• Menu
  • Menu
Close

The Story, The Bus, And The Cultural Phenomenon Behind The Real Into The Wild

‘Into the Wild’ told the tragic true story of Chris McCandless. Almost three decades have passed, but Chris’ story has grown to become a cultural phenomenon.

Chris McCandless traveled into the Alaskan wilderness and never made it home

Chris McCandless was a young man when he decided to travel into the Alaskan wilderness. Tragically, he never returned home from his journey. Chris was ambitious and wanted to make it all on his own. He insisted on making the trip with no one by his side, but he was only gone for a few months when hunters found his body. What caused him to lose his life?

Chris McCandless traveled into the Alaskan wilderness and never made it home
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

How long had he been waiting? These are all questions no one has answered to date. Chris’ journey almost sounds like something straight out of Hollywood. However, it was a real journey that had tragic consequences. Actor Sean Penn directed the biographic movie ‘Into the Wild’ in the hopes of bringing Chris McCandless’ story to life.

Two moose hunters were the first to find Chris McCandless and his bus

Two moose hunters traveling through Denali National Park were the first ones to find Chris McCandless’ body on September 6, 1992. They stumbled across a bus that had a crumpled note taped to the door. It was from Chris as the explorer explained that he was in desperate need of help. He needed someone to wait for him to come back. Unfortunately, the hunters were too late.

Two moose hunters were the first to find Chris McCandless and his bus
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

They found Chris inside and eventually learned he’d passed 19 days before they arrived. Amazingly, Chris kept a detailed diary explaining his adventure until his passing. There are many questions surrounding his passing, but we know how it started. Chris packed a bag, donated his life savings of $24,000 to charity, and headed into the wild.

Chris McCandless hitchhiked his way to Denali National Park from South Dakota

The journey began in April 1992 as Chris hitchhiked from South Dakota to Alaska. Once Chris arrived in Fairbanks, he managed to catch a ride with electrician Jim Gallien as he headed out of town. However, Chris told the kind man his name was Alex – a nod to famous writer and homeless man, W.H. Davies, who inspired the name Alexander Supertramp.

Chris McCandless hitchhiked his way to Denali National Park from South Dakota
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

Jim agreed to take “Alex” to Denali National Park, but he was worried. The young man hardly had any supplies, and Jim knew he wouldn’t survive. He tried to convince “Alex” to let him buy some things from the local store. Sadly, he was having none of it. In the end, “Alex” agreed to take some rubber boots before he left.

Jim Gallien was the last person to see Chris McCandless alive

It turned out that Jim Gallien was the last person to see Chris McCandless alive as the young explorer headed down the Stampede Trail on April 28, 1992. Unfortunately, Jim didn’t realize that Chris had left his only map and watch in his truck until it was too late. He was gone. However, before he left, Chris asked Jim to take a photo of him with his camera.

Jim Gallien was the last person to see Chris McCandless alive
Source: Pinterest

The diary entries state that Chris planned to hike along the trail to the Bering Sea, but he was distracted just 20 miles into his trip. Why? The now-famous bus. The paint was peeling, it was almost entirely overgrown, and the tires were deflated. That didn’t matter as it made the perfect shelter.

Chris McCandless quickly found the now-famous bus and set up camp

It didn’t take long for Chris to set up home in his new bus. His light bag already proved to Jim Gallian that Chris didn’t have any form of tent or sleeping bag, so it was probably a relief to the explorer when he found some form of shelter. Here, Chris got to work putting pen to… Plywood?

Chris McCandless quickly found the now-famous bus and set up camp
Source: Jon Krakauer

One of the windows on the bus was missing and had been replaced with a piece of wood. Chris wrote a note about how he was finally free from the chains of the rest of the world and how “after two rambling years,” he was about to start “the final and greatest adventure.” The explorer finished the note with the words “into the wild.”

The explorer kept a detailed diary of his journey into the wild

Chris McCandless wanted to try and survive off the land, meaning he took just 10 pounds of rice with him before he left. He did have a small hunting rifle, but that was it. The explorer had already been on quite the adventure before he made it to the bus, and this marked a new leg in the journey as Chris spent 16 weeks learning how to live off the land.

The explorer kept a detailed diary of his journey into the wild
Source: Diana Saverin

The problem? He was unable to find much food. Chris did manage to capture some geese and squirrels, but the caribou he caught rotted before he could eat the meat. His detailed diary explained how Chris dealt with being snowed in, growing weaker by the day, and his many attempts at survival.

Forgetting his map meant Chris McCandless had no idea help was closer than he realized

The last few pages of Chris McCandless’ diary were the ones that documented how desperate the explorer had got for help. The Teklanika River stood in Chris’ way as he tried to forge on with his journey. However, the raging water made it impossible to cross. Even though he was used to trying anything, even Chris knew that he wouldn’t make it to the other side.

Forgetting his map meant Chris McCandless had no idea help was closer than he realized
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

He took to his diary, where Chris penned that he was “Lonely, scared.” If he had remembered his only map or been more prepared for the adventure, Chris might have realized there was a hand-operated tram just one mile away. There was even a cabin filled with food and supplies that would have been enough to save Chris’ life.

Chris McCandless did try to return home, but the trail conditions had changed

Things took an even more tragic turn as he continued to document every emotion and aspect of his journey. Just two months after heading into the wild, Chris wanted to return home. Sadly, he had no idea how to make it back. Chris did try to make it out of the national park as he packed his things and trekked back to the Teklanika River on July 3, 1992.

Chris McCandless did try to return home, but the trail conditions had changed
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

However, there was a problem. The river was nothing more than a trickling stream when he first crossed the water. Now, the melted snow and thawed ice meant it was more than 75-foot wide, and the water raged out of control. Chris had no choice but to return to the bus and wait it out.

His diary entries got less and less descriptive as Chris McCandless grew weaker

Chris McCandless made it back to the bus on July 8, but there were even more problems waiting for the explorer. He was using more energy than he was eating, meaning he continued to grow weaker with every day that passed. Even Chris’ diary entries got shorter and more tragic. His last written entry came on Chris’ 107th day in the wild.

His diary entries got less and less descriptive as Chris McCandless grew weaker
Source: Carine McCandless

All he managed to pen was “Beautiful Blueberries.” From then until the 113th day, Chris wrote nothing more than slashes for each day. The moose hunters didn’t find Chris’ bus until 132 days into the explorer’s journey. One of the hunters went inside and thought they were looking at a bag of rotting food. It was actually Chris’ body.

Jon Krakauer believes he knows the real reason Chris McCandless lost his life

Many people have tried to work out what caused Chris McCandless to lose his life. For years, people assumed the explorer had run out of food and merely starved. However, Jon Krakauer had another theory. For years, he has studied the story, written a book about Chris and his journey, and was even the first journalist to share the epic real-life story.

Jon Krakauer believes he knows the real reason Chris McCandless lost his life
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

Jon actually thinks Chris’ diary entries document the real reason he lost his life. He believes Chris ate poisonous Hedysarum alpinum seeds. They wouldn’t cause much damage to a healthy person as gut bacteria and stomach acid destroy the toxins. Tragically, Chris was incredibly weak by this point and could have eaten the seeds as a last attempt to survive.

Experts now think it wasn’t the seeds that caused Chris to pass away

Other people all have their own idea about how Chris McCandless ultimately lost his life. One journal entry states that Chris grew “Extremely weak” after eating potato seeds. Some experts think the seeds could have been stored in a damp environment, meaning they picked up dangerous mold spores before they were eaten. In 2015, Jon Krakauer had the seeds tested.

Experts now think it wasn’t the seeds that caused Chris to pass away
Source: Associated Press

It showed no toxins, and it was unlikely they were the things that ended Chris’ life. Jon eventually altered his hypothesis. Now, Jon – like many others – believes it was all down to mold. The specific type of mold found in the bus is known to cause digestion problems in various animals. There is a good chance it could have starved Chris.

Chris McCandless took dozens of photos throughout his trip into the wild

One of the many things that have drawn so many people to the real story behind ‘Into the Wild’ are the photographs that Chris McCandless took along the way. The explorer took plenty of self-portraits and landscape shots that tragically show how weak he grew toward the end of his journey. His body was literally wasting away.

Chris McCandless took dozens of photos throughout his trip into the wild
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

Despite everything he was battling, Chris still has a huge smile on his face in each of the shots. Even Chris didn’t know how much danger he was in until the final few days of his adventure. Although the pictures help to document Chris’ journey, no one is really sure what was going through his mind as he posed for each of the shots.

Into the Wild quickly became a cult classic as millions wanted to learn the story

Jon Krakauer’s book quickly gained plenty of fans as everyone wanted to know what really happened to Chris McCandless and his journey into the wild. It wasn’t long before it was handed the title of a cult classic as people say it documents a time like no other in the world. However, there are a few similarities between ‘Into the Wild’ and other novels.

Into the Wild quickly became a cult classic as millions wanted to learn the story
Source: Annie’s Bookz

Author Henry David Thoreau wrote about a self-experiment as he locked himself in a one-bedroom cabin in Massachusetts for two years before telling his story through ‘Walden.’ Perhaps it’s no surprise that Thoreau was Chris’ favorite author? The non-fiction book gained even more attention in 2007 after the movie ‘Into the Wild’ hit the big screen.

People try to recreate Chris McCandless’ journey to the famous bus each year

Each year, Chris McCandless’ bus becomes the center of many people’s attention as they want to recreate the journey from all those years ago. Sadly, there is a problem: the dangers that Chris faced along the way were real – and many of them are still a problem to date. Local residents often refer to people journeying to the bus as “pilgrims.”

People try to recreate Chris McCandless’ journey to the famous bus each year
Source: The Star

These pilgrims often have to be reduced by local park officials or residents as they have no idea about the dangers that lie ahead. One resident, Jon Nierenberg, says he believes that people idolize Chris and often share their own stories in journals that have been left on the famous bus. Even the risk of losing their lives isn’t enough to put people off.

Diana Saverin believes people want to feel free like Chris McCandless

A wilderness enthusiast and journalist, Diana Saverin, has her own thoughts about why so many people try to make their way to the bus. Diana thinks that people head into the wild to seek freedom, but what does that mean? According to the journalist, even they don’t know. Diana says these pilgrims often think of Chris McCandless as someone that just did things without thinking.

Diana Saverin believes people want to feel free like Chris McCandless
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

While it might have cost him his life, Chris didn’t let anything hold him back. Diana remembers one guy she met on the trail. Apparently, he wanted to change his life and become a carpenter. However, he had no idea how. He took a week off work, traveled to Alaska, and journeyed to recreate Chris’ adventure to the bus.

2010 marked the first year someone lost their life on Chris McCandless’ trail

History repeated itself in 2010. A Swiss hiker named Claire Achermann wanted to try and recreate Chris McCandless’ journey from all those years ago but tragically lost her life along the way. It turns out the raging Teklanika River was flowing full force when Claire attempted to make her way across. She got part of the way before the current was too much, and she lost her life to the river.

2010 marked the first year someone lost their life on Chris McCandless’ trail
Source: The Journaylist

Claire was joined by Etienne Gros, who had a different story to tell. Apparently, the pair were never trying to make it the Chris’ bus; they just happened to be on the same trail. Whatever the case, the passing of Claire wasn’t enough to put people off trying the adventure for themselves.

Hikers all have their own reasons to try and find the bus

Eddie Habeck is one of the lucky ones who have made it all the way to bus 142. It turns out it wasn’t always a part of Eddie’s plan. He was planning a hike around the state when he supposedly realized he would be close to Chris’ famous bus. Eddie got busy planning his route and set out on his solo hike in May 2012.

Hikers all have their own reasons to try and find the bus
Source: Stefanie Payne 2016

Thankfully, the river was waist-height at the time, and Eddie quickly found the bus. He said that finding the bus was enough to make him think about why Chris wanted to break away from society in the first place. No one has any idea how many people have found the bus as no one needs a permit to hike there.

Local authorities have to rescue several hikers from the Stampede Trail each year

While we don’t know how many people have made it to Chris McCandless’ bus, we do know that several people have been rescued from the trail. The public information officer for the national park, Lynn Macaloon, says state troopers, the fire department, and park rangers are all called to try and rescue stranded hikers each year. According to Lynn, there are “several” rescues every year.

Local authorities have to rescue several hikers from the Stampede Trail each year
Source: Liana

Alaska state troopers even believe that 75% of their rescues take place on the Stampede Trail. 2013 saw two major rescues. In May of that year, three hikers from Germany had to be rescued. Just one month later, three additional hikers were saved thanks to a passing military helicopter. The few that get rescued are the lucky ones.

Veramika Maikamava is the most recent person to lose her life on the trail

The Teklanika River is the thing that stood between Chris McCandless making it home to safety and losing his life. It turns out that it is still the most dangerous part of the journey. Even the local fire department chief has tried to make the trip and says he saw three hikers get washed away down the river.

Veramika Maikamava is the most recent person to lose her life on the trail
Source: Facebook/Nika Nikanava

The most recent passing came in the form of 24-year-old Veramika Maikamava in 2019. She was trying to cross the river with her husband when Vermike lost her footing and was swept away. Her husband eventually found Vermika’s body downstream, but she had already lost her life. A spokesperson for the state troopers confirmed the pair had been married less than a month.

Several people have questioned if something about the bus should be changed

Not everyone understands why so many people want to head to the bus. It’s almost like there’s a pull within some people that draws them to the place that caused Chris McCandless to lose his life. Just because not everyone gets it doesn’t mean that people know what to do with the bus. Some people have suggested building a footbridge across the river to try and keep explorers safe.

Several people have questioned if something about the bus should be changed
Source: Alaska Department of Natural Resources

Others think the bus should be permanently moved somewhere more accessible. Bus 142 was eventually moved in June 202 to try and stop people from putting themselves in danger. It was airlifted from the trail and taken to the Alaska Museum so that everyone can see and enjoy the bus safely.

Fewer people now have to be rescued from Stampede Trail

Could the word about the dangers of Stampede Trail finally be getting out there? The numbers certainly make it look that easy as fewer people now have to be rescued from the trail. It could be that fewer people are trying the hike for themselves, or people are more prepared for the dangers that lie ahead. That doesn’t mean everyone is happy.

Fewer people now have to be rescued from Stampede Trail
Source: Liana

Some Alaskan natives opened up to Vice, where they confessed how they feel about the trail. Many are angry that it’s their tax dollars that fund all the rescue missions each year. Others think people have a preconceived idea about Alaska and think a trip to the state is all they need to start a new life off the grid.

Chris McCandless’ sister opened up about their childhood in her own book

Carine McCandless, Chris’ sister, wanted to open up about her brother’s journey to Alaska and what drove him there in the first place. Carine decided the best thing to do was put pen to paper and release a book of her own in 2015. However, the novel took a different turn from many others about Chris’ journey. Carine grew up with her brother and knew everything about his life.

Chris McCandless' sister opened up about their childhood in her own book
Source: Carine McCandless

Now, she wanted to tell the world about her late brother’s childhood. Carine wrote about how she grew up with Chris in El Segundo, California, before moving to Virginia. Unfortunately, their father, Walt, was supposedly addicted to drink and their mother, Billie, was often on the receiving end. However, that was just the beginning.

Carine and Chris McCandless were both a part of a secret family

It appears that everything was far from great in the McCandless household. Although she admitted her parents could be loving, Carine also states they could be out of control – and Billie would often be just as bad as Walt. One of the first things that Carine and Chris learned about their family is how they were supposed to be a secret.

Carine and Chris McCandless were both a part of a secret family
Source: Carine McCandless

Walt and Billie were both working at Hughes Aircraft, but Walt was married with six children. That didn’t stop the pair of them from starting an affair and welcoming a secret family. For many years, Walt traveled between the two households as he welcomed new children in each over the years. Carine was ultimately the youngest of Walt’s eight children.

His sister thinks she knows the real reason Chris McCandless traveled to Alaska

Walt eventually left his other wife and married Billie in 19712. Carine remembers welcoming her new family with open arms and is still close with her half-brothers and sisters. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for Chris. Carine says this was a major turning point for Chris as the deception weighed heavily on his mind.

His sister thinks she knows the real reason Chris McCandless traveled to Alaska
Source: DDP Images

In the end, she believes this is what drove Chris to leave for the Alaskan wilderness. Apparently, Sean Penn had to wait for ten years to make his movie ‘Into the Wild’ because he needed to get permission from the entire McCandless family before he could begin filming. Carline? She thinks people know the end of Chris’ story, but few know how it all started.

Walt and Billie McCandless don’t believe anything written in Carine’s book about Chris

Jon Krakauer wowed the world with his book ‘Into the Wild,’ but it turns out the author left plenty out of the pages. Apparently, he knew all about the difficulties between Walt and Billie – Carine even opened up about the secret family – but she wasn’t ready for it to become public knowledge. She asked Jon to keep the stories to himself, and he obliged.

Walt and Billie McCandless don’t believe anything written in Carine’s book about Chris
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

So what did Walt and Billie McCandless think of their daughter’s new book? It seems they were less than pleased. They spoke to ABC, where the pair said they believed it was “fictionalized writing” and had “nothing to do with our believed son.” The couple also thinks it was an “attention-getting story about his family.” Not too pleased then?

Not everyone in Chris McCandless’ family was pleased to have their dirty laundry aired

It can be tough to live through family drama. It can be even tougher to have it written in a novel for the entire world to see. Thankfully, Carine McCandless says most of her extended family didn’t have a problem with her writing about the issues within their family and were supportive of their half-sister’s book. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for everyone.

Not everyone in Chris McCandless’ family was pleased to have their dirty laundry aired
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

Some wished the past stayed in the past. Carine says she tried her best not to speak for Chris and to let the stories tell the tale of how he might have felt. She also wanted to ensure she never put words into any of her siblings’ mouths throughout the tales. Everything was supposedly written with respect.

The book caused a lot of tension between Carine McCandless and her parents

Carine McCandless says she, Chris, and some of their other siblings tried to confront Walt and Billie about how they felt and the effects their family had on them throughout their lives. However, Carine claims they were often ignored or dismissed before they had a proper chance to work things out. Even with their troubled relationship, Carine wanted to keep Walt and Billie involved with the book.

The book caused a lot of tension between Carine McCandless and her parents
Source: Carine McCandless

She claims she sent a copy of the book to her parents before it was released. Apparently, Carine wanted to allow Walt and Billie a chance to respond before everyone else read the story and hoped they could be prepared for any emails or phone calls from the media and journalists. Sadly, it didn’t help their relationship.

Carine McCandless believes keeping stories to herself caused people to misjudge Chris

According to Billie, she told Carine that everything from their past has been swept under the rug as their religious beliefs made them realize it was time to wipe the slate clean. Billie now thinks there is nothing brewing between herself and her daughter. Carine disagrees. She believes that keeping things to herself did nothing but do “a disservice” to her late brother and many siblings.

Carine McCandless believes keeping stories to herself caused people to misjudge Chris
Source: Jon Krakauer

Carine even went as far as to say that keeping the stories to herself led to a lot of “misconceptions about Chris.” Apparently, Chris opened up about his relationship with his parents to Carine on the day he graduated from Emory University in 1990. The explorer supposedly had a plan brewing for many years.

Chris McCandless always had a sense of adventure and a passion for Alaska

If there is one thing that Carine learned about her brother, it’s that Chris McCandless always stuck to his ideas. Apparently, he had a sense of adventure from a very young age and was always drawn to Alaska, thanks to the many books that filled his life as a child. Carine claims that Chris wanted to combine his love of nature with a chance to break away from his parents.

Chris McCandless always had a sense of adventure and a passion for Alaska
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

She says Chris wrote a letter where he explained he would “completely knock” his parents out of his life. He even allegedly planned “to divorce them as my parents.” Chris’ childhood led the explorer to feel he always needed to push things to the extreme, even if it meant his life was in danger.

The book aimed to empower people caught in a similar situation to Carine and Chris

Carine has a lot of hopes for her book. She wants the world to know about what could have led Chris McCandless to start a journey that ultimately cost him his life. Carine also wants to try and empower anyone who finds themselves in tough circumstances, especially when it comes to her family. If there’s one thing she didn’t want to do, it’s villainize Walt and Billie.

The book aimed to empower people caught in a similar situation to Carine and Chris
Source: Christopher McCandless Memorial Foundation

Carine believes that no one can learn from a villain. Instead, she wanted to humanize them in her book to help people learn from her personal situation. Carine even hopes that people will finally understand why Chris “left the way he did” as well as “what pushed him to the extreme.” Only time will tell.

ADVERTISEMENT