The pilgrims never stopped coming for the bus, even as some of them died along the way.
Adventure seekers have for years retraced the steps of Chris McCandless, who detailed in a journal the tragic final moments of starvation in 1992 after he was trapped by the swollen, icy waters of the Teklanika River in Alaska. McCandless took shelter in an abandoned city bus for 114 days. His remains were later found there.
And since the publication of the book “Into the Wild” four years later, followed by a feature film, countless people worldwide have ventured into the fringes of Denali National Park to visit what has become known as the “Magic Bus.” Many had to be rescued, and at least two people have died on the unforgiving terrain.
Perhaps the last chapter of “Into the Wild” was written Thursday, when members of the Alaska National Guard secured chains to the bus and airlifted the steel tomb to a “secure” undisclosed location, state officials said.
Jon Krakauer, the author of “Into the Wild,” said McCandless’ sister Carine McCandless was distraught and blindsided by the removal. The family was in talks on what to do about the bus, he said, after years of calls to have it removed.
“It really gobsmacked me,” he told The Washington Post on Friday, describing his mixed emotions. “This place has been desecrated and now it’s been obliterated. But it’s really tragic people keep dying doing stupid stuff.”
State officials and local have long warned adventurers of the perilous journey to visit Fairbanks City Transit System Bus number 142 following numerous rescues and a pair of deaths in the last decade.
Many Alaskans decry McCandless as naive and suicidal, Krakauer said, and some have even vandalized the bus. Other pilgrims have stolen pieces of it and left it trashed.
But on his first visit to the bus in July 1993, Krakauer found a nearly untouched, accidental shrine. McCandless’s boots were inside. His books and toothbrush was still there, along with jeans left to dry on a stove. There was an eerie feeling, Krakauer said, that McCandless was still alive and out picking berries.
“I wish the bus could have remained how it was,” Krakauer said. “But I wrote the book that ruined it.”
Krakauer said he is partly culpable for the waves of adventurers who come to the boggy, beaver-trodden lowlands in central Alaska every year, including some who never left.
Veramika Maikamava, a 24-year old woman from Belarus, died last year on a search for the bus after she was swept into the current by the strong Teklanika River. Her husband plucked her body from the water downstream.
A Swiss woman, Claire Ackermann, 29, drowned in 2010 after attempting to ford the same river, the Daily News reported.
The state conducted 15 bus-related rescues between 2009 and 2017, the Alaska Guard said in a statement, a figure that doesn’t include the hundreds who have become lost or injured on their way to the site, or the local effort to find hikers. A dozen people alone were rescued by the fire department in nearby Healy in the summer of 2013, Atavist reported.
“We encourage people to enjoy Alaska’s wild areas safely, and we understand the hold this bus has had on the popular imagination,” Department of Natural Resources Comissioner Corri A. Feige said in statement.
“However, this is an abandoned and deteriorating vehicle that was requiring dangerous and costly rescue efforts, but more importantly, was costing some visitors their lives. I’m glad we found a safe, respectful and economical solution to this situation.”
An enigmatic and listless product of the Washington suburbs, McCandless set out west for a frontier that had already been discovered and plotted.
“No more blank spots on the map – not in Alaska, not anywhere,” Krakauer wrote. “But Chris, with his own idiosyncratic logic, came up with an elegant solution to this dilemma. He simply got rid of the map. In his own mind, if nowhere else, the terra would remain incognita.”
Krakauer gravitated to the story because he saw himself in McCandless, he said. Defiant and stubborn, and attracted to the dangerous splendor of the frontier, Krakauer himself risked his own life in pursuit of grand adventure in Alaska as a young man.
That may be why so many people are still drawn to the Stampede Trail after all these years, he said, and may be what keeps them coming, even if Bus 142 is no longer in the wild.
“That bus is a powerful symbol,” he said. “It was some strange manifestation of him that is not going to disappear now.”