Other men before Chris McCandless have journeyed alone to Alaska to test their mettle. One of the best known was Gene Rossellini, a "wayward genius...interested in knowing if it was possible to be independent of modern technology". After experimenting for "over a decade", he concluded that "it is not possible for human beings as we know them to live off the land", and although he did not seem devastated by his findings, he killed himself in 1991 by stabbing himself though the heart. A lesser-known wayfarer was John Mellon Waterman, who made several forays alone into the wild. A self-critical, compulsive character, Waterman was erratic and unstable, and when his "life's work", an "accumulation of notes, poetry, and personal journals" was destroyed in a fire, he despondently set out into the frozen mountains with minimal gear and was never seen again.
Comparisons have been drawn between Chris McCandless and these and other Alaskan adventurers, but differences between them appear to outweigh similarities. Although Chris was rash and incautious, he was not incompetent, nor was he an outcast. It is hard to pinpoint exactly what he was; the author suggests that he was, perhaps, "a pilgrim". In seeking to find a predecessor who might help bring an understanding to McCandless's personality, the author suggests looking at a young man who sojourned not in Alaska but in Utah, Everett Ruess (Chapter 8).