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famous last photograph of Chris McCandless, in front of the famed "magic bus"

Chris McCandless, in front of the famed “magic bus.”


The Inertia

Two hikers from Georgia and South Carolina were rescued while on a trek to visit a famous abandoned bus in the Alaskan wilderness on Sunday. The hikers, Michael Trigg, 25, and Theodore “Ted” Ashlund, 27, were nearly swept away while trying to cross the Teklanika River in an attempt to save time on their return.

Everyone remembers the “Magic Bus” from Jon Krakauer’s nonfiction  book and subsequent film, Into the Wild – the often-sad survival story of Christopher McCandless who left everything material he had in the world to try and find adventure. That Fairbanks transit bus-turned-makeshift backcountry shelter sits along the Stampede Trail in Denali National Park. It’s a fairly common phenomenon for backcountry enthusiasts and hikers to make a pilgrimage to the broken-down bus, due to it being McCandless’s final resting place.

According to Alaska Dispatch News, these guys described themselves to the park service as “experienced backcountry hikers”. Their route was supposed to remain on the west side of the Teklanika, to avoid having to cross the river, but they were running behind schedule, which pushed them to attempt the risky crossing on their return trip after visiting the bus. The Teklanika River has claimed plenty of lives in the past, and it nearly took these hikers for a trip downstream while they were trying to wade through its chest-high flowing waters.

“We stacked and faced upriver like you should with Ted in front of me,” Trigg wrote in a Facebook post. “About half way across, the rocky bed took a steep drop from knee deep to about chest and a rock supporting Ted’s foot slipped out, if anyone is familiar with the Tek, that is not a position you want to be in. It only took about half a second and Ted was almost neck deep in 40 degree water and getting swept (away). I was able to grab his pack then my foothold gave away. I can’t accurately say how many seconds we were getting swept but in only a few we were already about 15-20 yds down river.”

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Prior to starting their trek, the hikers posted on Facebook, asking friends to notify park authorities if they weren’t heard from by Friday. Following the men’s instructions, those friends made reports to Denali Park Services. Park rangers, along with Alaska State Troopers, immediately began searching for the pair in the extremely rugged country of the Teklanika and Sushana Rivers, and the tributaries of those rivers. Rescuers had found boot prints of the men on their planned route, as well as a note left at the bus.

bus-de-Into-the-Wild-2

They were found on Sunday afternoon wandering in the wilderness. According to park rangers, they were located with extra provisions, but lacked in the most essential equipment  – a satellite phone or a GPS unit. Apparently, this isn’t the first time hikers have been rescued after making a pilgrimage to the broken-down vehicle.

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The Into the Wild bus is now a famous landmark in outdoor adventure literature. It represents a want for the pure experiences the Earth can provide, all the while escaping the sometimes self-absorbed trappings of capitalism. And I can’t blame someone for wanting to see a part of it. But by chasing a piece of what is now pop culture, aren’t people sort of caught up in the very thing that McCandless was trying to escape?

This post was updated June 30 at 11pm PST to reflect Trigg’s Facebook post defending the duo’s actions.

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