Chris McCandless, One Of The People Who Moved Away From Everything

In my previous blog post, I wrote about how I moved away from everything.  It wasn’t so much that I was searching for something, it was that I wanted to get away from everything that I didn’t like.

In 2002, I put most of my belongings in storage in Tampa, and I drove my truck west to see what New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona, Utah, Wyoming, and Montana were like.  I didn’t care what kind of work I might do when I got wherever it was that I was going.  I didn’t care what kind of house, building, trailer, or apartment I would be living in.  I just wanted peace, quiet, calm, and a simple, uneventful life.

I stayed in Colorado for a short while.  Then I drove west, winding up in a very beautiful, heavily forested, mountain area in Arizona.  This was purely by chance and by luck, I didn’t know anything about this place before I got there.  Before long, I met people who were like me, people who had wanted to get away from everything.

I met two mechanical engineers who were my age, I was a mechanical engineer.  I met a nuclear engineer and an aerospace engineer who were both older than me.  One of the mechanical engineers, and the nuclear engineer, were in books for the things that they had invented and built.  Regardless of what we had done and where we had lived in the past, we all just wanted to be left alone now, to have peace, quiet, and calm.

For the engineers that I met and lived with in this small town in Arizona, their day would start when they felt like getting out of bed to smoke pot, and then they would consider what they might like to do that day.  One of them was building manufacturing equipment, in order to produce his latest invention.  One of them was working on sculpting.  One of them was often working on a vehicle project or a house project.  One of them was socializing and recreating with the people in his neighborhood most of the time.  They were almost hippies, but not as much as the people that I worked with at my job in town.

At my job, there were younger people from different parts of the U.S., who had graduated from college not long ago, or they were still in college.  They lived as cheaply as possible.  They spent the bare minimum on a place to live, clothing, food, and transportation.  Their interests were in camping, hiking, rock climbing, rafting, travel, reading, and playing music with friends.

I only vaguely recall hearing about “Chris McCandless” at that time, 2002.  I didn’t know it at that time, that many of the young adults that had moved to this small, forested, mountain town had been inspired by Chris McCandless, and by his life as it was re-told in the book “Into The Wild”.

Chris McCandless was born in California in 1968.  When Chris was eight years old, his family moved to the suburbs in Virginia outside of Washington D.C. where his father had gotten a job working for NASA.  Chris’ father and mother became financially very successful after they began a consultancy business.  After Chris graduated from high school in 1986, he attended Emory University in Atlanta.

Chris did very well academically in high school and in college.  In 1990 he graduated from Emory University with a double major in history and anthropology.  Chris had decided that he wanted to be left alone, and that he wanted to leave everything behind that he didn’t like.

He took the $24,000 that remained in his college fund when he graduated, and he donated all of it to the charity Oxfam.  He wanted as little money and possessions as possible.  He wanted to travel and be as free as possible.  He didn’t even want to have a name, he made up a new name for himself.  He didn’t want to have any contact with his family.

Chris traveled to the western U.S., working at odd jobs when he needed to.  He traveled by walking, hitchhiking, and jumping on freight trains.  He camped in the woods mostly, and sometimes stayed with people when he was invited.  Chris spent much of his time in the southwest, particularly Arizona.

Chris kept a journal, recording where he had traveled, the things he had seen, the people he had met, and the people he became friends with.  Chris’ ultimate goal was to travel to Alaska, and eventually he made it there.

In April of 1992, Chris arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska.  He hitchhiked and was dropped off near a trail that led to Denali National Park.  Chris hiked into the forest, and he found an abandoned bus that would serve as a good shelter.  Chris had brought very few supplies with him.  He had a 22 caliber rifle that he shot rabbits, squirrels, and birds with.  He gathered roots and berries to eat.

Chris continued to record everything that happened to him in his journal.  He was losing weight because he was not getting enough food to eat.  He became weaker and weaker.  After a couple of months, he tried to go back the way that he had entered the forest, but the river he had crossed was now much deeper and faster flowing.  He was too weak to go back the way that he came.  His health continued to get worse.  It was possible that one of the roots he was eating had a fungus, or that the seeds he was eating had become moldy.  After two more months, Chris died of starvation inside the abandoned bus.

Chris’ body was found inside the abandoned bus, nineteen days after he had died, by a hunter that had wanted to stay in the bus for the night.  In January 1993, Jon Krakauer wrote a magazine article about Chris McCandless.  In 1996, Jon Krakauer published a biographical book about Chris McCandless’ travels, titled “Into The Wild”.  In 2007, the book was made into a movie directed by Sean Penn.

It wasn’t until I saw the Sean Penn movie “Into The Wild” in 2015, that I realized how much of an influence the 1996 book about Chris McCanless must have been for young people in high school and college, that later decided to forego a career, and become a hippie, an organic farmer, or an “off the grid” person.

The engineers that I met and lived with in the small town in Arizona, and myself, we didn’t need any inspiration, we were just truly sick of everything.

In my next blog post, I want to write about another person that tried to move away from everything, Art Bell.

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