ANCHORAGE, Alaska — An old bus was left on the Stampede Trail about 40 years ago when a road was being built. In the summer of 1992, it became the home of young wanderer Chris McCandless.
With a bestselling book and a major movie based on his life, that old bus has taken on heightened notoriety. But, those curious about McCandless’ journey don’t have to travel all the way out the trail to see what it looks like.
When Sean Penn set out to make his epic movie “Into the Wild,” he did something most movie producers don’t do when making a film about Alaska: he filmed it in Alaska.
The film, and the best-selling book it was based on, chronicle the travels of McCandless, who hitchhiked to Alaska and walked alone into the wilderness on the Stampede Trail north of Denali National Park and Preserve.
Three days into McCandless’ walk into the wild, he wrote in his diary, “Magic Bus Day.” That’s the day he reached the old Fairbanks City Transit System bus 27 miles down the Stampede Trail. McCandless later died of starvation in the bus.
The remoteness of the bus prohibited filming there, so Penn chose Cantwell.
The crew bought a similar bus and hired Spenard artist Duke Russell.
“I painted it. Yep, this is my side of the bus right here,” Russell said.
Russell said he traveled to the original bus early in 2006.
“We had a guide who snowmachined us out there and we took a lot of pictures and created storyboards for the front and back the left and right of the bus interior and mixed a match,” Russell said.
The bus used in the movie is still in Cantwell, parked outside of Rachel and Gordon Carlson’s house.
The Carlsons worked on the film, Rachel was an on-set paramedic.
The film crew dragged the bus a couple miles off the Parks Highway for the filming. They came back to shoot scenes on four occasions from the spring to the fall of 2006.
Russell has seen the final version of the film and calls it impressive. As for being at the site of the actual bus where McCandless’ life ended, Russell said it was an experience.
“I think as with many people you want to, you wonder if you can really feel the vibe this oooh, spooky haunted house kind of thing and it’s not really. Some people think of it as a shrine and other people think, ‘What a fool,’” Russell said.
The Cantwell Native Tribe will get ownership of the prop bus used in the film.
“Maybe a museum piece, maybe have a coffee stand where you have this in the background and sell t-shirts and books, whatever,” Rachel Carlson said.
McCandless died while attempting to escape from materialism. Think about that the next time you’re through Cantwell and end up sipping a latte from the bus.
Cantwell is about 40 miles to the south of Healy, where the Stampede Trail takes off.