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.