Out of the wild

out of the wild

The “Magic bus” takes flight/Alaska National Guard

An abandoned bus made famous by the book and movie “Into the Wild” was ambushed by the Alaska National Guard this afternoon and is being taken to an undisclosed location, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources revealed late today as rumors of its departure swirled around the quiet, Central Alaska community of Healy.

An attraction for untold numbers of adventurers since 1996 – and a deadly temptation for two – the bus had become an irritant for search-and-rescue personnel regularly called to retrieve hikers who stumbled into trouble on their way to or from the monument to a dead vagabond.

After search-and-rescue volunteers from Healy –  a tourism and mining community that shrinks to 1,000 people or few in the winter – were summoned to the bus in February to rescue an Italian with frozen feet, Denali Borough officials decided they had enough.

They in March formally asked the state to remove the decaying vehicle in hopes that the barren ground on which it once sat west of the Teklanika River would lure onto the Stampede Trail fewer of those enraptured by the fable of Chris McCandless.

A lost and confused soul, the 24-year-old McCandless starved to death in the bus in the summer of 1992. He left behind a 430-word “journal” of jottings to catalog the months he hung out in the abandoned vehicle.

Most of the words appeared descriptions of the spring weather in Alaska – “misery” – or the animals he shot and killed to eat – “bird,” “squirrel,” “gourmet duck.”

Writer John Krakauer later took those words, a few photos, and some writings penned into the pages of books that might or might not have been McCandless’s and wove them into a tale about a young man’s search for the meaning of life.

The book – “Into the Wild” – was as much or more about Krakauer’s search for that meaning than McCandless’s search,  but McCandless became the pivotal character in a book that became a best seller in the period just before the internet changed the world forever.

The internet only served to help the McCandless fable grow, and for decades now there has grown a legion of those, mainly young, who retraced McCandless’ journey “into the wild” out of sheer curiosity or hopes of finding something though it has never been clear what.


Two of them – like McCandless – died on the journey, the last a 24-year-old newlywed. 

On the way to the bus last summer, Veramika Maikamava slipped while fording the fast-flowing waters of the glacier-fed Teklinka River and was washed downstream.

By the time husband Piotr Markielau got to her a reported 75 to 100 feet from where she went down, she was dead. He summoned Alaska State Troopers who retrieved her body.

Though it had often been suggested the state remove the bus, it came as a surprise when a twin-rotor Chinook helicopter of the Alaska National Guard finally swept in to snatch the bus. Denali Borough Mayor Clay Walker said borough officials were informed of the plan beforehand, but admitted they didn’t get a lot of notice.

Alaska Department of Natural Resources spokesman Dan Saddler said the state kept the operation quiet in the interest of safety.

“This was a carefully crafted, well-considered operation,” he said. “Our focus has been to make sure it’s a safe, efficient operation. The window of opportunity came when the National Guard said, ‘Yeah, we can do that.”’

Jon Nierenberg, who runs a lodge along the Stampede Road, said the secrecy was probably a good idea. He thought it possible an “Occupy Movement” to keep the bus in place might have been started if news of the plan had gotten out.

“I just know some of these hard core bus types would have objected,” he said.

Wrapped as it is fable, the bus is as magic to some of them as it was to McCandless when he found it as a shelter from stormy spring weather and moved in never knowing his departure would make a far bigger impact than his arrival.

Even Walker admitted to feeling some melancholy at the removal of a bus finally bringing some sort of closure to the McCandless story for Healy residents.

“It’s a little bit of a loss of our history,” he said. “It’s been back there since the ’60s, but it’s in bad shape and doesn’t serve as shelter anymore. And it is a periolous attraction.”

Walker said he stopped at the bus on a snowmachine trip before break up this year and found “it in bad shape. It was gross frankly.”

Some in the Healy areas expressed surprise the rusted and dirty vehicle didn’t come apart by being hoisted from its old home. Most in the Healy sounded happy to see it gone.

“It’s about time,” said local dog musher Will Forsberg, who owns a remote cabin not far from the bus. “Good riddance.”

Saddler said the state is still trying to decide what to do with the bus. It’s possible it could end up on the auction block.

“Both officially and unofficially, we don’t know the final process,” he said. “We’re not sure yet. We’ve addressed the big issues, which are public safety, hazards and death.”

Both legal and economic decisions will likely dictate the ultimate  disposal of what is now state property, he said.

Correction: Dan Saddler’s name was misspelled in the original version of this story.

















21 replies »

      • You are such an angry man. All your words of hatred towards MccCandless are baffling:”the noble, suicidal narcissist, the bum, thief and poacher Chris McCandless”. And your diagnosis
        of his personality: “mental illness: schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, take your pick.”…

        I’m lost for words

        I cant believe that paper allowed your disgraceful article to be published.

      • Facts are not emotions. Those words are simply words that accurately describe McCandless, though “noble” might be a stretch on my part.

        Likewise, mental illness is not a “personality” issue. It is a psychological health issue. And the Alaska wilderness is generally not kind to those with psychological health issues.

        “Squirrel, grey bird, porcupine, ash bird….”

        Here’s a math problem for you. How much of McCandless’s precious ammo did he use up killing animals he could have caught with the simplest of snares or killed with a club?

  1. Y’all Alaskans are hilarious!!! BTW, Alaska is a wasteland, that literally offers nothing to the world, and whose population kills themselves at a much higher rate than literally anywhere else. The suicide rate in Alaska is more than double the national avg. Native Alaskans? Suicide rate 4x the Nat avg. Y’all got it so good up there! Maybe spend less time shitting on an already dead dude, who was an abused child from a fucked up home, who clearly lost a screw and paid with his life – and maybe spend more time trying to save your own community from dying out. Because Alaska, is currently dying the fuck out. Or you can keep killing yourselves uo there, and shitting on a guy
    who didn’t blow his own brains out like 20-40/per100k Alaskans do. Get the fuck off your high horse Craig, and maybe wrote something original yourself, other than shitting on another author, another lost life, and documenting dog races – clown ass soap boxing loser. Ti Chupar bruh.

  2. I have appreciated another perspective on this topic.
    Was Will Forsberg ever asked or required to give back the McCandless backpack and contents he came across in the bus shortly after McCandless was found?

  3. Well said Craig. I appreciate you setting the record straight on McCandless. The way he has been romanticized as some kind of folk hero has always been irritating to those of us who responsibly harvest wildlife, and properly prepare before spending time in the outdoors.

    • You are a terrible piece of garbage. So ignorant talking like mccandless, a lost hurting soul trying to find himself deserves to die. Mccandless isn’t a hero to anyone, he is more of a lesson to people. He has helped many people to understand themselves better.

  4. Less blistering than a previous excoriation of yours on this topic. You softening in your old age?

  5. Glad it is has been moved, it was a magnet for people, who had no business being there in the first place. Going to wilds of Alaska, without the outdoor knowledge and experience, is a very dangerous undertaking, that many people, who try it, do not understand.

  6. I appreciate DNR et al keeping the move on the low-down, but isn’t this an indictment of our current news organizations that not one of them had a hint it was going on?

    • Agree Frank. I think on the other side of the rivers it could have created new business for and interest in Healy.

  7. People will still go there. People will still die. People will still shake their heads at the people who die. People will still write stories about the people who die. People will still comment on the stories written about the people who die. Isn’t this where…we came in?

  8. Wow! Had reservations about going to the bus, but now glad I did.. Interesting in some twisted way.. I thought it should have stayed for a good emergency shelter though. Was perfect, shelter, food, water, bed, and nice stove.

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