In October, 1990--more than three months after McCandless left Atlanta--his Datsun was found abandoned at Lake Mead National Recreation Area by Park Ranger, Bud Walsh. Of course, without license plates, Walsh could not trace the car to McCandless. The rangers kept the car for driving around the park. Krakauer learns through his research that McCandless got caught in a flash flood with the car, which caused the battery to die. Instead of having to explain why his driver’s license and registration had expired, why he did not have insurance, and why he was driving on a prohibited road in the first place--McCandless chose to abandon the car. McCandless shed unnecessary baggage and burned all of his money, one hundred twenty-three dollars, as a symbolic gesture. After spending some time hiking around the lake, McCandless hitchhiked out West and found work on Crazy Ernie’s farm. When McCandless realized Ernie had no intention of paying him, he stole a bicycle and left.
Soon after, McCandless met Jan Burres and her boyfriend, Bob. He spent a week with Jan and Bob and kept in touch through postcards thereafter. After receiving a ticket McCandless got for hitchhiking (he’d given his Annandale address to police), his parents contacted a private investigator. The investigator learned only that Chris had given his entire savings to charity, which really worried his parents.
McCandless spent time in Colorado and Mexico, where he had some difficulty navigating the canals. He spent a night in jail after being caught coming back into the US with no ID. McCandless was able to spring himself from jail but had to leave his beloved handgun behind.
Chapter 5 begins in May of 1991. McCandless’s camera no longer works and he has stopped keeping a journal for the time being, which makes it difficult to recount his travels. Through letters Alex sent to friends, Krakauer pieces together that he spent time in California and Bullhead City, Arizona. He spent two months in Bullhead City, got a job at McDonald’s, opened a bank account, and even introduced himself by his real name, Chris McCandless. His fellow employees remember him as a quirky but nice guy, who hated wearing socks, worked at a slow pace, and did not shower frequently enough. One woman believes the reason Chris quit is because she told him he needed to bathe. In Arizona, Chris met a man named Charlie, who showed him a trailer he could live in for a while.
McCandless soon left Arizona and went to live again with Jan and Bob at Niland, referred to by the locals as “the Slabs.” Jan says that even though Alex liked to keep to himself, he had a really good time when he was around people. He told anyone that would listen that he planned to visit Alaska. When Alex was leaving, Jan tried to get him to take some things with him--after he had gone, she found most of the things she had given him left behind.
In Chapter 6, we learn that after leaving Jan and Bob, Alex met Ron Frantz. Frantz gave him a ride to his camp at Oh-My-God Hotsprings. Frantz, who had lost his wife and only son some forty years earlier in a car accident, felt a connection with Alex. Frantz and Alex developed a relationship and spent a lot of time together. Frantz, who was a leatherworker, instructed Alex in the craft. Frantz also fed Alex. One day Alex announced that he was going to San Diego. Frantz was sad, but insisted on driving him. McCandless went on to Seattle, but returned soon to California. In California, McCandless met up with Frantz again. Alex wanted to go out to South Dakota, where Wayne Westerberg had a job waiting for him-- Frantz drove him part way there, video-taping their journey. Later, Alex wrote Frantz a letter from South Dakota, urging him to become more nomadic. Frantz took his advice, and occupied Alex’s old campsite.
In chapter 7, Krakauer meets with Wayne Westerberg--the man for whom Alex worked in South Dakota. Westerberg says that Alex would do the jobs that no one else wanted because they were too tedious or too dirty. Westerberg notes that Alex, however, was not mechanically inclined or imbued with common sense. While working for Westerberg, Alex became close to Westerberg’s girlfriend, Gail Borah. Though, neither Westerberg nor Borah knew exactly what happened between McCandless and his family.
Borah confirms Jan Burres’s analysis of Alex’s personality: he often kept to himself but could be a lot of fun in a crowd. One night Borah convinced Alex to dance with her in a bar and they had a great time. Through discussions with Borah, Burres, and McCandless’s sister, Carine, Krakauer concludes that McCandless led a chaste life; he claims there is no evidence to suggest that McCandless had sexual relationships with either men or women.
Westerberg got the impression that Alaska would be McCandless’s last big adventure. McCandless planned to settle down and write a book about his journeys when he left Alaska. In April, Westerberg asked McCandless if he would stay in South Dakota for a few more weeks because he was shorthanded. McCandless would not even consider it; he was set on leaving. On April 27, 1992, McCandless sent postcards to his friends, showing he had arrived in Fairbanks, Alaska.
These chapters introduce the reader to the “characters” McCandless meets on his journey. The cast is a motley crew of drifters, lost souls, and tough guys with big hearts. Moreover, they are invaluable sources for Krakauer as he attempts to piece together Chris’s last days. The reader should consider the way Krakauer presents these sources. For much of this period, he has nothing left by Chris to construct the story--he has to rely on the testimony of the people he met. Krakauer seems to trust what these people tell him; however, it does not seem to matter how true their stories are. Whether or not Chris spent one night or ten with Jan, or learned how to craft a leather belt from Ron is not the focus of this section. Instead, Krakauer seems interested in characterizing Chris McCandless. Here, the people Chris knew seem to say they same things--he was frequently moody and sullen; yet, he also knew how to have a lot of fun. He was intelligent and passionate. He could not wait to get to Alaska.