Into the Wild with Christopher McCandless and Bus 142
Into the Wild with Christopher McCandless and Bus 142
To most seasoned wanderers, travelling is not just a lifestyle but life itself. However, when you ask them to find the reason behind their travel, there is no definitive answer. It is because life itself has no definitive answer, and it takes years or almost your whole life to realise the purpose of this existence.
One thing is for sure when you choose an itinerant life, or even stay outside of conventional living, you are somehow not happy holding yourself in a conformist existence. As human beings are too insecure in their state of mind, conventional living is the only viable choice they have to get into a secure cocoon where their emotional, physical, sentimental and societal needs are fulfilled.
Many years ago I read the book “Into the Wild” and later watched the film, and they left a small mark on my life. The film focused on a particular tragic protagonist who lived a brief life of 24 years, which inspired people to emulate his life in spite of his tragedy and for some foolishness.
The character, Christopher Johnson McCandless, inspired people not because he did well to survive in Alaska for two months without the necessary equipment, but his grit, determination, and philosophy of life surprised people to a greater extent. His travelling or “escape” from society was a downright rejection of conformity and materialism in order to discover the true meaning of life, experiencing the raw throb of life without a secure boundary.
As I mentioned earlier the life inspired many traveller and non-traveller alike, but he also received plenty of criticism from people who think he was an idiot, arrogant, mentally unbalanced and even possibly suicidal.
If we look into Chris’s past, it is evident he was brilliant in many ways, though there were lots of eccentricities in his character. He graduated from Emory University in 1990 and discarded all titles and honours he received because he thought all those things were just ‘things’, immaterial and irrelevant to his own life.
He pursued a living of continuous travel because every day he wanted to ‘see a different sun’.
Shortly after graduation, he donated most of the money he had saved from his education fund to Oxfam and just kept a small amount for himself. Later on he burnt those notes and adopted the name Alexander Supertramp.
He never talked about his family but it was evident certain occurrences in his family life created a disillusion about the material life.
Self-portrait of McCandless next to the Bus 142 on the Stampede Trail road, found as an undeveloped photographic film in his camera after his death
However, after reading the book or watching the film most people could possibly infer that Chris’s mental state and his fondness for travelling came from the backdoor of his own disheartening experience from his family bonding. To me it is not the exact truth because a tragedy can shake one’s individuality, but in the case of Chris, he was radical in his thoughts from the very beginning. It is not just that he discovered the truth of material futility after he discovered the turmoil in the family.
Although his travelling seemed to be a random activity, the current of spiritualism was obvious through his journal, various acquaintances he met along his journey and his staunch idealism, which he never forgot in spite of his naturally free state of mind.
There is something striking in his life, and very similar to the lives of monks and philosophers, which signifies that he had a purpose, and was not an aimless wanderer by any chance.
Chris travelled around the US by various means; hiking, canoeing, train, hitchhiking and walking. He himself believed one must travel with only as many possessions that one could carry comfortably on his/her shoulders. Interestingly his most prized possessions were his books which he idolised.
His dream was Alaskan adventure, not just for adventure but he wanted to know the truth behind the monotonous life of daily existence of ordinary humans.
Chris’s actions are debatable because many feel he was a great man but stupid. Many also think he was a sage because of his staunch idealism and lifestyle.
One thing is for sure, he was courageous and had a great spirit for adventure. His life was not just an inspiration for travellers but Bus 142 has had a deep impact on the lives of people who lead a conventional life and may not have the courage to take a radical step to leave their comfort zone and change their life of conformity and conservatism.
The End of Bus 142
It was known as “Bus 142” and the “Magic Bus,” and the rusty green-and-white vehicle had exerted a dangerous and almost talismanic power over hikers for nearly a quarter century — ever since the book “Into the Wild” immortalized Christopher McCandless’s solitary odyssey and lonely death in the Alaskan outback.
Abandoned on the Stampede Trail near Denali National Park, the bus had become a pilgrimage site. It was revered by travelers around the world who had read the book or seen the movie, “Into the Wild,” directed by Sean Penn in 2007. But it had also become a hazard, luring hikers into forbidding territory.
Two travelers drowned in the Teklanika River while trying to reach the bus, in 2010 and 2019. At least 15 others have had to be rescued while trying to retrace Mr. McCandless’s journey, according to the Alaska National Guard.
On Thursday, state officials finally decided to remove the “Into the Wild” bus from the Alaskan wild.
NYTimes Published June 19, 2020
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