In Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild, Krakauer recounts the tale of Christopher Johnson McCandless. McCandless, who often used the alias Alexander Supertramp, died in the Alaskan wilderness at the age of twenty-four after spending two years traveling the United States and having no contact with his family. During the time McCandless spent as a "leather tramp," he met many people who helped him in various ways; however, McCandless seemed to feel little sense of obligation or desire to return those kindnesses.
Ronald Franz, whose wife and son had been killed in an automobile accident caused by a drunk drive years earlier, developed such an attachment to McCandless that he wanted to make the young man part of his family.
At one point Franz dared to make a special request of McCandless. "My mother was an only child," he explains. "So was my father. And I was their only child. Now that my own boy's dead, I'm the end of the line. When I'm gone, my family will be finished, gone forever. So I asked Alex if I could adopt him, if he would be my grandson."
McCandless, uncomfortable with the request, dodged the question: "We'll talk about it when I get back from Alaska, Ron."
Franz did not realize that McCandless, who had told him his name was Alex McCandless, actually had family of his own who anxiously awaited word from him and even hired private detectives to find him. The eighty-one-year-old man received a letter from McCandless in April of 1992, in which McCandless advised him to make drastic changes to his life.
If you want to get more out of life, Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life that will at first appear to you to be crazy...Don't settle down and sit in one place. Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon...Ron, I really do hope that as soon as you can you will get out of Salton City, put a little camper on the back of your pickup, and start seeing some of the great work that God has done here in the American West...And you must do it economy style, no motels, do your own cooking, as a general rule spend as little as possible...
Franz actually followed the twenty-four-year-old's advice and lived at the campsite used by McCandless for eight months; he stayed at the campsite until he learned of the death of his young friend (hitchhikers told him).
Franz, who had maintained a strong Christian faith until he realized that McCandless was dead, became an atheist due only to the fact that God had "let something that terrible happen to a boy like Alex." Franz also resumed drinking, which he had not done since overcoming the alcoholism that had consumed him after the deaths of his wife and son. In short, both the life and death of Chris McCandless impacted Ronald Franz in profound ways.