The Reccuring Ghost of Alex Supertramp

Every once in awhile I obsess over things. Sometimes it’s a T.V. show, actor, character or a book but I usually forget about it after a little bit. I probably become preoccupied with something else. The one person that has popped up on my obsessive radar more than once is Chris McCandless. This young “asthetic voyager” left behind his old life of privilege to live on the road and in a Henry David Thoreau-like existence. His goal was to make it in the Alaskan wilderness. Well, he made it to Alaska but he didn’t make it at living there. At the age of 24 he died of starvation in a bus that was converted as a backcountry shelter.

I’ve read the Outside article and the book that spun out of that article both written by Jon Krakauer. I’ve followed off and on the press that this young man received since he died in August of 1992. Recently, I watched the Sean Penn film based on the book and that, of course, got me all engrossed about Chris and his story all over again. In my obsessiveness (thank you internets!) I found the documentary “Call of the Wild” which I ordered because Netflix didn’t carry it (remember I’m haunted by this guy) after watching the film it helped me connect to Chris even more so.

When I heard about Chris I was out of high school in the process of transferring from junior college to a small school in North Carolina. My intended major was outdoor recreation/outdoor education and my initial take on the guy was that he was a little lot delusional and idealized or romanticized the wild and nature too much. Those of us in the O.E. program were focused on safety, preparedness and lessons that could be learned and taken home with us. I believe none of these things were on Chris’ radar at all.

After watching the documentary film I’ve looked at the whole situation a little different. The filmmaker takes a look at Generation X and how growing up(both he and Chris are the same age) as a part of that generation may have played into his actions. I, too, didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I was a little cynical and was disillusioned by school and people. I wanted nothing more than to just go into the woods or be a monk or something. So, in one aspect I respect the guy for actually following his dreams of solitude. But, on the other hand, he’s a schmuck.

But how is it his story keeps on living? What is it about this ill-prepared intellectual that keeps him at the back of my mind?

I’m not sure I have any answers to those questions yet. I do, however, recommend seeing the documentary which I own or you can order a copy here. Where the Sean Penn film romanticizes Chris McCandless the Ron Lamothe documentary tries to get to the heart of why Chris may have headed out to the wilderness and Ron poses some interesting new ideas about Chris’ situation as well.

One thought on “The Reccuring Ghost of Alex Supertramp”

  1. Thanks for your insightful comments on Chris McCandless. I too, like you and so many others, am unable to get this story out of my head. I just can’t help thinking about the circumstances and nature of Chris and his great odyssey. After thoughtful and exhuastive anaysis on my part, I have come to some observations which I think explain my obsessiveness with all of this. First of all, after high school or college, a young person has in their hands the only true freedom they will ever know. I say this because most of our lives involve obligations which tie us to a home, mortgage, child raising, marriage and on and on. To sow ones oats at this stage in life is a wise thing to do. On my parents advice at age 18, I left my familiar surroundings, packed my few belongings in my car and headed west. Eventually, I arrived in the high country of Colorado with no place to live, no job, little money and no particular prospects. With some ambition, determination and tenacity, I eventually found my way and had the most free 2 years of my life. When I returned to a more conventional life, I was more focused than ever and have enjoyed decades of fullfillment since. Chris McCandless sowed his oats in the extreme. Not simply content with being free of a regimented life and overbearing parents, he divorced his entire past and started anew. He was a high achiever in all aspects of his life and his over confidence led him to take chances that most of would never consider. He obviously enjoyed a challenge and surviving on the bare bones and scraps of societies lowest tier was the ultimate challenge for him, especially since he came from a life which offered him every chance one could ask for. His great Alaskan Odyssey did seem to be a fitting conclusion to more than 2 years of wandering and it makes sense that he would feel confident of his success in surviving off the land in the Alaskan wilds. Had he found a way to cross the swollen Teklanika, he would have walked out anonymously and no one would be writing about him nearly 16 years after his death. Jon Krakauer is an excellent writer and his story of Chris is indeed compelling. I beleive his authorial skill is greatly responsible for the fascination that so many of us have with Chris McCandless. The lesson here is really quite simple: enjoy the free years of your life while you can but also seek advice and don’t take chances that you may regret in the future. No matter what differences you may have with your family, don’t abandon them and cause them undue grief. Do see each day with a different horizon and if you have the urge to really do something that you have a passion for, there is no better time than the present. Chris is a figure of American folklore which can serve to inspire or warn of dire consequences. Regardless, I can’t help thinking how this interesting young man may have contributed to society had he lived. His death was truly a waste.

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