Christopher McCandless: American Hero?

Who is Christopher McCandless? He’s an enigma, an idea, a philosophy.

In the early 90s, Chris abandoned his life in search of something more meaningful than the materialistic society in which he found himself a prisoner. After graduating with honors from Emory College in Atlanta, Chris donated his life savings to charity and embarked on a trip around the country without telling anyone where he was going.

Soon after leaving, Chris abandoned his car, burnt all of his money, and spent the next two years hitchhiking around the United States, eventually making his way to Alaska. In April, Chris was dropped off near Denali National Park, where he hiked into the wilderness. Four months later, a hunter found his lifeless body wrapped inside his sleeping bag.

Before his death, Chris found the ironic truth he’d set out to find in the Alaskan wilderness, which was left scrawled in his journal:

“Happiness is only real when shared.” ~ Christopher McCandless

The legacy of Chris lives on in the hearts of many, myself included. The desire for simplicity, to be free of expectations and demands from society, to seek freedom, truth, beauty, and meaning. Purpose. In these ways, Chris represents everything right about humanity: the purity of his intentions, the raw idealism of his plans, the honest belief in himself. He followed his heart, and died chasing a dream.

Chris has become an icon, and he will forever represent an idealism found only in the innocence of youth. The legacy of Chris McCandless is one of hope. I think people need that.

If you want to learn more about Christopher and his inspiring (and heartbreaking) story, check out the book Into the Wild by Jon Krakauer.

4 thoughts on “Christopher McCandless: American Hero?

  1. Maybe I’ve read this wrong, but this story makes me more sad than optimistic or inspired. For me, that quote from him wraps up his whole experience. He left everything behind and didn’t tell anybody where he was going, and ultimately he died alone. So yes, his statement is extremely ironic, and that’s why I find this story to be so sad.
    I do agree with you, though, that the idea of Christopher is something quite remarkable. The ability to throw all materialisticness aside and embark on a personal adventure of freedom to go against the norms is admirable, and something that I think a lot of people wish they could do. It is extremely noble and admiring. So yes, he does in a way represent hope, but I feel like there’s something deeper there, and it may not be so optimistic.
    I’ll have to learn more about his story :-)

    • That’s what I was hoping to do with this article, to show both sides of the story. What’s inspiring about Chris is that he pursued his dreams with ruthless intent. It’s sad that it cost him his life, though had it not, the only ones who’d be inspired by him would be his children and grandchildren. In death, he’s left a legacy for the dreamers. It’s a sad story, no doubt. If you want to learn more about Chris, there’s a book called Into the Wild, and also a movie with the same title. Both are excellent.

  2. I would like to explain how much I admire Chris ( I prefer call Alexander Supertramp), but my english is not so good (I’m from Spain). I just wanna say that I really love your post about Chris and his story. One of my favourite quotes: rather than love, than money, than faith, than fame, than fairness… give me truth.

  3. Great post Steve. Very thought provoking. I had never heard of Chris until I saw you mention him the other day. Interesting story. It is sad that he died alone, but it sounds like he found the answer he was looking for. And what a great lesson it is to us all. Thanks for sharing.

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