Hello Friends of Bus 142,
I am the last person to have journeyed into the wild to see the magic bus. I struggle with that statement, because I considered the way I got to the bus to be very much a cheat, as I helicoptered the entire way in. I’d had no original intention of going to the bus at all this summer. I’d already convinced myself to leave it alone and go at another time, when the rivers were more safely navigable. So when I awoke on the sunny Sunday morning of June 14th, 2020, and started calling every helicopter company within a 100 mile radius, I can’t tell you what had come over me. My overwhelming need was to the point where, after we had reached the bus, and the pilot asked me what my thoughts were, I stated that I wished I’d hiked into it, because I suddenly felt as if I hadn’t earned the right to be standing there.
You see, to say that I consider myself a super fan is a bit of an understatement. I’d read Into the Wild as part of my high school curriculum as a junior. It changed my worldview, as it has for an entire generation of people the world over. I’d even stated to my teacher at the time that I fully intended to walk into the wild as Chris had, and someday reach that bus. Here I am almost 10 years later, having semi-accomplished that goal by at least bearing witness to it.
As soon as I’d absorbed the shocking news about the bus being air lifted off of the Stampede Trail, I felt compelled to message Carine McCandless, Chris’s sister. My strong hunch that I had been the final visitor brought with it an enormous weight and responsibility, as well as an overall feeling of disbelief. My letter was somewhat of an apology, sharing that I felt the last witness should have been one that trekked in the hard way. Her response was a relief,
“Please don’t feel that your visit was somehow a ‘cheat’ or inadequate”, she began. “On the contrary, I’m grateful that you were wise enough to recognize that your decision to go on a whim was best realized by the safety of a helicopter. Too many have walked in unprepared, resulting in costly rescues and devastating tragedies, occurrences that ultimately led to the state’s decision to remove the bus. Be pleased that you did not contribute to that. And in any event, that one day will never compare in value to the lifetime of lessons and influence that came before your trip and will continue well afterward. Thank you for honoring my brother’s life by living your own to the fullest. It is through people like you that his spirit continues on, and it is the resulting stories like yours that make their way to me, and make his loss more bearable.”
Chris’s story sparked a lifetime of adventure for me. My profession is that of a park ranger, I consider the Alaskan interior my office. I have travelled extensively in the South Pacific, calling New Zealand and Australia home for two years. I’ve been fortunate enough to undertake backpacking experiences through Utah, Arizona and the Canadian Rockies. I have to thank Chris and Krakauer for the spark.
I imagine many people are feeling burdened, having had the chance to see the bus in its natural setting stripped away from them. I know I would have been among them. But as Carine has said, we can’t undo what is done – the magic bus took an unexpected flight, and it was definitely a one way trip. However, among the sadness surrounding the removal of the bus, there is hope in knowing its preservation will allow it to continue to represent not only the story of Chris McCandless, but the stories of so many who need to quench that thirst for adventure. I hope the museum exhibit will give them some comfort, and that they seize the opportunity to visit the bus in its new home, take the inspiration with them, and continue their journey through the vast state of Alaska, where countless trails of staggering beauty await.
In Emmersonian spirit – forge a new path to find your own adventure.
Sincerely, Erica Calvo