McCandless’ story was memorialized in Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction book “Into the Wild” and further popularized when a subsequent movie was made from the book. As a result, the bus that McCandless called the “Magic Bus” in his journal has become famous itself.
However, the bus, which is located on the far side of a treacherous river, has also proven a death trap for some who have tried to reach it; according to local TV station KTVA-11, between 2009 and 2017, the state has conducted 15 search and rescue operations for people trying to reach the bus.
Here’s what you need to know:
The Bus Was Moved Because Trying to Reach It Posed A Safety Hazard
The bus where McCandless spent 114 days until his death in 1992 was helicoptered out June 18, the Washington Post reported. The Department of Natural Resources and Alaska Army National Guard worked together, cutting holes in the roof of the bus and extracting it with a CH-47 Chinook helicopter, according to KTVA-11.
Located on the Stampede Trail by the Teklanika River near Healy, the bus was removed because its presence as a tourist attraction was putting lives at risk, the Washington Post reported. In a press release, Alaska Natural Resources Commissioner Corri Feige said the organization considered alternatives but ultimately decided that moving the bus was the best option.
In February, five hikers from Italy tried to reach the bus but suffered frostbite and had to be rescued by Alaska State Troopers, CTV reported. The incident was one of several that have added to calls that the bus should be moved.
The Anchorage Daily News reported in 2010 that Claire Ackermann, a 29-year-old Swiss woman backpacking the Stampede Trail, drowned while attempting to cross the Teklanika River. And last year, 24-year-old Veramika Maikamava from Belarus also died while trying to cross the Teklanika River, according to the Associated Press.
According to KTVA-11, authorities are still deciding whether the bus will be displayed in a safer location, and other items, such as a suitcase with McCandless’ belongings, have been stored for safekeeping.
McCandless’ Journey Made Him Famous, Even After Death
After college, McCandless left a comfortable suburban life to go on a nationwide tour, hitchhiking, relying on the kindness of strangers and working odd jobs before he eventually made his way to Alaska, according to Krakauer’s account and information from McCandless’ journals.
A book from McCandless’ sister Carine has suggested that his parents’ abusive past might have driven him to want to escape, Outside Online reported. According to Krakauer, McCandless deceived his parents at the outset of his trip:
When Walt and Billie went to Atlanta in the spring of 1990 for Chris’s college graduation, he told them that he was planning another summerlong trip and that he’d drive up to visit them in Annandale before hitting the road. But he never showed. Shortly thereafter he donated the $20,000 in his bank account to Oxfam, loaded up his car, and disappeared. From then on he scrupulously avoided contacting either his parents or Carine, the sister for whom he purportedly cared immensely.
Krakauer wrote that McCandless had planned on leaving the bus and walked 30 miles toward the road before he found himself dissuaded by the state of the Teklanika River:
Two days later, halfway to the road, he arrived in heavy rain on the west bank of the Teklanika River, a major stream spawned by distant glaciers on the crest of the Alaska Range. Sixty-seven days earlier it had been frozen over, and he had simply strolled across it. Now, however, swollen with rain and melting snow, the Teklanika was running big, cold, and fast.
If he could reach the far shore, the rest of the hike to the highway would be trivial, but to get there he would have to negotiate a 75-foot channel of chest-deep water that churned with the power of a freight train. In his journal, McCandless wrote, “Rained in. River look impossible. Lonely, scared.” Concluding that he would drown if he attempted to cross, he turned around and walked back toward the bus, back into the fickle heart of the bush.
According to what Krakauer wrote in the New Yorker, perceptions of McCandless have ranged from seeing him as an adventurous folk hero to an arrogant attention-seeker:
I’ve received thousands of letters from people who admire McCandless for his rejection of conformity and materialism in order to discover what was authentic and what was not, to test himself, to experience the raw throb of life without a safety net. But I’ve also received plenty of mail from people who think he was an idiot who came to grief because he was arrogant, woefully unprepared, mentally unbalanced, and possibly suicidal.
There is some controversy over how McCandless died. Krakauer has said he believes McCandless could have accidentally poisoned his already-emaciated frame. Others have assumed that McCandless died from starvation; according to the New Yorker, he went from being a 140-pound 24-year-old to weighing just 67 pounds eight months later.
Relying on McCandless’s journals, Krakauer described what he believed the young man’s final moments were like this way:
After three months on a marginal diet, McCandless had run up a sizable caloric deficit. He was balanced on a precarious, razor-thin edge. And then, on July 30, he made the mistake that pulled him down. His journal entry for that date reads, “Extremely weak. Fault of pot[ato] seed. Much trouble just to stand up. Starving. Great Jeopardy.”
Laid low by the poisonous seeds, he was too weak to hunt effectively and thus slid toward starvation. Things began to spin out of control with terrible speed. “DAY 100! MADE IT!” he noted jubilantly on August 5, proud of achieving such a significant milestone, “but in weakest condition of life. Death looms as serious threat. Too weak to walk out.”
At some point during this week, he tore the final page from Louis L’Amour’s memoir, “Education of a Wandering Man” … On the other side of the page, which was blank, McCandless penned a brief adios: “I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and may God bless all!” Then he crawled into the sleeping bag his mother had made for him and slipped into unconsciousness.