Into the Wild

When I recently read that they were turning Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” into a movie, I was pretty excited. It had been one of my favorite books ever since I had read it many years ago while living in Boulder, CO. The tragic story tells the tale of Chris McCandless’ journey and death in the wilds of Alaska in the late 90’s. A child of means, he gave up everything to become a wanderer guided by his own desires and the writings of Tolstoy, Thoreau and Salinger. He lived the life of an adventurer, finding places that pushed and challenged him, hidden utopias mixed with near-danger and a passing memory left with a number of people throughout the country. Unfortunately, McCandless’ ultimate journey – to Alaska to find himself amidst the wilds, learning if he could survive by his own wits, off the grid. To his merit, he almost made it … almost.

Although his travels evoked a wanderlust in me, thinking of the majesty of his “On The Road”-like journey (despite the surrounding tragedy). It also had a bit of a personal familiarly with the behavior spoken about in the book with my friend Chris, who was also known for his tendency to go off on adventures with precious little preparation.*

With the movie – directed by Sean Penn – opening on September 21st, I wanted to read it again, to refresh my memory of the ‘real’ tale of Chris McCandless aka ‘Alex Supertramp’. It’s still a great story, and one that I highly recommend to everyone. But – maybe because I’m a little older and wiser – I can’t help but look at his travels as less whimsical and engaging and more tragic and sad. The ideas he had and the things that he did are admirable in the fact that he had the guts to challenge himself outside of the normal ways – riding the rivers from Colorado all the way to Mexico, living in the floodplains of the deserts of the American west, climbing mountains all along the way. Hubris, or perhaps just plain naivety, cause him to underestimate the requirements of an Alaskan adventure, the miscalculations of which result in his untimely death.

If you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend picking up a copy. Krakauer is a great writer, taking subjects that mix high natural drama and the risk that extreme environments pose for the adventurers who seek to go beyond the norm, whether living off the land in Alaska or trying to summit Everest. He gained his fame mostly from a series of articles in Outside magazine, including what became “Into the Wild” and the Everest-based “Into Thin Air”, but his talent is evident in the way that he not only reports on the known facts but weaves them into a viable story, even when there is little to go on. And this book, despite its tragic end, is still a compelling story to read.

*Ironically, this is the same guy who has since become a Navy SEAL.


One Response to “Into the Wild

  • I saw this book the other day at Border’s and almost picked it up. I like the idea of living a life so unencumbered by civilization that you can wander the earth looking for its beauty and yourself. But, part of me also questions the idea that these people are somehow noble and courageous. I’m thinking of a blogger I used to read whose husband is in a band, traveling the world. She often complains about him not holding down a real job, not having health insurance, etc. Yet she always talks about how “brave” he is for telling conventional life to f*** off. Is it really brave? Is it anymore brave than the person who goes to work everyday at a job he hates to support his wife and kids? I don’t know. Just throwing that out there. I may have to read that book, if I ever find time to read again …

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