Summary and Analysis
Chapter 16 - The Alaska Interior
Christopher McCandless pauses in his odyssey to visit the Liard River Hot Springs at the threshold of the Yukon Territory. But after taking time to soak in the steaming waters, he can't find another ride. He spends two days at the Liard River before making friends with Gaylord Stuckey, a truck driver who reluctantly gives "Alex" a ride. They converse for the few days the drive takes — discussing McCandless's family, his father's bigamy, and his own desire to live off the land.
On April 25, Stuckey buys a bag of rice for McCandless and then drives him to the University of Alaska at Fairbanks, where McCandless wants to look up books on edible plants at the library. Knowing the local seasons better than McCandless, Stuckey points out "Alex, you're too early. There's still two foot, three foot of snow on the ground. There's nothing growing yet."
But McCandless ignores this advice. He agrees to send Stuckey a letter when he returns from Alaska but shrugs off Stuckey's suggestion that he call his parents to let them know where he is.
McCandless spends two days and three nights around Fairbanks, mostly at the university. He finds a field guide to the area's edible plants, writes postcards to Wayne Westerberg and Jan Burres, and buys a used gun (a semiautomatic, .22-caliber Remington) he has located in the classifieds. He leaves the university campus and pitches his tent on frozen ground not far from the road that will take him to the Stampede Trail. On April 28, 1992, McCandless hitches the ride with Jim Gallien that will bring him there.
Tramping through the bush, McCandless soon discovers the abandoned bus along the Sushana River and celebrates the discovery by writing in his journal "Magic Bus Day." At first, he has some difficulty killing small game. After about a month, though, McCandless is routinely shooting and eating squirrels, porcupines, and spruce grouses. He devours local lingonberries and rose hips and climbs a nearby butte.
On June 9, 1992, McCandless kills a moose, and he is so proud of this feat that he takes a photo of the carcass. He spends days trying to cure its meat so he can consume every part of the moose. But he preserves the meat incorrectly, with the result that it becomes infested with vermin and therefore inedible. McCandless must leave the moose carcass for the wolves, which leaves him feeling deeply guilty.
McCandless lists the preparations necessary for leaving the bus, bringing his "final and greatest adventure" to a close. He has made some fatal errors, however. Halfway back to the road, he discovers a three-acre lake in his way. When he first crossed the same area in April, the series of beaver ponds leading up to the Teklanika River had been frozen over and were easy enough to traverse; now, in July, these same beaver ponds have melted. Moreover, the river itself, knee-deep at winter's end, has become a raging torrent — and McCandless is a weak swimmer.
He returns to the bus, chastened, and writes in his journal, "Disaster. . . . Rained in. River look (sic) impossible. Lonely, scared." McCandless does not know — because he refused to obtain a map of the area — that the river is passable only one mile upstream.
This chapter, the heart of Into the Wild, reconstructs McCandless's climactic Alaska adventure, following him into the bush and observing his admirable survival skills. Although Krakauer's book is an adventure story, Into the Wild is also a study in character, and Chapter Sixteen is no exception. McCandless is revealed in the moose episode to be highly ethical and deeply sympathetic; the reader cannot help being moved by the enormity of the young man's despair over wasting his kill.
By the same token, McCandless's lack of foresight and his hubris, apparent in a low-level way prior to this time, now yield consequences that will be fatal. He did not anticipate that melting snow would swell the bodies of water he crossed on his way into the bush. And his arrogant refusal to bring a map prevents McCandless from learning that, despite its increased size, the river is fordable upstream — another in a series of ironies that punctuate this book.