‘Into the Wild’ movie luring unprepared to Alaska wilderness

The abandoned bus where Christopher McCandless starved to death in 1992 on Stampede Road near Healy, Alaska. (AP Photo)
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Updated 28 February 2020

‘Into the Wild’ movie luring unprepared to Alaska wilderness

  • Adventurers following in McCandless footsteps finding trouble themselves
  • Families of some of those who have died are proposing looking at building a footbridge over the River Teklanika

ANCHORAGE, Alaska: For more than a quarter-century, the old bus abandoned in Alaska’s punishing wilderness has drawn adventurers seeking to retrace the steps of a young idealist who met a tragic death in the derelict vehicle.
For many, Christopher McCandless’ legend was cemented in the “Into the Wild” book and movie. But scores of travelers following his journey along the Stampede Trail just outside Denali National Park have been rescued and others have died in the harsh reality of back-country terrain,
It is marked by no cell phone service, unpredictable weather and the raging Teklanika River, whose swollen banks prevented the 24-year-old Virginian from seeking help before his 1992 starvation death.
Now families of some of those who died are proposing looking at building a footbridge over the Teklanika. The effort is led by the husband of a 24-year-old newlywed woman from Belarus who died last year trying to reach the bus.
“People keep going there despite multiple accidents reported,” said Piotr Markielau, who was with his wife Veramika Maikamava when she was swept away by the river. “Making the crossing safer is a social responsibility. It is also a constructive and humane way to learn from people who died there.”
But some local officials in Denali Borough in Healy, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) away, fear a footbridge could give people a false impression of safety that doesn’t exist.
“It’ll only encourage more people to go,” says Denali Assembly member Jeff Stenger, who rejects the bridge idea and would prefer to see warning signs posted in the area.
Borough Mayor Clay Walker wants to see the bus relocated to a safer location on the other side of the Teklanika with the help of federal and state agencies.
“This bus has meaning to a lot of people, and the challenge will be to put together a plan that works for all,” Walker said.
A bridge would not have made a difference in the latest rescue. It involved five Italian tourists — one with frostbitten feet — who were rescued Saturday after visiting the dilapidated bus. There are other hazards, including harsh weather and dangerous terrain. Some attempting the trip are ill-prepared.
The long-discarded bus sits in a clearing on state land roughly half a mile (0.8 kilometers) from the boundary of the Denali National Park and Preserve.
Travelers often traverse park land to get to the bus, which was left in the wilderness to house construction crews working to improve the trail so trucks could haul ore from a mine, according to the book. It’s outfitted with a barrel stove and bunks, and McCandless wrote in his journal about living there for 114 days, right up until his death.
Author Jon Krakauer, who wrote “Into the Wild,” said he is “saddened and horrified” by the deaths of people trying to cross the Teklanika. He’s also skeptical building a bridge or moving the bus will solve the problem.
“I really don’t know what can be done or should be done about the unprepared ‘pilgrims’ who get into trouble and perish or need to be rescued,” he said in an email to The Associated Press. “I have no objection to removing the bus, or building a bridge to it, if a persuasive argument can be made that doing either of these things would solve the problem. I am skeptical about the wisdom of either of these proposed measures, however.”
McCandless’ sister agrees. Carine McCandless believes people will keep trying to reach the site, regardless of what locals decide. She said people send her messages every day from all over the world, identifying with her brother’s story, and she understands why people continue to make the trek.
“It is not Chris’s story they are following, it is their own, even if they don’t realize it at the time,” she said. “And as far as the lure of the bus — it’s not about the bus, either. If the bus is moved, people will simply erect a memorial in its place and continue to go there.”


Flying roses: Drone fetes Lebanon mothers despite coronavirus

Updated 23 March 2020

Flying roses: Drone fetes Lebanon mothers despite coronavirus

  • Three students have come up with a new service to celebrate the occasion without flouting social distancing restrictions
  • Lebanon has recorded 206 cases of the novel coronavirus so far, and counted four deaths

JOUNIEH: In a quiet Lebanese town under lockdown over the novel coronavirus, a drone buzzed toward a balcony on Saturday to deliver a red rose to a mother grinning in surprise.
The COVID-19 pandemic may have put a damper on Mother’s Day in Lebanon this year, but three students have come up with a new service to celebrate the occasion without flouting social distancing restrictions.
Down in the street in the coastal town of Jounieh, 18-year-old Christopher Ibrahim texts a teenager who has ordered a flower drop-off for his mother, asking him to bring the family onto the balcony.
He slips a single rose in a ring hanging under the aircraft and it lifts off into the air to carry the flower to its intended recipient.
“It’s Mother’s Day and everything’s closed,” said the engineering student, wearing a light blue face mask.
For almost a week, most Lebanese have been ordered to remain at home to stem the spread of COVID-19. The airport has closed and all non-essential businesses have been told to shutter.
Lebanon has recorded 206 cases of the novel coronavirus so far, and counted four deaths.
“I wanted to think of something that would enable people make their mothers happy in the safest way — without there being contact with anyone,” Ibrahim said.
Ibrahim, who has filmed weddings using a drone and also volunteers for the Lebanese Red Cross, decided on the idea of an airborne rose.
“I thought if it was delivered by drone, there would be zero contact,” he said.
But beyond cheering up mothers in lockdown, Ibrahim says the unconventional flower delivery service also aims to support medical workers battling the pandemic.
“Everything we make from this project will go to the Red Cross,” he said. Each rose delivery costs between 10,000 and 20,000 Lebanese pounds ($6.60-$13 according to the official exchange rate) depending on the location.
Lebanese officials fear an increase in COVID-19 cases would overwhelm local hospitals, in a country already reeling from an economic crisis and mass anti-government protests.
Lebanon has been largely quiet in recent days, although food stores have remained open and there have been some vehicles in the streets.
Ministers and lawmakers have called for a full curfew, and Prime Minister Hassan Diab was expected to speak on Saturday evening.
An estimated 900 million people are now confined to their homes in 35 countries around the world — two thirds by government lockdown orders, according to an AFP tally.