Editor’s Note: in an attempt to work through the implications of having gone half-feral up in Alaska, Tessa is currently using the Seen to explore stories about people who are remembered for disappearing.
“Tramping is too easy with all this money. My days were more exciting when I was penniless and had to forage around for my next meal… I’ve decided that I’m going to live this life for some time to come. The freedom and simple beauty of it is just too good to pass up.” –Chris McCandless
You’ve probably heard at least something about Chris McCandless, AKA Alexander Supertramp. Popularized by Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild (and later turned into a movie of the same name), the basic sketch of McCandless’s story is a familiar one: middle class white American male drops out of his mainstream life and, in a blurred amalgamation of spiritual inquiry and mental illness, eschews all material comforts to strike off into the wild. Eventually, he dies alone in the ruins of an abandoned bus in an isolated stretch of Alaskan wilderness, leaving behind an iconic self portrait:
Responses to McCandless’s story vary drastically depending on who you ask. Down here in the Lower 48, there’s a tendency to romanticize what he did: he is usually seen as an intelligent, competent individual whose death was the tragic result of a few turns of bad luck. But up in Alaska, he is mostly viewed as an idiot whose ill-advised pursuit of spiritual union with nature failed to show adequate respect for the land, and whose death perpetuates a dangerous romanticism untempered by the brutal pragmatism necessary for wilderness survival.
For better or for worse, McCandless is remembered as a polarizing archetype of The Man Who Disappeared. Ironically, McCandless’s story has been co-opted to support many of the values that he fought in life: first a successful book, and then a successful movie, his story made a lot of people a lot of money. And “his” bus? Well the original is still out there in the wilderness. But the one from the movie?
It’s in the beer garden of the 49th State Brewing Company. And you can go visit it (click on the image to view a version large enough to read the text: it’s worth it):