Raised in the comfortable upper-middle-class environs of Annandale, Virginia. Intended to follow the Stampede Trail (dashed line meandering west from the Parks Highway fro forty miles or so before petering out in the middle of trackless wilderness north of Mt. McKinley). Insisted on giving Gallien his watch his comb, and what he said was all his money. Stringy physique of an itinerant laborer. He had the kind of sensitive good looks that women made big fuss over, Westerberg imagined. McCandless stayed with Westerberg for three days, riding out with his crew. When Westerberg was in jail, there was no work at the grain elevator for him, so he left town and resumed a nomadic existence. Gave Westerberg a treasured 1942 edition of Tolstoy's "War and Peace"On the title page he inscribed, "Transferred to Wayne Westerberg from Alexander. October, 1990. Listen to Pierre," (Pierre Bezuhov--altruistic, questing, illegitimately born.)
Graduated from Emory University in Atlanta, where he'd been a columnist for, and editor of, the student newspaper; "The Emory Wheel"
"It is hard to provide and cook so simple and clean a diet as will not offecnd the imagination; but this, I htink, is to be fed when we feed th e boydy; the should both sit down at the same table. Yet perhaps this may be done. The fruits eaten temperately need not make us ashamed of our appetites, nor interrupt the worthiest pursuits. But put an extra condiment into your dish, and it will poison you."
"I am reborn. This is my dawn. Real life has just begun. Deliberate Living: Consioucs attnetion to the basics of life, and a aconstant attention to your immediate environment and its concerns...(Circumstance has no value. It is how one relates to a situation that has value. All true meaning resides inteh personal relationship to a phenomenon, what it means to you)"
"Oh, how one wishes sometimes to escape fomr the meaningless dullness of human eloquence, from all those sublime phrases, to take refuge in nature, apparently so inarticulate, or in the wordlessness of long, grinding labor, of sound sleep, of true music ,or of a human understanding rendered speechless by emotion!
He was brought to Carthage as a young boy by adoptive parents. He is a farmer, welder, businessman, machinist, ace mechanic, commodities speculator, licensed airplane pilot, computer programmer, electronics troubleshooter, video-game repairman.
"He used to site right there at the end of the bar and tell us these amazing stories of his travels. He could talk for hours. A lot of folks here in town got pretty attached to Alex." Hyperkinetic man with thick shoulders and a black goatee, owns a grain elevator in Carthage and another one a few miles out of town but spends every summer running a custom combine crew that follows the harvest from Texas north to the Canadian border. On the afternoon of September 10, driving out of Cut Bank after buying some parts for a malfunctioning combine, he pulled over for a hitchhiker, and amiable kid who said his name was Alex McCandless. Before McCandless went their separate ways, he told McCandless to look him up in Carthage if he ever needed a job; in a couple of weeks he came back and was given employment at the grain elevator and rented him a cheap room in one of the two houses he owned.
"It was a different story with Alex. He was the hardest worker I've ever seen. Didn't matter what it was, he'd do it....If he started a job he'd finish it...he was what you'd call extremely ethical."
"I think maybe part of what got him into trouble was that he did too much thinking. Sometimes he tried too hard to make sense oft he world, to figure out why people were bad to each other so often...He always had to know the absolute right answer before he could go on to the next thing."
Made scheme to build and sell "black boxes," which illegally unscramble satellite-television transmissions; later he was arrested.
"The cop told me they'd had more than one hundred fifty calls from folks who thought Alex was their ki,d htier friend, their brother. Well, by then i was kind of pissed at getting the runaround, so I told him 'Look, Im not just another crank caller. I know who he is. He worked for me. I think I've even got his Social Security number around here somehwere.'"
An eminent aerospace engineer who designed advanced radar systems for the space shuttle and other high-profile projects while in the employ of NASA and Hughes Aircraft in the 1960s and 70s. Went into business for himself, launching a small but eventually prosperous consulting firm, User Systems, Incorporated. His partner in the venture was Chris's mother, Billie
"How is it, that a kid with so much compassion could cause his parents so much pain?"
"The hardest part, is simply not having him around anymore. I spent a lot of time with Chris, perhaps more than with any of my other kids. I really liked his company even though he frustrated us so often."
"We camped out of the back of the truck, the Chevy Suburban, Later we bought an Airstream trailer and traveled with that. Chris loved those trips, the longer the better. There was always a little wanderlust in the family, and it was clear early on that Chris had inherited it."
"Chris was fearless even when he was little..He didn't think the odds applied to him. We were always trying to pull him back from the edge."
"We I tried to teach him to play golf, he refused to accept that form is everything."
"Chris had so much natural talent, but if you tried to coach him, to polish his skill, to bring out that final ten percent, a wall went up. He resisted instruction of any kind."
"We had our hearts in our mouths the whole time he was gone, but there was nos way to stop him."
"Chris was good at almost everything he ever tried, which made him supremely overconfident. If you attempted to talk him out of something, he wouldn't argue. He'd just nod politely and the nod exactly what he wanted."
"I'd learned by then that a direct approach didn't work with Chris. Instead, I tried to explain that we didn't object to his travels; we just wanted him to be a little more careful and to keep us better informed of his whereabouts."
Sixty miles south of the Oregon line, near the town of Orick, a pair of drifters in an old van pulled over to consult their map when they noticed a boy crouching in the bushes off the side of the road.
Jan Burres: a 41 year old rubber tramp who was traveling around the West selling Knickkacks at flea markets and swap meets with her boyfriend, Bob.
"He was a nice kid...he was big-time hungry. But real happy. Said he'd been surviving on edible plants he identified from [a] book. Like he was real proud of it....Claimed he didn't need money. I have a son about the same age Alex was, and we've been estranged for a few years now. 'Man, we got to take this kid with us. You need to school him about some things.'
"He helped me a lot. He watched the table when I needed to leave, categorized all the books, made a lot of sales. He seemed to get a real kick out of it. Alex was big on the classics: Dickens, Jack London (Call of the Wild)"
Burres about McCandless: "He had a GOOD time when he was around people...He needed his solitude at times, but he wasn't a hermit. He did a lot of socializing. Sometimes I think it was like he was storing up company for the times when he knew nobody would be around."
"He was smart. He'd figured out how to paddle a canoe down to Mexico, how to hop freight trains, how to score a bed at inner-city missions. He figured all of that out on his own, and I felt sure he'd figure out Alaska, too."
Affected strongly by McCandless; 82 years old when he met McCandless.
A devout Christian, spent most of his adult life in the army, stationed in Shanghai and Okinawa. On New Year's Eve 1957, while he was overseas, his wife and only child were killed by a drunk driver in an automobile accident. Franz's son had been due to graduate from medical school the following June. Franz started hitting the whiskey, hard.
He started unofficially "adopting" indigent Okinawan boys and girls, eventually taking fourteen of them under his wing, paying for the oldest to attend medical school in Philadelphia and another to study medicine in Japan.
When Franz met McCandless, his long-dormant paternal impulses were kindled anew. He couldn't get the young man out of his mind. He was polite, friendly, well-groomed.
"He seemed extremely intelligent...I thought he was too nice a kid to be living by that hot springs with those nudists and drunks and dope smokers."
McCandless urged Ron to sell most of his belongings, move out of the apartment, and live on the rode (sedentary existence)
AN ACCOMPLISHED LEATHERWORKER, Franz taught Alex the secrets of his craft; for his first project McCandless produced a tolled leather belt, on which he created an artful pictorial record of his wanderings.
He was the eldest stepson of Victor Rosellini, a wealthy Seattle restaurateur, and cousin of Albert Rosellini, the immensely popular governor of Washington State from 1957 to 1965. As a young man Gene had been a good athlete and brilliant student. He read obsessively, practiced yoga, became expert at the martial arts. At the Univ of Washington and later at Seattle University, he immersed himself in anthropology, history, philosophy, and linguistics, accumulating hundreds of credit hours without collecting a degree. He saw no reason to. The pursuit of knowledge, he maintained, was a worthy objective in its own right and needed no external validation. By and by Rosellini left academia, departed Seattle, and drifted north up the coast through British Columbia and the Alaska panhandle. In 1977, he landed in Cordova. There, in the forest at the edge of town, he decided to devote his life to an ambitious anthropological experiment.
"I was interested in knowing if it was possible to be independent of modern technology"
He wondered whether humans could live as our forebears had when mammoths and saver-toothed tigers roamed the land or whether our species had moved too far from its roots to survive without gunpowder, steel, and other artifacts of civilization.
Rosellini also exercised compulsively whenever he wasn't occupied with foraging.
After announcing that he was to "walk around the world, living out of my backpack", on November 1991, he was discovered lying facedown on the floor of his shack with a knife through his heart.
Born in 1952, Waterman was raised in the same Washington suburbs that gave shape to Chris McCandless. John was a natural climber. In 1969, as a 16 year old, John climbed Mt. McKinley, becoming the 3rd youngest person to stand atop the high landform on the continent. By he time he enrolled in the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, in 1973, Waterman had established a reputation as one of the most promising young alpinists in North America. Acquaintances remember him as a socially awkward man-child with an outrageous sense of humor and squirrely, almost manic-depressive personality. His parents divorce left him very crippled (his dad was close with him).
In March 1978, Waterman embarked on his most astonishing expedition, a solo ascent of Mt. Hunter's southeast spur, an unclimbed route that had previously defeated three teams of elite mountaineers. After 81 days of exhausting extremely hazardous climbing, Waterman reached the 14,572 foot summit of Hunter. Waterman spent 145 days alone on the mountain.
He gave a public slide show of the Hunter ascent. He poured out all his thoughts and feelings, his fear of failure, his fear of death.
"John was very self-critical, always analyzing himself"
Waterman ran for the local school board on a platform promoting unrestricted sex for students and the legalization of hallucinogenic drugs. He also went for the presidency of the US. He ran under the banner of the Feed-the-Starving Party, the main priority of which was to ensure that nobody on the planet died of hunger. To publicize his campaign, he laid plans to make a solo ascent of the south face of Denali, the mountain's steepest aspect, in winter, with a minimum of food. He wanted to underscore the waste and immorality of the standard American diet. Waterman flew to the Kahiltna Glacier in December 1979,to being the ascent but called it off after only fourteen days. In Talkeetna, the cabin he was staying in caught fire and burned to rubble, incinerating both his equipment and the voluminous accumulation of note,s poetry, and personal journals that he regarded as his life's work. Waterman was completely unhelmed by the loss.
"John didn't seem like he was all there. He was acting spacey"
Waterman was last placed on the Northwest Fork of the Ruth Glacier on April 1; he wasn't see again.
Affable absentminded Texan who moved to Fairbanks during the 1980s oil boom and found lucrative employment on the Trans-Alaska Pipeline construction project. McCunn hired a bush pilot to drop him at a remote lake near the Coleen River, about seventy-five miles northeast of Fort Yukon on the southern margin of the Brooks Range. McCunn told his friends that the main reason for the trip was to shoot pictures of wildlife. He flew into the country with five hundred rolls of film, rifles, a shotgun, and 14 hundred pounds of provisions. His intention was to remain in the wilderness through August. He neglected to arrange for the pilot o fly him back to civilization at summer's end, and it cost McCunn his life.
"Carl was friendly, extremely popular, down-home sort of guy"
Carl: "I think I should have used more foresight about arranging my departure...I'll find out soon"
Carl: "I keep thinking of all the shotgun shells I threw away about two months ago...Had five boxes and when I kept seeing them sitting there I felt rather silly for having brought so many. (Felt like a war monger)...real bright. Who would have known I might need them just to keep from starving."
He was almost saved by an airplane but ended up throwing an unintended signal that made the airplane pilot think he was fine.
Carl: "I stopped waving after the first pass. I then got busy packing things up and getting ready to break camp."
Carl: "I recall raising my right hand, shoulder high and shaking my fist on the plane's second pass...It was a little cheer--like when your team scored a touchdown or something"
Carl: "That's probably why after they flew somewhat away they returned for one more pass and on that one I gave no signal at all...they probably blew me off as a weirdo."
"Carl was the sort of guy who would have unrealistic expectations that someone would eventually figure out he was in trouble and cover for him.
Carl: "I'm getting more than worried. To be honest, I'm starting to be a bit scared...Hands and nose continue to get worse as do feet. Nose tip very swollen, blistered, and scabbed....This is sure a slow and agonizing way to die."
Carl: "I can't go on like this, I'm afraid..Dear God in Heaven, please forgive me my weakness and my sins. Please look over my family."
Born in Oakland, California, in 1914, the younger of two sons raised by Christopher and Stella Ruess. As a 16 year old he embarked on his first long solo trip, spending the summer of 1930 hitchhiking and trekking through Yosemite and Big Sur, ultimately winding up in Carmel. Two days after arriving in the latter community, he brazenly knocked on the door of Edward Weston, who was sufficiently charmed by the overwrought young man to humor him. Over the next two months the eminent photographer encouraged the boy's uneven but promising efforts at painting and block printing, and permitted Ruess to hang around his studio with his own sons, Neil and Cole.
Everett: "I had some terrific experiences in the wilderness since I wrote you last-overpowering, overwhelming...But then I am always being overwhelmed. I require it to sustain life."
Everett: "I have been thinking more and more that I shall always be a lone wanderer of the wilderness. God, how the trail lures me. You cannot comprehend its resistless fascination for me. After all the lone trail is the best...I'll never stop wandering. And when the time comes to die, I'll find the wildest, loneliest, most desolate spot there is."
Everett: "The beauty of this country is becoming part of me. I feel more detached from life and somehow gentler...I have some good friends here, but no one who really understands why I am here or what I do. I don;t know of anyone thought, who would have more than a partial understanding; I have gone too far alone. I have always been unsatisfied with life as most people live it. Always I want to live more intensely and richly.
Everett: "In my wandering this year I have taken more chances and had more wild adventures than ever before. And what magnificent country I have seen-wild, tremendous wasteland stretches, lost mesas, blue mountains rearing upward from the vermilion sands of the desert, canyons five feet wide at the bottom and hundreds of feet deep, cloudbursts roaring down unnamed canyons, and hundreds of houses of the cliff dwellers, abandoned a thousand years ago."
Ruess was just as romantic as McCandless, if no more so, and equally heedless of personal safety.
Everett: "Hundreds of times I have trusted my life to crumbling sandstone and nearly vertical edges in the search for water or cliff dwellings. Twice I was nearly gored to death by a wild bull. But always, so far, I've escaped unscathed and gone forth to other adventures."
Everett: "I have had a few narrow escapes from rattlers and crumbling cliffs. The last misadventure occurred when Chocolatero [his burro] stirred up some wild bees. A few more stings might have been too much for me. I was three or four days getting my eyes open and recovering the use of my hands."
Also like McCandless, Ruess was undetered by physical discomfort; at times he seemed to welcome it
Everett: "For six days I've been suffering form the semi-annual poison ivy case-my sufferings are far from over...For two days I couldn't tell whether I was dead or alive. I writhed and twisted in the heat, with swarms of ants and flies crawling over me, while the poison oozed and crusted on my face and arms and back. I ate nothing-there was nothing to do but suffer philosophically...I get it every time, but I refuse to be driven out of the woods.
Like McCandless, upon embarking on his terminal odyssey, Ruess adopted a new name or, rather, a series of new names. (Lam Rameau, Evert Rulan)
It is widely believed that Ruess fell to his death while scrambling on one or another canyon wall.
Bald and cheerful, a ham-faced sixty-three-year-old Hoosier;
Was en route from Indiana to Alaska to deliver a new motor home to a Fairbanks RV dealer, a part-time line of work in which he'd dabbled since retiring after forty years in the restaurant business, When he told McCandless his destination, the boy exclaimed, "Hey, that's where I'm going, too! But I've been stuck here for a couple of days now trying got get a lift. You mind if I ride with you?"
"Oh, jiminy, I'd love to son, but I can't. The company I work for has a strict rule against picking up hitchikers. It could get me canned."
"Alex was clean-shaven and had short hair, and I could tell by the language he used that he was a real sharp fella. He wans't what you'd call a typical hitchhiker. I'm usually leery of 'em. I figure there's probably something wrong with a guy if he can't even afford a bus ticket. So anyway, after about half an hour I said, 'I tell you what, Alex: Liard is a thousand miles from Fairbanks. I'll take you five hundred miles, as far as Whitehorse; you'll be able to get a ride the rest of the way from there.'"
"Alex didn't come out and say too much at first, But it's a long, slow drive. We spent a total of three days together on thos washboard roads, and by the end he kind of let his guard down. I tell you what: HE was a dandy kid. Real courteous, and he didn't cuss of use a lot of that there slang. You could tell he came from a nice family. Mostly he talked about his sister. He didn't get along with his folks too good, I guess. Told me his dad was a genius, a NASA rocket scientist, but he'd been a bigamist at one time--and that kind of went against Alex's grain. Said he hadn't seen his parents in a couple of years, since his college graduation."
"He said it was something he'd wanted to do since he was little, Said he didn't want to see a single person, no airplanes, no sign of civilization. He wanted to prove to himself that he could make it on his own, without anybody else's help."
"and then Alex said he wanted to go out to the university to study up on what kind of plats he could eat. Berries and things like that. I told him, 'Alex, you're too early. There's still two foot, three foot of snow on the ground. There's nothing growing yet.' But his mind was pretty well made up . He was champing at the bit to get out there and start hiking."
"Before I let him out, I told him, 'Alex, I've driven you a thousand miles. I've fed you and fed you for three straight days. The least you can do is send me a letter when you get back from Alaska.' And he promised he would."
"I also begged and pleaded with him to call his parents. I can't imagine anything worse than having a son out there and not knowing where he's at for years and and years, not knowing whether he's living or dead. 'Here's my credit card number,' I told him,. 'Please call them!' But all he said was 'Maybe I will and maybe I won't.' After he left, I thought, 'Oh, why didn't I get his parents phone number and call them myself?' But everything just kind of happened so quick."
"I hoped to find Alex and spend another day with him, take him sightseeing or something. I looked for a couple of hours, drove all over the place, but didn't see hid or hair of him. He was already gone."
"The repugnance to animal food is not the effect of experience, but is an instinct. It appeared more beautiful to live low and fare hard in many respects; and though I never did so, I went far enough to please my imagination. I believe that every man who has ever been earnest to preserve his higher or poetic faculties in the best condition has been particularly inclined to abstain from animal food,and from much food of any kind...
"It is har
A 19th century British naval officer whose smugness and hauteur contributed to some 140 deaths, including his own.
In 1819, the Admiralty assigned Franklin to lead an expedition into the wilderness of northwester Canada. Two years out of England, winter overtook his small party as they plodded across an expanse of tundra so vast and empty that they christened it the Barrens, the name by which it is still known.
When McCandless turned up dead, he was likened to Franklin not simply becasue both men starved but also because both were perceived to have lacked a requisite humility; both were thought ot have possessed insuffiecient respect for the land.
McCandless's arrogance was not of the same strain as Franklin's, however. Franklin regarded nature as an antagonist that would inevitably submit to force, good breeding, and Victorian discipline. Instead of living in concert with the land, instead of relying on the country for sustenance as the natives did, he attmepted to insulate himself from the northern environment with ill-suited military tools and traditions.
McCandless, on the other hand, went too far in the opposite direction. He tried to line entirely off the county--and he tried to do it without bothering to master beforehand the full repertoire of crucial skills.