'Into the Wild' Inspires Adventurers, but at What Cost?

Today, young idealistic pilgrims post their adventures on YouTube as they follow in the footsteps of Alexander Supertramp and visit the now famous "magic bus" deep in the Alaskan interior. When "Nightline" caught up with Paterson, he was in Fairbanks and had just spent the night in a tiny cabin on loan from a couple of strangers who had given him a ride. He was about to embark on his 100-mile journey to the Stampede Trail, and then the long hike into the bush, and to the bus. He was planning on bringing only the bare essentials, but carried a copy of "Into the Wild" with his own handwritten notes.

"This is his route that he took, just the places that he stopped, so that when I was hiking up if I could follow the same route he did," Paterson said.

A Perilous 'Playground'

Like McCandless, Paterson left a note with a kind couple he met along the way. "If you don't hear from me in three weeks, could you please contact my parents or my brother. I left their phone numbers at the bottom here. I will call you guys as soon as I complete my trek and get to a phone," the letter reads.

He also mirrored McCandless when it came to the food he was bringing — just water and 10 pounds of rice. When asked whether he understood the danger he faced, Paterson said, "If this is serious business, then I want to elevate myself to a level where I can get by. This is my new playground. If I'm not ready for it now, well, I'm going to learn what it takes to survive out there and I think in order to learn you have to put yourself out there in sometimes dangerous situations."

Paterson hitched a ride alone a rural Alaskan road, and was on his way.

Pilgrims like Paterson have been making their way out to the bush for 10 years, ever since "Into the Wild" became a best-seller. But now as the book becomes a movie, people in the tiny town of Healy, Alaska, are worried. Healy is the last stop on the map before the journey turns rugged.

Neal Laugman, from the Greater Healy-Denali Chamber of Commerce, said, "What happens now is people are going to want to go out there no matter what we tell them. You know we tell them, 'You want to be careful.' [They say], 'Oh, no we can do that because we've hiked in the Cascades. We've been on the Continental Divide. We've been in the Adirondacks.' Well it's a different world here in the bush."

Like many Alaskans, Laugman worries the story has made a romantic tale of something that isn't child's play. "We don't want this to be turned into something that it's not," he said. "And that's what it looks like to me."

Some officials are now considering removing the bus — airlifting it out in an attempt to head off would-be pilgrims and keep them from coming.

"I don't want to see us, through this media push and this tourism push, actually put people in harm's way," said Laugman.

On the Stampede Trail

We wanted to see the trail for ourselves, so Laugman showed our "Nightline" crew a map and pulled no punches. "Here's the map. Here's where you gotta go. This is where you park. This is where you walk. This is where you maybe drown. This is where you maybe get eaten by the bear and the mosquitoes get you. And that's where you die," he said.

As night fell, we visited the end of the road leading to the trail head, where an RV was parked. A vacationing couple from Maine had picked up a hitchhiker — Paterson.

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