Into the Wild starts with Chris McCandless selling his car, donating all his money to charity, voiding himself of almost all of his possessions, and setting course on a 3,000+ hitch hiking journey to Alaska. There he takes proprietorship an old yellow school bus and begins his journey into solitude and nature. It’s poetic, appealing, and shocking (spoiler alert!) when after eating wild onions he dies. I read the book once and watched the move once but with my interpretations I take issue with him forsaking society for adventure that for him meant isolation. It seems selfish, unreasonable, and the epitome of privilege to be able to be in a position to even begin his journey. I think there are better ways to show your disdain towards society (like taking an active role to change the problems you have with it) than removing yourself from it. While the premise seems to be that he’s attempting to find true happiness through solitude and nature instead of society; I don’t think you have to completely abandon either to find happiness (obvious a very subjective standard and think McCandless might agree with me on this now). Further, I believe there are ways to be a productive member of society without limiting yourself to a cog in the capitalistic machine. Have I lost you already? Perfect.
I’ve spent a lot of time the past few months thinking about his story. As the approach to graduation accelerated, would my entrance into society result in a cog or contributor or both? Results still pending. Mostly, I spent time thinking about it because I accepted a fellowship in Alaska and hope to embark on my own adventure both professionally and personally. But unlike McCandless I had to buy a new car to get there and in all likelihood will also get a Costco Membership; but maybe like him it’s selfish, unreasonable, and the epitome of privilege to be in a position to begin this journey.
My fellowship is at a health center in Anchorage, on the same campus where my dad was born. Given my area of interest and focus during law school it was an ideal match up. My family is still warming up to the idea. I think it’s a hard adjustment for them because after my rejection from Yale I mostly talked about looking for jobs in Colorado (and I was) so for a lot of them it came out of the blue. But I had loosely toyed with the idea of going to Alaska for a clerkship but soon realized I wasn’t interested in that type of work, yet the appeal of Alaska remained. Maybe it’s similar to McCandless’s quest of seeking adventure, the romanticism of the last frontier, or from my father being born there and me being shocked as a child to learn this (his family eventually returned to South Dakota before he started primary school so we never visited). I was really after the fellowship and it was just a bonus that it’s in Alaska.
Alaska remains in my mind as a destination of sorts that one vacation just can’t do justice so figured that at least a year (option to extend) might start to scratch the surface of all the state has to offer. My only real hesitation with taking the position is now having to deal with bears, but felt that the cancellation of not having to deal with snakes made it an even wash. And after picking everyone’s brain that has done work or lived in Alaska it seems that bear attacks/sightings are not as common as I had initially envisioned (currently knocking on wood).
As noted before I had to get a different car and while I was really hoping to avoid getting a new one with the limited amount of time (it’s a long story of how the time crunch came to be but telling it won’t change the facts so I’ll spare you) I had left there didn’t seem to be any other option, so after test-driving one, I became the owner of a new car, but it gives my family a false sense of security on my drive to Alaska so worth it…right?
I’m pretty sure my parents were still concerned that I would take off in my 2001 Subaru to Alaska so the day before I left in an attempt to go the farmer’s market with Tenzen I went to start it and it wouldn’t start, the battery wasn’t dead (my normal issue when I leave the lights on for more than 48 hours) but I didn’t have time to get to the bottom of it.
I’m pretty convinced that my parents either unplugged the starter or called our mechanic to force my hand. I think my family thought I was exceptionally attached to my old car, which to some extent I was because it came with no car payment and it was the perfect gear box. So this is all to say that buying a new car with limited information (no spreadsheets were painstakingly made and toiled over for months before hand) and time is something that I would under no circumstances ever recommend to anyone. But now I finally have a car worth more than my bikes so I guess that means I have to upgrade my bike…
I’m currently on the road and so far, this trip has been like no other and not just because of the 52-hour drive time. I’ve never felt more like a tourist, with stops in Glacier National Park, Banff, and Jasper National Park in Canada.
When I’ve been to other national parks it’s always been with a purpose beyond just looking around. But it’s been a nice change of pace of not having to plan around rides/runs/find trails and coordinate the logistics. I somehow convinced a friend to drive with me and she’s a master traveler and booked most everything on the way–so I really just had to get in the car (oh, and pack). All the stops so far have been exceptionally beautiful and with the limited amount of time have only been hitting the main tourist spots (Road to the Sun, Lake Louise, Icefields Parkway).
It has made me realize how many people utilize the national parks, and while visitation is at an all-time high, budget cuts result in fewer resources available to those visitors. It’s also strange to think about seeing something that in all likelihood will not be around for the next generation to be captivated by. But as I have gone back and forth with a professor about, on the surface overcrowding is a problem but by getting more individuals outside we are creating more advocates that can potentially serve as environmental stewards and conservationists and work to preserve these pristine areas for the next generation.
It’s really been a breathtaking drive and leaves the backcountry beckoning to come explore off the beaten path. Hopefully on the return trip there will be more time to go from trail to trail (now accepting adventure partner applications).
The Alaska Highway is a major route connecting Alaska to well everything else. But in a lot of ways it still feels primitive. The highway is only a two-way with every changing speed limits reflecting the ebb and flow of the landscape. It’s been odd to think that about 65 years ago my grandfather drove the same route to Alaska. Unlike other trips that have followed my grandparents markings this feels more ethereal, maybe because the areas seem so resistant to change that a lot of what I’m seeing today is similar to what he saw during his travels as well. In a lot of ways our journeys feel similar while at the same time completely different. I have the luxury of podcasts, endless music, rooms booked each night, and the convenience of knowing how far I’ll go between gas stations.
My grandfather headed north after WWII, after returning to South Dakota he wreck 2 or 3 cars in the span of a few months while on various benders (can’t really blame him, he did get shot, twice). Much like his generation the effects of war were felt, but the atrocities that the young men endured were never mentioned. Maybe he headed to Alaska to clear his head, get a change of pace, put some distance between who he had been and who he became during the war, or really no other reason than to follow a good and steady job. As I’ve grown older and have lost grandparents over the years I’ve realized the depth of their lives that existed before they had children (as a 4 year-old it was lost on me that they could exist beyond the one-dimension of being my grandparent) and it leaves a lot of gaps that in all likelihood will never be filled. This does, however, leave a lot of room for imagination of what his trip to Alaska entailed—and without cell service for days on this road not much else to do except think about the places he stopped, the corners he probably blew, and if he too felt like he was selfishly embarking on an adventure removed from his family.
Okay, have I waxed enough metaphysics on you? Well this is all to say I’ll be in Alaska for a year with an open door invitation. Also hoping to write more to mainly keep my family updated on my adventures. I’m still planning on racing and starting to figure out which races I want to come back down for. But as for now we still have about 2 days before we hit our destination.