Christopher McCandless is considered by many to be something of a modern-day folk hero. His decision in the early 1990s to abandon the comforts of modern life and “live simply” has inspired others to reconsider how they spend their own lives.
Yet the truth is that he was mostly unknown, save for the friends and family who knew him, and his untimely demise at the age of 24 wasn’t quite the romanticized adventure it was made out to be. While there’s certainly value in appreciating his rejection of material things, Christopher McCandless’s story may be, at heart, a cautionary tale…
Christopher McCandless’s life story was a mysterious—and tragic—one. Born in El Segundo, California, on February 12, 1968, he relocated in 1976 with his family to Annandale, Virginia, when his father, Walt, accepted a job with NASA. One might think this was a recipe for the family’s success, but a startling discovery changed everything…
Walt’s career provided a comfortable life for Christopher, but that didn’t mean it was always a happy one. Already known for his stubbornness and temper, Christopher was livid when he learned his father had been keeping a shocking secret.
Christopher learned that his father had a secret family in California, complete with six half-siblings whom Christopher never met. This revelation changed the way the young man thought about the world, and he stopped speaking to his parents until his college graduation.
Christopher attended Emory University, where he was a good student who maintained a 3.72 GPA and expanded his interest in social issues, such as South African apartheid. It was also at that point that he began to renounce the wealth and comfort he’d grown up with.
Christopher referred to college as “a 20th-century fad,” and when he graduated, he donated over $20,000 that his parents loaned him to Oxfam, a charity that fights world hunger. In 1990, he left most of his possessions at home as he set off for the adventure that would define his life.
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