Into the Wild | Study Guide

Jon Krakauer

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Into the Wild | Chapter 10 : Fairbanks | Summary



Chapter 10 details the difficulty the Alaska state troopers had trying to identify the body in Bus 142. There were no IDs, possessions, or other clues to identify him other than some photographs from the camera and his journal found in the trailer. On September 13, 1992, the New York Times picked up the article that ran in the Anchorage Daily News on September 10. After both pieces were published, the troopers received many calls from people saying that they knew the identity of the hiker. Among them was Jim Gallien, the last person to see McCandless alive. He described some of the paraphernalia found with the body as that of a hitchhiker named Alex McCandless whom he had dropped off at the Stampede Trail in April 1992. He also positively identified the man in photographs found in the trailer as McCandless. The lead hit a dead-end, however, since McCandless had partly lied and told Gallien his first name was Alex and he was from South Dakota.

Westerberg also heard a news story about the discovery of the body in Alaska and suspected it was McCandless. He offered the authorities his former employee's full name and Social Security number from two W-4 forms. With this information, the police located Sam McCandless, Chris's half-brother, in northern Virginia. After seeing one of McCandless's photographs, Sam positively identified Chris. He then went to Maryland to tell Walt and Billie that their son had passed away in the Alaskan wilderness.


McCandless made many attempts to obscure his identity during his travels. The fact that both Westerberg and Gallien, who knew him fairly briefly, felt moved to contact the police and help identify him reveals a common thread that runs through Krakauer's interviews with people who met McCandless on his travels. Chris made a strong impression on them. Gallien, Westerberg and his mother and girlfriend, as well as Jan Burres all remember him vividly and with fondness. Many are heartbroken to learn of his death.

One of the most surprising details in this chapter is the author's comment that, by the time the news of the dead hiker in Bus 142 spread to print and broadcast media throughout the country, the police had received over 150 calls from concerned family members missing a son, brother, or friend. This illustrates the point that many people share the pain of a nomadic loved one's disappearance with the relatives McCandless has left behind. The poignancy of such loss, and the unanswered questions that often come with it, tinges the entire book, especially when it raises questions about how McCandless died that suggest his death might or might not have been inevitable.

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