Summary and Analysis
Chapter 6 - Anza-Borrego
McCandless sets up camp along the badlands abutting the Salton Sea, not far from a gathering of aging hippies, itinerant and indigent families, nudists, and snowbirds set up in an area they call Oh-My-God Hot Springs. While hitchhiking into town for food and water, he meets Ronald Franz, a retired army veteran who once had a drinking problem. Franz tries to convince McCandless to leave the encampment, which he believes is a bad influence, but the young man replies, "You don't need to worry about me. I have a college education. I'm not destitute. I'm living like this by choice."
After a few weeks, Franz drives McCandless to San Diego, where he lives on the streets before leaving for Seattle, jumping trains to get from place to place. Franz next hears from his friend "Alex" via a collect call; McCandless is back in California. Franz buys him a meal at a local steak house, and McCandless stays with him for a day, after which the older man drives him to Grand Junction, Colorado. Franz tells McCandless that he wants to adopt him. (His own son died years earlier in a car accident.) McCandless evades this request, telling Franz that they'll discuss it when he returns from Alaska.
From his next stop, in South Dakota, McCandless writes Franz a long letter in which he details his time on the road and suggests that 80-year-old Franz change his sedentary ways. "The very basic core of a man's living spirit is his passion for adventure," McCandless writes. "Ron, you must lose your inclination for monotonous security and adopt a helter-skelter style of life . . . Move around, be nomadic, make each day a new horizon."
Remarkably, Franz heeds the advice of the 24-year-old McCandless and stays at his abandoned campsite for eight months, waiting for the young man's return. Eventually, a hitchhiker he tells about "Alex" says, "I hate to tell you this, mister, but your friend is dead. Froze to death up on the tundra. Just read about it . . . " Franz denounces God for letting his friend die. He withdraws his church membership and resumes drinking.
The theme of this chapter is the astonishing ability of Christopher McCandless to win friends and influence people. Not only did he befriend the octogenarian Ronald Franz, but he convinced the old man to change his ways fundamentally at a time in life when most people have settled down for good. It is important to understand that McCandless fled society not because he couldn't get along with others, but because he chose to be alone.
The fact that McCandless achieved this effect by means of a letter speaks to the power of the written word. Remember that he was inspired to head "into the wild" by books he read (Tolstoy's, Jack London's, and others) — and that it is a magazine article which informs the hitchhiker Franz picks up at chapter's end that McCandless has died, thus inspiring the old man to give up on life.