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Jim Gallien, a union electrician, picks up a hitchhiker about four miles out of Fairbanks on Tuesday, April 28, 1992. The hitchhiker introduces himself only as "Alex", and asks for a ride to the edge of Denali National Park, from which point he will walk "deep into the bush and 'live off the land for a few months'". Alex, a congenial young man who looks to be only eighteen or nineteen, shows Gallien a map of the Stampede Trail, a seldom-traveled road which winds "for forty miles or so before petering out...(in a) trackless wilderness north of Mt. McKinley". This is where Alex intends to go.
Gallien is concerned because Alex seems woefully underprepared for such an undertaking. He carries only a small rifle and a backpack weighing just "twenty-five or thirty pounds", and admits that he is afraid of water and that the only food he has is a ten-pound bag of rice. Gallien tries to dissuade Alex from what appears to be a foolhardy endeavor, but says, "There was just no talking the guy out of it". He offers to drive Alex back to Anchorage to buy him "some decent gear", but the young man declines. Gallien finally convinces Alex to take "an old pair of rubber work boots" he has in the truck, and the lunch his wife had packed for him earlier in the day. Gallien drops Alex off at the trailhead, and watches as the young man "disappear(s) down the snow-covered track" (Chapter 1).
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