I am sure many of you have read John Krakauer’s bestseller “Into the Wild,” the story of Chris McCandless. Many more of you probably saw the film adaptation of the book.
Over the years, the book and the film have inspired people to retrace McCandless’s steps on his fateful journey into the Alaska backcountry.
McCandless was a recent college grad who decided to forgo the typical life of building a career and chasing materialistic gain. He saw these efforts as hollow. So he did the vagabond thing, tramping his way across the country and making do with as little as possible. His ultimate dream was to go to Alaska and see if he could make it alone in that state’s backcountry for three months. He attempted that in 1992.
He found an old Fairbanks city bus near the Teklanika River that had been placed there by hunters for use as a shelter. He holed up there and tried to live out his dream.
McCandless didn’t survive the ordeal. A spring river crossing was doable, but when he attempted to leave at the end of the summer the river had swelled considerably and he could not find a place to cross. He eventually starved to death.
The book is well-written, and the story itself is compelling. Many admire McCandless’s spirit and pay homage to him by hiking the Stampede Trail to the banks of the Teklanika and finding their way to the bus where McCandless died.
Starvation killed McCandless. The river killed someone else last week.
A 29-year-old Swiss woman drowned in the river attempting to cross it Saturday. Locals say that there has been a substantial increase in hikers attempting to visit the bus ever since “Into the Wild” was published, and even more after the movie came out a few years ago. You can read more about that here: http://www.adn.com/2010/08/17/1413307/swiss-woman-drowns-in-alaska-river.html#ixzz0xjFbeoMc
I love that book, and I also love the idea that such works inspire people to see the world’s wild places. But it’s disconcerting that people will take on outdoor challenges like river crossing without properly gauging the risks.
River crossings are no joke. They can be very dangerous. I’ve done a few over the years and I’m always amazed at how powerful moving water can be.
Just for grins, here’s a link to a past post I made on this subject: http://blog.newsok.com/outthere/2009/10/22/outdoor-safety-river-crossings/
And, to illustrate the point further, Outside magazine’s blog posted something about this death and included a video of a couple of guys trying to cross the Teklanika River: http://outside-blog.away.com/blog/2010/08/hiker-dies-trekking-to-into-the-wild-bus.html
I’m sure it’s a fascinating pilgrimage. Just be sure if you want to see the “Into the Wild” bus, you’re ready to tackle the obstacles between the trailhead and the bus itself.