Monday, August 24, 2015

CHRISTOPHER MCCANDLESS - "Magic Bus" Healy, AK



Chris MsCandless (1992) - Juliann Ashcraft (2015)

Our life is merely a culmination of a series of choices.  Which fork in the road do you take?  Do you try that cigarette? Do you apply for that college?  Do you marry that boy/girl? Do you dare to dream?  Do you choose to love?  Do you talk yourself out of that scary new opportunity?  Do you keep your word? 


There are limitless rhetorical questions we could ask that would fit the description of fork in the road moments in life.  Your particular balance of nature and nurture and what exposure you have had to various examples in your life, will most likely mold and influence which path you will take. No path is the right or wrong one, no journey is more important than another.  Yet, more often than not we are convinced that our path is the correct one and others should follow suit.  I'm not sure if any of us actually believe we are the model for a life well lived, but we will convince ourselves and attempt to convince those around us that this is true.  As I do with my children, and my parents did with me, and their parents with them, and so on...we raise our children to reach certain predetermined landmarks in life.  For the completion of these accomplishments mean an A+ for Mom and Dad, and ultimately a happy ending for the individual.  At least that's the agreement we have made as a society. 


So what of the black sheep?  Those who push the envelope and dare to live outside of the lines drawn by our affluent and power-driven culture? Perhaps we view those who live differently than us as underachievers or lazy human beings.  Have you caught yourself, even subconsciously, asking "why doesn't that guy get a job?" "why isn't she married yet?"  Or prejudging someone by thinking "that kid is so smart, he'll probably be a doctor or a lawyer" or "that kid will most likely wind up in jail someday."  It sounds awful, but I guarantee these things have crossed all of our minds a time or two.  This doesn't make us terrible people, it is just a natural product of the society in which we have been programed. 


There are varying degrees of this "black sheep" personality.  There are certain areas where we mind find ourselves sitting on a "soap box" and refusing to conform.  I am on a soap box when it comes to my distaste for social media and the up-and-coming virtual world.  For others, a political or religious belief structure may set you apart from the flow of mainstream society.  Whatever our position, we are not wrong or right, nor are those we come in contact with.  We are simply living our life the best way we know how, and they are doing the same with theirs. 


We tend to surround ourselves with like-minded people.  It must make us feel good about our own choices when those around us agree with us and act in a similar fashion.  For years, I have felt this common bond and sense of understanding with the story told of Christopher McCandless. 


His story was first told in the form of a book by the author,  Jon Krakauer.  (http://www.bing.com/search?q=into+the+wild+jon+krakauer&filters=ufn%3a%22into+the+wild+jon+krakauer%22+sid%3a%229df09354-5812-968a-500c-04c3740dd5d3%22&FORM=SNAPST.)    


Later, this fascinating tale was told in the form of a movie, directed by the one and only, Sean Penn. (http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0758758/ and http://www.cbsnews.com/news/sean-penn-goes-into-the-wild/)


And today, this cliff notes version of this adventure is coming from me.  Not nearly the caliber of those listed above, but someone who has been impacted and inspired by it nonetheless.  Today was my chance not only to read it, or to watch it, but to visit the location and take in the aftermath.

Era Flightseeing helicopter


The trip today began by boarding a helicopter with a pilot from Era Flightseeing in Denali, Alaska. Nick was an amazing tour guide in addition to his ability to fly the chopper.
 
Juliann and Jason on the helicopter to the Magic Bus
He flew right over the hotel where we were staying which you can see with the red roof below.


View of Denali Wilderness hotel from helicopter
Moments later, we were in the thick of the Denali National Park.  This began to paint the picture for me of the first steps Christopher McCandless took when beginning the Alaska portion of his journey. 

For him, life began in California where he was born to a household who knew financial luxury.  In 1976, his family relocated to Washington, D.C., settling in suburban Annandale, Virginia, when his father was hired as an antenna specialist for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). His mother worked as a secretary at Hughes Aircraft. The couple went on to establish a successful consultancy business out of their home, specializing in the elder McCandless' area of expertise.

On June 2, 1986, Chris McCandless graduated from W.T. Woodson High School in Fairfax, Virginia. Chris excelled academically, while a number of teachers and fellow students observed that he "marched to the beat of a different drummer." McCandless also served as captain of the cross-country team, where he would urge teammates to treat running as a spiritual exercise in which they were "running against the forces of darkness ... all the evil in the world, all the hatred."  In the summer of 1986, Chris McCandless travelled to Southern California and reconnected with distant family and friends. He graduated from Emory University on May 12, 1990, with a Bachelor's degree, double majoring in history and anthropology. 


This was the path his parents had raised him to plow.  He had accomplished all of the bullet points expected of him.  However, something was missing for him.  There were needs within himself that weren't being met on the straight line drawn by his parents and the society around him. 


I thought about Chris and his upbringing as we traveled over the very terrain he walked in the Alaska wilderness...









By the end of summer in 1990, Chris McCandless had driven his Datsun through Arizona, California and South Dakota, where he worked at a grain elevator in Carthage. A flash flood disabled his car, at which point he simply removed its license plates, took what he could carry and kept moving on foot. His car was later repaired and served as an undercover vehicle for the local police department. 

In April 1992, McCandless hitchhiked from Enderlin, North Dakota, to Fairbanks, Alaska. Chris was last seen alive at the head of the Stampede Trail on April 28, 1992, by a local who had given him a ride from Fairbanks to the start of the rugged track just outside the small town of Healy. The good samaritan, Jim Gallien, was seriously concerned about McCandless' (who introduced himself as Alex) safety. Gallien noticed the young man's light pack, minimal equipment, meagre rations and obvious lack of experience. The local electrician had deep misgivings about whether "Alex" could survive the harsh and unforgiving Alaskan bush.  Gallien repeatedly tried to persuade McCandless to defer the trip, at one point offering to detour to Anchorage and buy him suitable equipment and supplies. However, the determined seeker could not be swayed, ignoring the older man's persisent warnings, refusing his offers of assistance, except for a pair of Wellington rubber boots, two sandwiches, and a packet of corn chips. Gallien accepted defeat and drove off believing McCandless would head back towards the highway within a few days as hunger set in. 


This part of Chris' story replayed in my mind as we crossed over the town of Healy where this ride and communication between he and Jim Gallien took place; Healy, AK.














Shortly after passing through Healy, Nick our pilot, flew us over and landed right on top of am enormous glacier.  Thoughts of McCandless' journey were haunting me as I imagined how drastic this climate was for him.  For us today, however, it was incredibly breathtaking. 


Before taking off, Era Flightseeing had provided us with glacier boots so we would be able to walk around atop the glaciers.  They looked like moon boots and were the perfect footwear for the location of where we landed.  Nick allowed us to get out and walk around for awhile.
















This was an ideal time to talk with our fellow passengers, Charlie and Phyllis, about the McCandless story so they would have a little background about this "Magic Bus" we were going to stop and see next.  They hadn't a clue about the McCandless exploration, but I imagine they could sense my enthusiasm and passion for what was to come.


Juliann, Charlie, and Phyllis


Juliann




Jason


We climbed back onto the helicopter and made our way to the second and final landmark on our tour.  My thoughts were turned to Chris McCandless again, as we were approaching a place he called home for the final days of his life.







After hiking along the snow-covered Stampede Trail, McCandless came upon the now infamous abandoned bus (about 28 miles (45 km) west of Healy) alongside an overgrown section of the trail near Denali National Park, immediately set up camp and commenced living off the land. He had 4.5 kilograms (9.9 lb) of rice, a Remington semi-automatic rifle with 400 rounds of .22LR hollowpoint ammunition, a number of books, including one on local plant life, some personal effects and a few items of camping equipment. It is clear from self-portrait photographs and journal entries that he foraged for edible plants and hunted game. The outdoorsman poached porcupines, squirrels, and birds, such as ptarmigans and Canada geese. On June 9, 1992, he stalked and shot a moose, however failing to properly preserve the meat, which spoiled within days.


McCandless' makeshift journal documenting his experience, encompasses 113 days. In July, after living in the bus for three months, he decided to head back to civilization, but was prevented from hiking out by the swollen water level of the Teklanika River. The watercourse by that stage was considerably higher and swifter than when he crossed in April. At this point Chris headed back to the bus and reestablished his camp. His situation rapidly turned dire as clearly indicated by an S.O.S. note posted on the bus, reading:
On August 12, 1992, McCandless' final journal entry cryptically read:
"Beautiful Blueberries."
He had torn the final page from Louis L'Amour's memoir, Education of a Wandering Man, which contains an excerpt from a Robinson Jeffers poem titled;
"Wise Men in Their Bad Hours":
Death's a fierce meadowlark: but to die having made
Something more equal to centuries
Than muscle and bone, is mostly to shed weakness.
The mountains are dead stone, the people
Admire or hate their stature, their insolent quietness,
The mountains are not softened or troubled
And a few dead men's thoughts have the same temper.
Christopher McCandless' remains were discovered by a local hunter on September 6, 1992. He had been dead for approximately two weeks.


I have contemplated Chris McCandless' journey many times.  Albeit extreme, I can relate to his desire to go off the grid and venture away from modern day society.  The continual need to "keep up with the Jones" exhausts my desire to stay involved in this social rat race.  The so called black sheep category I spoke of earlier is probably a suitable classification for me, and for Chris McCandless.  He chose to go by the name "Alexander Supertramp" as a representation of his lifestyle.  Supertramp, wanderlust, all applicable for those who live a life of exploration.  I suppose these titles are the cause for why both McCandless and I wound up in our own "Magic Bus".  I was honored to have the opportunity to visit his bus today...



Juliann at the Magic Bus






Juliann at the Magic Bus

Juliann at the Magic Bus



Juliann at the Magic Bus

Juliann on the Magic Bus


Juliann on the Magic Bus




Jason on the Magic Bus



The Magic Bus Plaque left by Chris McCandless' parents



Plaque left at Magic Bus by Chris McCandless' parents


Juliann on the Magic Bus






Inside the Magic Bus
It was somber, yet intriguing, walking onto the bus where he died.  I tried to imagine the feelings he must have experienced in that exact location.  The fear of slowly dying, the exuberance of truly living, the peace of being amidst natural beauty, and the loneliness he must have felt when he marked down the words..."HAPPINESS ONLY REAL WHEN SHARED".











Inside the Magic Bus


Inside the Magic Bus


A small faded sign still remains inside the bus that says, "Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail".




In the Magic Bus

On a smaller scale, this Be Better Brigade has served a similar purpose in my life.  Unorthodox...yes.  Financially wise...probably not. True to myself...100%.  Each person I have been privileged to meet has impacted my life in some way.  I feel more alive with every soul I embrace.  I feel more humbled with every road block I encounter along the way.  I feel more healed with every encouraging word. And I feel more blessed every time I recognize God's hand guiding this trip.  Spreading the better is a positive mission with a simple and powerful message.  I am grateful to be a mouthpiece for this cause across this great country.  

Juliann on the Magic Bus



I left this Be Better Band at the McCandless magic bus.  A small token of appreciation from one Supertramp to another. You did it Chris...you left a lasting footprint on this world.


Juliann at the Magic Bus


Please tell my sweet Andrew, my 18 friends, and my dear stepdad that I miss them terribly.


Chris MsCandless (1992) - Juliann Ashcraft (2015)


Actor depicting Chris McCandless - Jason Boots (2015)
I wish there would have been some way that I could have taken my kids to the Magic Bus. Instead, we did the next best thing.  In Healy, the town where McCandless entered the Stampede Trail, there is a replica of the bus.  It is parked at The 49th State Brewery.  It is actually the bus that they used in the filming of the Sean Penn movie, Into The Wild. 

Shiloh, Ryder, Juliann, Tate, and Choice at the movie Magic Bus


Shiloh, Ryder, Juliann, Tate, and Choice at the movie Magic Bus

Tate at the movie Magic Bus


Tate at the movie Magic Bus


Choice at the movie Magic Bus


Choice at the movie Magic Bus


Shiloh at the movie Magic Bus


Shiloh at the movie Magic Bus

Ryder at the movie Magic Bus




Ryder at the movie Magic Bus
It was an amazingly accurate model of the real bus we'd visited just hours earlier. 


Inside the movie Magic Bus

Inside the movie Magic Bus
The part I enjoyed most about the movie bus was the timeline of McCandless' journey they had mounted inside.  I took pictures of each part (see below)... 



McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus

McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus




McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus




McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus




McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus




McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus




McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus




McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus




McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus


McCandless story timeline inside the movie Magic Bus
I left another Be Better Band right by the timeline.  My hope is that when people feel compelled to revisit the story of Chris' journey, that they will be moved, touched, and inspired by Andrew's motto as well.  Each seed that we plant will better this world we all share.  I hope you'll share this message with someone today.  Reach out and do something kind. Put someone else's needs before your own for a moment. Say thank you for a thoughtful act rendered to you.  SMILE.


Be Better Band placed at the movie Magic Bus


Be Better Band placed inside the movie Magic Bus
As we were leaving the 49th State Brewing Company, something caught my eye...:-)


Shiloh

Now what??? The Alaska leg of our trip has come to an end, sadly.  Time to go back to the lower 48.


Juliann



NO "BUTTS" ABOUT IT...we'll be back.



Tate and Ryder

But for now, thank you for the memories Alaska.  I have learned the impact of our footprint. Will we use it to trample an ecosystem or inspire the world?  The choice is ours.  BE BETTER.


Farewell Alaska




















10 comments:

  1. Absolutely beautiful!!!! Thank you for sharing this I just loved it...what an amazing and remarkable story!

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  2. Incredible! Funny how my niece and I were just discussing this weekend how we are the black sheep of the family. What an amazing story

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  3. What an awesome trip you were able to experience! I enjoyed reading this:)

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  4. Amazing trip! One day I will reach that bus

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  5. How cool, your children are lucky to have someone as grounded as you for a parent. Living out of the box and societies expectations is brave.

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  6. Chris seemed like such a lovable guy. Each time I return to read more about his story I choke up. Wish we could bring him home.

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  7. i visited Era Flighseeing's website but couldn't find any tour information. Do you still remember how much your chopper tour to the magic bus cost?
    Thank you...

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  8. Loved this Juliann! Missin you girl! -Shay

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