Chris McCandless often mentioned Carthage, South Dakota as his home. He had become close to Wayne Westerberg, an elevator owner and jack-of-all-trades, who had picked him up as a hitchhiker there one day in the fall of 1990. McCandless, who told Westerberg that his name was Alex, worked for the older man awhile, and found a "surrogate family in Westerberg and his employees". When McCandless hit the road again, he kept in touch with Westerberg, "calling or writing Carthage every month or so".
In reality, McCandless was the son of Walt and Billie McCandless, and he was raised in a "comfortable upper-middle class" home in Annandale, Virginia. He had eight siblings, and was close to his younger sister, Carine. Chris attended Emory University in Atlanta and achieved good grades, but eschewed awards and honors and exhibited increasing hostility towards materialistic values through his college years. He had money left after college from a bequest left by a friend, and his parents thought he would go to law school, but Chris donated all the money to a charitable organization, and disappeared soon after graduation. McCandless loaded his possessions into his beloved old Datsun B210, and "headed west without an itinerary". To symbolize his "severance from his previous life", he adopted a new name, Alexander Supertramp, and set out with the intention of living as the "master of his own destiny" (Chapter 3).