Friday, April 23, 2010

Into the Wild

My sister got me the book Into the Wild for Chirstmas last year. She knew of my "Relocation Theory" project and felt as if I needed to read this book. Before receiving this book I had no idea who Christopher McCandless was or his story. After reading the book though his story will haunt me forever.

The book opens with McCandless making it to Alaska and then with his remains being found in an abandoned bus on the Stampede Trail. This alone doesn't sound like a good read, but who was he and why was he all alone in the middle of nowhere with limited supplies? I thought nothing of this, at first, but as the book progressed I began to understand and feel fearful.

According to the book, Chris' dad was a NASA engineer turned owner of an aerospace consultant firm. The relationship between father and son was not the greatest as his dad was used to being in control and in charge. Chris did take kindly to this.

The account of Chris' childhood said that he had friends, but was perfectly content playing alone. He was able to socialize, yet he didn't make connections with people.

Chris was born into a well-to-do family, but he also became an intense fan of the concepts put forth by writers such as Tolstoy and London. After graduating from college he donated his $25,000 in savings to a charity that fights worldwide poverty and injustice and disappeared from his family and all that he knew.

From Emory college he drove West in his personally bought 1982 Datsun B210. He had, after high school, spent three months on the road in this car and his family wanted to buy him a new car, but he refused. "It's a good car and has treated me well, why would I want something new?" he had said.

The relationship between the car and Chris came to an end when Chris was caught in a flash flood in the Lake Mead National Recreation Area. Chris could not get the car to start so he simply abandoned it. Months later some park rangers found the car and did a little work and it started fine. Nobody claimed it so the local law enforcement used it for undercover drug jobs and have gotten a lot of miles out of it.

Chris was undeterred from this and eventually he would canoe down the Colorado River and then have a job at McDonald's in Bullhead City. The work environment wasn't the best of places for Chris as he was unable to realize why he would need to work any faster when it was busy. He worked at one speed and one speed alone. On top of that he was always forced to comply with the dress code of wearing socks (something that the McDonald's manager accounted because Chris, according to the manager, hated the feeling of socks) and also he never socialized with his coworkers.

The job only lasted for so long and then he was back on the road. A couple times in his trip he ended up in South Dakota working for a grain elevator owner. The owner claims that Chris was the hardest worker and did the jobs no one else wanted to do. As time went on Chris mentioned his desire for one last adventure, a trip to the Alaska wild.

After nearly two years on the road Chris made it to Alaska. Once there he made it to Fairbanks where he got a gun and 10 pounds of rice. He hitchhiked to the opening of the Stampede Trail and went into the unknown.

Along the way he found a bus that had long since been abandoned. This would become his home and his journal accounts that over the next few weeks he became very proficient on shooting game. Eventually he would struggle with the justification of shooting game for food, but would come to the finding that to live one must do so.

When Chris first got there in April he had crossed a small stream. As the days progressed he tried to venture back to the George Parks highway, but the stream was now a raging river due to the glacier melt. He went back to the bus and continued to live off the land.

Before I continue on let me now state why all this was so haunting for me. Early on in the read I had no doubt in my mind that Chris would have certainly been a candidate for having Asperger's. He had sensory issues with socks, he didn't like to be told what to do, and in all reality he didn't care about the jeopardy a trip like his could have. His story and my story are clearly different, but the way people described him is almost how people describe me.

Chris' health started to turn, but two days before he gave his first hint of peril in his journal, he said that, "Happiness is only real when shared". This line froze me. I read it, and reread it. I have understood this for so long. Knowing it, and being able to do it is two different things though.

Over the next 2-3 weeks Chris became weaker and weaker and the exact cause of death was and is unknown. Was it poison from a certain type of potato, or mold? Or was it rabbit starvation (starvation caused by eating to lean of meat)? The real reason is irrelevant as it happened and that's how it is.

That's the story, but why did my sister get me this book? In all reality, what Chris was doing was a "Relocation Theory" of his own. His though wasn't about other people, his was about surviving without other people. Along the way in his journey he developed people that considered him a friend, but to Chris it was just someone along the way. He did send postcards to these people, but he didn't heed their advice and stayed emotionally detached.

What I wanted to prove in "Relocation Theory" was that I would be able to make a connection with other people. I feel as if I must go far away to get away from my routines and people I know to do this. I have so many internal programs that are related to where I am and who I am with that for another person to get through them all is almost impossible.

In 2000, when I was 17, I was within minutes of deciding to just leave. I had no destination planned, but I wondered what was out west on I-70. I was so ravaged and full of rage because of the relationship with Linda that is chronicled in my book, Finding Kansas. I decided not to as I only had enough gas money to get to Denver and then the whole aftermath was something I didn't want to deal with so I opted to stay.

I've mentioned many times that I love to travel. One of these reasons is that I am always hoping to experience a connection with a person or place. One of big downsides to Asperger's is that feeling that connection and having a proverbial hunger for that connection can never be quenched. Yes, being in a Kansas like state is good, but a prolonged Kansas experience is hard to sustain. There's always an end, and feeling a connection afterwards is rare.

There's no doubt in my mind that Chris probably had Asperger's. He realized what he was searching for too late though. His line, "Happiness is only real when shared" took nearly 100 days in the wild to come to.

If you do a search on the internet for Chris there's a strong debate whether or not Chris is a hero that stood steadfast in his belief of nature and all that stand for, or if he was an idiot that when into the wild ill-prepared without a map (a map probably would have saved his life). I don't think he was either of those things. He was simply a person trying to find that elusive connection and at the end of the book I began to wonder, what would people have said about me if my relocation turned into a tragic end?

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