The other night at dinner, my dad mentioned Chris McCandless, the wanderer whose death in the Alaskan woods was the subject of the terrifying book Into the Wild.  For reasons unknown to me––not particularly interested in the outdoors, nor the youthful idealism that comes from reading too much Kerouac––the book gripped me from the first sentence, and haunts me though I’m not at all at risk for succumbing to the same misanthropy that McCandless did.  In any case, my dad told me that that every year, numerous people die trying to hike the same trail McCandless did, and there is a subculture of people devoted to the deceased’s specific brand of sustainability.  Of course I thought, “What a great idea for a story!”  But of course, it’s been covered––quite well, in fact, by a writer for Outside.

“[Claire] Ackermann, who was from Switzerland, and [her boyfriend Etienne] Gros, a Frenchman, had been hiking the Stampede Trail, a route made famous by Christopher McCandless, who walked it in April 1992. Many people now know about McCandless and how the 24-year-old idealist bailed out of his middle-class suburban life, donated his $24,000 in savings to charity, and embarked on a two-year hitchhiking odyssey that led him to Alaska and the deserted Fairbanks City Transit bus number 142, which still sits, busted and rusting, 20 miles down the Stampede Trail. For 67 days, he ate mostly squirrel, ptarmigan, and porcupine, then he shaved his beard, packed his bag, and started walking back toward the highway. But a raging Teklanika prevented him from crossing, so he returned to the bus and hunkered down. More than a month later, a moose hunter found McCandless’s decomposed body in a sleeping bag inside the bus, where he had starved to death.

“This tragic story was told by Jon Krakauer in the January 1993 issue of Outside and later in his bestselling 1997 book, Into the Wild. The book, and a 2007 film directed by Sean Penn, helped elevate the McCandless saga to the status of modern myth. And that, in turn, has given rise to a unique and curious phenomenon in Alaska: McCandless pilgrims, inspired by his story, who are determined to see the bus for themselves. Each year, scores of trekkers journey down the Stampede Trail to visit it. They camp at the bus for days, sometimes weeks, write essays in the various logbooks stowed inside, and ponder the impact that McCandless’s antimaterialist ethic, free-spirited travels, and time in the Alaskan wild has had on how they perceive the world.”

Welp.  There goes that idea.

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