… or Alaska scores another point for natural selection
So, Into the Wild is in theaters. Another round of absurd romanticism about dumbasses who come up to Alaska and die in the wilderness is gripping the nation … or at least the denizens of it who secretly long to out-Walden Thoreau, whilst simultaneously out-macho-ing Grizzly Adams. Come to Alaska! Die a gruesome death! Live the dream!
It came to my attention while listening to public radio this morning that Sean Penn, in the tradition of all movie makers adapting real life to the big screen, seriously fucked some shit up in his dramatization of Mr. McCandless's utterly moronic death. So, here are 10 true facts about Christopher McCandless, and how not to die in Alaska during the summer ("true facts" as opposed to Hollywood facts and romantic rumors, you see …):
- He did not burn (or give away) all his money and throw away his ID and walk off into the woods to meet his mysterious and slightly romantic and spiritual fate. While he did give away his trust fund (which I'd basically respect him for if he wasn't otherwise such an obviously worthless twat), he had a wallet with $300 in cash and his ID in a hidden zipped pocket of his backpack. This indicates that he did in fact plan to rejoin civilization, presumably while still alive.
- He had a map with him. This map showed the Denali park road about 10 miles away from the bus where he stayed. It wouldn't have been an easy hike, but it was certainly doable … especially considering it's over 20 miles to get to the bus by the route he originally took. [
Edit: This point is in question ... I have now come across one source saying he didn't have a map, and a mention elsewhere that he did. However, at the moment, I can't find the source saying he did have a map anymore. So, it may be that he was too incompetent to read a map, and it may be that he was stupid enough not to bring one. That certainly doesn't settle anything one way or another, but I did say "true facts" here, so I'm obligated to say I'm no longer sure on this point. However, his wallet was hidden, so maybe his map was as well?!][Added: I have since been given a link to a site with a photo of the Alaska Coroner's list of belongings returned to McCandless' family following his autopsy. On the list is "Road Map". See a copy of the photo below this entry, and a link to the documentary filmmaker's site where it is shown.]
- He poached a moose and let the whole thing rot. This means he was fucking stupid enough to hike off into the middle of fucking nowhere, thinking he would hunt to survive, without any fucking idea how to preserve meat.
- The bus is not actually sitting at the foot of breathtakingly beautiful mountains. The movie was filmed in Cantwell, well south of the true location of his death. The actual spot he died was a much less glamorous boggy Alaskan swamp … swarmed with mosquitos, with all the lovely mountains off on a distant horizon. But Hollywood couldn't let Alaska look drab, could they now?
- The river he crossed to get to the bus in the first place has a good seasonal run of grayling (fish). You can quite easily build a contraption that would basically allow you to scoop fish straight out of the fucking river.
Or hey, you could even bring a fishing pole with you![Added: See Alaska coroner's belonging list below. He did have a fishing pole. Even more baffling.]
- He tried to hike back out at one point, but noted that the water level had risen enough that he could no longer cross the river safely. This indicates that he wanted to get the fuck out of there when he was still well enough to hike 20+ miles back the way he came … remember the map , and the Denali park road only 10 miles in another direction from the bus? [
may not have had a map]
- Less than a mile downstream on the river in question, there is a manual tram he could have used to cross. There is also a spot about a mile upstream where the riverbed "braids" and the water is much shallower … also a spot he could have crossed. He apparently walked neither up nor downstream while trying to cross. Even though, again … he had a fucking MAP!! [
may not have had a map]
- There is no indication whatsoever that he ate anything poisonous. The wild potato seeds branded as toxic in the book turned out not to be poisonous at all. The book was published before the full lab analysis was completed. Also, he did not mistake the potatoes for wild sweet peas. He knew what he was eating.
- He left an SOS note taped to one of the bus windows saying he was injured and too weak to hike out and needed help (while his autopsy revealed no sign of injury). The SOS note was conveniently not shown in the movie.
- Fact is, McCandless was at the bus plenty long enough to starve to death naturally, and during the later stages of starvation, delirium, disorientation and physical weakness are severe (remember that he thought himself badly injured when he actually wasn't). This means once you reach the "tipping point" of starvation, as it were, you're unable to effectively hunt or forage any more, which greatly accelerates the final stages of death.
And that is that. There is nothing fucking romantic and wonderful about stumbling off into the wilderness and starving to death. What is great about the Christopher McCandless story is that it proves, in Alaska at least, natural selection is alive and well. McCandless was a fucking utterly stupid and reckless cunt, who actually had a history of doing ridiculous and reckless things that nearly killed him long before he dragged his fatally incompetent ass into the swamp lands of Denali park. He was asking to die as much as someone who decides they're going to climb Everest, alone.
Am I concerned about his family reading this and getting hurt and offended? Not particularly, no. They raised a fucking useless trust fund baby, who's upbringing was obviously catastrophically short on anything resembling common sense, and also managed to alienate him badly enough that running off to "become a man" in an abandoned bus in the middle of nowhere seemed like a better idea than staying in the safe little affluent world he was obviously better adapted to. If Christopher McCandless was utterly fucking useless at wilderness survival, his parents were apparently equally fucking useless at childrearing. The kid they never should have raised was retroactively unborn, and thank goodness it happened before he had a chance to spawn and raise even more useless stupid little cretins. The world has got enough shortsighted jackasses already, thanks.
Now that the movie has been released, perhaps even more fucking hopelessly stupid people will trek up there and graciously remove themselves from the gene pool as well. I'll be cheering from the sidelines, where I don't have to worry about starving to death with a rotting moose corpse at my feet.
• • •
The Alaska coroner's list of belongings returned to the McCandless family. Courtesy of
Terra Incognita Films who produced an investigative documentary about the McCandless story.
[added 25 March 2008] Well, I finally watched the movie … you can see the follow up post here: "Where are you from, anyway?" Comments on this post are now closed.[/added]Tags: Alaska, McCandless, natural selection, top 10