If this adventure proves fatal and you don’t hear from me again I want you to know you’re a great man. I now walk into the wild.-27th April 1992 postcard message to Wayne from Alex aka Chris.
Scouts motto “Be Prepared.”
Had Chris taken keen into preparedness and learning his geography well before venturing into his communing with nature to explore the inner country of his own soul in Alaska’s wilderness, then he would have survived. But he didn’t due to his incompetence. Starvation and possible poison from confusing one plant for another led to his demise on 18th August 1992. For 112 days in the bush he interacted with books which have put me at bay at their skepticism. How many theories do we digest and take as our own? Leo Tolstoy was his favourite to an extent Chris worshipped him which even made him hate his parents simply because they were rich believing wealth was shameful, corrupt and inherently evil. It is this hatred, withdrawal from society, his hubris and the humdrums of life that saw him set on this journey.
I wanted movement and not a calm course of existence. I wanted excitement and danger and the chance to sacrifice myself for my love…..Leo Tolstoy, “Family Happiness.”
The book explores his many wandering from the Pacific Crest Trail, Sierra Nevada, Cascade range, Gulf of California to Mexico. It also pinpoints his many manual jobs for survival and the people he met under his pseudonym Alex, who narrate into detail their interactions with him. Theories about his death are discussed at length, how he could have survived if only he knew his terrains. For instance: less than thirty miles to the East is George Parks, sixteen miles to the South is Denali Park which had a cabin stocked with emergency food supplies, six mile radius of the bus are four cabins which were unoccupied during the summer of 1992. And had he walked a mile upstream the river he would have discovered the river broadened into a maze of braided channels.
Jon has a meticulous way with writing about mountains and hiking. His research through the journey he made into Chris footsteps makes me mesmerized at every angle he tackled this book. Not forgeting the many symbolic quotes by authors at the start of each chapter plus his comparison to many wild at heart maniacs who died.
One thing is certain, it is a sad story. One that the parents had to heal by going to the bus via a helicopter to see where their son breathed last. Am yet to comprehend how one can go on such a journey with barely anything useful. How much hatred one can store in them to wipe out communication with family for years. How much you can consume from theories and books. How death can come knocking and not look around you for survival. It is an eye opener for us Wanderlusters and anyone lost trying to find meaning in life to not be STUPID in making unnecessary blunders.
However, am proud of Chris. He took on a journey many would not dare on Terra incognita. In fact, it is assumed he had made his peace and was ready to return to society but found the Teklanika river inaccessible therefore returning to the bus as captured in his journal. “Henceforth will learn to accept my errors, however great they be. I have lived through much, and now I think I have found what is needed for happiness. A quiet secluded life in the country, with the possibility of being useful to people… ”
Through one of his letters he explained to Ron an old man to get out of his comfort zone which is a positive thing as the old man followed into his footsteps.
So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism…..the joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.
Ps:I hope the Fairbanks 142 bus still stands with the recent debates for its removal after many hikers have lost their lives trying to access it. Who knows, I may one day make a journey to see Chris’ writing on it.