Chris McCandless: A modern Thoreau?

alaska Into the Wild

Wrangell St. Elias National Park in Alaska. Photo credit: Bryan Goff, Unsplash.

Do you ever dream of being away from it all and living life on your own terms in the woods, like Henry David Thoreau? The idea has its attractions sometimes, especially when modern society proves vexing.

The idea’s nice to ponder — especially when I’m sitting near a lake or walking through a forest — but I don’t think I could ever really do it for long, though. I’d eventually miss the conveniences of modern society — movies, books, socializing with my family and friends — and would return.

Chris McCandless, whose story was immortalized in Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild, was a young man who did pull off the Thoreau existence in Alaska for a time. I’d heard of the movie (haven’t seen it yet), but when I came across the book, I was curious to read the backstory.

(WARNING: SPOILERS AHEAD if you haven’t read the book or seen the movie.)

Krakauer depicts an intelligent, idealistic and rebellious young man whose drive to escape to Alaska was particularly strong. McCandless, who traveled under the name “Alex Supertramp”, seems to have had a gift for making friends on his travels. You can see that in the book.

The book contained a major surprise, for me at least: Chris McCandless came from the Washington, DC metro area. When he and his family lived in the area, I may have passed by them at the mall or walked past them at a store.

Who knows? Life is funny that way.

Tragically, McCandless underestimated the Alaskan wilderness and died there in his twenties. He would be in his early 50s now if he had survived.

Were you happy, Chris? Did you ever see the Northern Lights? I envy you that (I still want to see them — Alaska’s on my bucket list).

From what the book says, McCandless eventually intended to abandon his solitary existence and live with friends in South Dakota while he figured out what to do next. I suspect McCandless would have made a good writer.

I wish he’d had the chance.

Video credit: YouTube Movies, YouTube.


Filed under Writing

13 responses to “Chris McCandless: A modern Thoreau?

  1. Servetus

    Krakauer has a lot in common with McCandless, and I found his lack of critical distance disturbing. I would, however, recommend Krakauer’s book on Everest expeditions.

  2. Yes. I do have this dream. And with more frequency in recent years…enjoyed the post.

  3. Into Thin Air, by Jon Krakauer, also made into a TV movie (Into Thin Air: Death on Everest) and the basis for a 2015 feature-length film entitled “Everest.” All three are riveting and harrowing accounts about the tragic 1996 Everest expedition, in which Krakauer participated.

    I thought it both fitting and ironic that Krakauer chose to tell McCandless’ story.

  4. Back before I married Garry, I was visiting from Israel and he took me to Walden Pond where, aside from the glorious autumn trees, I bumped into Boston’s mayor who was also there enjoying the leaves.

    What really struck me were the huge signs saying “Water use prohibited. Water is polluted.” I hope they’ve cleaned it up by now.

  5. I think Thoreau’s philosophy of simple living and communion with nature is not only increasingly relevant to today’s problems, but I think they’re increasingly necessary to adopt.


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