Tuesday, August 12, 2008

On Chris, Alaska, Bus 142 and meeting new friends

"Bus 142", 2008, Oil On Canvas, 30"x24"

"Happiness is only real when shared". ~Christopher J. McCandless

I firmly believe that you can accomplish anything if you put your mind and heart into it. With all of your energy invested, the chance of failure is slim. I think we are rut-prone by nature...habits form and routines are carved out, just as water slowly shapes rocks. These patterns are comfortable and safe. There is nothing wrong with this but to boldly step off the beaten path and extend yourself beyond what you thought you could do is liberating and helps to carve out one's character in bold strokes.

I am heading to the Alaskan Interior in less than a week. I am traveling there in search of Fairbanks Bus 142, the bus where Christopher McCandless culminated his two year journey of self-discovery in 1992. Tragically Chris perished at the end of his odyssey, but in my heart I believe that his memory will live on forever. He has touched countless lives and serves as inspiration to many who feel the call of the road; to those who need to reach what lies beyond the horizon and to all who want to "live deep and suck the marrow out of life" as Henry David Thoreau famously wrote.

I recently returned from a trip to visit Chris' parents Walt and Billie. They were so generous and kind to allow me into their lives for a time. We hit it off immediately and I feel strongly that we will be lifelong friends. Walt and Billie also introduced me to some of their friends, all of whom exuded a warmth and demonstrated that Southern Hospitality is not a cliché but a bona fide truism. I plan on doing some paintings inspired by Chris and his life. To have their support and encouragement in this endeavor means more to me than I can convey here. I want to honor his memory as best as I can in the paintings that I do. Clearly he was an intense, intelligent and very brave young man, someone who made things happen for himself, someone who saw obstacles as opportunities and made an indelible mark upon the lives everyone he met along the way. Clearly, most assuredly, he will never be forgotten.

My friend Ed is going to accompany me to the bus. It is a very special place, and I am hoping that it will lend me some insight into Chris and his life by retracing his steps on the Stampede Trail near Healy, Alaska. I am so grateful to Ed for helping me with this most important journey. It would be simply be out of the question without his expertise and companionship.

The bus lies about 20 miles west of the George Parks Highway, on the border of Denali National Park. Our plan is to head out early on Monday morning and bike the first 5 or so miles along the trail until we arrive at the Savage River. Ed has aspirations that we will carry our bikes across the river and continue riding beyond it but we'll see how that goes when we get to that point. I am a back-country neophyte and know that I will really have my work cut out for me. The big challenge will be the Teklanika river, the river that Chris was unable to cross in July of 1992. Ed and I have packrafts and we intend to bushwhack down to the braided section of the Tek and ford the river there. Beyond the Tek we will hike the remaining 12 miles to the bus and hopefully reach it by sundown (around 10:30 pm at this time of year in Alaska). We plan on staying for a day and night at the bus and then make our way back to the highway on the third day. I have heard that the topography is not too challenging but that it will be wet going as it has been a rainy summer in Alaska and there are many beaver ponds to be negotiated. Needless to say the sheer distance to the bus is intimidating but I am determined to reach it. Once there I will shoot reference for possible paintings, explore the surrounding area and reflect on what it might have been like when Chris spent time there in 1992.

Today, as I frequently do, I was thinking about Chris. I was wondering what it is about him that that resonates so strongly with me. Many people shuffle off this mortal coil every day but yet Chris and his memory live on. I believe that it is not the circumstances of our deaths that should define us but what we do with our lives that matters most. Chris did not wait for life to happen but seized the day and made it happen for himself.

Here are some paintings that I have completed based on Chris' photographs from his odyssey thus far:

"Chris' Canoe, Near Golfo", 18"x24" Oil On Canvas

"Odyssey By Train", Oil On Panel, 18"x24"

"Chris' Pack, Stampede Trail", Oil On Panel, 24"x30"

"To The Sea", Oil On Canvas, 24"x30"

"The joy of life comes from our encounters with new experiences, and hence there is no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun." ~ Christopher J. McCandless


Rob said...

I dig what you’re saying. There is something exciting and seducing about hitting the road; especially going to places few folks have gone to before.

Alvin Richard said...

Eloquently said....Bonne Chance on your trek...follow your bliss!

vagabonded said...


i saw a tennessee williams quote and your into the wild page and was totally stoked. just tonight i went through the same border crossing he did on his way into canada.

sweet blog.