After finishing some client work this evening I intended on watching Into The Wild, which just arrived from Netflix. For ten years it has been one of my favorite books (its challengers include Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas and The Rand McNally U.S. Road Atlas) and I have to admit I was a little bit apprehensive to watch the movie.
My nerves about it are prickly not because of the usual “OMG they better not ruine mine favorite Book!!1!” but because I’m afraid of what I might find out about myself. You see, aside from the whole “starving to death in the wilderness” thing (which I’ll admit has a fair amount of romance to it), I want to be Alexander Supertramp.
At least, I used to want to.
Or do I still?
My post-collegiate path has been a winding one, both of place and of being. The spring I graduated from college I skipped my graduation ceremony so I could leave Minnesota and start driving to Oregon just one day sooner. I loaded up all my worldly possessions in the Green Dragon Wagon, not knowing if I would be gone for three months or three years. In the end, I worked as a windsurfing grunt until I ran out of summer, a snowboard instructor until I ran out of unbroken legs, and a web designer until I ran out of Vicodin.
I stayed in Oregon for two years and lived in two towns, moving back and forth between them until I moved back to Minnesota to work as a wilderness guide. I took an eight-day Wilderness First Responder course. I met someone lovely. I spent three months growing a beard and living in the woods. That fall, my reintroduction to civilization involved getting choked up over such amenities as toothpaste and ice water.
The following summer I did it all again, only this time I was joined by someone lovely. I grew a beard. I stomped through Yellowstone for twenty days with five guys and three mohawks. That fall I moved back to Oregon as my love traveled all over the Western United States, living outside and learning about land rights and trying not to freeze to death. We reunited that December, though she was kind of freaked out that I had shaved my beard.
For 1 1/2 years now I have been planted in Hood River, working with the intertubes, kiteboarding during the summer, snowboarding during the winter, and occasionally visiting Walla Walla for some reason or another. In four months Kate and I will be moving across the country to attend graduate school at Indiana University, she to study environmental policy and me to study interaction design. After finishing my program I want to be involved in some Pretty Big Shit in my industry, which likely means I will no longer be taking three months off at a time to guide trips or teach snowboarding or fret about not having work during those unfortunate “in between” seasons.
Aye, and there’s the rub.
Part of me thinks that I’m ready to move on from this lifestyle. Another part of me fears that for all these nomadic experiences, for all this living in the outdoors, I have still managed to miss something, some hidden meaning. This elusive nugget of truth drove Christopher McCandless in his travels, and is what gave rise to Alexander Supertramp. I’m certain that Christopher would agree with me when I say that the logical conclusion of this journey is something besides starving to death in the backcountry of Alaska. What it is, however, I haven’t figured out yet.
I’ve changed a lot over the last five years, especially over the last two, and I’ve noticed my nagging sense of wanderlust begin to fade. With it I fear my curiosity goes as well, my unconventionalism, my identity. I speak of piling all my furniture on the front lawn and burning it, and people laugh as though I speak in hyperbole. I do, to be sure. But for me, owning more stuff than will fit in my car is painfully embarrassing, every bookcase and file cabinet a trophy to defeat. I have lost my mobility, but I have gained… what, a sofa? A coffee table? These are changes I have not been dealing with well.
It was in this context that I started to watch Into The Wild.
I got as far as the DVD menu. I watched it loop a dozen times. My vision blurred and my chest tightened. A dozen times Christopher burned his money, hitchhiked to Alaska, grew a beard, and posed in front of the bus.
I turned off my television.