Chapters 1-2 Summary and Analysis

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Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1418

The story opens with the introduction of Jim Gallien, a union electrician who was the last person to see Christopher McCandless before he embarked on his fateful journey into the wild. Gallien was on his way to Anchorage, Alaska, when he picked up a hitchhiker a few miles out of Fairbanks. The hitchhiker was small and wiry, said he was from South Dakota, and was twenty-four years old. He gave his name only as Alex, and asked for a ride up to the edge of Denali National Park, where he proclaimed his intention of walking into the wilderness to live off the land for awhile.

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The two men talked on the two-hour drive to Denali Park. Alex struck Gallien as an intelligent, educated individual, but his plans were disturbing to the older man. Alex's gear seemed "exceedingly minimal" for the harsh conditions Gallien knew he would encounter; he carried only a ten-pound bag of rice, a rifle too small to be of much use in killing large animals, "no ax, no snowshoes, no compass." The only navigational device the young adventurer carried was a tattered state road map, and when the two men crossed a bridge over the swollen Nenana River, Alex admitted to being afraid of the water, having almost died once when he was caught in a storm while canoeing on the ocean. Even so, Alex brushed off Gallien's concerns about his readiness to deal with the difficulties he would almost certainly encounter on his quest. Alex insisted that he would be able to handle any situation that might arise, and when Gallien generously offered to take him to Anchorage and buy him the equipment he would need to better ensure his survival, Alex politely but firmly declined. When they reached their destination, Alex gave Gallien his watch, comb, and some loose change, declaring that he did not care to know the time, date, or his location during his sojourn in the wilderness. Gallien in turn convinced the youth to take his old work boots and the lunch his wife had packed; Alex then happily embarked on foot onto the Stampede Trail, on Tuesday, April 28, 1992.

The Stampede Trail was blazed in the 1930s by an Alaskan miner, Earl Pilgrim. Thirty years later, in the 1960s, a Fairbanks company was contracted to upgrade the trail, and three old buses, outfitted with bunks and barrel stoves, were hauled into the wilderness to house construction workers. No bridges were built over the many waterways intersecting the trail, and about fifty miles of roads were completed before it was discovered that they would be regularly rendered impassable by rushing rivers fed by thawing snow and seasonal floods. The project was halted after two years; the Fairbanks company took back its equipment, but left one bus behind to serve as a shelter for passing hunters and trappers. The bus lies beside the Stampede Trail just beyond the eastern boundary of Denali Park. The Stampede Trail itself is a route that is seldom traveled, and on the majority of state road maps it is not even marked.

On September 6, 1992, three moose hunters set out for an area in Denali Park known to be flush with game. They crossed the dangerously swollen Teklanika River, which they described as spanning "seventy-five feet across and (being) real swift." Utilizing heavy-duty vehicles, they switched to ATVs on the trail to the bus. It is not unusual for months to pass without a single human being visiting the vicinity of the shelter, but on that day a number of passersby happened to gather. When the three hunters arrived, they found a couple from Anchorage standing near the shelter "looking kinda spooked," and noticed "a real bad smell" coming from inside the bus. A handwritten note was taped to the door, which was ajar. The note was a neatly written plea for help, signed by Chris McCandless and dated in August. As the...

(The entire section contains 1418 words.)

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Chapters 3-7 Summary and Analysis