“Not all those who wander are lost” seems to be the focus of this non-fiction biography by Krakauer about a young man named Chris McCandless who went into the Alaskan wilderness, but never came out again. Krakauer examines McCandless’ history, friendships, and probable motivations while also comparing his case to other young men who died or disappeared in the wilderness. He also gets very personal and recounts a solo mountain climbing adventure of his own that nearly went south, but didn’t- crediting his survival to luck rather than skill. Into the Wild paints McCandless as a man with a brilliant mind and the soul of an artist, who didn’t fit in to the modern world’s or his family’s view of how he was supposed to be.
“In April 1992, a young man from a well-to-do East Coast family hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness north of Mt. McKinley. Four months later his decomposed body was found by a party of moose hunters.” pg 10, ebook. For much of the book, Krakauer tries to figure out what ultimately ended McCandless’s life. In the edition I read, he had a new afterword that he penned in April 2015, talking about his definitive theory for why McCandless died. If you haven’t read the book since it was published, I really recommend picking up a new edition if only to read that.
Krakauer includes actual journal entries from McCandless’s wanderings, which I thought gave us a pretty clear window into the man’s mind: “It is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found. God it’s great to be alive! Thank you. Thank you.” pg 37, ebook. We saw a man who cared about life, about the way he was living, and about the way he interacted with others.
It is curious to me that his relationship with his parents wasn’t better, but I’ll let Krakauer tell you all about it: “McCandless’s personality was puzzling in its complexity. He was intensely private but could be convivial and gregarious in the extreme. And despite his overdeveloped social conscience, he was no tight-lipped, perpetually grim do-gooder who frowned on fun. To the contrary, he enjoyed tipping a glass now and then and was an incorrigible ham.” pg 95
As interesting as McCandless’s story is, my favorite part of this book was Krakauer’s experience solo climbing the Devil’s Thumb in Alaska. “By and by your attention becomes so intensely focused that you no longer notice the raw knuckles, the cramping thighs, the strain of maintaining nonstop concentration. A trancelike state settles over your efforts; the climb becomes a clear-eyed dream. Hours slide by like minutes. The accumulated clutter of day-to-day existence- the lapses of conscience, the unpaid bills, the bungled opportunities, the dust under the couch, the inescapable prison of your genes- all of it is temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering clarity of purpose and by the seriousness of the task at hand.” pg 115, ebook. That passage made me wonder- what sorts of things do I like to do in my life as much as Krakauer loves climbing? It seems to me, that the state of flow he’s describing there, would be a place that I would like to dwell in as much as possible.
Recommended for folks who like to read about people with unconventional life styles or if you’re looking for a book about the human spirit. Into the Wild is a book about why people wander, what they may find, and, sadly, the loved ones they leave behind. Some further reading: Naked and Marooned: One Man. One Island., Man’s Search for Meaning, or A Death on Diamond Mountain: A True Story of Obsession, Madness, and the Path to Enlightenment.
Thanks for reading!