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Into the Wild: Chapter 2 Summary

Instructor: Kimberly Myers

Kimberly has taught college writing and rhetoric and has a master's degree in Comparative Literature.

Explore Chapter 2 in Jon Krakauer's book, 'Into the Wild.' We'll fast forward to the discovery of Christopher McCandless's body in an abandoned bus near Alaska's Stampede Trail, over four months after McCandless set off into the Alaskan wilderness.

Jack London, Chris McCandless, and The Wild

The second chapter of Into the Wild opens with an epigraph before delving into Krakauer's narration. An epigraph is a short quotation or passage at the beginning of a book or part of a book. It is intended to develop the theme of the section.

The first part of the epigraph reads 'Jack London is king.' These are words that Christopher McCandless carved into a piece of wood at the site of his death. The second part of the epigraph is an excerpt from London's novel White Fang. The passage describes the harsh landscape of the North, ending with, 'It was the Wild, the savage, frozen-hearted Northland Wild.'

An Alaskan Landscape
An Alaskan landscape

This opening does a couple of things for us as readers. First, it gives us some insight into Chris's aspirations and influences. He is inspired by Jack London's work and by the wild, raw landscapes that fill it. Second, London's passage about the unforgiving harshness of the Wild reminds us that the wilderness cares nothing about one's aspirations. It is 'savage and frozen-hearted.'

The epigraph sets the tone for the grim ending to Chris's adventure into the wild that we'll hear about in the coming chapter.

A Bus in the Wilderness

Krakauer begins the chapter by describing the scene that the rest of the chapter revolves around: the location of an abandoned vintage bus that is also the site of Christopher McCandless's death. He explains that the bus is only about twenty-five miles from Healy, Alaska and just outside the boundary of Denali National Park, but it is remote and difficult to reach. The bus is next to the Stampede Trail, which is the same trail that McCandless set off on April 28, 1992.

The bus was left as a backcountry shelter for hunters after the project to turn the Stampede Trail into a road was abandoned in 1963. The bus was first put there as a shelter for construction workers. Now, the 1940s bus sits out of place in the rugged area crisscrossed with periodically-flooding rivers and beaver ponds - the same hazards that prevented the construction plan from going forward. Krakauer writes, 'These days it isn't unusual for six or seven months to pass without the bus seeing a human visitor, but in early September 1992, six people in three separate parties happened to visit the remote vehicle on the same afternoon.'

Replica of bus used in the movie. The actual bus is still where it was abandoned.
This replica of the bus was used in the film

The Discovery

It's September 6, 1992, the beginning of moose hunting season, and a group of friends have gone out in their trucks and ATV vehicles. They wondered if their vehicles could even make it across the Teklanika River to get to the bus shelter, but they do. When they arrive at the bus, they are surprised to see they aren't the only ones there.

They find a man and woman standing some fifty feet from the bus, 'looking kinda spooked.' The pair tells the hunting party that they noticed a red signal flag and a note attached to the rear exit door of the bus.

'Handwritten in neat block letters on a page torn from a novel by Nikolay Gogol, it read:

S.O.S. I NEED YOUR HELP. I AM INJURED, NEAR DEATH, AND TOO WEAK TO HIKE OUT OF HERE I AM ALL ALONE, THIS IS NO JOKE. IN THE NAME OF GOD, PLEASE REMAIN TO SAVE ME. I AM OUT COLLECTING BERRIES CLOSE BY AND SHALL RETURN THIS EVENING. THANK YOU, CHRIS MCCANDLESS. AUGUST?'

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