into the wild Essay

Submitted By Mathiasyy
Words: 1425
Pages: 6

A long time ago, when I first became aware of the fact that someone had died alone in a bus only twenty miles from a state maintained road, I, like many Alaskans, was inclined to believe he must have been not all there. A lot of that had to do with my limited understanding of the story, and the way it was told to me. 

When dless died I was only six years old. As a young boy growing up in Alaska, I always had plenty of opportunity to get my fill of the great outdoors. In fact, it was heavily encouraged by my family, my friends, my schools etc. In school we were required to read books like My Side of the Mountain by Jean Craighead George and Hatchet by Gary Paulsen. 

My parents property backs up to a large track of mostly undeveloped private land, beyond which is nothing but State land: some lakes, swamps, and then an entire mountain range. By the time I was in seventh grade, my parents were allowing me to go off into those woods with some of my friends and camp on our own. 

Those first trips were full of mistakes. We would forget important things, and we would try and carry far too much in our packs. We had no good gear, and we had no concept of lightweight backpacking. Only one of us had ever been in the scouts, and (no offense Olin) but I don’t think he learned much there. Everything we learned we were either taught by our fathers, or we learned it the hard way. 

By the time I was sixteen, I’d spent quite a bit of time out in the woods, and I’d learned how to improvise when necessary. Once, against the wishes of my parents, I took my Toyota pickup to the Knik Glacier: an eighteen mile offroad adventure up the Knik River from where the trail leaves the road. It was the middle of winter and I was totally underprepared. I had a .22 rifle to shoot birds with, but I hadn’t brought a knife, or even a lighter. 

I managed to get the truck stuck and me and my friend Ben ended up spending a night out by the glacier while our friend on a four-wheeler went back for help. Help didn’t arrive until the next day though. We shot some spruce hens and gutted them with a pair of electrical dykes. We managed to get a fire going by pouring the powder from some .22 shells into some cardboard and arcing the truck battery across it with a wrench. 

Learning from that mistake and countless others though, with the help of my family and friends, I managed to make it to adulthood in one piece. I learned by a gradual process of sticking my hand into darn near each and every fire, to learn that it burned me. What I’m sure must have been a full squadron of guardian angles kept me safe. 

So by the time I heard about McCandless’ story when I worked for the Alaska Natural History Association at the book store at Independence Mine State Historical Park in 2004, I was pretty confident in my abilities. I couldn’t help but compare myself to him, and think that I could have done it better. Looking back now though, I realize that’s not fair. 

Maybe I could have done better than Chris, maybe I would have been able to succeed where he failed. I had every advantage though. Chris was not born and raised in Alaska. That wasn’t his fault though. Maybe he wasn’t as prepared as he should have been. Maybe he didn’t have the right gear, or the right skills. Those things are true to a degree as well. 

The realization I’ve come to though, in the last few years, is that Chris is a lot more like me than I would have admitted back when I first heard about him. He had a desire to explore, and experience nature in it’s raw form. He didn’t have the opportunity to gradually make his mistakes and learn his lessons over the course of a lifetime when it came to the Alaskan wilderness, he had to learn on the fly. 

Any mistakes that Chris made, were understandable given his inexperience. The difference between him and I (and for that matter most Alaskan outdoorsmen) is that our stupid mistakes never caught up with us. That’s not because we are better people than Chris, or…