Into The Wild

by Jon Krakauer

Troy Shu
Troy Shu
Updated at: March 12, 2024
Into The Wild
Into The Wild

What are the big ideas? 1. The allure of death and the unknown: While many adventure stories touch on the desire to confront mortality or explore uncharted territor

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What are the big ideas?

  1. The allure of death and the unknown: While many adventure stories touch on the desire to confront mortality or explore uncharted territory, this book sheds light on Chris McCandless's specific fascination with both concepts. He didn't seek death as a suicidal inclination but rather as an abstract concept, which led him to take risks and venture into the unknown. This unique perspective provides readers with a fresh perspective on the human drive for exploration and self-discovery.
  2. The impact of family dynamics: Many adventure stories focus on individual journeys and personal growth; however, this book highlights how Chris McCandless's complex relationship with his parents influenced his decisions. His discovery of his father's infidelity left him deeply resentful and angry, contributing to his desire to escape civilization and live off the land. This exploration of family dynamics adds depth to the story and shows that personal background plays a significant role in shaping one's adventures and goals.
  3. The challenges of living off the land: While survival stories often depict individuals who thrive in wilderness conditions, this book offers a nuanced portrayal of McCandless's struggle to live off the land for an extended period. He nearly succeeded, but his lack of experience and resources ultimately led to his demise. This realistic portrayal emphasizes the immense challenges faced by those who choose to abandon civilization and highlights the importance of preparation, knowledge, and resilience.
  4. The role of nature in personal growth: Throughout the book, nature plays a significant role in shaping Chris McCandless's experiences and ultimately contributing to his personal growth. His deep connection with nature fueled his desire for self-discovery and escapism. However, it was also the harsh realities of nature that forced him to confront limitations and learn valuable lessons. This emphasis on nature's transformative power provides readers with a unique perspective on personal development and the importance of connecting with the natural world.
  5. The importance of understanding complex individuals: Chris McCandless was a complex individual, holding strong convictions while demonstrating impulsive behavior. Through this book, we come to understand his motivations, strengths, and weaknesses, which allows us to appreciate the depth of his character and the complexity of his journey. This nuanced approach to portraying individuals provides readers with a more profound understanding of human nature and the intricacies of personal growth.




  • Alex, a hitchhiker from South Dakota, intended to live off the land in the Alaskan wilderness for several months with minimal gear and food.
  • Jim Gallien, a union electrician, picked up Alex and offered to drive him to Anchorage but was concerned about his preparation and equipment.
  • Alex had only a ten-pound bag of rice as food, an improbably light load for the harsh conditions of the Alaskan interior in late spring.
  • He lacked essential gear such as an ax, bug dope, snowshoes, a compass, and proper hiking boots.
  • Alex was afraid of water and intended to go on a rarely traveled trail called the Stampede Trail, which Gallien warned him against due to its remoteness and difficulty.
  • Alex refused help from Gallien, insisting he could handle anything on his own and had no hunting license or anyone aware of his plans.
  • Gallien eventually dropped Alex off at the beginning of the Stampede Trail with some food and boots, warning him to call if he made it out alive.
  • Author's note: Alaska is a magnet for dreamers and misfits; the bush is unforgiving and harsh, and living off the land isn't a picnic.


“Some people feel like they don't deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps of the past.”

“I don’t want to know what time it is. I don’t want to know what day it is or where I am. None of that matters.”



  • Chris McCandless followed the Stampede Trail into the Alaskan wilderness in the early 1990s.
  • The trail was once a road built for mining purposes, but it's now mostly obliterated and only accessible by off-road vehicles.
  • A derelict bus serves as shelter for hunters and trappers near the Sushana River.
  • In September 1992, six people visited the bus on the same day and discovered Chris McCandless's body inside.
  • McCandless had been dead for two and a half weeks and weighed only 67 pounds due to starvation.
  • The authorities found a SOS note, a diary, and five rolls of exposed film at the scene.
  • An autopsy determined that McCandless died due to starvation with no signs of injuries or broken bones.
  • McCandless left behind no identification, making it difficult for authorities to identify him.


“It was the masterful and incommunicable wisdom of eternity laughing at the futility of life and the effort of life.”

Chapter Three (CARTHAGE)


  • Chris McCandless graduated from Emory University in May 1990 with a 3.72 GPA and a desire to donate his college fund to charity instead of using it for law school or a car.
  • In the spring of 1990, Chris announced to his parents that he intended to "disappear for a while" during the summer.
  • Chris's parents flew down to Atlanta to attend his graduation and were surprised when they discovered that Chris had moved out of his apartment without leaving a forwarding address.
  • After graduating, Chris decided to travel westward across America under the name "Alexander Supertramp." He intended to live off the land and experience life in its rawest form.
  • Before embarking on his journey, Chris gave his copy of War and Peace to Wayne Westerberg in Carthage, South Dakota, where he had spent a short time working at a grain elevator.
  • Chris also gave away or discarded all his personal belongings, including his wallet and identification.
  • Chris's parents did not hear from him after graduation and became increasingly concerned when they discovered that he had moved out of his apartment without leaving a forwarding address.
  • Chris's journey took him to various places in the western United States, including the South Rim of the Grand Canyon, the Salton Sea in California, and eventually to Alaska, where he died in August 1992.


“I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love. I felt in myself a superabundance of energy which found no outlet in our quiet life.”

“He read a lot. He used a lot of big words. I think maybe part of what got him into trouble was that he did too much thinking. Sometimes he tried too hard to make sense of the world, to figure out why people were bad to each other so often. A couple of times I tried to tell him it was a mistake to get too deep into that kind of stuff, but Alex got stuck on things. He always had to know the absolute right answer before he could go on to the next thing.”

“The trip was to be an odyssey in the fullest sense of the word, an epic journey that would change everything.”

“I understood what he was doing, that he had spent four years fulfilling the absurd and tedious duty of graduating from college and now he was emancipated from that world of abstraction, false security, parents, and material excess.”

“At long last he was unencumbered, emancipated from the stifling world of his parents and peers, a world of abstraction and security and material excess, a world in which he felt grievously cut off from the raw throb of existence.”

Chapter Four (DETRITAL WASH)


  • Alex McCandless, also known as "Alex Supertramp," embarked on a solo journey across America and eventually to Alaska in 1990.
  • He gave away most of his possessions, including his car, and set off with minimal supplies, intending to live off the land.
  • Along the way, he met various people who helped him, including Wayne Westerberg, a hobo he befriended in Fairbanks, Alaska.
  • He faced numerous challenges, including harsh weather conditions and lack of food, but continued on his journey with a strong sense of determination and adventure.
  • In January 1992, McCandless' body was found near the Stampede Trail in Denali National Park, having died from starvation. His journal, which he left behind, provided insight into his experiences and motivations.


“I read somewhere... how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong, but to feel strong... to measure yourself at least once.”

“To the desert go prophets and hermits; through deserts go pilgrims and exiles. Here the leaders of the great religions have sought the therapeutic and spiritual values of retreat, not to escape but to find reality.”

“He was unheeded, happy, and near to the wild heart of life. He was alone and young and wilful and wildhearted, alone amid a waste of wild air and brackish waters and the seaharvest of shells and tangle and veiled grey sunlight.”

“The desert sharpened the sweet ache of his longing, amplified it, gave shape to it in sere geology and clean slant of light.”

“<...> though he found that if you are stupid enough to bury a camera underground you won't be taking many pictures with it afterwards. Thus the story has no picture book for the period May 10, 1991 - January 7, 1992. But this is not important. It is the experiences, the memories, the great triumphant joy of living to the fullest extent in which real meaning is found. God it's great to be alive! Thank you. Thank you.”

Chapter Five (BULLHEAD CITY)


  • McCandless stayed at Charlie's trailer for a month around Christmas 1990-1991. He gave Charlie $50 and a pack of cigarettes in exchange.
  • McCandless left Bullhead City unexpectedly, giving Jan Burres a backpack containing his belongings.
  • McCandless volunteered to help Burres sell books at a swap meet. He entertained the crowd by playing an electric organ and had a playful relationship with her dogs.
  • McCandless spoke about his plans for Alaska but revealed little about his background or family. He did mention that he was from Washington, D.C., when cheering for the Redskins during an NFL game.
  • Burres offered to give McCandless some money and warm clothing before he left, but he refused. She later found most of it hidden in her van after his departure.


“He needed his solitude at times, but he wasn't a hermit. He did a lot of socializing. Sometimes I think it was like he was storing up company for the times when he knew nobody would be around.”

Chapter Six (ANZA-BORREGO)


  • McCandless left Salton City on March 14, 1992, intending to begin his Alaskan adventure as soon as possible.
  • Franz had hoped that McCandless would adopt him as a grandson and make him a part of his life. McCandless declined the request.
  • McCandless's letter to Franz in April 1992 contained advice for Franz to live an adventurous, nomadic lifestyle.
  • In early December 1992, Franz learned that McCandless had died in Alaska. He became an atheist as a result of McCandless's death.


“Mr. Franz, I think careers are a 20th Century invention and I don't want one. You don’t need to worry about me; I have a college education. I’m not destitute. I'm living like this by choice.”

“I'd like to repeat the advice that I gave you before, in that I think you really should make a radical change in your lifestyle and begin to boldly do things which you may previously never have thought of doing, or been too hesitant to attempt. So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.

If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy. But once you become accustomed to such a life you will see its full meaning and its incredible beauty. And so, Ron, in short, get out of Salton City and hit the Road. I guarantee you will be very glad you did. But I fear that you will ignore my advice. You think that I am stubborn, but you are even more stubborn than me. You had a wonderful chance on your drive back to see one of the greatest sights on earth, the Grand Canyon, something every American should see at least once in his life. But for some reason incomprehensible to me you wanted nothing but to bolt for home as quickly as possible, right back to the same situation which you see day after day after day. I fear you will follow this same inclination in the future and thus fail to discover all the wonderful things that God has placed around us to discover.

Don't settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. You are still going to live a long time, Ron, and it would be a shame if you did not take the opportunity to revolutionize your life and move into an entirely new realm of experience.

You are wrong if you think Joy emanates only or principally from human relationships. God has placed it all around us. It is in everything and anything we might experience. We just have to have the courage to turn against our habitual lifestyle and engage in unconventional living.

My point is that you do not need me or anyone else around to bring this new kind of light in your life. It is simply waiting out there for you to grasp it, and all you have to do is reach for it. The only person you are fighting is yourself and your stubbornness to engage in new circumstances.”

“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. Escaped from Atlanta. Thou shalt not return, 'cause "the West is the best." And now after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously conclude the spiritual pilgrimage. Ten days and nights of freight trains and hitchhiking bring him to the Great White North. No longer to be poisoned by civilization he flees, and walks alone upon the land to become lost in the wild."

“So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man’s living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.”

“The core of mans' spirit comes from new experiences.”

“Don't settle down and sit in one place. Move around be nomadic, make each day a new horizon. -Chris McCandless”

“When Alex left for Alaska," Franz remembers, "I prayed. I asked God to keep his finger on the shoulder of that one; I told him that boy was special. But he let Alex die. So on December 26, when I learned what happened, I renounced the Lord. I withdrew my church membership and became an atheist. I decided I couldn't believe in a God who would let something that terrible happen to a boy like Alex. After I dropped off the hitchhikers," Franz continues," I turned my van around, drove back to the store, and bought a bottle of whiskey. And then I went out into the desert and drank it. I wasn't used to drinking, so it made me real sick. Hoped it'd kill me, but it didn't. Just made me real, real sick.”

Chapter Seven (CARTHAGE)


  • Alex McCandless expressed a desire for chastity and moral purity, as evidenced by his notes in books on these topics and his apparent sexual inactivity
  • McCandless was drawn to wilderness and nature to an extreme degree, which likely contributed to his decision to travel to Alaska
  • He left Carthage in April 1992 with a heavy pack, one thousand dollars, and a determined spirit
  • He wrote letters to friends and family expressing his intention to live "amongst the wild" and likely not return for a long time, if at all.


“Chastity and moral purity were qualities McCandless mulled over long and often. Indeed, one of the books found in the bus with his remains was a collection of stories that included Tol¬stoy’s “The Kreutzer Sonata,” in which the nobleman-turned-ascetic denounces “the demands of the flesh.” Several such passages are starred and highlighted in the dog-eared text, the margins filled with cryptic notes printed in McCandless’s distinc¬tive hand. And in the chapter on “Higher Laws” in Thoreau’s Walden, a copy of which was also discovered in the bus, McCand¬less circled “Chastity is the flowering of man; and what are called Genius, Heroism, Holiness, and the like, are but various fruits which succeed it.” We Americans are titillated by sex, obsessed by it, horrified by it. When an apparently healthy person, especially a healthy young man, elects to forgo the enticements of the flesh, it shocks us, and we leer. Suspicions are aroused. McCandless’s apparent sexual innocence, however, is a corol¬lary of a personality type that our culture purports to admire, at least in the case of its more famous adherents. His ambivalence toward sex echoes that of celebrated others who embraced wilderness with single-minded passion—Thoreau (who was a lifelong virgin) and the naturalist John Muir, most prominently— to say nothing of countless lesser-known pilgrims, seekers, mis¬fits, and adventurers. Like not a few of those seduced by the wild, McCandless seems to have been driven by a variety of lust that supplanted sexual desire. His yearning, in a sense, was too pow¬erful to be quenched by human contact. McCandless may have been tempted by the succor offered by women, but it paled beside the prospect of rough congress with nature, with the cosmos it¬self. And thus was he drawn north, to Alaska.”

Chapter Eight (ALASKA)


  • Chris McCandless's story shares similarities with that of John Rosellini, who disappeared in Denali National Park in 1968, and Carl McCunn, who died in the Brooks Range in 1982.
  • All three men were drawn to the wilderness, seeking adventure and self-discovery.
  • However, each man lacked common sense and proper planning, which led to their demise.
  • While Rosellini and McCandless were mentally unstable, McCandless did not conform to the typical bush casualty stereotype – he was not incompetent or a sociopath. Instead, McCandless can be described as a pilgrim who sought self-discovery but lacked the necessary knowledge and planning.
  • Everett Ruess, a twenty-year-old boy who disappeared in southern Utah in 1934, shares similarities with Chris McCandless. Both men were driven by their fascination with nature and sought self-discovery, but they lacked proper planning and common sense which led to their tragic ends.


“The pursuit of knowledge, he maintained, was a worthy objective in its own right and needed no external validation.”

Chapter Nine (DAVIS GULCH)


  • Everett Ruess was an American wanderer who disappeared in 1934 at the age of twenty, leaving behind a series of letters and paintings that reveal his intense love for nature and desire for solitude.
  • Ruess's correspondence shares striking similarities with Chris McCandless's writings and the experiences of other adventurers and wanderers throughout history.
  • Ruess's disappearance remains a mystery, with theories ranging from him being murdered to him living under an assumed identity.
  • Ruess's fascination with Captain Nemo of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea is believed to have inspired his decision to call himself Nemo in Davis Gulch.
  • Ken Sleight, a professional river guide and desert rat, believes that Ruess drowned while trying to swim across the Colorado River from Navajo country.
  • The monks' disappearance on Papós island, Iceland, offers parallels for understanding Ruess and McCandless.
  • The monks, like many adventurers throughout history, sought out lonely places without distractions or temptations of the world.


“What if I were smiling and running into your arms? Would you see then what I see now?”

“It is true that I miss intelligent companionship, but there are so few with whom I can share the things that mean so much to me that I have learned to contain myself. It is enough that I am surrounded with beauty...”

“We like companionship, see, but we can't stand to be around people for very long. So we go get ourselves lost, come back for a while, then get the hell out again.”

“But [Everett] and McCandless, at least they tried to follow their dream. That’s what was great about them. They tried. Not many do.”

“That's what was great about him. He tried. Not many do.”

Chapter Ten (FAIRBANKS)


  • A young hiker, believed to be American in his late 20s or early 30s, died of starvation in the Alaskan wilderness in late July 1992.
  • His diary and notes suggest he was injured in a fall and stranded for over three months while trying to survive by hunting game and eating wild plants.
  • Authorities have been unable to confirm his identity, but Gallien believes he gave the hiker a ride and recognized him from a picture.
  • The hiker had told Gallien he was from South Dakota, leading authorities to initially search there for next of kin, but it turned out to be a false lead.
  • Westerberg, another acquaintance, also contacted authorities when he heard about the hiker on the radio and recognized him as someone who had worked for him.
  • McCandless had given different names and Social Security numbers when filling out tax forms, making identification difficult but eventually leading to his family in Maryland.



  • Chris McCandless was an intelligent and independent-minded teenager who rebelled against societal norms and expectations, including attending college.
  • He was an excellent runner and athlete, and had a strong social conscience, often helping the less fortunate and speaking out against racial oppression.
  • Despite his disdain for wealth and material possessions, Chris had a natural entrepreneurial spirit and made money through various ventures, such as selling vegetables and starting a copy business.
  • Chris's parents were hardworking and successful, having experienced poverty in their youth, and provided their children with a comfortable lifestyle. However, Chris was embarrassed by their wealth and believed that it was inherently corrupting and evil.
  • Chris graduated from high school in the spring of 1986 and decided to drive across the country instead of attending college as his parents had hoped. His journey would be the first in a series of extended adventures that ultimately led him to abandon society and live alone in the Alaskan wilderness.
  • Chris's complex personality is evident in his intense private nature, gregariousness, social consciousness, and attitude towards money. He was both a capitalist and an anticapitalist, enjoying the fruits of his labor while also being embarrassed by them.
  • McCandless's relationship with his parents was puzzling in its complexity; he would often rail against them to some friends but barely complained to others. Despite their differences, they loved him deeply and were devastated when he disappeared.


“Chris would use the spiritual aspect to try to motivate us. "He'd tell us to think about all the evil in the world, all the hatred, and imagine ourselves running against the forces of darkness, the evil wall that was trying to keep us from running our best. He believed that doing well was all mental, a simple matter of harnessing whatever energy was available.”

Chapter Twelve (ANNANDALE)


  • Chris discovered his father's past infidelity and divorce, causing deep resentment and anger towards him.
  • Chris was a passionate and intense individual who held strong political views, often criticizing governments and policies.
  • During his senior year at Emory, Chris lived off-campus and spent most of his time in the library, rarely interacting with friends or family.
  • After graduating, Chris donated his savings to charity and disappeared without contacting his family or sister.
  • His parents grew increasingly worried and anguished as months turned into years without hearing from him. Billie claimed to have heard his voice begging for help during a night in 1992, but they couldn't find him.


“I'm going to paraphrase Thoreau here... rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness... give me truth. ”

“Children can be harsh judges when it comes to their parents, disinclined to grant clemency.”

“The fragility of crystal is not a weakness but a fineness. My parents understood that fine crystal glass had to be cared for or may be shattered. But when it came to my brother, they didn’t seem to know or care that their course of their secret action brought the kind of devastation that could cut them. Their fraudulent marriage and our father’s denial of his other son was for Chris a murder of every day’s truth. He felt his whole life turned like a river suddenly reversing the direction of its flow. Suddenly running uphill. These revelations struck at the core of Chris’s sense of identity. They made his entire childhood seem like fiction. Chris never told them he knew and made me promise silence as well.”

Chapter Thirteen (VIRGINIA BEACH)


  • Chris McCandless had a deep connection with nature and a strong desire to escape from civilization and thought.
  • Chris's expression in photographs remained consistent despite the ten-year gap between them.
  • Buckley, Chris's Shetland sheepdog, was an important companion to him.
  • Chris clashed fiercely with his parents as a teenager but made peace with them after his disappearance.
  • Carine, Chris's sister, is gregarious, successful in business, and unable to imagine living alone in the wilderness.
  • Chris's death came unexpectedly to his family, and they grieved deeply for him.
  • Chris left few possessions behind when he died, including a rifle, binoculars, a fishing rod, two Swiss Army knives, a book of plant lore, a Minolta camera, and five rolls of film.
  • Carine carried her brother's ashes home in her knapsack after his cremation.
  • Chris's death affected his family differently; Billie stopped eating and lost weight, Walt gained weight, and Carine ate everything she could on the plane ride home and then lost ten pounds herself.


“Happiness [is] only real when shared”

Chapter Fourteen (THE STIKINE ICE CAP)


  • The author's solo climb of the north face of Devils Thumb in Alaska was filled with challenges, including avalanches, exposure, and difficult climbing conditions.
  • The author describes his experience of becoming lost on the Stikine Ice Cap and being unable to communicate with the outside world for several days.
  • The author reflects on the intense focus and clarity of purpose that comes with solo climbing, but also the inherent dangers and risks involved.
  • The author ultimately decides to turn back and descend after encountering thin ice and rock on the upper part of the climb.


“I now walk into the wild.”

“My reasoning, if one can call it that, was inflamed by the scatter shot passions of youth and a literary diet overly rich in the works of Nietzshe, Kerouac, and John Menlove Edwards...”

“I was dimly aware that I might be getting in over my head. But that only added to the scheme’s appeal. That it wouldn’t be easy was the whole point.”

“Hours slide by like minutes. The accumulated clutter of day-to-day existence — the lapses of conscience, the unpaid bills, the bungled opportunities, the dust under the couch, the inescapable prison of your genes — all of it is temporarily forgotten, crowded from your thoughts by an overpowering clarity of purpose and by the seriousness of the task at hand.”

Chapter Fifteen (THE STIKINE ICE CAP)


  • The author's decision to go to Alaska and climb the Devils Thumb was driven by a desire for adventure, self-discovery, and an escape from his mundane life.
  • He faced numerous challenges during his expedition, including harsh weather conditions, difficult climbing, and isolation.
  • The author's experiences in Alaska changed him in some ways but did not fundamentally alter his life.
  • The author recognizes that his survival was largely a matter of chance and that he lacked the intellect and lofty ideals of Chris McCandless, who tragically died in Alaska.
  • The author reflects on the allure of death as an abstract concept and the desire to peer into the unknown, but this did not represent a suicidal inclination for him.


“It's not always necessary to be strong, but to feel strong.”

“When you forgive, you love. And when you love, God’s light shines upon you.”

“It is easy, when you are young, to believe that what you desire is no less than what you deserve, to assume that if you want something badly enough , it is your God-given right to have it...I was a raw youth who mistook passion for insight and acted according to an obscure, gap-ridden logic. I thought climbing the Devils Thumb would fix all that was wrong with my life. In the end, of course, it changed almost nothing. But I came to appreciate that mountains make poor receptacles for dreams. And I lived to tell my tale.”

“At that stage of my youth, death remained as abstract a concept as non-Euclidean geometry or marriage. I didn't yet appreciate its terrible finality or the havoc it could wreak on those who'd entrusted the deceased with their hearts. I was stirred by the dark mystery of mortality. I couldn't resist stealing up to the edge of doom and peering over the brink. The hint of what was concealed in those shadows terrified me, but I caught sight of something in the glimpse, some forbidden and elemental riddle that was no less compelling than the sweet, hidden petals of a woman's sex. In my case - and, I believe, in the case of Chris McCandless - that was a very different thing from wanting to die.”

“The sea's only gifts are harsh blows, and occasionally the chance to feel strong. Now I don't know much about the sea, but I do know that that's the way it is here. And I also know how important it is in life not necessarily to be strong but to feel strong. To measure yourself at least once. To find yourself at least once in the most ancient of human conditions. Facing the blind death stone alone, with nothing to help you but your hands and your own head.”



  • McCandless decided to return to civilization but encountered a major obstacle: the Teklanika River was in flood stage and impassable.
  • He attempted to cross the river at a narrow point where it was too deep and strong to wade or swim, and concluded it would be suicidal to try.
  • McCandless turned around and began walking back to the bus, intending to wait for the river to recede before attempting to cross again.


“On July 2, McCandless finished reading Tolstoy's "Family Happiness", having marked several passages that moved him: "He was right in saying that the only certain happiness in life is to live for others...

I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people to whom it is easy to do good, and who are not accustomed to have it done to them; then work which one hopes may be of some use; then rest, nature, books , music, love for one's neighbor - such is my idea of happiness. And then, on top of all that, you for a mate, and children, perhaps - what more can the heart of a man desire?" ...”

Chapter Seventeen (THE STAMPEDE TRAIL)


  • Chris McCandless was an adventurer who sought to live off the land in Alaska and distrusted conventional wisdom.
  • Roman, a thirty-two-year-old Alaskan biologist, identified with McCandless's quest despite his critic's hubris mistakes.
  • Living off the land for extended periods is incredibly difficult, few people have done it beyond a week or two, and McCandless almost succeeded.
  • It's easy to stereotype McCandless as a boy who felt too much or a loopy young man who read too many books, but he demanded much of himself, more than he could deliver.
  • McCandless's unorthodox behavior cannot be fully understood through posthumous off-the-rack psychoanalysis that trivializes the absent analysand.


“In coming to Alaska, McCandless yearned to wander uncharted country, to find a blank spot on the map. In 1992, however, there were no more blank spots on the map—-not in Alaska, not anywhere. But Chris, with his idiosyncratic logic, came up with an elegant solution to this dilemma: He simply got rid of the map. In his own mind, if nowhere else, the terra would thereby remain incognita.”

“According to the moral absolutism that characterizes McCandless's beliefs, a challenge in which a successful outcome is assured isn't a challenge at all.”

“Unlike Muir and Thoreau, McCandless went into the wilderness not primarily to ponder nature or the world at large but, rather, to explore the inner country of his own soul.”

Chapter Eighteen (THE STAMPEDE TRAIL)


  • Chris McCandless likely died from swainsonine poisoning caused by eating moldy wild potato seeds.
  • He had been gathering and eating large quantities of these seeds since July 14 due to extended rainy weather.
  • Swainsonine is a neurotoxin produced by the plant Rhododendron leguminicola that can cause depression, muscle incoordination, nervousness, and difficulty eating and drinking.
  • If McCandless was already in a weakened state when he ingested swainsonine, it could have led to his death as the body lacks the glucose and protein reserves necessary to excrete the toxin.
  • McCandless may have come across three cabins near the bus but they wouldn't have saved him due to extensive vandalism and food spoilage.
  • There is no evidence to suggest McCandless was the vandal, but he is a prime suspect.
  • McCandless wrote a SOS note on August 12 asking for help but didn't receive any response.
  • He likely died between August 13 and 18, 19 days before his body was discovered.
  • McCandless took a picture of himself near the bus with a farewell message before he died.


“Now what is history? It is the centuries of systematic explorations of the riddle of death, with a view to overcoming death. That’s why people discover mathematical infinity and electromagnetic waves, that’s why they write symphonies..”

“And so it turned out that only a life similar to the life of those around us, merging with it without a ripple, is genuine life, and that an unshared happiness is not happiness…. And this was most vexing of all,” he noted, “HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED.”


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