Chris McCandless from an Alaska Park Ranger’s Perspective
by Peter Christian (abridged)
Both Chris McCandless and I arrived in Alaska in 1992. We were both about the same age and had a similar
idea in mind; to live a free life in the Alaska wild. Fourteen years later Chris McCandless
is dead and I am living the dream I set out to win for myself. What made the difference
in these two outcomes?
When you consider McCandless from my perspective, you quickly see that what he did
wasn’t even particularly daring, just stupid, tragic and inconsiderate. First off, he spent
very little time learning how to actually live in the wild. He arrived at the Stampede Trail
without even a map of the area. Consider where
he died. An abandoned bus. How did it get there? On a trail. If the bus could get into
the place where it died, why couldn’t McCandless get out of the place where he died?
The fact that he had to live in an old bus in the first place tells you a lot.
Furthermore, Chris McCandless poached a moose and then wasted it. He killed a
magnificent animal superbly conditioned to survive the rigors of the Alaskan wild then,
inexperienced in how to preserve meat without refrigeration (the Eskimos and Indians do
it to this day), he watched 1500 pounds of meat rot away in front of him.
So what made the difference between McCandless and I fourteen years ago? Why am I
alive and he is dead? Essentially, Chris McCandless committed suicide while I
apprenticed myself to a career and a life that I wanted more badly than I can possibly
describe in so short an essay
The tragedy is that McCandless more than likely was suffering from
mental illness and didn’t have to end his life the way he did. In the end, he was sadly
ordinary in his disrespect for the land, the animals, the history, and the self-sufficiency
ethos of Alaska, the Last Frontier.