There are some things that just move you — that stick in your brain and you cannot let them go. This happened to me recently. I had finished my morning chores and decided to chill out and see what was on TV. I stumbled upon a movie called “Into the Wild.” I had missed the first 20 minutes, but I decided to keep watching as it looked interesting. I realized later that I had actually seen this movie way back around the time it came out in 2007, but, for whatever reason, it did not resonate with me. This time it did in a big way. I watched and re-watched the movie, read two books, and watched numerous You Tube videos about it. I was (and still am) a bit obsessed with this story.
It’s about a man named Chris McCandless who left his cushy life to set out on the road to find adventure, with his ultimate goal of living off the land in Alaska. After traveling (mostly hitching rides or riding the rails) for 2 years on his own, he finally made it there and ended up dying of starvation alone after living on his own for over 100 days. It was so sad. His last words were taken in a self portrait of him smiling and happy: “I have had a happy life and thank the lord. Goodbye and may God bless all.” He was 24 years old. He died young, but he lived his dream. How many people can say that?
His story hit home for me for several reasons. First of all, the story took place from 1990-1992, a very significant period in my life. I got married to the love of my life in August 1990 and, like Chris, in January 1992 we put everything in storage, bought a VW Vanagon, and hit the road for 5 months. We were just a few years older than Chris at the time. We lived in the van with our 2 dogs, seeking no or low cost places to stay — mainly national and state forests. We lived simply and never knew where the road would lead us. At the time, this was a bit stressful. A day or two before we left, I remember thinking, “What the hell are we doing? Are we crazy?” However, looking back, I am so glad that we took that trip. We were young and it was the best time of our lives to do it. We had no idea where we were going to live when we returned, what jobs we would get, or what the future held for us. Our trip led to fun adventures because we never knew what the day would bring. That is something Chris wanted as well. He never wanted to make an itinerary because it reduced his chance for adventure.
We started out in January 1992 from Cincinnati, OH, which meant we made a beeline to Florida and warmth. Then we traveled throughout the south into the southwest. We visited many state parks, National Forests, and National Parks along the way. Our Eagle pass gave us free entry into any National Park which was great. Then we headed up the coast of California, Oregon, and Washington. Then back east through Idaho, Montana, the Dakotas and onto Ohio and home. We took probably hundreds of pictures which I still treasure. As it turns out, we would have never crossed paths with Chris, but I find it very interesting that we did see some of the same places that he did on his travels. Here we are somewhere in Arizona. Chris spent a lot of time there.
As it turned out, Chris was running from an untenable family situation. He was fed up and, basically, never contacted them after he left in July 1990. Luckily, we were not running from anything like that. Although it was the era before cellphones and sometimes days would go by before we phoned home to our parents. We had to plan for mail to be sent to various post offices that we knew we would be going by as we traveled. Chris did something similar. He made many friends in his travels and he wrote them often to keep them apprised of where he was and what he was doing.
Another thing Chris was escaping from was society. He grew up rich and did not like the materialistic way in which he was raised. He sought to get rid of all his possessions and leave them behind. This gave him the freedom he needed. We significantly downsized our things, but not as drastically as Chris did. I probably had less stuff then than ever before in my life. I need to go back to that. I have too much stuff, but some things are just hard to part with. It’s never been easy for me to purge things from my life. Chris was fed up with society and its rules. We felt the same way. I am not sure, but it is my guess that Chris felt he didn’t fit into modern society. We both felt that way and I still do. When I think about all the violence and hate that I witness regularly, it does make me want to retreat. I don’t believe in any of that and when our society is so full of this evil I don’t want to be a part of it anymore. This movie has made me wonder — should I just hit the road and become a “rubber tramp” (people who live on the road via a vehicle). Life would be so much simpler if everything I owned was contained in one vehicle. When I needed a change of scenery I could move on. The world is huge and there is so much to experience. Our trip definitely taught me that. Thinking about doing that again is enticing to me.
Another connection I made to this movie was the fact that we were traveling at the same time. While Chris had been traveling for a year and a half before we ventured out, we were all looking for the same thing. Adventure. Memories. Freedom from the hum drum of daily life. And escape from the negativity of society. As it turned out, Chris passed away on our 2nd anniversary, August 18, 1992. Another connection. I wish I could think back to what we had done that year to celebrate. Little did we know that a man’s life had ended that day. One that we seemed to have a lot in common with.
In the movie, towards the end, it showed a self portrait Chris had taken next to his “Magic Bus.” This was an old bus that had been left in the Alaska wilderness. He stumbled upon it several days after he started hiking on the Stampede Trail. He died inside the bus. The picture bore a striking resemblance to my husband, Randy. It made be wonder if Randy would have ever gone off and had an adventure of his own had he never met me. He had that spirit in him. Like Chris, Randy died at a young age — 38 — from cancer. The first picture is Chris and the second is Randy. I think if the two of them had met they would have had much to talk about and lots in common.
Of course, at the time of our trip, we had no idea that Randy’s life would be cut short. He was young, healthy, and perfect when we took our trip. So while the trip was stressful at times, I am so glad we took the risk and stuck it out for 5 months. Now I have so many memories of our months together on the road. All these many years later, I still think about our adventures and remember them fondly.
I have also been listening to the soundtrack of the movie by Eddie Vedder. Those songs just won’t leave my head. Below are a few links to some songs. I encourage you to watch and listen closely to the lyrics. The first one was not written by Eddie Vedder for the movie, but its lyrics are appropriate. It just keeps playing in my head. It’s called Hard Sun. The chorus goes like this: There’s a big; A big hard sun; Beaten on the big people; In the big hard world. I think that the sun symbolizes society. Another song is Guaranteed which was written for the movie. In it, the lyrics say: Everyone I come across in cages they bought; They think of me and my wandering; But I’m never what they thought; Got my indignation but I’m pure in all my thoughts; I’m alive. I think we all felt alive when we were traveling. Free and alive. A final song I will mention is called Society. Again, the lyrics were written for the movie and Chris’s story. The opening lyrics read: It’s a mystery to me; We have a greed; With which we have agreed; You think you have to want; More than you need; Until you have it all you won’t be free; Society, you’re a crazy breed; I hope you’re not lonely without me. I know that on our trip we did not miss being part of the mainstream. Chris felt the same way.
Jon Krakauer wrote the book about Chris by the same title — Into the Wild. Before the book, he had written an article for Outdoor magazine. He, too, connected personally with Chris. He had similar longings to seek adventure. So, writing the book was a natural progression for him. CLICK HERE to read the article. Perhaps you will be as fascinated with this story as me. In addition, Chris’s sister, Carine, wrote a book called The Wild Truth. It tells the story of Chris’s childhood and why he felt disconnected from his parents. I highly recommend them both.
I will leave you with these words: Life is short. Take the risk. Follow your dream. This can happen no matter what your age. On his travels, Chris befriended an older gentleman — I believe he was in his 80s. Before meeting Chris, he was pretty much a loner who rarely interacted with other people. Chris had talked to him about taking a chance and hitting the road. And he did. If someone in their 80s can find adventure, anyone can. It just takes will and determination. What is your dream? What’s stopping you?