Also like McCandless, Ruess was undeterred by physical discomfort; at times he seemed to welcome it. “For six days I’ve been suffering from the semi-annual poison ivy case—my sufferings are far from over,” he tells his friend Bill Jacobs. He goes on:
For two days I couldn’t tell whether I was dead or alive. I writhed and twisted in the heat, with swarms of ants and flies crawling over me, while the poison oozed and crusted on my face and arms and back. I ate nothing—there was nothing to do but suffer philosophically With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница...
I get it every time, but I refuse to be driven out of the woods.
And like McCandless, upon embarking on his terminal odyssey, Ruess adopted a new name or, rather, a series of new names. In a letter dated March 1,1931, he informs his family that he has taken to calling himself Lan Rameau and requests that they “please respect my brush name... How do you say it in French? Nomme de broushe, or what?” Two months later, however, another letter explains that “I have changed my name again, to Evert Rulan. Those who knew me formerly With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница thought my name was freakish and an affectation of Frenchiness.” and then in August of that same year, with no explanation, he goes back to calling himself Everett Ruess and continues to do so for the next three years—until wandering into Davis Gulch. There, for some unknowable reason, Everett twice etched the name Nemo—Latin for “nobody”—into the soft Navajo sandstone—and then vanished. He was twenty years old.
The last letters anyone received from Ruess were posted from the Mormon settlement of Escalante, fifty-seven miles north of Davis Gulch, on November 11, 1934. Addressed to With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница his parents and his brother, they indicate that he would be incommunicado for “a month or two.” Eight days after mailing them, Ruess encountered two sheepherders about a mile from the gulch and spent two nights at their camp; these men were the last people known to have seen the youth alive.
Some three months after Ruess departed Escalante, his parents received a bundle of unopened mail forwarded from the postmaster at Marble Canyon, Arizona, where Everett was long overdue. Worried, Christopher and Stella Ruess contacted the authorities in Escalante, who organized a search party in early March With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница 1935. Starting from the sheep camp where Ruess was last seen, they began combing the surrounding country and very quickly found Everett’s two burros at the bottom of Davis Gulch, grazing contentedly behind a makeshift corral fashioned from brush and tree limbs.
The burros were confined in the upper canyon, just upstream from where the Mormon steps intersect the floor of the gulch; a short distance downstream the searchers found unmistakable evidence of Ruess’s camp, and then, in the doorway of an Anasazi granary below a magnificent natural arch, they came across “NEMO 1934” carved into a stone With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница slab. Four Anasazi pots were carefully arranged on a rock nearby. Three months later searchers came across another Nemo graffito a little farther down the gulch (the rising waters of Lake Powell, which began to fill upon the completion of Glen Canyon Dam, in 1963, have long since erased both inscriptions), but except for the burros and their tack, none of Ruess’s possessions—his camping paraphernalia, journals, and paintings—was ever found.
It is widely believed that Ruess fell to his death while scrambling on one or another canyon wall. Given the treacherous nature of the local With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница topography (most of the cliffs that riddle the region are composed of Navajo sandstone, a crumbly stratum that erodes into smooth, bulging precipices) and Ruess’s penchant for dangerous climbing, this is a credible scenario. Careful searches of cliffs near and far, however, have failed to unearth any human remains.
And how to account for the fact that Ruess apparently left the gulch with a heavy load of gear but without his pack animals? These bewildering circumstances have led some investigators to conclude that Ruess was murdered by a team of cattle rustlers known to have been in With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница the area, who then stole his belongings and buried his remains or threw them into the Colorado River. This theory, too, is plausible, but no concrete evidence exists to prove it.
Shortly after Everett’s disappearance his father suggested that the boy had probably been inspired to call himself Nemo by Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea—a book Everett read many times—in which the purehearted protagonist, Captain Nemo, flees civilization and severs his “every tie upon the earth.” Everett’s biographer, W. L. Rusho, agrees with Christopher Ruess’s assessment With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница, arguing that Everett’s “withdrawal from organized society, his disdain for worldly pleasures, and his signatures as NEMO in Davis Gulch, all strongly suggest that he closely identified with the Jules Verne character.”
Ruess’s apparent fascination with Captain Nemo has fed speculation among more than a few Ruess mythographers that Everett pulled a fast one on the world after leaving Davis Gulch and is—or was—very much alive, quietly residing somewhere under an assumed identity. A year ago, while filling my truck with gas in Kingman, Arizona, I happened to strike up a conversation about Ruess with With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница the middle-aged pump attendant, a small, twitchy man with flecks of Skoal staining the corners of his mouth. Speaking with persuasive conviction, he swore that “he knew a fella who’d definitely bumped into Ruess” in the late 1960s at a remote hogan on the Navajo Indian Reservation. According to the attendant’s friend, Ruess was married to a Navajo woman, with whom he’d raised at least one child. The veracity of this and other reports of relatively recent Ruess sightings, needless to say, is extremely suspect.
Ken Sleight, who has spent as much With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница time investigating the riddle of Everett Ruess as any other person, is convinced that the boy died in 1934 or early 1935 and believes he knows how Ruess met his end. Sleight, sixty-five years old, is a professional river guide and desert rat with a Mormon upbringing and a reputation for insolence. When Edward Abbey was writing The Monkey Wrench Gang, his picaresque novel about eco-terrorism in the canyon country, his pal Ken Sleight was said to have inspired the character Seldom Seen Smith. Sleight has lived in the region for forty years, visited virtually all the places With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница Ruess visited, talked to many people who crossed paths with Ruess, taken Ruess’s older brother, Waldo, into Davis Gulch to visit the site of Everett’s disappearance.
“Waldo thinks Everett was murdered,” Sleight says. “But I don’t think so. I lived in Escalante for two years. I’ve talked with the folks who are accused of killing him, and I just don’t think they did it. But who knows? You can’t never really tell what a person does in secret. Other folks believe Everett fell off a cliff. Well, yeah, he coulda done that. It With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница be an easy thing to do in that country. But I don’t think that’s what happened.
“I tell you what I think: I think he drowned.”
Years ago, while hiking down Grand Gulch, a tributary of the San Juan River some forty-five miles due east of Davis Gulch, Sleight discovered the name Nemo carved into the soft mud mortar of an Anasazi granary. Sleight speculates that Ruess inscribed this Nemo not long after departing Davis Gulch.
“After corralling his burros in Davis,” says Sleight, “Ruess hid all his stuff in a cave somewhere and With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница took off, playing Captain Nemo. He had Indian friends down on the Navajo Reservation, and that’s where I think he was heading.” A logical route to Navajo country would have taken Ruess across the Colorado River at Hole-in-the-Rock, then along a rugged trail pioneered in 1880 by Mormon settlers across Wilson Mesa and the Clay Hills, and finally down Grand Gulch to the San Juan River, across which lay the reservation. “Everett carved his Nemo on the ruin in Grand Gulch, about a mile below where Collins Creek comes in, then continued on down to the With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница San Juan. And when he tried to swim across the river, he drowned. That’s what I think.”
Sleight believes that if Ruess had made it across the river alive and reached the reservation, it would have been impossible for him to conceal his presence “even if he was still playing his Nemo game. Everett was a loner, but he liked people too damn much to stay down there and live in secret the rest of his life. A lot of us are like that—I’m like that, Ed Abbey was like that, and it sounds like With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница this McCandless kid was like that: We like companionship, see, but we can’t stand to be around people for very long. So we go get ourselves lost, come back for a while, then get the hell out again. And that’s what Everett was doing.
“Everett was strange,” Sleight concedes. “Kind of different. But him and McCandless, at least they tried to follow their dream. That’s what was great about them. They tried. Not many do.”
In attempting to understand Everett Ruess and Chris McCandless, it can be illuminating to consider their deeds in a With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница larger context. It is helpful to look at counterparts from a distant place and a century far removed.
Off the southeastern coast of Iceland sits a low barrier island called Papos. Treeless and rocky, perpetually clobbered by gales howling off the North Atlantic, it takes its name from its first settlers, now long gone, the Irish monks known as papar. Walking this gnarled shore one summer afternoon, I blundered upon a matrix of faint stone rectangles embedded in the tundra: vestiges of the monks’ ancient dwellings, hundreds of years older, even, than the Anasazi ruins in Davis Gulch With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница.
The monks arrived as early as the fifth and sixth centuries a.d., having sailed and rowed from the west coast of Ireland. Setting out in small, open boats called curraghs, built from cowhide stretched over light wicker frames, they crossed one of the most treacherous stretches of ocean in the world without knowing what, if anything, they’d find on the other side.
The papar risked their lives—and lost them in untold droves— not in the pursuit of wealth or personal glory or to claim new lands in the name of any despot. As the great With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница arctic explorer and Nobel laureate Fridtjof Nansen points out, “these remarkable voyages were... undertaken chiefly from the wish to find lonely places, where these anchorites might dwell in peace, undisturbed by the turmoil and temptations of the world.” When the first handful of Norwegians showed up on the shores of Iceland in the ninth century, the papar decided the country had become too crowded—even though it was still all but uninhabited. The monks’ response was to climb into their curraghs and row off toward Greenland. They were drawn across the storm-racked ocean, drawn west past the edge With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница of the known world, by nothing more than a hunger of the spirit, a yearning of such queer intensity that it beggars the modern imagination.
Reading of these monks, one is moved by their courage, their reckless innocence, and the urgency of their desire. Reading of these monks, one can’t help thinking of Everett Ruess and Chris McCandless.
dying in the wild, a hiker recorded the terror
anchorage, Sept. 12 (AP)—Last Sunday a young hiker, stranded by an injury, was found dead at a remote camp in the Alaskan interior. No one is yet certain who he was. But his With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница diary and two notes found at the camp tell a wrenching story of his desperate and progressively futile efforts to survive.
The diary indicates that the man, believed to be an American in his late 20’s or early 30’s, might have been injured in a fall and that he was then stranded at the camp for more than three months. It tells how he tried to save himself by hunting game and eating wild plants while nonetheless getting weaker.
One of his two notes is a plea for help, addressed to anyone who might come upon the camp With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница while the hiker searched the surrounding area for food. The second note bids the world goodbye...
An autopsy at the state coroner’s office in Fairbanks this week found that the man had died of starvation, probably in late July. The authorities discovered among the man’s possessions a name that they believe is his. But they have so far been unable to confirm his identity and, until they do, have declined to disclose the name.
the new york times, september 13, 1992
Bythe time The New York Times picked up the story about the hiker, the Alaska State Troopers had With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница been trying for a week to figure out who he was. When he died, McCandless was wearing a blue sweatshirt printed with the logo of a Santa Barbara towing company; when contacted, the wrecking outfit professed to know nothing about him or how he’d acquired the shirt. Many of the entries in the brief, perplexing diary recovered with the body were terse observations of flora and fauna, which fueled speculation that McCandless was a field biologist. But that ultimately led nowhere, too.
On September 10, three days before news of the dead hiker appeared With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница in the Times, the story was published on the front page of the Anchorage Daily News. When Jim Gallien saw the headline and the accompanying map indicating that the body had been found twenty-five miles west of Healy on the Stampede Trail, he felt the hairs bristle across the base of his scalp: Alex. Gallien still held a picture in his mind of the odd, congenial youth striding down the trail in boots two sizes too big for him—Gallien s own boots, the old brown Xtratufs he’d persuaded the kid to take. “From the newspaper article, what little information With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница there was, it sounded like the same person,” says Gallien, “so I called the state troopers and said, ‘Hey, I think I gave that guy a ride.’ “
“OK, sure,” replied trooper Roger Ellis, the cop on the other end of the line. “What makes you think so? You’re the sixth person in the last hour who’s called to say they know the hiker’s identity.” But Gallien persisted, and the more he talked, the more Ellis’s skepticism receded. Gallien described several pieces of equipment not mentioned in the newspaper account that matched With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница gear found with the body. And then Ellis noticed that the first cryptic entry in the hiker’s journal read, “Exit Fairbanks. Sitting Galliean. Rabbit Day.”
The troopers had by this time developed the roll of film in the hiker’s Minolta, which included several apparent self-portraits. “When they brought the pictures out to the job site where I was working,” says Gallien, “there was no two ways about it. The guy in the pictures was Alex.”
Because McCandless had told Gallien he was from South Dakota, the troopers immediately shifted their search there for the hiker’s next of With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница kin. An all-points bulletin turned up a missing
person named McCandless from eastern South Dakota, coinci-dentally from a small town only twenty miles from Wayne West-erberg’s home in Carthage, and for a while the troopers thought they’d found their man. But this, too, turned out to be a false lead.
Westerberg had heard nothing from the friend he knew as Alex McCandless since receiving the postcard from Fairbanks the previous spring. On September 13, he was rolling down an empty ribbon of blacktop outside Jamestown, North Dakota, leading his harvest crew home to Carthage after With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница wrapping up the four-month cutting season in Montana, when the VHP barked to life. “Wayne!” an anxious voice crackled over the radio from one of the crew’s other trucks. “This is Bob. You got your radio on?”
“Yeah, Bobby. Wayne here. What’s up?”
“Quick—turn on your AM, and listen to Paul Harvey. He’s talking about some kid who starved to death up in Alaska. The police don’t know who he is. Sounds a whole lot like Alex.”
Westerberg found the station in time to catch the tail end of the Paul With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница Harvey broadcast, and he was forced to agree: The few sketchy details made the anonymous hiker sound distressingly like his friend.
As soon as he got to Carthage, a dispirited Westerberg phoned the Alaska State Troopers to volunteer what he knew about McCandless. By that time, however, stories about the dead hiker, including excerpts from his diary, had been given prominent play in newspapers across the country. As a consequence the troopers were swamped with calls from people claiming to know the hiker’s identity, so they were even less receptive to Westerberg than they had been to Gallien With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница. “The cop told me they’d had more than one hundred fifty calls from folks who thought Alex was their kid, their friend, their brother,” says Westerberg. “Well, by then I was kind of pissed at getting the runaround, so I told him, ‘Look, I’m not just another crank caller. I know who he is. He worked for me. I think I’ve even got his Social Security number around here somewhere.’”
Westerberg pawed through the files at the grain elevator until he found two W-4 forms McCandless had filled out. Across the top of the With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница first one, dating from McCandless’s initial visit to Carthage, in 1990, he had scrawled “exempt exempt exempt exempt” and given his name as Iris Fucyu. Address: “None of your damn business.” Social Security number: “I forget.”
But on the second form, dated March 30, 1992, two weeks before he left for Alaska, he’d signed his given name: “Chris J. McCandless.” And in the blank for Social Security number he’d put down, “228-31-6704.” Westerberg phoned Alaska again. This time the troopers took him seriously.
The Social Security number turned out to be genuine and placed McCandless’s permanent residence in northern Virginia With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница. Authorities in Alaska contacted law-enforcement agencies in that state, who in turn started combing phone directories for McCand-lesses. Walt and Billie McCandless had by then moved to the Maryland shore and no longer had a Virginia phone number, but Walt’s eldest child from his first marriage lived in Annandale and was in the book; late on the afternoon of September 17, Sam McCandless received a call from a Fairfax County homicide detective.
Sam, nine years older than Chris, had seen a short article about the hiker in The Washington Post a few days earlier, but, he With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница allows, “It didn’t occur to me that the hiker might be Chris. Never even crossed my mind. It’s ironic because when I read the article I thought, ‘Oh, my God, what a terrible tragedy. I really feel sorry for the family of this guy, whoever they are. What a sad story.’ “
Sam had been raised in California and Colorado, in his mother’s household, and hadn’t moved to Virginia until 1987, after Chris had left the state to attend college in Atlanta, so Sam didn’t know his half brother well. But when the With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница homicide detective started asking whether the hiker sounded like anyone he knew, Sam reports, “I was pretty sure it was Chris. The fact that he’d gone to Alaska, that he’d gone off by himself—it all added up.”
At the detective’s request, Sam went to the Fairfax County Police Department, where an officer showed him a photograph of the hiker that had been faxed from Fairbanks. “It was an eight-by-ten enlargement,” Sam recalls, “a head shot. His hair was long, and he had a beard. Chris almost always had short hair and was clean-shaven With chris mccandless’s remains 4 страница. And the face in the picture was extremely gaunt. But I knew right away. There was no doubt. It was Chris. I went home, picked up Michele, my wife, and drove out to Maryland to tell Dad and Billie. I didn’t know what I was going to say. How do you tell someone that their child is dead?”