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Into the Wild | Chapter 16 : The Alaska Interior | Summary

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Summary

McCandless left Carthage and crossed the Canadian border on April 18. On April 24 he arrived in Liard River Hotsprings and caught a ride with Gaylord Stuckey, a man who was delivering an RV to a dealership in Fairbanks. McCandless bought a 10-pound bag of rice and a book on edible plants. Stuckey implored the hiker to call his parents, even giving the young man his credit card number to do so. McCandless promised to call Stuckey after his sojourn in the wild but waffled about talking to his parents, saying, "Maybe I will and maybe I won't." A few days later, Gallien picked up McCandless and drove him to the Stampede Trail.

Because he arrived at the Teklanika River before the summer thaw from the nearby Outer Range had begun, McCandless was able to cross the waterway with relative ease. He discovered Bus 142 by the Sushana River and set up camp. At first he had trouble hunting but gradually improved. He also found plenty of berries to eat. On May 19 he decided to hike west. Again this time he had trouble killing game to eat and he found that the thaw had transformed the once solid ground into a quagmire, making trudging across it too difficult. He returned to the bus.

At the end of the month, he wrote "LONG TERM" in his journal and created a "to do" list as if he planned to stay on. Krakauer notes that McCandless was much closer to civilization than he may have realized, with a highway, a road, and four cabins within hiking distance. On June 9 he killed a moose, but when he mistakenly tried to smoke the meat to preserve it, he failed and had to throw the meat to the wolves, which he felt guilty about. On July 3 he hoisted his backpack over his shoulder, content with his retreat, and hiked away from camp. Krakauer speculates that McCandless might have wanted to return to civilization and re-establish contact with his family, but no one knows the truth. McCandless found that the full-blown summer thaw had turned the Teklanika River into a rampaging torrent. He returned to Bus 142 and wrote, "Disaster ... Rained in. River looks impossible. Lonely, scared." Krakauer considers the different ways that McCandless might have tried to cross the river, concluding that some were too dangerous, while those that were possible were still "a very risky proposition." McCandless was managing to survive in the wild and chose "the prudent course" of waiting for the water to drop so he could cross the river.

Analysis

If McCandless had had more than a scrap of map, he might have:

  • noted four unoccupied cabins within six miles of the bus he could get to without crossing a river;
  • realized a major highway was 30 miles east of his location;
  • found a Gauging Station where he could cross the river in a basket attached to a wire cable strung above the water;
  • seen an entrance to Denali National Park only 16 miles north that tourists use daily;
  • realized that a major highway was 30 miles east of his location.

If.

For 67 days he relished his solitude in the magnificence of the Alaskan wild. His happiness reflects the quote from Roderick Nash at the beginning of the chapter, "The solitude and total freedom of the wilderness created a perfect setting for either melancholy or exultation." He was elated when he bagged the moose. Even the spoiled meat didn't erase his joy of living a simple life. He read Thoreau's words on eating and wrote, "YES! Consciousness of food," agreeing with his hero that feeding the body and mind a simple diet that still pleases the spirit is essential. Over the previous months, he had focused on figuring out his identity, who he wanted to be, and the meaning of his existence. He was sure that he wanted to be of use to people who needed help—people whom society seemed to ignore.

McCandless wrote, "I am reborn. This is my dawn. Real life has just begun ... Circumstance has no value. It is how one relates to a situation that has value." Krakauer conjectures that this reveals that McCandless was ready to forgive his parents and to make amends. But McCandless made no direct assertions about reconnecting with his family nor did he even hint that he was ready to accept the fact that every human is composed of strengths and weaknesses, even himself.

Krakauer admits that "we can do no more than speculate about what [McCandless] intended to do after he walked out of the bush."The author's admission calls attention to his role not only as a recorder but also as an interpreter of McCandless's actions. What is true about McCandless and what is mere speculation? Into the Wild relies heavily on interviews, notes in books Chris read, and his limited journal to help reconstruct McCandless's identity and actions. In some ways, McCandless serves as a screen upon which readers and possibly Krakauer project their own dreams, fears, and moral judgments. The question of how responsible McCandless was for his death is not always clear cut, from Krakauer's perspective.

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