"I got in three different vehicles from Fairbanks to get to the Stampede Trail, where I am now," he said. When asked whether he was worried about the journey, he said, "I'm sure I'll be fine."
At daybreak "Nightline" met up with Coke Wallace, a steely-eyed master guide to the Alaskan bush who sees the world divided into two camps: predators and prey. Wallace set us up on a couple of ATVs for the journey to the bus — 23 miles each way through raging rivers, muddy streams and sticky tundra.
Wallace has pulled more than his share of pilgrims from this land and shakes his head at the very notion. "Good luck," he said with a laugh. "I hope I don't have to go get a bunch of 'em. I told you guys, I've already rescued a few couples that came out here to do the pilgrimage. And this is the wrong time of year."
Along the way in we met up with Paterson at the beginning of his long hike. "If the hairs on the back of my neck might stand up now and then, well, that's how you know that you're having a real adventure," he said.
For us, the journey in wasn't easy. We got stuck in deep muddy bogs, the temperature was in the 30s and we were all wet and dirty, but we were on the edge of Denali National Park and the scenery was breathtaking.
Wallace guesses he's taken hundreds of people out to the bus — the path in is never easy and he gives us no guarantees that we'll make it.
We eventually reached the banks of the dangerous Teklanika River and Wallace wasn't sure we could make it across. "It's fairly treacherous," said Wallace. "That's why people who do this trek should know what they're getting themselves into. It can be treacherous at any turn in the road."
McCandless wasn't able to cross the river, and even the ATVs had a difficult time. The river pushes them downstream, lifting the wheels off the bottom, but we made it, and an hour later, we reached the bus. "There you have it, sports fans," said Wallace. "Fairbanks City Bus 142."
The bus looks exactly as it did all those years ago, and whatever you think of McCandless and how he ended up dying here, walking inside is powerful. Messages from those who've made the journey — even McCandless' family — are everywhere.
"Under the bunk is a little suitcase that his folks had kept emergency supplies in and a little log that people used to write in," said Wallace. Also in the suitcase was a Bible that McCandless' parents left for him in the magic bus in July 1993, when they came to honor his memory one year from the date of his death."
"I wondered briefly if it would be hard to enter your last home," wrote McCandless' mother. "The wonderful pictures you left in your final testament welcomed me in and I'm finding it difficult to leave instead. I can so appreciate the absolute joy in your eyes reported by your self portraits."
The bus seems to have taken on the quality of a shrine.
"Some of the people I bring here break down and have a pretty emotional moment," said Wallace. "Hell, they almost have me crying some of the time, they get so broken up over it. Regardless of what you think of the guy, he did die here, so it's kind of hallowed ground in my opinion."
The family put a plaque inside that includes McCandless' last words, found inside his journal. The plaque reads: