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Into the Wild: Chapter 6 Summary

Instructor: Kimberly Myers

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

This lesson is a summary of Chapter 6: Anza-Borrego of Jon Krakauer's Into the Wild. In this chapter, Krakauer describes the lasting impression that Chris had on Ronald Franz, an eighty-year-old man he met in early 1992 before setting off for Alaska.

'A Little Stardust Caught'

This chapter's epigraph is from Thoreau's Walden. Thoreau was a great inspiration to Chris. Thoreau wrote Walden about the time he spent living simply in the solitude of nature. The epigraph is a passage that was highlighted in Chris's copy of Walden that was found with his body. Here's part of it:

'All nature is your congratulation...The true harvest of my daily life is somewhat as intangible and indescribable as the tints of morning or evening. It is a little star-dust caught, a segment of the rainbow which I have clutched.'

A Letter to the Writer

Krakauer recounts an unexpected letter that he received after writing a January 1993 cover story about Chris. The letter was from Ronald Franz, a man who had spent time with Chris back in 1992, when Ronald was 80 years old. ('Ronald Franz' is a pseudonym that Krakauer used at the request of the letter's writer.)

Ronald requested a copy of the magazine and also gave some details of his experiences with Chris, (or Alex, as he knew him). Ronald wrote, 'Please do not make these facts available to anybody till I know more about his death for he was not just the common wayfarer. Please believe me.'

Chris McCandless was able to make friends easily while on the road, but arguably, he made the greatest impression on Ronald Franz.

Ronald Franz Meets Chris

Chris made his way into the desert near Salton City, California and set camp. The small California town on the edge of the Salton Sea had been planned as a lush resort, but many buildings were dilapidated and many lots stood empty.

Unfinished, abandoned buildings in Salton City

In January 1992, Chris was on his way back to camp from a supply run when an old man asked if he needed a ride. This man was Ronald Franz.

Hitchhikers and transients weren't unfamiliar for Ronald. Chris had Ronald drive him to an area outside of town where there was a permanent site where such characters lived in recreational vehicles and tents. The spring was near this encampment.

'The community was beyond the fringe, a vision of post-apocalypse America. There were families sheltered in cheap tent trailers, aging hippies in Day-Glo vans, Charles Manson look-alikes sleeping in rusted-out Studebakers that hadn't turned over since Eisenhower was in the White House. A substantial number of those present were walking around buck naked.'

Chris's camp was about a mile past the springs. Ronald dropped him off and went home, but he didn't forget about Chris.

A Lost Son

Back in 1957, Ronald's wife and son were struck and killed by a drunk driver. Ronald never got over the tragedy, and fell into alcoholism for a time, but eventually was able to quit drinking completely.

Chris probably reminded Ronald of his son, who died when he was around Chris's age. After seeing how Chris was living, Ronald went back to his camp and try to talk him into doing something more productive with his life.

Chris wasn't very receptive. 'Look, Mr. Franz,...you don't need to worry about me. I have a college education. I'm not destitute. I'm living like this by choice.' Eventually though, Chris and Ronald developed a friendship.

An Unlikely Pair

Ronald and Chris began to spend a lot of time together. Chris told Ronald about his plans to travel to Alaska in the spring, and he tried to convince Ronald to change his life. Chris thought that the eighty year old should sell his belongings and embrace adventure.

Ronald was so affected by Chris that he even brought up the idea of adopting him as his grandson. Chris put off the question and said they would talk about it after he got back from Alaska. Ronald last saw Chris when he was dropping him off in Grand Junction, Colorado in March 1992. Chris was on his way to a job in South Dakota before heading to Alaska. Ronald gave Chris a parka and some other supplies for Alaska.

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