Who are Jan and Bob?

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Jan Burres is a forty-one-year-old "rubber tramp" who sells her wares at flea markets throughout the West. Bob is her boyfriend. They are introduced in Chapter Four of Into the Wild.

After McCandless's run-in with "Crazy Ernie," he resumes hitchhiking up the Oregon coast. Jan and Bob notice McCandless picking berries on the side of the road and pull over because the boy looks hungry. They offer him a ride into town, and a friendship begins between them. McCandless later returns to help Jan sell books at a market. 

Jan feels an emotional connection to McCandless and attempts to positively intervene in his life by warning him of the dangers of his behaviors. Recognizing the difficulties of being estranged from her own son, she unsuccessfully tries to convince him to return to his mother. Ultimately, she is one of the few people who McCandless writes to. 

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Jan Burres and her boyfriend, Bob, are first mentioned in Chapter 4. They met McCandless on a roadside as they stopped to consult a map and saw him gathering berries, using a guidebook to help him to identify them. Jan identified with McCandless as he was a similar age to her estranged son. She convinced Bob to take McCandless with them as they moved on towards Orick, where they were attending a flea market.

 McCandless camped with them for a week, and was clearly comfortable around the couple: more than he ever was with his own parents. He also maintained contact with Jan and Bob – something he chose not to do with his family. Jan reflected that-

 When he left, we never expected to hear from him again, but he made a point of staying in touch. For the next two years Alex sent us a postcard every month or two.

 Jan and Bob were drifters, and clearly McCandless felt a bond with them. He did not reveal his real name, but this was more significant in forgetting his past than misguiding those he chose as part of his future. When they met up again he helped out with their book stall and was sociable. However, he discarded the long underwear Jan gave him for hisAlaskatrip: he still did not want to take direction from others.

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