, I cannot abide his lack of planning and research. Several of his problems during his final quest could have been easily overcome had he prepared a bit more thoroughly.

I am all for adventure, and a little danger in my excursions. However, I can’t imagine taking it so far as to overtly put my life on the line for a thrill.  Testing yourself is one thing, but I don’t believe there is any shame in having a backup plan in place should it turn out you are not as capable as you think.

On that note, everyone be safe today!

What are your thoughts on Chris McCandless’ adventures? Comment below!

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