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Into the Wild
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Greg Mihalik
(greg23) - M

Locale: Colorado
Re: Re: Into the Wild - An Answer on 08/21/2013 10:03:11 MDT Print View

From a recent post on Roman Dial's Blog ...

Apparently McCandless inadvertently paralyzed himself by eating toxic seeds -

- towards the end of the article:

"... the poison had rendered him too weak to move about, to hunt or forage, and, toward the end, “extremely weak,” “too weak to walk out,” and, having “much trouble just to stand up.” He wasn’t truly starving in the most technical sense of that condition. He’d simply become slowly paralyzed. And it wasn’t arrogance that had killed him, it was ignorance."

I appreciate this conclusion, as opposed to the endless conjecture.

Edited by greg23 on 08/21/2013 10:10:44 MDT.

Tim Zen
(asdzxc57) - F

Locale: MI
Re: Into the Wild on 08/21/2013 13:25:38 MDT Print View

Another read is "Back to the wild". A collection of cards, letters and photos.

Not to mention the website.

Miles Barger
(milesbarger) - F - M

Locale: West Virginia
Distance to help on 08/21/2013 15:30:58 MDT Print View

As someone who's spent a bit of time in Denali, this has always confused me.
Map of Stampede Bus and surrounds

I can understand not having a detailed understanding of the area. But not knowing that the Alaska Range is south, and there's a road north of that that runs through the park with continuous bus service to pick you up and quickly have you to the park entrance with all the civilization you'd need... Well, that confuses me.

Granted, it's not the easiest 20-ish miles going south from the bus to the road — there's some pretty decent brush and you've got to scoot over the little ridge north of the Tek — but not much of a trek in a life-or-death situation. Harder if you were chronically ill, but still possible long before total immobility. I'm inclined to believe he just had no idea.

I read that paper posted on Roman's blog. Very interesting and plausible.

Bob Gross
(--B.G.--) - F

Locale: Silicon Valley
Re: Distance to help on 08/21/2013 15:38:47 MDT Print View

Miles, the phrase is lack of situational awareness.


Alex on 08/21/2013 19:02:16 MDT Print View

McCandless thrived on the danger and uncertainty of having nothing to fallback on but himself.

This is why he had to give away his money first, break connections with family, take on a new identity, get rid of the car, etc.

Lack of knowledge of his surroundings was integral to his attempt to survive in the wild.

He succeeded very well on this point, not so much on many others.

Emboldened by some earlier success at self-sufficiency, he simply "bit off more than he could chew". His alaska escapade borders on ridiculous, a rendition that might be expected from a crack-head, not a college graduate.

Edited by livingontheroad on 08/21/2013 19:10:38 MDT.

Desert Dweller

Locale: Wild Wild West
Into the wild on 08/21/2013 21:35:50 MDT Print View

As a parent I felt deeply for his family. As for "biting off more than he could chew" that sums it up very well. As a person who did nearly the same thing in my youth (selling all and leaving civilization), and being homeless for four years myself I'm glad I made better decisions on my walkabout. Like keeping in touch with family. I can remember a time when I was sick and had no money, I was lucky to get over it without a doctors help. I also got giardiasis during that time and recovered without medicine but nearly ended up a skeleton.
Many of us here by virtue of being adventurous have taken risks, but thankfully with age and responsibility to others we quit going so far out on limbs....there are much more fun things to do.

And yes I agree, his actions were very selfish. With a very sad result. A lesson for other youngsters who might be tempted to go "wild".

Ian B.

Locale: PNW
Re: Into the wild on 08/21/2013 21:48:27 MDT Print View

As mentioned a few years ago on this thread, it's certainly worth the time to read the book and watch the movie.

After watching the movie, I was left with the opinion that he was a spoiled trustafarian with daddy issues. I was more on board with what he was trying to do after reading the book. I'm pretty fortunate to have survived my youth so it'd be pretty out of line for me to criticize his decisions.

Sara Marchetti
(smarchet) - MLife
Hey on 08/22/2013 12:24:01 MDT Print View

"And I have a bone to pick with Guns,Germs and Steel
it gives a "Forest Gump" view of history."

There is absolutely nothing wrong with making science understandable to the masses. More science should do this. That is what Alan Alda is all about. I like how Diamond tells you when a view is controversial and goes on to state his interpretation of the data. Good stuff!

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
Re: Hey on 08/22/2013 12:39:31 MDT Print View

>"There is absolutely nothing wrong with making science understandable to the masses. "


If you want a popular book with too many footnotes and references, read Diamond's Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed.

If you want a book without many footnote or references, just rapid-fire, thought-provoking ideas on every other page, read his "The Third Chimpanzee" in which the seeds of his future books are introduced but not fleshed out in great detail.

Guns, Germs and Steel, for me, was in that sweet spot of being well argued and with sufficient but not a tedious amount of background for the general reader. Academics need more, sure, but they should be able to search out the relevant journal articles on their own.

Sara Marchetti
(smarchet) - MLife
Yeah on 08/22/2013 12:56:13 MDT Print View

Collapse was a great read!

Two other books i've enjoyed that do a great job of explaining complex science are:

The Elegant Universe by Brian Greene
Physics of the Impossible: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel by Michio Kaku

None of these are books I would normally read, but I cannot pass up a book that explains difficult concepts in lay yet interesting ways.

Edited by smarchet on 08/22/2013 13:00:29 MDT.

Doug I.
(idester) - MLife

Locale: PNW
Re: Hey on 08/22/2013 15:10:08 MDT Print View

"There is absolutely nothing wrong with making science understandable to the masses."

Years ago, when I enjoyed Outside magazine, one of the main reasons I enjoyed it was the writing of David Quammen, precisely because he made difficult concepts easily understandable. I need to pick up one of his books.

jeffrey armbruster
(book) - M

Locale: Northern California
"Into the Wild" on 08/22/2013 19:24:47 MDT Print View

+1 on David Quammen. And don't forget the late great Steven J. Gould.

Also +1 on Brian Greene. For an interesting critique of string theory, Lee Smolin's The Trouble With Physics is very good.

Excellent drift here...

Daniel Pittman
(pitsy) - M

Locale: Central Texas
Re: "Into the Wild" on 08/22/2013 21:19:51 MDT Print View

More drift...
Longitude by Dava Sobel
The Botany of Desire by Michael Pollan
Linked by Albert-Laszlo Barabasi
Where Wizards Stay Up Late: The Origins of the Internet by Katie Hafner

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
McCandless was a victim of his own bad judgment on 08/22/2013 23:23:54 MDT Print View

In my opinion he "didn't do great" out there. He died. And he didn't die from some unforeseeable run of bad luck or an unfortunate accident. And he didn't die because those seeds were poisonous. That was a made up fact. He simply starved to death.

Analysis of the wild sweet peas, given as the cause of Chris's death in Sean Penn's film, turned up no toxic compounds and there is not a single account in modern medical literature of anyone being poisoned by this species of plant.

He did have a map, it was just a lousy map. But it was a map good enough so he would have known there was a road he could have walked to without crossing the river.

And there was a tram across the river only 1/4 mile from where he tried to cross. A little over 400 yards! If I were trying to cross a river I would certainly walk a long way up or down stream to see if it "braided out" to make it fordable. And if I needed to to save my life I'd build a raft and cross. With any awareness at all he would have known the Park road was a day or two's hike away with no rivers to cross. He had lots of options.

He had a rifle with 400 rounds and he even shot a moose (almost certainly all the food he would have needed to survive the whole time) and wasted nearly the whole animal because he didn't know how to preserve the meat. All his hunting was completely illegal, and had he made it out alive and had been caught he would have been fined thousands of dollars and likely spent jail time.

Too bad he died, but I sure don't see him as a hero or a role model.

Nick Gatel
(ngatel) - MLife

Locale: Southern California
Re: McCandless was a victim of his own bad judgment on 08/23/2013 06:35:31 MDT Print View

I have been chastised for saying this before on BPL.

He did not have the skills, experience or knowledge to survive. His passing was his own fault. He was not a hero or a role model. There is no reason to romanticize his life.

His death was unfortunate, but predictable.

Buck Nelson
(Colter) - MLife

Locale: Alaska
Interesting article on 08/23/2013 18:03:51 MDT Print View

I read through Ronald Hamilton's article on lathyrism from the eating the seeds of the hedysarum alpinum. I am a hard sell on that point because there have been theories flung out there about poisoning and mold and what-have-you that haven't stood up to laboratory analysis. The paper makes a convincing case that lathyrism was a contributing factor for McCandless, and it wasn't something he could have been expected to know.

He possibly would have survived had it not been for lathyrism. He almost certainly would have survived if he'd had basic wilderness skills and decent judgment. He didn't die of the toxins in the seeds, he died of starvation. Had he properly cared for the moose, or taken advantage of many other opportunities to save his life, he would almost certainly have been alive today.

It's always good to keep an open mind though. Kudos to Mr. Hamilton for his research.

Ken T.
(kthompson) - MLife

Locale: All up in there
Re: McCandless was a victim of his own bad judgment on 08/23/2013 18:31:06 MDT Print View

+1 w/Nick

+ on 08/24/2013 11:58:41 MDT Print View

I think some people romanticize the fact that he eschewed the normal trappings of society.

But I agree with Nick as well.

Natural selection at work.

However, I also think there are very few people that could truly survive in the wild today for long term without help of others, or using mechanims of society in some manner. Possibly none.

David Thomas
(DavidinKenai) - MLife

Locale: North Woods. Far North.
McCandless completely underestimated the skills and knowledge needed. on 08/24/2013 12:21:12 MDT Print View

>"and wasted nearly the whole animal because he didn't know how to preserve the meat."

+1 Buck.

When I got up here 15 years ago, I was great at temperate-climate hiking and backpacking, decent at skiing and okay at handling myself down to 10F. I had only caught one fish in my life. The only mammal I'd killed was a dog crossing the highway at night. I was pretty good with edible plants.

Once I got here, I learned:

dog mushing from my doctor.

how to dig clam, clean clams and cook them from a homeless guy.

how to catch trout and salmon with a rod&reel from friends.

how to catch salmon with a net from someone who shared his fishing site with me.

halibut fishing first on charters and then with friends.

how to be comfortable at -20F and to survive at -40F.

how to skin out and butcher bear and caribou from a Native friend. And hard-shell calming and mushrooming from his wife.

smoking fish and making jerky from friends, off the internet, trail&error and keeping notes.

In the 600,000-year history of our species, I'm sure hunter-gatherers went through such a learning process. But at a younger age, from more skilled adults and elders, and more earnestly. Leaving behind your trust fund, car keys and mattress doesn't instantly make you a Noble Savage. Years and years of learning from others and one's own trail&error gets you there. And "there" isn't a solo trip. "There" is as a contributing member of a group with varied skills and knowledge who work together (and still sometimes have to cast the youngest or oldest out on the ice flow for the good of the group).

Craig W.
(xnomanx) - F - M
17 years after the book was published.... on 08/24/2013 13:47:43 MDT Print View

....people are still debating McCandless.

Krakauer obviously new he had a good story here.