I understood what he was doing, that he had spent four years fulfilling the absurd and tedious duty of graduating from college and now he was emancipated from that world of abstraction, false security, parents, and material excess. ― Jon Krakauer, Into the Wild
Will contain spoilers, you’ve been warned.
Time changes a person. When I first watched “Into the wild” back in 2007 I was working in IT, playing video games in my spare time and trying to do as much as possible to remain stationary 7 days a week. I had no interest in the great outdoors and couldn’t understand individuals who did.
So when I watched the film “Into the wild”, directed by Sean Penn and starring Emile Hirsch, I couldn’t believe that this individual had so selfishly ended his life. He’d ignorantly walked into the wild without training or proper equipment and died when an individual with even a modicum of sense wouldn’t have. It left me slightly angry that this story would even be worth writing about, let alone get turned into a movie.
Fast forward to 2010. I moved from Ireland with my wife on a whim to seek out adventure in Canada. I didn’t know what awaited me there, I just needed to do something different. I guess spending most of my time motionless for so many years had left me feeling like my life was also standing still.
I discovered the outdoors and embraced it. My perceptions changed steadily, almost, unnoticeably, so in 2012, while looking for a book to take out at the library (yes people still use those) I seen “Into the wild” by Jon Krakauer. Back in 2007, Krakauer was an unknown to me, but now, in 2012 he is someone I know a fair bit about due to our mutual love of mountaineering and high peaks.
Truthfully, I hadn’t thought much about the story of Christopher McCandless since 2007. It was only upon seeing the book on the shelf by the same name that the memories of how angry I’d felt about that movie flooded back into my mind. It was like these were the memories of somebody else, somebody I no longer recognized. The person I am now does nothing but dream about the wild and being surrounded by it. I stare over at the hills and peaks that surround the town where I live and wish to go there always.
I felt I needed to revisit this story again, to get a fresh perspective on it, so I rented out the book.
I read through it pretty fast, which is unusual for me as I can take a year or more to read a short book. I knew the story already but Krakauer doesn’t just tell it like the movie does, he spends time analyzing Chris’ actions as someone who is also bitten by the call of the wild. Krakauer also spends time reflecting on his own exploits in his youth that could have ended the same way, with his untimely death and a media response that would have labeled him as ignorant and reckless.
After reading the book, I felt different. Immediately I planned to re-watch the movie. I did so the very next night and that different feeling I had from the book remained. That anger I’d initially felt was assuaged. I understood Christophers motivations as I was now standing in his shoes.
He died too soon, but in my opinion he also lived more than most. The wild has called many people because it was here before man and it will be here after us. It bears none of the shackles of society, none of the rules, none of the lies. You will find only the truth about existence in nature.
When I think back about my first forays into the wilderness around me here I can’t help feeling I dodged a few bullets. I did stupid things and made mistakes, but thankfully I survived to learn from them. It takes awhile to accept that the blanket of security we have is largely gone when we’ve hiked a mere handful of kilometers into the mountains. Most people live on to learn but a small percentage, of which Chris was one, do not.
If you haven’t already then I highly recommend reading the book, or even watching the movie. Or, better yet, get outside. Go with someone who has already made the mistakes and survived so you don’t have to. Do it now, what’s stopping you?