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Walt and Billie McCandless talk about Chris McCandless – 3

“I think it made a difference to Jon,” said McCandless. But did it matter for him and his wife? “Well, not really because it doesn’t change anything.”

When asked if he disliked the media attention when another young man went missing in Oregon, he said, “Yes.” He said the young man’s father had said that he wanted to make sure people looked for his son unlike Chris, which McCandless said was simply not true.

He does, however, understand how it feels not to know what has happened to one’s missing child. “It’s a terrible thing,” he said. “I tell people it’s like living in suspense continually. You just feel displaced.”

He said Billie would put a note on the door of their house for Chris whenever they went out before Chris was found. He said, “We still had hope.” But, he noted, their son didn’t contact any family members. “He, basically, I think, knew we’d be looking for him. It’s hard to work your way through that one.”

Chris Mccandless magic bus

Chris Mccandless magic bus

The last trip Chris took was not the first time he had gone off to explore on his own, said McCandless. He had disappeared on road trips on two other occasions, before college and one summer during college. “He had that kind of wandering spirit,” McCandless said. “Chris took a lot of chances and the last one he took he was not able to deal with it.”

The book, “Into the Wild,” which McCandless said was “right on,” says Chris had a difficult relationship with his father, who had eight children, including Chris who was born while McCandless was separated, but still married to his first wife, which Chris learned from family friends on one of his road trips. McCandless also had a son with his first wife, before his last child, Carine, was born to Billie.

Into the wild and Chris Mccandless photographs

Into the wild and Chris Mccandless photographs

McCandless said he was the counterpart to Chris, who was more like his mother, Billie. He knew exactly what he was going to do, go to college and work. He eventually became an aerospace engineer who designed radar systems and had his own business. He also took Chris hiking every year from the age of 8 until he was 17.

So the take away from Chris’s experience, said McCandless, is “learn what not to do and what to do. I can appreciate people going into the outdoors. I think that’s fine, but what you should learn is you really need to be well-prepared.”

“You need to learn everything you can and lower your probability of getting into trouble. “ And, he said: “You need to let people know where you are.”

Walt and Billie McCandless talk about Chris McCandless – 2

In the beginning after Chris’s story came out, people sent money, which McCandless thought the couple would just give away, but that changed with the publication of Krakauer’s book. McCandless said, “Our share of the royalties has created a foundation that will go on forever.”

“We didn’t have any intention this would happen, but it just took off,” he said.

“The amazing thing that happened is how generous people are — are selfless — and been with us for many years,” said McCandless. “We didn’t go into it with the point of raising money.”

“Chris was one of those people who put his arms around causes, “ said McCandless, which is the reason for the nonprofit. “The foundation has become an important part of our lives. He (Chris) cared about people who are less fortunate.” He said his son, while in high school, gave homeless people meals and on one occasion brought someone home to stay in the family’s Airstream trailer. He also gave his remaining $24,000 college fund to OXFAM, a charity that fights hunger.

Krakauer recently wrote a New Yorker blog post about the probable cause of Chris’s death, which is significant to many people, who either saw Chris as a heroic figure on a quest for truth, fueled by literary figures such as Jack London and Thoreau, or felt he was an irresponsible romantic, unprepared for the wilds of Alaska, glorified through the book and movie.

Chris mccandless

Chris mccandless

In his book, Krakauer suspected Chris ate wild potato seeds, which grew prolifically near the bus, and caused Chris’s death, just as the young man had decided to return to civilization, but was forced back by a river crossing that had become impassable. Preliminary tests showed the seeds contained an alkaloid, which he thought might be toxic. His suspicion was also due to an explicit note left by Chris: “EXTREMELY WEAK. FAULT OF POT(ATO) SEED.” Further tests, however, revealed no evidence of alkaloids.

But in December, Ronald Hamilton, employed at Indiana University of Pennsylvania library, published an article on a website about evidence that wild potato seeds are toxic not because of an alkaloid, but an amino acid, found to cause paralysis, especially in young men in a weakened condition and doing hard, physical labor, such as hunting for small game. Tests for the amino acid revealed their presence.

Into the wild - Christopher McCandless

Into the wild – Christopher McCandless

Krakauer wrote: “His theory validates my conviction that Christopher wasn’t as clueless and incompetent as his detractors made him out to be.”

In his 1993 Outside article, Krakauer suspected that Chris had confused the wild potato, considered safe, with wild sweet pea, a reportedly toxic plant, but Krakauer wasn’t convinced the more he looked into it. In his blog post, he wrote that Chris wrote journal entries in a book on the region’s edible plants, which clearly warned of the distinction.

About the news, McCandless said: “It’s clear from his (Chris’s) writing – when he ate that (the seeds), it disabled him and he couldn’t walk out.” Continued…