Download Into the Wild Study Guide

Subscribe Now

Chapters 16-18 Summary and Analysis

Summary
Christopher McCandless arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska, on April 25, 1992, courtesy of an Indiana man, Gaylord Stuckey, who was delivering a new motor home to an RV dealer in the city. Stuckey enjoyed McCandless's company immensely; Chris shared with him his plans to spend the summer alone in the bush, saying he "wanted to prove to himself that he could make it...without anybody else's help." McCandless also spoke about the bitterness he felt toward his father. Sensing that the young man came from a "nice family," Stuckey pleaded with him to call his parents to let them know where he was, but Christopher would not give him a definitive commitment. In Fairbanks, Christopher McCandless bought a ten-pound bag of rice, and asked Stuckey to drop him off at the university so he could do a little research on the kinds of plants he could eat. McCandless stayed in the area for three days, bought a field guide to the region's edible plants, then began hiking west to George Parks Highway. There he was picked up by Jim Gallien, who took him the rest of the way to the Stampede Trail.

Chris McCandless entered the wilderness with little more than a rifle, some ammunition, a bag of rice, a lunch contributed by Jim Gallien, and nine or ten paperback books. On his second day of hiking, he crossed the Teklanika River, which, in the early spring, was low enough to cross without difficulty. When he reached a point about twenty miles from where he had been dropped off by Gallien, McCandless came across an old bus abandoned by a construction company almost thirty years earlier. The bus was outfitted with a bunk, stove, and other crude amenities, and although he had originally planned to remain on the move during his time in the bush, Chris decided, for whatever reason, to make the bus his base camp for the remainder of the summer. Ironically, geographically speaking, the bus was relatively close to civilization, but for all practical purposes, Chris McCandless was cut off from the rest of the world, completely alone.

According to his diary entries, McCandless was "elated" to be in the wilderness. After a difficult start, he discovered rose hips and ligonberries, which he ate copiously. He also became successful at hunting small game. On one occasion, he killed a moose, but, after much effort, he found he could not preserve the enormous quantity of meat it provided. Forced to allow the majority of the carcass to go to waste, he was filled with remorse, and vowed not to violate his moral principles by engaging in such purposeless killing again. Except for the incident with the moose, McCandless seems to have enjoyed a period of relative contentment from the time he arrived in the wilderness at the end of April, until early July. At that time, his writings indicate that he had decided to end his sojourn and walk out of the bush. Christopher packed his belongings and headed back the way he had come two months previously. When he arrived at the Teklanika River, however, he found that the snowmelt from glaciers on the surrounding ranges had rendered the river impassable. McCandless chose at this point not to attempt to find a way to ford the river, and returned to the bus.

The author, Jon Krakauer, made his own pilgrimage to the bus in an attempt to understand how and why McCandless died. He surmised that, in all probability, Chris planned to wait until August, when the turbulent waters of the Teklanika would subside to a level at which it could be crossed. Whatever the case, he settled back into his routine, biding his time. Although small game remained plentiful and edible plants were abundant, McCandless was burning more calories than he was consuming, and snapshots he took of himself show that he was extremely gaunt. Then, in late July, Chris McCandless made an error in judgment that, in his malnourished condition, he could not overcome. McCandless had been reading Boris Pasternak's Doctor Zhivago at this time; a number of passages in the text...

(The entire section is 1,756 words.)