Christopher McCandless / Alexander Supertramp
Wayne. Greetings from Fairbanks! Arrived here two days ago. It was very difficult to catch rides in the Yukon territory, but I finally got here. Picked up a new book on the local flora and fauna. I'm prepared and have stocked all necessary comforts to live off the land for a few months. Might be a very long time before I return south. Just wanted to let you know, you're a great man. I now walk into the wild.
Two years he walks the earth. No phone, no pool, no pets, no cigarettes. Ultimate freedom. An extremist. An aesthetic voyager whose home is the road. Now, after two rambling years comes the final and greatest adventure. The climactic battle to kill the false being within and victoriously
[quoting Boris Pasternak] For a moment she rediscovered the purpose of her life. She was here on earth to grasp the meaning of its wild enchantment, and to call each thing by its right name. By its right name.
[last line] What if I were smiling and running into your arms? Would you see then what I see now?
Chris measured himself and those around him by a fiercely rigorous moral code. He risked what could have been a relentlessly lonely path, but found company in the characters of the books he loved from writers like Tolstoy, Jack London and Thoreau. He could summon their words to suit any occasion, and he often would. I forgot to ask what quote he'd have picked for his graduation dinner, but I had a good idea of who the primary target would be. It was inevitable that Chris would break away. And when he did, he would do it with characteristic immoderation.
Toward the end of June, Emory had mailed our parents Chris' final grade report. Almost all A's. A in Apartheid in South African Society. A- in Contemporary African Politics and the Food Crisis in Africa. And on it went. Clever boy, my brother. But by the end of July, we hadn't heard anything from him and my parents were becoming unsettled. Chris had never had a phone, so they decided to drive down to Atlanta and surprise him. When they arrived at the apartment, there was a "For Rent" sign up and the manager said that Chris had moved out at the end of May. So when they got home, I had to hand them all the letters that they had sent Chris that summer, which had been returned in a bundle. Chris had arranged for the post office to hold them until August 1st, to buy himself some time. I understood what he was doing. That he had spent four years fulfilling the absurd and tedious duty of graduating from college and now he was emancipated from that world of abstraction, false security, parents and material excess, the things that cut Chris off from the truth of his existence.
From as long ago as Chris and I could remember, there have been daily bouts of rage in our house. Violence that we were forced to witness. It was very real. But it was also like theatre. They cast us as both judges and the accused. Dad had been the young genius that NASA enlisted to do crucial designs for the American satellite radar systems that would be our answer to the Russian Sputnik. And Mom and he later started up a consulting firm combining her get-up-and-go resourcefulness with his wealth of knowledge. But by the time the company actually made its first million, the careerism and money seemed only to embolden their blindness. I remember the first family meeting to let us in on their plans for getting a divorce. They wanted us to choose which of them we'd live with. We cried our eyes out. The divorce never happened, but the battles and the meetings never stopped. It wasn't very long before Chris and I shut off. We'd say, "Go ahead. Get the divorce."
In early September, Mom and Dad got a call from the Annandale police notifying them that Chris' abandoned car had been identified by the Arizona Highway Patrol. A group of rare flower hunters stumbled upon it in the desert. There were no signs that Chris had intended to return to it. But there wasn't any evidence of struggle, either. The police thought Chris had chosen to leave it behind and not that it was taken from him. The initial comfort that gave Mom and Dad quickly turned to the realization that Chris was actually trying not to be found.
When a search of tax records revealed that Chris had given his life savings to charity, Mom and Dad became what Dad called "mobilized." They hired a private investigator and notified law enforcement nationwide, determined to track him down. I just figured he'd be with gypsies, far from the eyes of the law.
The year Chris graduated high school, he bought the Datsun used and drove it cross-country. He stayed away most of the summer. As soon as I heard he was home, I ran into his room to talk to him. In California, he'd looked up some old family friends. He discovered that our parents' stories of how they fell in love and got married were calculated lies masking an ugly truth. When they met, Dad was already married. And even after Chris was born, Dad had had another son with his first wife, Marcia, to whom he was still legally married. This fact suddenly re-defined Chris and me as bastard children. Dad's arrogance made him conveniently oblivious to the pain he caused. And Mom, in the shame and embarrassment of a young mistress, became his accomplice in deceit. The fragility of crystal is not a weakness but a fineness. My parents understood that a fine crystal glass had to be cared for or it may be shattered. But when it came to my brother, they did not seem to know or care that their course of secret action brought the kind of devastation that could cut them. Their fraudulent marriage and our father's denial of this other son was, for Chris, a murder of every day's truth. He felt his whole life turn, like a river suddenly reversing the direction of its flow, suddenly running uphill. These revelations struck at the core of Chris' sense of identity. They made his entire childhood seem like fiction. Chris never told them he knew and made me promise silence, as well.
It would be Christmas in a couple of months, and the last news we'd had was about his car being found. I woke up a couple of days ago, and for the first time, it bothered me that it wasn't only my parents who hadn't heard from Chris. I wondered why he hadn't tried to call in case I might answer. He could've hung up if it wasn't me. Why wouldn't he send a letter, maybe through a friend? It hurt a little, but I told myself it was good. He knew I loved him enough to bear with the not knowing. And it helped me remember that there was something more than rebellion, more than anger that was driving him. Chris had always been driven, had always been an adventurer. When he was four years old, he once wandered six blocks away from home at three o'clock in the morning. He was found in a neighbor's kitchen, up on a chair, digging through their candy drawer. Whatever drawer he was opening now must have something pretty sweet in it.
With almost a year having passed since Chris' disappearance my parents' anger had turned to desperation. Their guilt was giving way to pain. And pain seemed to bring them closer. Even their faces had changed. She convinces herself it's Chris, that's her son whenever she passes a stray. And I fear for the mother in her. Instincts that seem to sense the threat of a loss so huge and irrevocable that the mind balks at taking its measure. I had begun to wonder if I can understand what Chris is saying any longer. But I catch myself and remember that these are not the parents I grew up with. That people soften by the forced reflection that comes with loss. Still everything Chris is saying has to be said. And I trust that everything he is doing has to be done. This is our life.
What did his voice sound like now? What would he tell about now? I realized that the words to my thoughts were of less and less meaning. Chris was writing his story and it had to be Chris who would tell it.
Chris: [reading "I Now Go Back to May 1937" by Sharon Olds] "I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges. I see my father strolling out under the ochre sandstone atch, the red tiles glinting like bent plates of blood behind his head. I see my mother with a few light books at her hip, standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the wrought-iron gates still open behind her, its sword-tips black in the May air. They are about to graduate. They are about to get married. They are kids. They are dumb. All they know is they are innocent, they would never hurt anybody. I want to go up to them and say, 'Stop, don’t do it. She's the wrong woman, he's the wrong man. You are going to do things you cannot imagine you would ever do. You are going to do bad things to children. You are going to suffer in ways you never heard of. You are going to want to die.' I want to go up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it. But I don't do it. I want to live. I take them up like the male and female paper dolls, and bang them together at the hips like chips of flint, as if to strike sparks from them. I say, 'Do what you are going to do and I will tell about it."
Carine: Who wrote that?
Chris: Well, could've been either one of us, couldn't it?
Billie: Your father and I, we want to make a present to you.
Walt: We want to get you out of that junker.
Chris: What junker?
Billie: [points at Chris' car] That.
Walt: We want to buy you a new car.
Billie: That's right.
Chris: A new car? Why would I want a new car? Datsun runs great. Do you think I want some fancy boat? Are you worried what the neighbors might think?
Billie: Well, we weren't gonna get you a brand new Cadillac, Chris. We just want to get you a nice new car that's safe to drive. And you never know when that thing out there just might blow up.
Chris: Blow up! Blow up? Are you guys crazy? It's a great car. I don't need a new car. I don't want a new car. I don't want anything.
Chris: These things, things, things, things.
Walt: [to Billie] Everything has to be difficult.
Chris: Thank you.
Walt: [sarcastically] Thank you.
Billie: Maybe that's not what he means. Maybe he just wants his old car. It's not such a big deal.
Chris: Thank you. I just don't want anything.
Rainey: So you're a leather now.
Alex: I'm a leather?
Jan: Yeah, a leather tramp. That's what they call the ones that hoof it, go on foot. Technically we're rubber tramps.
Rainey: Because we have a vehicle. [tries to put his arm around Jan] You don't have to push me away.
Jan: [to Rainey] Come on, please? Yeah, Alex could have a vehicle as well, but he decided to burn all of his money.
Rainey: And why did you do that?
Alex: I don't need money. Makes people cautious.
Jan: Come on, Alex. You gotta be a little cautious. I mean, that book of yours is cool and everything, but you can't depend entirely on leaves and berries.
Alex: I don't know if you want to depend on much more than that.
Jan: Where are your mom and dad?
Alex: Living their lies somewhere.
Jan: You look like a loved kid. Be fair.
Jan: You know what I mean.
Alex: I'll paraphrase Thoreau here. "Rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness, give me truth."
Rainey: You're an industrious little fucker, aren't you?
Alex: Little bit.
Rainey: It's funny how things happen at particular times. I've loved that woman for a lot of years, bro. But, you know, she's got a story. We've been going through this thing, real quiet. So, when we ran into you yesterday, this thing that we've been going through real quiet, she's talking about it. You know what I mean?
Alex: I think I do.
Rainey: You think what?
Alex: Well... some people feel like they don't deserve love. They walk away quietly into empty spaces, trying to close the gaps to the past.
Rainey: That's a hell of an insight. Jesus! You're not Jesus, are you?
Alex: Look who's talking.
Rainey: You gonna walk across the water and get her back for me, pal?
Alex: Nah, I'm afraid of water. Always have been. Something I've gotta get over sometime though, huh? So, I will swim in it if you'll carry the firewood back to camp.
Rainey: Shit, yeah.
Rainey: Call it carried.
Alex: [during a poker game] Two dollars, four dollars, six dollars; just put all the money in. I just wanna see everybody going for broke.
Wayne: You wanna play?
Wayne: [to Chris getting dirty while working] What do you think about all this?
Alex: I like all this.
Alex: Is there a library or bookstore around here where I can get books on hunting and preserving?
Wayne: Anything at all to do with hunting or preserving the meat, smoking it, whatever the hell it is, talk to Kevin over there. That's your man. [Kevin gets slapped by a woman] Outdoorsman? What's your fascination with all that stuff?
Alex: I'm going to Alaska.
Wayne: Alaska, Alaska? Or city Alaska? Because they do have markets in Alaska. The city of Alaska. Not in Alaska, in the city of Alaska, they have markets.
Alex: No, man. Alaska, Alaska! I'm gonna be all the way out there, all the way fucking out there. Just on my own. You know, no fucking watch, no map, no ax, no nothing. No nothing. Just be out there. Just be out there in it. You know, big mountains, rivers, sky, game. Just be out there in it, you know? In the wild.
Wayne: In the wild.
Alex: Just wild.
Wayne: What are you doing when we're there? Now, you're in the wild, what are we doing?
Alex: You're just- you're just living, man. You're just there, in that moment, in that special place and time.
Alex: Maybe when I get back, I can write a book about my travels.
Wayne: Why not?
Alex: You know, about getting out of this sick society. Society!
Wayne: [coughs] Society!
Alex: Society, man!
Alex: Society! Society!
Alex: Society, you know! Society! 'Cause you know what I don't understand? I don't understand why people, why every fucking person is so bad to each other so fucking often. It doesn't make sense to me. Judgment. Control. All that, the whole spectrum. Well, it just...
Wayne: What people we talking about?
Alex: You know... parents, hypocrites, politicians, pricks.
Wayne: [points to Chris' head] This is a mistake. It's a mistake to get too deep into all that kind of stuff. Alex, you're a hell of a young guy, a hell of a young guy. But I promise you this. You're a young guy. Can't be juggling blood and fire all the time!
Kevin: You're gonna need something. What kind of gun you got?
Alex: I'm probably gonna get like a twenty-two, I think. A twenty-two caliber rifle.
Kevin: All right, then. When you get your kill, time is of the essence. Now, the first thing you wanna do is make sure that you got that meat nice and shaved up. And you don't have a lot of time to do this. This is about an hour or two. Depending on the weather. Especially if it's hot, you've got less time to do it. What you do is you want to make sure that them flies don't land on your meat. Because once them flies start shitting out larvae and them maggots, you know, those creepy crawlies, it's too late. It's too late.
Ranger: [while on the phone] Can I help you?
Alex: Yeah. If I wanted to paddle down the river, where's the best place to launch out of?
Ranger: Hang on a second. [to Chris] To launch out of? What's your experience level?
Alex: Not much.
Ranger: Any? Do you have a permit?
Alex: A permit? Permit for what?
Ranger: You can't paddle down the river without a permit. If you want, you can apply for one here, get some experience, and I'll put you on the wait-list. [back on the phone] No, I got this guy in here. We'll figure it out.
Alex: There's a wait-list to paddle down a river?
Ranger: That's right.
Alex: Well, how long do I have to wait?
Ranger: Yeah, hang on a second. Now, the deal is it's gonna be me and you or it's gonna be me, you and her? [to Chris] Next available is May 17, 2003.
Alex: Twelve years?
Ranger: Great. Done. The three of us, then. [to Chris] What's that?
Alex: Twelve years? To paddle down a river?
Ranger: Let me call you back. [hangs up the phone] You can do that, or you can join a commercial raft trip, go with a licensed guide. They may have some last-minute cancellations, but that's gonna cost you $2,000.
Alex: [sarcastically] Thank you very much.
Bull: [beats Alex for hiding on a train] Show me your face! I never, ever, ever forget a face. If I see yours again, I won't arrest you, I'll kill you. This is the goddamned railroad and we will do whatever we have to do to keep you freeloaders from violating our liability.
Alex: Yes, sir.
Bull: You got any ID?
Alex: No, sir.
Bull: Of course, you don't. Last time, my friend!
Tracy: [walks over to Chris and Rainey's bookstand] Hi.
[Rainey gets up and leaves]
Tracy: You selling these books?
Alex: I am. We are... he was.
Leonard Knight: A lot of people in the valley just love me a lot. Everybody now, I think, in the whole world is just loving me. And I want to have the wisdom to love them back. And that's about it. So, I really get excited.
Alex: You really believe in love then?
Leonard Knight: Yeah. Totally. This is a love story that is staggering to everybody in the whole world. That God really loves us a lot. Does that answer that?
Leonard Knight: Good.
Jan: I was just a couple of years older than Tracy when I got pregnant.
Jan: Yeah. Yeah, I thought my husband and I were going to just make peace on Earth and babies and love and stay together forever, and that didn't quite work out that way. He left me. So, I... Anyway, whatever, but I ended up raising Reno on my own. That's my boy, his name's Reno. Then I met Rainey. That was sweet. It was really good for a while. It's just... You know, Reno was a teenager already by then, and he was just on his way to becoming his own man. And I haven't even heard from him in two years. I don't even know where he is.
Alex: I hope I get to meet him sometime.
Jan: Do your folks know where you are?
[Chris remains silent]
Tracy: [walks over] Hey, guys? Dinner's ready if you guys are hungry.
Alex: Yeah, we are. We're hungry.
Jan: I'll be all right.
Alex: You want to come and eat? Or we'll sit here. Because I will sit here with you all night.
[Rainey is helping Alex do sit-ups]
Rainey: [looking over at Tracy] That poor girl is about ready to vault herself onto a fence post. And here you are, the monk of Jack fucking LaLanne. So, Jan talked to you about Reno, huh?
Rainey: Children can be pretty harsh when it comes to their parents. You planning on seeing yours?
Alex: I've only got one plan, Rainey.
Rainey: That would be Alaska?
Alex: [smiles] Alaska.
Alex: Merry... Christmas... [finds Tracy in her underwear]
Tracy: Come in here. My parents went into town.
Tracy: Yeah. They went to call my grandma for Christmas.
Alex: No, I mean, we can't do that.
Tracy: Why not?
Alex: How old are you?
Tracy: Eighteen... seventeen.
Alex: What year were you born?
Tracy: [embarrassed] So, I'm sixteen.
Alex: You're pretty magic.
Tracy: [crying] Yeah?
Alex: Yeah. And just remember if you want something in life, reach out and grab it.
[Tracy reaches forward and hugs Alex]
Ron: You strike me as a bright young man. Am I wrong about that?
Alex: Think I got my head on my shoulders pretty good.
Ron: That's what I mean. Wha- how long you been out here?
Alex: Couple of weeks.
Ron: And before that?
Alex: A lot of places. Been moving around a lot.
Ron: Well, how old are ya?
Ron: Twenty-three years old! Son, don't you think you ought to be getting an education? And a job? And making something of this life?
Alex: Mr. Franz, I think careers are a 20th Century invention and I don't want one. You don’t need to worry about me; I have a college education. I’m not destitute. I'm living like this by choice.
Ron: In the dirt?
Alex: Yeah. In the dirt.
Ron: Where's your family?
Alex: Don't have one anymore.
Ron: That's a shame.
Alex: [showing Ron the stamps on his belt] I went to South Dakota. I worked at a grain elevator for this guy named Wayne. He was a really good guy. So, I took the Colorado River all the way down through the Grand Canyon and did rapids, which is by far one of the scariest things I've ever done. And I took the Colorado down into Mexico, Golfo, where I got stuck. Salvation Mountain. The Slabs.
Ron: What's the "N" stand for?
Ron: Alaska!? Son, what the hell are you running from?
Alex: [climbing a hill] You know, I can ask you the same question! Except I already know the answer!
Ron: You do, do you?
Alex: I do, Mr. Franz! You got to get back out in the world! Get out of that lonely house, that little workshop of yours. Get back out on the road! Really! You're going to live a long time, Ron! You should make a radical change in your lifestyle! I mean, the core of man's spirit comes from new experiences. And there you are, stubborn old man, sitting on your butt!
Ron: Sitting on my butt!?
Ron: Ha! I'll show you sitting on my butt! [gets up and follows Chris up the hill]
Ron: I'm gonna miss you when you go.
Alex: I'll miss you too, Ron. But you're wrong if you think that the joy of life comes principally from human relationships. God's placed it all around us. It's in everything. It's in anything we can experience. People just need to change the way they look at those things.
Ron: Yeah, I'm gonna take stock of that. No, I am. I am. But I wanted to tell you something. From the bits and pieces I put together, you know, from what you told me about your family, your mother, and your dad. And I know you've got your problems with the church too. But there's some kind of bigger thing we can all appreciate and it sounds like you don't mind calling it God. But when you forgive, you love. And when you love, God's light shines on you.
[the sunlight begins to shine over them]
Alex: [laughs] Holy shit!
Ron: I told you about that language.
[Ron drops Alex off on the side of the road]
Ron: Well, my friend...
Alex: Yep. [begins to get of the Jeep]
Ron: I had an idea. You know, my mother was an only child and so was my father, and I was their only child, so when I'm gone, I'm the end of the line. My family will be finished. What do you say... you let me adopt you? I could be, say, your grandfather. [smiles]
Alex: Ron... could we talk about this when I get back from Alaska? Would that be okay?