Monday, January 31, 2011

On “Alexander Supertramp” or Christopher McCandless

"So many people live within unhappy circumstances and yet will not take the initiative to change their situation because they are conditioned to a life of security, conformity, and conservatism, all of which may appear to give one peace of mind, but in reality nothing is more dangerous to the adventurous spirit within a man than a secure future. The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure. The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun."
— Chris McCandless



I sat at Vermilion Valley Resort talking with a John Muir Trail hiker. We have met many strangers along the way who took interest in our attempt at through hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. However, his interest in our hike was fresh and genuine. He asked the usual questions of "when did you start?", "how many miles a day?", etc. However, his questions tended to get a little more probing. Finding myself nearing the final day of our hike, I spent time talking with him while he was still in the early stages of his JMT through hike. In fact, he was fairly new to long distance backpacking. As such, he was full of questions for us. I had been thinking about my hike, my experiences, and my overall impression of a PCT through hike, and his questions helped me process my hike just a little more thoroughly.  I, too, was interested in his hike. When we came full circle to "where it all started," I asked him what inspired him to hike the JMT. His motivations were similar to many through hikers, but he also stated that he was very inspired by the book (and movie) "Into the Wild." For those who are unaware of this book, I highly recommend reading it (or watching the movie, if you need instant gratification). The story documents Christopher McCandless' life and controversial death. After the discovery of his body, public opinion was (and still remains) heavily divided. Many people feel that Chris' decisions were immature, unrealistic, and ultimately life ending.


I do not wish to comment on his decisions, as there is already enough unnecessary debate regarding that. I do, however, wish to talk about Chris and why I find him to be such an inspiration. From my understanding, Chris had a dream, and he did whatever it took to pursue that dream. I believe that the greatest problem in life is dreams that never become actualized. Our spirits die when we fail to have direction. We need a carrot at the end of the stick. Often times we find ourselves going through life with too many sticks and not enough carrots, which lends us to a life without direction. At some point in our life, we just might find the stick which actually has a carrot at the end of it; a dream or goal that we desire. If we choose to pursue that "dream realized," we will have a direction to move. It is important that at some point we actually get the carrot – a "dream actualized." It is equally detrimental to have never realized a dream or actualized a dream.


Chris did whatever it took to actualize his dream, leading a wandering life taking sacrifices in social connection to achieve his ultimate goal of going "into the wild" in Alaska. I am inspired by Chris because of his severe focus on attaining his dream. It seems he went through life chasing his dreams, making decisions which ultimately led him to his big dream. I find Chris to be an inspiration because of his unrelenting pursuit of his dream.


Many would argue that he made bad decisions along the way, sacrificing good things, sacrificing beautiful relationships with people. He sought happiness, freedom, and truth over love, money, faith, and fairness. When Chris meets his fate in the end, he undergoes a paradigm shift in his understanding of the world. One of the last things he writes in his journal before dying is "Happiness only real when shared."


It is this realization at the end, which rounds out Chris as an inspiration to me. He pursued his dreams with unrelenting passion, and in attaining his dreams he experienced growth. He developed a better understanding of the world, a better understanding of nature, and a better understanding of his relationships. In 2005, I hiked 1000 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, the latter third was spent largely solo hiking. Ultimately I left the trail, largely because I was no longer happy. This time, while hiking, I was able to spend my time with Apricots. The happiness associated with a shared hike exceeded my expectations. While I did find myself hiking at times wishing I could share what I was experiencing with others, with my family, and with other hiking friends, I knew that Apricots' was always at my side sharing the experience with me.