If Chris McCandless had taken a detailed map with him into the wild, he would have known there was a way to ford the river he believed was impossible to cross, just twenty minutes from where he was stranded. His mistakes led many to view him as "arrogant" and "ridiculously ill prepared", a victim of his own stupidity. The author, Jon Krakauer, felt there was more to it than that, however, and went back to where Chris died a year later to try to gain a greater understanding of the man.
Krakauer believes McCandless went into the wild "to explore the inner country of his own soul", but found that the struggle for basic survival demanded he focus as much "outward...as inward". His journal does not address insights gained nor awe of the land, but instead is "almost entirely about what he ate". Krakauer equates McCandless's obsession to test himself beyond the limits of safety to the lure towards risk felt by many young men; the only difference is, he "had the misfortune to perish". Although he obviously made mistakes, trying to live off the land "without bothering to master beforehand the full repertoire of crucial skills" he would need to succeed, Chris did manage to survive for sixteen weeks, no small feat. The author feels a kinship towards McCandless and the forces that drove him, but in the end, finds that "his essence remains slippery, vague, elusive" (Chapter 17).