Wild adventures go awry

By Jeff Smith


Everyone who has at least an ounce of adventure in their bones and even those who don’t have an opinion on Chris McCandless. He was the explorer who defied cultural expectations and traveled across America from 1990 to 1992. His desired destination was Alaska where he lived off the land for almost four months before his death. Some think he was brave and he died in a valiant pursuit rejecting the ideas of a culture that celebrates consumerism. Others think that he was foolish and selfish.

Regardless of whether or not people like what he did his story has become legendary. It has been the subject of countless news articles, at least a couple of movies and a few books.

On Feb. 12, he would have turned 50.

I don’t want to say that there was logic behind what Chris did. I also don’t want to try to give my reasoning for why Chris left everything behind because I didn’t truly know him.

I tend to think he was reckless and an angry person, who didn’t really have a good reason to be.

At the same time in the world of needless buying and selling it’s nice to know that there are people who don’t care about requiring a lot of possessions.

I’m not an extreme outdoorsman who wants to spend everyday outside. I like them comfort of a warm bed and electricity.

I often wish I had more discipline like Chris McCandless had. McCandless made decisions and followed through with them. McCandless’ story resonated with me because he wanted to live away from an unjust and unhealthy society. He didn’t care what others thought about him. In the book, “Into the Wild”, author Jon Krakauer said that Chris did not want to be characterized like all the others who live their life within “unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism.”

Chris experienced life to the fullest. He took risks and pushed himself to the edge.

There’s so much pressure to be somebody else in today’s world. People we don’t want to be.

I think there are things that Chris did which we can apply to our own lives. He wanted to help people and give to the poor. He didn’t think college would benefit him. Before he left for his long journey he donated everything in his bank to Oxfam. This is an international confederation of charitable organizations focused on the alleviation of global poverty.

Growing up he was embarrassed by his family’s modest wealth. He believed that wealth was “inherently evil.”

I don’t think it’s bad to be wealthy. It’s the right as Americans to become as rich as we want. However, people should let go of some of their wealth to gain some perspective and see how other people live.

If somebody is seeking pure and simple freedom maybe what Chris did is the route to go. There is nothing wrong with finding pleasure in nature and doing whatever is possible to stay in it as long as possible.

In the end, Chris didn’t harm anyone but himself. Chris enjoyed a lot in the wilderness in Alaska. He had peace, adventure  and lived out his dream.  He loved something beyond the trivial, materialistic things of life. That is what is so admirable to me when I think of Chris’s story.

It’s important to remember that Chris died. In the movie “Into the Wild”, one of my favorite movies,  Chris’ final thoughts were that happiness is only real when shared.

This was apparently the last last thing he wrote before he died. The way I understand it is that Chris was saying that happiness is more defined and detectable when it is shared.

Happiness might not even be possible in solitude.

He never married, he never had children and for two years he didn’t have any real friends. People liked him and there was many warm conversations that people remembered but what happened to him was sad and fruitless.

I don’t think Chris was searching for happiness. On a path of self-discovery he ate potato seeds that were bad for him that led to his death.

His story is the perfect example that not all quests end well. Many have tried to do the same thing that he did. They wanted to live off-the-grid and be free. I read some copycat stories and found that people died trying to live like Chris. Maybe some wanted to be immortalized the way Chris was.

I think to me Chris’ story is a reminder that I need people in my life and sometimes it would be better to live without a nice car or a good job.