I wish I’d met Chris McCandless.

I just finished reading Jon Krakauer’s brilliant, harrowing, tragic, poignant 1996 book, “Into The Wild.” I’m not going to recap the many intimate details of his story, but in a nutshell, it’s the true account of Annandale VA’s tortured young troubadour Chris McCandless, who threw his suburban Northern Virginia life to the wayside (he actually lived about five or six houses away from where I live now) and went on a soul-searching odyssey into some near and far reaching corners of our country, never to return.  McCandless’ story is now also retold in an amazing film directed by Sean Penn ( with an equally amazing soundtrack by Pearl Jam frontman Eddie Vedder.

According to one of his old Woodson High School friends, Chris was a person who appeared to be “not from this century. He felt adventure and freedom were not part of the society that he lived in.” So, with a spare amount of provisions and a wandering soul that he wanted to replenish and rediscover, he headed west, and then north, ending up making camp in an old abandoned bus on the Stampede Trail in Alaska, where he would live solitarily for three or four months, searching for who he was, and seemingly finding that answer.

Many have called Chris “stupid”, “ignorant”, “irresponsible”, “selfish”, for dissapearing and leaving his family so desperately worried and wondering if he would ever come back to them. Especially his sister who he seemed closest to. Others would also damn him for going on a grossly unprepared journey that he was not equipped to survive.  

Sure, it’s anyone’s right to cast dispersion at a young impulsive kid, but to me, it’s legitimate only if you have really been in his shoes, only if you also attempted to go “into the wild” with an overwhelming need to find who you really are, after feeling lost amidst the din of the hectic world around you. Yeah, maybe you brought more provisions and a better sense of what you were doing, and that makes you better than him…maybe. But I truly doubt that most of those who would criticize him have actually been in his shoes, they just treat him as dumb spoiled kid who irresponsibly split on his family because he couldn’t hack what he had.  Chris certainly was not the first (or the last) of his kind, as Krakauer describes in exquisite detail the sometimes harrowing stories of men who also felt the need to wander away to find themselves, some of whom met similar fates as Chris.

But since he was a small boy, Chris was desperate to seek out the challenge and majesty of nature in order to capture the essence of his own wandering soul. And for him, the only way to do that as a young man was to dissapear in 1992 and find answers on his own, away from parents, siblings, friends, civilization. And it was his choice to do so despite what others may think.

By his own accounts in a journal found in bus #142, Chris appeared to have found what he was seeking. Notes he wrote in the margins of Doctor Zhivago, one of several deeply personal books he brought with him on his journey that were later found there, simply said: “Happiness better shared.” He seemed to have found that inner peace he so deeply wanted to find, that sense of self…but it was too late. Apparently one unfortunate mistake cost him his life before he could make his way his out of the Alaskan woods and back to his family, very likely with a new found soul to share.

Read “Into The Wild.” Then see the movie. It’s the only way you can “meet” Chris McCandless, and draw your own conclusions about his journey. After living it with him, you just might want to do a little soul-searching and dissapearing of your own. Maybe not “into the wild”, but somewhere, off by yourself, where you can reach deep inside and find a part of yourself that may be missing.

And maybe, like Chris seemed to, you just might find what you’re looking for.


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