Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer

I'm not sure how this book ended up in my library. Jill may have received it from Linda while we were visiting them for Thanksgiving. I had heard of the movie, but I was never interested in it and have never seen it.

I just picked the book up several days ago, started reading it, got hooked and could hardly put it down.


Chris McCandless was a very smart kid. He did well in school. He was a young man of morals. Once he got a moral code or rule in his head, he would never break it. He did not get along with his father. After finishing college, he quietly made plans to travel the West and not return to his family.

He drove out West, lost his car to a flash flood in Arizona. He hitch-hiked all across the west. He bought a used canoe and floated the Colorado River out to the Gulf of Mexico. He eventually made his way to South Dakoda where he lived with a man who worked as a harvester. He finally decided to test his will by living in the backcountry of Alaska.

Chris survived 112 days in the Denali area. But after eating some moldy wild potato seeds, he became sick and died of stavation. Krakauer surmises that McCandless died from the mold (Rhizoctonia leguminicola) which "produces a potent alkaloid called swainsonine" which also is known to kill livestock who eat damp forage.

The book also digresses a few times and devotes chapters to other adventures. One chapter discusses other men who have tried face the land of Alaska alone. Some failed while others succeded. He also devotes a chapter to Everett Ruess, who similiar to McCandless, lived off the land (in Utah and Arizona), but who disappeared and nothing is known of his death (if indeed he died). The author also sets aside one chapter to explain his fight with the Devil's Thumb ... a legendary mountain in Alaska.


It was a very fascinating book. At my age (33 in 2009), I don't understand the recklessness of living such a life. I tried to think back to when I was in my early 20's and the closest thing I could think of was my love of climbing mountains ... not with ropes and such, but just wanting to hike up mountains. I remember wanting to climb Y-Mount in Provo. I managed to get up past the Y to the first crop of rocks. But after seeing a snake slither a foot away from my hand and nearly dieing from a heart attack, I decided to turn around and thank my lucky stars something worse didn't happen to me.

The one thing that bothered me about the book was how the author took his sweet time in telling the story. He digressed quite a few times to explain the lives of other adventurers like McCandless. He also injected quite a bit of personal history into the book too. But once I realized he was going to do this, I just sat back and enjoyed the ride.

What amazes me is that there are a lot of people who wander. There seems to be a whole culture around hitch hiking, living off the land and having little or no possessions. If ever there is a nuclear holocaust and these people are the only ones who survive, our new civilization will be quite different from the one we live in today.

After reading the book, I found a few actual pictures of McCandless on-line. He had a camera with him and took many pictures of his life on the road and in Alaska. Here are a few.

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