Last Updated on February 4, 2016, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1546
Chris McCandless graduated from Atlanta's Emory University in May 1990. He had done well in school, completing a history and anthropology major with a 3.72 GPA. While a student, however, he had declined awards and recognitions, insisting that such honors were meaningless. Upon graduation, he donated the remaining money in his college fund to charity, casually told his parents he was "going to disappear for awhile," packed up his beloved 1982 Datsun 210, and took to the road. Chris's parents received one brief note from him in June 1990, along with a copy of his final transcripts; this was the last anyone in his family ever heard from him. It was as if, out of a sense of obligation, he had fulfilled the odious task of completing his education, and now, his duty accomplished, he was free to undertake the "epic journey" which he felt was his life's calling.
Like the brave pioneers before him, Chris McCandless headed west, with no itinerary. In October 1990, his Datsun was found by authorities abandoned in a dry riverbed near Lake Mead in Arizona. McCandless had driven from Atlanta to the Lake Mead area three months earlier, and, disregarding posted warning signs, had driven off the road and been caught in a flash flood. Frustrated when he could not get the car started after the waters receded, McCandless had abandoned it, continuing his odyssey on foot. Hiking around Lake Mead in midsummer, he was at one point overcome with heat stroke, and ruefully recorded this tremendous mistake in his journal. For the next two months he tramped around the western states, "spellbound" by their natural beauty. He hitchhiked up north as far as Seattle, occasionally communing with fellow drifters, but for the most part living out his dream of traveling "alone and young and willful and wildhearted."
After leaving Seattle, McCandless hitchhiked east, ending up in Carthage, South Dakota in early September. There, he was befriended by Wayne Westerberg, the owner of a grain elevator. McCandless introduced himself as Alex, and was offered a job at the elevator. Westerberg remembers the young man as "an amiable kid" who was a little odd, but extremely ethical, and "the hardest worker (he had) ever seen." McCandless stayed in Carthage for only about a month, but he quickly developed an attachment for both the town and for Westerberg. He stayed in touch as he continued his journey, and told everyone from that point on that South Dakota was his home.
At the end of October 1990, Chris McCandless caught a ride with a trucker from Carthage to Needles, California. After spending some time hiking in the desert, he impulsively bought a secondhand canoe and traveled down the Colorado River to Mexico. After sneaking across the border, he became lost in a maze of irrigation canals, but was fortunately rescued by a party of duck hunters. McCandless enjoyed a few weeks of contemplative isolation along the Gulf of California, but was caught in a ferocious storm while paddling in his canoe along the barren shore. According to his journal, McCandless narrowly escaped death, and the incident prompted him to abandon the canoe and head north on foot. Malnourished but exulting in his freedom, he crossed the border back into the United States, wandering the western part of the country and eventually settling in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Since he stopped keeping a journal at this point, little is known about McCandless's activities between the time he left Las Vegas in May 1991 and arrived in Bullhead City, Arizona, in October of that same year. McCandless developed an affinity for the city, and expressed in a letter to Wayne Westerberg the possibility that he might settle there. During his time in Bullhead City, McCandless dropped his alter-ego, Alex, and resumed using his real name. He...
(The entire section contains 1546 words.)
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