Presumably on August 19th 1994, Chris McCandless, or as he called himself Alexander Supertramp, died after 113 days in the wilderness of Alaska. In these 113 days, he fed on what he could gather and hunt. Chris’s experiences became known through the book of Jon Krakauer’s Into the Wild and the film Into the Wild.
Twenty-three years later I went out to follow his tracks and commemorate him.
I went out to follow the Stampede Trail, which led Chris into the wilderness, as far as possible with my motorbike, to pitch up my tent there and remind me that a young man went out to follow his dreams and starved to death.
25.08.17 Denali Highway – Stampede Trail
I wake up at 3am and can not sleep anymore. I’m nervous, it’s raining. Try to fall asleep again but nothing happens. At 4 o’clock I write my diary. I make coffee and porrage.
I’ll stay a long time, think. My thoughts are circling.
At 6.30 clock I finally get up, it drizzles. Going for a run. What a benefit. At 8.30am everything is packed, I say goodbye to my neighbors and continue my way on the Denali Highway. Passing the flat Buschland, which is surrounded by mountains. The rain gets stronger. Cold wind whips in my face.
At the end of the highway I find a café and spend the morning there. Continue to Denali National Park. I have a look around, but I’m not really there. Stroll through tourist shops without really looking at. At 2pm I notice that I unconsciously delay my visit of the Stampede Trail by vertrombling my time here. Finally, I buck myself up and continue my way towards Healy.
As I arrive at the brewery, the first I discover is the bus. My heart pauses for a moment. The bus is a copy of the original bus and is located in the beer garden of the 49th State Brewery. I walk slowly towards the bus, ask an employee of taking a photo of me.
As I enter the bus, I feel deep sorrow. I’m taking my time, try to imagine if I could live here for 113 days, could survive for 113 days, I’m not sure. There is a small exhibition with pictures, the last postcards and his diary in the bus, which document his days in the wilderness.
I buy a beer at the brewery, then I start into the wild. The Stampede Road is a paved road that surrounded by houses on the left and right side. After a few miles the road turns into a gravel road. Arriving at a parking lot, the road finally goes into the Stampede Trail, a path that is just wide enough for an quad or ATV.
Right from the start, the first challenge awaits. The trail is filled with water. A deep puddle makes it impossible to carry on. To the right of the path are some traces that have bypassed the long-drawn waterhole in the marshes. I park my bike and go around the bypass. It should be possible.
Back on the bike I start the engine. After only a few meters the rear wheel sinks in the marsh. Crap!
After some attempts to get the bike free, I finally unload my duffle bag to reduce the weight on the rear wheel. I finally manage to rescue the motorcycle from its predicament. Pushing the bike, I slowly but continuously make my way through the swamp. Just don’t stop.
After 20 minutes I did it. That started well. I hope the rest of the trail is in better conditions. After carrying the luggage through the marsh and putting it back on the motorcycle, I continue the journey. The trail is well fastened, I get on well and enjoy the ride.
On the way I meet a group of 5 young poles traveling around the world in a bus. After a short chat I find out that they want to hike all the way to the original bus. I am very impressed, hope they manage it as you have to cross three rivers with a strong current.
There are many more water puddles to master along the trail. The deepest and longest are bypassed by paths around, which some quads have laid before me.
Part of the trail is really slippery and my front wheel finds no grip. And than its happen. The motorcycle lies in the mud. I unload my duffle bag and try to get the machine up again. I finally manage it with great effort. I am so grateful that I decided to use a light single cylinder motocycle on this journey.
Minutes later I was stopped by a tree stump and went yet again in the mud.
After about 8 km on the trail I reach a beaver dam, which goes across the road. The water is crystal clear and I can look to the bottom. The owners of the ATV, which blocks the way, returned from their exploration. They tell me that they have tried to cross the dam, but after the water touched the headlights, they reversed.
This is too deep for my bike. On my Garmin is a second route drawn. I find them quickly, but after only a few hundred meters my rear wheel sinks again into the swampland. After a short inspection, the trail disappeared and is no longer visible in the extensive landscape.
Back at the beaver dam I explore the surroundings and look for a place around. Finally, I walk into the dam. The water is hip-high, too deep for my bike. It would run into the engine and at worst destroy the engine.
Shortly thereafter the Poles arrive. I show them the best way across the stream, a quick photo and then they have disappeared on the other side of the trail.
So this is the end point of my trip on the Stampede Trail. I pitch up my tent, start a camp fire, and spent the evening thinking.
23 years after Chris McCandless died in the Taiga Alaskas , I went there to follow his track, to be close to him, to tell him I understand you. I discover myself in him, but at the same time I am different.
An inner force has made me travel to Alaska. Actually, it was just a fleeting thought that I might be able to go to Alaska after the end of the Trans Canada Adventure Trail, but rejected this idea quickly because it would be too late to go into the far north.
Now I am sitting here a few miles from the place where Chris was finally found starved in a bus. I think of him.
His story shouldn’t prevent us from going our way. The opposite is the case , it should encourage us to follow our inner dreams.
I am sure that Chris experienced more in his 24 years than many in their whole live. By this I do not mean big adventures or the risk of escaping death several times.
No, I am sure that this young man experienced the happiness of living completely in the here and now. To perceive every second, every moment as what it is, a gift.
To feel the joy of being surrounded by strangers who almost bear you down with their affections. To feel the pure feeling of happiness shining through your body . To meet the world with radiant eyes and to be grasped by a joy which I dare not put into words in fear of losing the magic of the moment.
I discover myself in him. When I was 23 years old, I’ve also set off to understand the world in order to experience life. I went out to travel the Way of St. James (Camino de Santiago). I walked 5 1/2 weeks on foot. Without money, without a mobile phone, without any safety in my backpack. I roamed in Germany, Switzerland and France.
5 1/2 weeks in which I really lived. 5 1/2 weeks that made me believe in humanity. Everywhere I met friendly people who gave me so much warmth and affection, shared their food with me and often offered me a bed under their roof.
5 1/2 weeks that changed my life forever and which I deeply cherish in my heart.
Chris is neither hero nor deterrence for me. He reminds me in moments when I doubt that everything is possible. That we are stronger than we believe.
He also reminds me, that we are mortal.
He reminds me, that our lives are precious and unique.
He reminds me of accepting advice and not to think, nothing happens to me.
He reminds me of being conscious at any moment, as this moment never returns.
He reminds me, what part a father plays in a child’s life