Into the Wild, written by Jon Krakauer, is the true story of Chris McCandless, a young Emory University graduate from a wealthy suburb of Washington, D.C. A gifted athlete and scholar, Chris documents his two-year adventure across the United States in photographs and a journal. Tragically, he is found dead at twenty-four inside a bus in the Alaskan wilderness.
After graduating from high school, Chris discovers that his father secretly had a second family during his childhood. He feels betrayed by and angry at his parents, Walt and Millie. His father tries to control Chris, who is fiercely independent, and Chris resents it deeply.
After graduating with honors from Emory University, in 1990, Chris tells his sister, Carine, that he intends to cut off all relations with his parents. He is disgusted by their attempts to control him and by what he sees as their immoral and materialistic lifestyle. Chris lets them think he is interested in law school, but instead, donates $24,000 of his life savings to a charity that fights poverty and hunger.
In June, Chris drives away in his beloved Datsun. He renames himself “Alexander Supertramp” and never contacts his family again. In July, Chris abandons his car in the Mojave Desert after a flash flood wets the engine. He burns the rest of his money, then hitchhikes around the Northwest, often living on the streets.
In August, a pair of “rubber tramps,” Jan Burress and Bob, spot Chris picking berries by the side of the road in Northern California. He camps with them on the beach for a week or so before continuing North along the coast to Seattle.
Chris soon meets Wayne Westerberg who picks him up hitchhiking in September. He is the owner of a grain elevator in Carthage, South Dakota. He gives Chris a job and becomes close to him. Chris is an extremely hard worker, but he loses his job after Wayne gets arrested. Wayne had been illegally building and selling “black boxes,” which allowed people to watch cable programming without paying for it.
In October, Chris heads to Topock, Arizona, where he buys a canoe. He rows down the Colorado River, sneaking into Mexico. When the river splits into many small and confusing canals, he hitches a ride to the coast of the Gulf of California where he camps. In January 1991, he is almost carried out to sea in a bad storm, and decides to abandon the canoe and return north.
Chris is caught by immigration authorities when he tries to cross the U.S. border without identification. He convinces them to let him go, but they keep his gun. He spends the next six weeks moving around the Southwest.
In February, Chris goes to Los Angeles, then Las Vegas where he finds work in an Italian restaurant and lives on the streets. In May, he hits the road again, visiting the Oregon coast in July and August before turning back southeast to the desert.
In Bullhead City, Arizona, Chris works at McDonald’s, hiding from his coworkers that he is homeless and camping outside of town. He eventually meets an odd character named Charlie in a restroom, who shows him a semi-deserted mobile home where Chris ends up living.
In December, Chris leaves Bullhead City to visit Jan and Bob at a squatter community in California's Sonoran Desert, the Niland Slabs. There he helps Jan at a flea market, organizing and selling books, and especially pushing one of his favorite authors, Jack London. He asks Bob for survival advice and practices calisthenics to prepare for the challenging trek in Alaska.
Chris leaves in January 1992, setting up camp in Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, in California. There he gets a ride one day from eighty-year-old Ron Franz and they become friends. They spend time doing leather work together. Meanwhile, Wayne, now out of jail, has invited Chris back to South Dakota.
Chris leaves in March. Once again, Chris is happy to do all of the least desirable jobs at the grain elevator. He becomes close to Gail Borah, Wayne’s girlfriend, telling her private details about his life.
At this point, after two years of itinerant travel, Chris settles on an extreme plan to go to Alaska and live in the wilderness, completely alone and with very few supplies. In South Dakota, he learns all he can about hunting and edible plants. When he tells people his plan, they all warn him that he needs to be better prepared, but he is adamant about living off the land.
On April 15, Chris hitchhikes to Alaska where he is picked up by Jim Gallien. Chris shares his plan to go into the backcountry. Jim does his best to dissuade him—the hunting isn’t good and the grizzlies are fierce—but Chris is stubborn. Jim finally convinces Chris to take some of his food and rubber boots.
Chris is left alone at the Stampede Trail head, near Mt. McKinley, on April 28. He then hikes into the wilderness with only two sandwiches, a bag of corn chips, and a ten-pound bag of rice. On May 1, after crossing the Teklanika River, Chris discovers a deserted bus converted into a shelter for hunters. He spends the next sixteen weeks hunting small game, foraging, reading, and living on the bus. He does not see a single human.
Chris kills a moose with his rifle on June 9, but is unable to preserve most of the meat. A few weeks later he decides to pack up his gear and hike back to the main road. However, when he reaches the Teklanika River on July 5, he finds what was easy to wade across in the early spring is now a rushing torrent of glacier-fed runoff. He turns back to the bus, hoping to wait until the river is once again crossable, unaware of a hand-operated tram that crosses the river less than a mile away.
In late July, Chris most likely consumes toxic seeds that cause him to starve to death. In his already weakened state, he is quickly incapacitated. Realizing he is about to die, Chris writes a goodbye message and crawls in the sleeping bag his mother had sewn for him years earlier. Coincidentally, around this same time, his mother, in Chesapeake Beach, awakes in the middle of the night exclaiming that she heard Chris calling, “Mom! Help me!”
On September 6, three moose hunters happen upon the bus. A powerful odor is coming from it. Chris has taped a note to the door, stating that he is near death and in need of assistance. One of the hunters looks through the window and sees a sleeping bag with a head protruding from it. Chris has been dead for approximately two and a half weeks. The authorities then take Chris’ body to Anchorage for an autopsy, where the coroner states starvation was the probable cause of his death.