My husband Kris and I recently returned from our honeymoon in Alaska. Perhaps a less conventional choice for a honeymoon, we sought adventure and wild solitude.
Alaska attracts travelers, survivalists, hikers, nature junkies, and crazy honeymooners like myself. One of the most well-known adventurers who journeyed to Alaska is Christopher McCandless, also known as “Alexander Supertramp,” who was depicted in the 2007 film Into the Wild.
The movie details the true story of McCandless’s two-year odyssey across North America in the early 90s. Upon graduating college, he desired to escape a toxic family environment in order to discover his true self through adventure and a simpler life. Tragically, only months after his arrival in Alaska, his body was discovered inside an abandoned bus, deep in the wilderness.
I thought of McCandless often while Kris and I traveled through Alaska. His story always moved me—or maybe, disturbed me—in ways that still linger. Perhaps it’s because he graduated from the same high school I did, and his story only seems an inch closer to my own life experience. Or maybe it’s because I still remember feeling empty as the movie credits began to roll. I longed for a resolution to his tragic life story that the script never satisfied.
My husband and I passed through the remote town of Healy, Alaska and spotted a beat up blue bus off the road, sitting in the grass next to a brewery. It was the movie replica of what McCandless called the “magic bus.”
Inside the bus was a small box spring topped with a thin, dirty mattress, a few rusted pots and pans, and framed copies of notes he wrote and pictures he took during his time living in the bus. One note reads:
Two years he walks the Earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road.
However, in his search for ultimate freedom, McCandless finds bondage and death. On day 100 in his journal, he writes,
Death looms as serious threat, too weak to walk out, have literally become trapped in wild—no game.
The same feeling of emptiness I felt at the end of Into the Wild filled me as a stood in the bus reading his messages.
McCandless is idolized by some as a thoughtful transcendentalist and admonished by others as foolish, selfish, and suicidal. Those who regard him as a hero admire his escape from a consumerist culture for adventure and simple beauty. Those who think his decision on par with a death wish might say he embraced an individualism too extreme.
God did not make us to flourish in isolation (Genesis 2:18). He calls us to community, to participate in a great economy outside of ourselves. Though the market economy is criticized for its individualistic nature, global voluntary exchange might be one of the most communal, interdependent constructs of our society. McCandless, in removing himself completely from community without proper preparation, paid the ultimate price.
While Kris and I were at the brewery next to the set replica of the magic bus, we met a young hitchhiker named Tai, with a scruffy beard and a giant backpack. We chatted and laughed over beers. Tai told us about his recent 20-mile pilgrimage down the Stampede Trail and over the Teklanika River to visit the original magic bus as he pointed to a picture on his phone from his hike. I told him he looked just like the legendary Supertramp.
Like the famous hiker, Tai loves the adventure and the beauty Alaska offers, and often spent many days alone in the wild. However, in a few days, he would be returning home—a journey perhaps McCandless would have wished to make one day.
*Originally published on the IFWE blog.