Hiker dies trekking to ‘Into the Wild’ bus

Last weekend, 29-year old Swiss hiker Claire Jane Ackermann died while crossing the Teklanika River along the Stampede Trail in Alaska. She was attempting to cross the stream, along with another hiker from France, in the hopes of reaching the Fairbanks bus made famous in the book and movie Into the Wild, a popular destination for trekkers in the region.

Ackermann and her male companion tied themselves to a guide rope that had been strung across the river earlier in the summer. But the water was swollen, and moving fast, with the late summer melt off, and when they both lost their footing, the powerful current forced them under. The unidentified man was able to cut his rope and drag himself to shore, where he dropped his backpack and turned back for Ackermann, who was already submerged. He returned to retrieve her, but after cutting her safety rope, the pair were washed downstream for half a mile. By the time they reached the safety of the shore, the Swiss woman was unresponsive, and all attempts to resuscitate her were unsuccessful.

The bus that the two hikers were trying to reach is the same spot where Chris McCandless starved to death back in 1992. The 24-year old vagabond had traveled across the U.S., Canada, and parts of Mexico before hiking into the Alaskan backcountry, where he would eventually meet his fate while staying in Bus 142. The old vehicle was parked in the wilderness to serve as a shelter for backpackers, but Chris became trapped there when he was unable to cross the same river that claimed Ackermann’s life.

In 1996, bestselling author Jon Krakauer wrote the biography Into the Wild about McCandless, exploring the reasons why a young man from an upper class family would give up his comfortable life in order to wander across North America. Eventually that wanderlust would lead him into the Alaskan wilderness where he eventually perished. That book helped turned McCandless into a folk hero for many, sparking a trend of other hikers going in search of the infamous bus, and in 2007, the book was turned into a film, which brought even more attention to McCandless’ story, and spurred a surge in people looking to follow in his footsteps.

For many of the local residents, it seemed like it was only a matter of time before someone died making the trek to the bus. Since the release of the movie, traffic along the Stampede Trail has increased sharply, with most going in search of McCandless’ final resting place. The young traveler has been soundly criticized in some circles for going into the backcountry unprepared, and it seems that many of those that follow him are equally lacking in skills and gear. Perhaps this unfortunate story will get future hikers to respect the challenges of the trail a bit more fully, and approach the region with more caution.

Chicago backpacker gets lost (again) in Alaska

When Into the Wild, the story of Christopher McCandless’ epic adventure in the Alaskan wilderness, was published, the idea of setting off into the wild with nothing but a few pounds of rice and your wits to survive seemed terribly romantic….well, except that McCandless died because he was unprepared for the harsh conditions. Despite (or I guess, because of) that minor point, hundreds of people have followed suit to gawk at the ruins of the bus that McCandless lived, and died, in.

Over the years, several people who’ve set out for the bus have had to be rescued, costing the state around $2000 each. Understandably, many locals have have come to dislike the tourists who arrive, unprepared and ill-equipped, and put themselves in unnecessary danger. So they probably hate Don Carroll.

The Chicago-area 19-year old went looking for the bus with a friend, found it, and then got lost in the woods for three days with no food or water. The two ate berries and drank river water before being rescued by helicopter on Monday. But this isn’t Carroll’s first time being lost in the Alaskan wilderness. Back in June, Carroll, a seasonal resort employee, was hiking alone in Denali National Park and lost his way. Wearing just jeans and a hoodie, he suffered hypothermia, but managed to lead rangers to his location through text messages. He was rescued by helicopter then as well.

Caroll will head back to civilization in mid-September. Until then, hopefully he’ll stay out of the woods. It doesn’t sound like he is welcome there anyway. “If police see me in the woods, they’re going to arrest me,” he said in a phone interview. “The chief ranger said he’s not going to come looking for me anymore.”

[via Daily Herald]

Two new year’s travel resolutions everyone should make

Here are two travel resolutions that have to do with letting people in on your plans, at least the basic idea of what you are up to. They may seem like they’ll cramp your free spirit, hit-the-road on a whim style if you’re that kind of person, but these are the details that could save people at home some headache and give you a heads up if there has been a problem while you are away.

When I watched Chris McCandless burn all of his identificiation and not let people know where he was heading when he went off on his going it alone adventure as depicted in the movie Into the Wild, I thought, “Ya know, not the best plan.” I understood the sentiment, but still, not the best plan. Therefore, here are my two don’t be like Chris McCandless resolutions.

Resolution 1: When you are traveling, let people know you are going and for about how long.

A few years back I found out from a relative that my dad was trotting off to Europe or some such place and he had yet to mention it to me. He’s a big boy and can travel wherever and whenever he wants for sure, but I called him up to find out how I might be able to reach him in case there was an emergency. Ever since that day when I reminded him that we need to know when he’s traveling, he’s been good about filling me in. At least I know when he’s leaving and coming back and, if he has it, one contact number.

Also, if I had called him while he was away and he never answered, I’d get worried. We don’t live near each other. I’d rather know he’s out of town then wrack my brain figuring out how to get in touch with him or if something bad has happened when actually he’s drinking a glass of red wine in the south of France.

Likewise, most of the time when we travel, we let our families know where we’re going and when we will be back and our contact information in case they have to contact us.

Although I’ve never had to contact anyone because of an emergency, years ago a friend of mine had to contact me because my apartment was broken into. This caused me to cut my trip short by a couple of days since I wasn’t particularly comfortable letting him handle a broken window and my missing belongings from a couple thousand miles away.

Resolution #2. Leave important documents with someone and instructions just in case there is a medical emergency

My mom is big on telling me just where her documents are whenever she goes anywhere. Everything is written down in an elaborate list even. She’s done this for years despite my eye rolling. However, it’s not a bad idea. She’s also one to carry around a list of the medications she takes in case she has to go to the hospital, which could be resolution #3. She did have an emergency this past February and the list saved the ER folks time and energy.

In Chris’s case, he gave up all life’s trimmings ahead of time, but for the rest of us with bank accounts and what not, instructions are in order.

Best destination flicks this year

I rarely see movies, so when I do make the trek to the theatre or the video store, I try to make sure it’s a good one; For me, good means well-written, well-acted and somehow intellectually stimulating. I love seeing good films about other places in the world — they don’t need to be travel-related, per se, but I love destination films. So I’m pretty chuffed that someone has come out with a list of the Top 10 travel-inspiring flicks this year. Here’s what made the list:

  • Once, set in Ireland
  • Lust, Caution, set in Shanghai and Hong Kong
  • Enchanted, set in Manhattan
  • Atonement, set in Britain during WWII
  • The Darjeeling Limited, set in India
  • Into the Wild, set throughout the continental USA and in Alaska (I’ve seen this one, by the way, and I loved it)
  • The Assassination of Jesse James, set in the midwest, but actually filmed in the beautiful Canadian foothills (where I live) (Incidentally, this film stars not only Brad Pitt but also an old-school trunk from my house that one of the producers picked up at our garage sale! I haven’t seen the movie, but humor me — does the trunk steal the show or what? Ok, I digress.)
  • Ratatouille, set in Paris
  • Elizabeth, The Golden Age, set in historic England
  • The Bourne Ultimatum, set in several different countries.

Like I said, I’ve only seen one of these, so I can’t really comment, but maybe you can?

Chris McCandless and a juicy apple

My husband and I saw Into the Wild [read review by Roger Ebert] this weekend, the both uplifting and devastating story of Christopher McCandless, the young man who lived in the back country of Alaska near Denali National Park for 113 days or so before he died due to a couple of serious missteps. Both Catherine and Martha wrote about how the bus where Chris died is now a tourist destination.

Although I’ve felt the thrill of being off on my own, my drive to be so self-sufficient, so purist and off the grid has never been particularly strong. Still, I could relate to the movie on a thematic level of striving for authenticity–without so much force. On a small level, I understood one of Chris’s emotions exactly. It was the scene where he was eating an apple.

As he crunched bites of what might have been a Red Delicious or a Rome in bliss, he commented about how good the apple was–his voice making almost in an orgasmic groan. I’ve known such apples. Mine was yellow–not red. It was not so big either, but eating it was divine.

You see, apples don’t grow in The Gambia. And oh, how wonderful an apple tasted whenever I went to Banjul the capital stopping in a grocery store to buy the one apple, at the most, that I bought each month. Apples, imported from France, cost a fortune. I was in my cheap phase with my sights set on a vacation to Mali, so I saved money and coveted apples–holding out for a special occasion. The apple was it. My entertainment for the day.

At times, I’d buy two, taking one back to my village to uplift a difficult day. I would settle into my chair vowing to notice every bite–every bit of juice. I ate slowly and deliberately to make the experience last. Eating an apple became a gift to myself not to be squandered. As a Peace Corps volunteer, I made great vows to not become jaded by apple abundance once back in the U.S. My noble intentions have faded over the years. We currently have a whole bag of apples in our refrigerator in the fruit drawer, and there’s more where they came from–pounds, pounds and more pounds less than a mile away at the grocery store. Apples grow in Ohio. You can’t avoid them.

I do miss those moments when they tasted ever so sweet–like heaven. If I close my eyes and chew slowly, I almost remember.