Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1808
Christopher McCandless carried no identification when he ventured into the wild for the last time; when his body was found, no one knew who he was. A front page article about his discovery was published in the Anchorage Daily News, and was seen by Jim Gallien, who stepped forward, identified pictures of McCandless, and told authorities that the young hitchhiker had mentioned he was from South Dakota. Wayne Westerberg then heard of the tragedy on the radio in Carthage, and provided Alaska State Troopers with a social security number McCandless had written on a W-4 form he had filled out in order to work at the grain elevators. McCandless was traced to his permanent residence in Virginia with this information; although his parents had moved to nearby Maryland, authorities were able to contact Chris's half-brother Sam, and his identity was finally established.
Chris's father, Walter McCandless, is an imposing, authoritative man. Intense and highly intelligent, he is a leader who is "accustomed to calling the shots." Born in Colorado, he was hired by Hughes Aircraft and eventually settled in Southern California, marrying and fathering five children in the late 1950s and early 1960s. When his marriage to his first wife failed, Walt began dating Billie Johnson, a secretary at Hughes. On February 12, 1968, Walt and Billie had a son, whom they named Christopher Johnson McCandless.
From the time he was a toddler, Chris McCandless exhibited the precociousness and independence that would characterize his later life. His sister Carine remembers him as being "very to himself;" he was well-liked by everyone, but had a tendency to go off alone for hours on end. When Chris was six, the family moved to Virginia. Although Walt and Billie sometimes fought, the McCandlesses had good times together too, and especially enjoyed taking long trips around the United States. When Chris was eight, his father took him on his first overnight backpacking trip, and a few years later, the whole family attempted to climb Longs Peak, the highest summit in Rocky Mountain National Park. Walt, Chris, and one of Chris's half-brothers reached a point about a thousand feet from the top when Walt judged that it would be prudent to turn around. Chris was angered by this, and Walt realized that, had he been just a little older, there would have been no stopping him from continuing on his own. Walt remembers Chris as being "fearless even when he was little." The boy "didn't think the odds applied to him," and Walt and the rest of the family had to be constantly vigilant in keeping him from the edge in dangerous situations.
Chris was a good student, and excelled at anything that interested him. He played the guitar, piano, and French horn, and had a strong, pleasing singing voice. He tried a variety of sports, but lacked "the patience for learning the finer points of any of them," and resisted any attempts to coach him or help him refine his technique. Chris had "extraordinary energy" and always met a challenge "head-on." He found his athletic niche in the sport of distance running and became one of the top competitors in the region.
As a teenager, Chris began to think deeply about life and the state of the world. He was always questioning, and he took society's inequities to heart. In particular, Chris could not understand how people could be allowed to go hungry in a country as affluent as the United States, and in a personal attempt to alleviate the situation, he would go down to the seedy areas in town, bringing food and hanging out with the homeless. During his senior year in high school, Christopher announced to his parents that he had no intention of going to college, but his parents vehemently opposed this idea. Surprisingly, Chris acquiesced to their wishes in this...
(The entire section contains 1808 words.)
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