Into the Wild Study Guide

Into the Wild

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

Into the Wild is a non-fictional account of the wilderness survival and eventual death of Christopher McCandless, a teenager who left home to experience nature's grandeur. The survival of McCandless's journals and the accounts of those he met with on his travels paint a vivid picture of a determined young man wrestling with personal demons through travel. McCandless dies alone in the Alaskan wilderness at the conclusion of the novel.

As planned, Chris McCandless leaves Carthage for Alaska on April 15, 1992. Along the way, he takes numerous photos of himself at different mile markers and hitches with a trucker named Gaylord Stuckey for nearly a thousand miles in the state of Alaska itself. Alex describes for Stuckey his anger with his parents, his love for his sister and his dreams of living off the land in Alaska. Alex buys a great deal of rice in Fairbanks and stops off at the University of Alaska to research what he can survive off of while in the wild, which plants are safe and whatnot. Alex promises to send Stuckey a letter when he reemerges from the wild but will not commit to calling his parents.

McCandless spends three days in Fairbanks and mails out the post cards and letters to Burres and Westerberg. He buys a used .22 because it is light and durable and makes camp about four miles outside of town. On the morning of that fourth day, he gets a ride from the first person he sees, Jim Gallien, and in three hours he is standing at the Stampede Trail, covered in snow.

On his second day hiking the trail, he comes across the Teklanika River. In April, the river is tiny and easy to cross, not anywhere near the rapid it becomes in August when Alex tries to cross back over it. He travels 20 miles inland and comes across the bus with its hunting gear and remarks on it as the“magic bus” because of its miraculous appearance.

He tags the bus immediately, excited by his luck. Within days, his journal reflects something different though, with worry over his weakness, the snow outside. He often references“disasters” becoming frustrated at nearly all interruptions to his goals. His hunting skills eventually increase though and when the snow melts he finds various plants that he can eat.

Alex leaves the bus on May 5 to head west, seeking game and hoping to hike 500 miles to the tidewater. Unfortunately, melting snow makes the hiking too hard and he returns to the bus for the summer. The bus is actually only 30 miles from the main highway, 16 from another road and within 6 miles of at least four other cabins. He never sees another human being though during the summer and goes about staying alive, gathering wood, and finding food.

His hunting skills continue to increase until he kills a moose on June 9. He feels bad for the kill though and when he fails to properly cure the meat because of his unfamiliarity with the weather and local assets, he is upset at wasting the animal’s life. Because of the failure, McCandless decides he will make every motion of life a deliberate, well thought-out one, and to treat food as holy.

At some point in his diary, it is apparent that McCandless had decided to return, that happiness is only achieved when with other people. He decides to return on July 3rd but is stopped by the slew of Beaver Ponds blocking the Stampede Trail on which he hiked in. the river has exploded into a hundred foot torrent and so he decides to return to the bus, incapable of fording the river. As Krakauer notes, McCandless could have merely walked north a bit and found smaller fording points. However, he returns to the bus in what will eventually become a fatal move.

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