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Into the Wild: The pursuit of solitude and self

by Jacob Jarvis

Going an hour without speaking to another human being is genuinely difficult in this era.

To get some alone time I’ll read, or I’ll go for a run, or put my headphones in and go to the gym. But, no matter what, I’ll end up talking to someone, somehow. Whether it be over the phone, checking an email, or breathlessly shouting excuse me as I try to pass someone when I’m jogging.

Sometimes, and I’m sure I’m not the only one, I find it a bit stifling. Constant communication. By no means would I say I’m an anti-social person – but being completely alone, temporarily isolated, to be able to silence and settle my brain is something that I cherish being able to do.

Christopher McCandless, the protagonist of Into the Wild, was not someone who was described as hard to get along with either. He made friends easily, and certainly left an impression on many of the people he met. But on Sunday 6 September 1992 his body was found in an abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness, after he’d hitch-hiked to the Stampede Trail and spent almost 100 days living alone in the woods. He was just 24 at the time of his demise.

For this trip he’d taken next to nothing with him, and his few provisions comprised of ten pounds of rice, a rifle to hunt with, some boxes of rifle rounds, a camera, and a small selection of reading material – including works by Tolstoy, Doctor Zhivago by Boris Pasternak and a field guide to edible plants within the region.

The book originally began as a feature by Jon Krakauer in Outside magazine in 1993. But the writer, unable to leave such an intriguing tale alone, decided to find out more about McCandless, to make sense of what made a young man risk his life to such a point.

An inherent theme, one which appears to be a key motivation for Chris to get away, is the raft of societal pressures we all face – particularly at a young age. And as it’s become more and more difficult to get away from social surroundings, these issues are intensified.

So often people pursue external achievements, rather than their own internal goals. McCandless didn’t want to do that. He outwardly said that getting his degree was pointless. He was a talented athlete, but seemed to have no desire for medals. He simply wanted to find happiness within himself. For himself.

Krakauer goes through the things which McCandless felt trapped by with sensitivity and empathy, writing almost as if he knew the traveller personally. It’s hard when reading all of it to not feel inspired. In pursuit of his goals, McCandless renounced all of his valuable possessions, gave the funds he had saved for his education away to charity, got in his beat up car and left everything behind, before embarking on a two-year trip ending in that lonely bus in Alaska.

He took it too far. And, needless to say, it didn’t turn out well for him. But wouldn’t we all like to have an adventure in our lives? A proper story to tell. Something to look back on, truly unique to us.

That’s what McCandless wanted and whether he was reckless or not, you have to admire him for it.