This August it has been 20 years since Christopher McCandless died inside bus 142 in the Alaskan wilderness. Most of you have seen the film Sean Penn directed in 2007 based on the story of Chris “Alexander Supertramp” and I do believe some of you have also read the book INTO THE WILD written by Jon Krakauer. I won’t do like other articles (plenty on the net) about the subject and retrace in one short page the summary events from his donation of life savings to Oxfam to his death due to starvation.
I feel more to write about my personal feelings about it and what I believe has changed or not in the past 20 years when young people go to the wild. Why I am somehow connected to Chris? Why my need to write? Why taking these photos on the bus?
It all started back in 2006 where I went for a second year to Australia in order to organize my four first expeditions. I did my first 2 on Australia’s mainland and wanted to do two other difficult treks in Papua New Guinea. My best friend Cindy told me not to go to PNG and so before going back to Belgium I decided to visit again Tasmania during the summer months. I started to plan what is still today the most insane trek I have done: A solo unresupplied traverse of the Tasmanian wilderness from North to South and doing some peak bagging of famous mountains. I had compiled a list of 15 must do climbs and thought it would take me 40 days to walk the entire distance; using official bushwalking tracks and off track bush-bashing through the forests to link those tracks and connect to all Mountains.
At the end of the journey, for the last 16 km to reach the sea, I got lost as I couldn’t figure out exactly where I was on the map. I was off track since day 36 and it took me 13 days off track to reach the civilization, hence safety. Underway I broke the GPS, tore my clothes, fell several times from steep cliffs, got taken many times by cold rivers trying to wade across them and on top of that contracted the trench foot disease. If you count properly I had an estimated 40 days of food (700 gram per day) with me and was away for 49 days. I was many times dehydrated; I got had to cut my food ration into two and was really starving. This led to 2 occasions during the 13 last days where I actually couldn’t find the mental motivation to move out of my tiny tent and stayed 36 hours in it from the evening of a day to the next day after. I once made a delirious dream and woke up without knowing the different between reality and the dream as I was bush bashing and fighting inside my sleeping bag.
I abandoned the idea of climbing the last of my 15 must climb peak but I had summited the most prestigious of them: Federation peak. The local bushwalkers told me not to go, it was foolish, and I would never go really far. One of them, an experienced bush walker even said I would become a legend and enter history as I would or make it or die. That was very frightening to read on the Bushwalkers’ forum. And indeed, I had numerous close calls. I didn’t get unlucky. And yes, it was insane, very risky and I probably deserve the nickname “crazy Belgian”. I entered the wilderness in December 2006 and finished early February 2007. I reached Cockle creek just a few hours after the alarm was raised about me being missing for too long. An explorer friend and I had decided to set 45 days as the maximum time I should be in hell. This hell, which is also paradise as it true untouched ancient and gorgeous wilderness.
At Cockle creek I took a bus and arrived a few hours later in Hobart. My camera died on day 48 and the forest took my beany and my watch many days before so I had no real idea of the time during the day, meaning it was impossible to know when the darkness would come. At a backpacker’s hotel, I bumped into a German traveler I knew from Sydney and she took the first photo you can see here: http://louphi.blogspot.be/2008/02/1-year-ago_23.html
One week later I was back in Belgium, still very week and starting to heal from the trench foot disease with a posology of 16 different pills to swallow every day for 6 weeks. My parents and my friends could not believe of my weight loss. I have lost the feelings in my toes for 18 months and today I am still not 100% recovered as the infection and swollen legs have destroyed the micro-circulation in my toes.
Last year, I drove back home and saw from the highway a roof of an old bus far in a meadow. I never saw it before. Perhaps the grass was cut shorter that allowed me to see it. Instantly it made me think of bus 142 and thought I should try to see this bus, find the owner and ask for permission to shoot some photos. I did so end of July as I just had watched the documentary “The Call of the Wild” about Christopher McCandless and noticed August would be already 20 years he died in Alaska.
Nowadays, we can go into the wild safer. Technology allows us to have energy with portable solar panels, use a GPS, satellite communications and carry an EPIRB or a position tracker. According to the documentary, some cash and ID documents were found in Christopher’s hidden pocket in his backpack. This means he wanted to go back, he had no intention to stay forever hidden. I do believe some people do still go today off the records in the wild, away from the press or blogs when doing outdoor adventures just for themselves. As explorer and adventurer, I like to share my stories afterwards, which brings me satisfaction. I respect those who go without telling anyone their trip details but I think it’s a form of respect to tell where you go. It’s certainly the first rule we should all know and follow before going to the wild.
The best quote of the film he gives to the young girl is to me this one: “When you want something in life, you just gotta reach out and grab it.” I don’t know if I will travel alone or be in the wild alone but if possible, I’d be of course pleased not to be alone sometimes. Is “Happiness is only real when shared”?
So if you want to follow my adventures going south, you can come and visit this blog starting early 2013. I am currently setting up several bucket lists: an adventure list, an experience list and a fun list. I will also interview people for MeetExplorers.com. My aim is always to connect with other people who are inspiring. It must be related to exploration, adventure or ecology especially if it deals with wild life and water preservation.
I hope my journey will inspire and will drive you away from the currents bad news happening in the world like the world crisis, the wars in North Africa or the Middle East…
Photos of the bus in Mouscron by Natalie Hill. Photoshop to remove the trees and add sky by Thomas Verkest.
PS: Being into the wild if of course being out of its comforts zone for most of the Westerners. There are still millions of people living with no technology, electricity on this planet mainly tribes like some parts of the Maasia in east Africa, Nenets in northern Siberia or the Chipayas in Bolivia south of lake Titicaca.