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

Inspired by subject of the book "Into the Wild," hundreds brave Alaskan wild.

ByABC News
February 12, 2009, 11:42 AM

Oct. 15, 2007 — -- If you saw Marc Paterson hiking in the woods or hitchhiking along a lonely back road, you might not think much of it. In fact you might not even notice. That suits Paterson just fine.

The 29-year-old is on the journey of a lifetime a journey that could cost him his life. And he couldn't be happier.

"I'm going to test my limits, I guess, to see what it's like to be hungry. I'm trying to put myself in an environment where nothing's spoon-fed. I mean, where I might have to go run around the woods for a bit, or go fishing for a few hours to catch a fish, catch my own dinner," he said. "It's really rewarding. In our society where you can just swipe a card or a debit card, it gets a little too easy some time. I'm challenging myself."

It is a challenge quietly taken up by hundreds around the world, all of them headed to Alaska, chasing a dream written down in the pages of a best-seller and now on screen in a movie called "Into the Wild."

"Into the Wild" is the true story of Chris McCandless, a 24-year-old honors graduate from a privileged East Coast family who died a lonely, painful death in the Alaskan bush. It is the story of how he got there and what he did along the way that has made McCandless an almost saintlike figure to his many devoted followers.

McCandless called himself "Alexander Supertramp," and after graduating college in the early 1990s he donated his $20,000-plus trust fund to charity, left his family with no word of his whereabouts and set off on a two-year journey to transform himself. He traversed 30 states, Canada and Mexico with almost no money and frequently little food.

McCandless tramped his way across North America determined to live completely free of the trappings of modern society. He was intoxicated by nature and the idea of a great Alaskan adventure to survive in the bush totally on his own. In his last postcard to a friend, he wrote: "I now walk into the wild."

Alaskan Jim Gallien picked McCandless up hitchhiking and was the last one to see him alive.

"When I found out he didn't have any boots, I told him he could use mine, just give me a call when he came out of the woods, give them back to me," Gallien said. "He said he didn't want to see anybody. In fact, he gave me his watch. He had a comb. He had about 85 cents in change. And he just threw it all on the dash in my truck. Threw the map down, didn't want to know what day it was, what time it was or where he was."

When hunters found McCandless' body in a broken-down city bus left in the woods as a shelter, he weighed only 67 pounds. He had survived 112 days alone in the wilderness and had documented much of it with his camera and a journal.


February 1968 to August 1992

Chris, our beloved son and brother, died here during his adventurous travels in search of how he could best realize Gods' great gift of life. With his final message, "I have had a happy life and thank the Lord. Goodbye and God Bless all," we commend his soul to the world.

The McCandless family, July 1993.

The bus and the stories it holds remain a goal for an untold number of McCandless followers.Did Paterson make it? When our story first aired, we weren't sure. The last we saw him he was about eight hours into his hike, hungry and tired, but he wouldn't accept any food.

15 years after McCandless just like so many others who've come along since Paterson walked into the wild.

And eventually, he walked out of the wild. Paterson did his journey, telling ABC News that "it was a 26 mile hike in from the nearest road and took two days for me to walk to the bus. An awesome trip!"