In Montana, in mid-September, he met a South Dakota man named Wayne Westerberg, who was harvesting wheat there with his combines. Departing Bighorn Lake, Montana on September 20th, Chris wrote, “Alexander decides to cease wandering aimlessly and heads directly east for South Dakota and work for Wayne Westerberg.” He did odd jobs for Westerberg during most of October, but then set out again, hitchhiking to Idaho and down to the Mojave Desert. He mailed a postcard thanking Westerberg for his hospitality he wrote, “Sometimes I wish I hadn’t met you though. 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…” He left and traveled only to return in January, 1992. He returned to the town of Carthage, population 274, which is located on the plains of eastern South Dakota. Alex went to work cleaning the bromegrass dust off the girders in Westerberg’s warehouse. He learned to handle a loader-tractor, and in the spring he chopped weeds with his machete, pretending he was Darth Vader. He painted Wayne’s house.
The old man to whom Krakauer gave the name 'Ron Franz' met McCandless after he headed into the Anza-Borrego Desert State Park and set up a camp. He was camped only four miles out of Salton City and one day while in town for supplies he ran across Roland Franz and requested a ride back to his site. McCandless made impressions on the people he met, but he affected Franz more than anyone else, so much so that the old man with no surviving next of kin wanted to adopt the 24 year old as his grandson. The story of their encounter is recounted in the chapter entitled 'Anza-Borrego'
“When Alex left for Alaska," Franz remembers, "I prayed. I asked God to keep his finger on the shoulder of that one; I told him that boy was special. But he let Alex die. So on December 26, when I learned what happened, I renounced the Lord. I withdrew my church membership and became an atheist. I decided I couldn't believe in a God who would let something that terrible happen to a boy like Alex." (p. 60)”