9 August 2015

Healy AK, USA

An old city bus plays an important part in the film INTO THE WILD. Once left behind by miners after the axle broke, this Fairbanks City Transit System Bus 142 from 1946 was used as a shelter by hunters and rangers. It became world famous after Christopher McCandles stayed here for four months.

The film tells the true story of the last two years of his life, during which Christopher McCandles (Emile Hirsch) wondered all over the United States and finally chose the lonely life in Alaska. He died in August 1992 and was found dead two weeks later in what he had called the “Magic Bus”. Starvation, in combination with eating a toxic plant or fungus, may have been the cause of his death.

Into the Wild, 2:16:23
Out of respect for the McCandles family and because the bus is so remote - it can only be reached by the difficult and sometimes very dangerous Stampede Trail - a replica was made by putting parts of two busses from the 1940s together. This made it also easier to film inside the bus, for instance by taking the back door out. Filming was done near the small village of Cantwell.

During our visit to Alaska we passed Cantwell but because it was raining heavily that day we did not try to find filming locations. About 40 miles north of Cantwell is Healy. The Stampede Rd, that leads to the Stampede Trail, starts here. The road sign can be seen in the movie but it differs from the sign that we saw. Perhaps it has been replaced since filming in 2006, more likely is that another sign along the same road was filmed.

Into the Wild, 0:02:53
Stampede Rd, Healy, 14 July 2015

'Magic Bus', Healy, 14 July 2015
After the Alaska shoot was finished, the movie bus was bought by Jason Motyka, owner of 49th State Brewing Company, a restaurant that specializes in beer. Located on the George Parks Hwy, it can be found near mile 284.4. The bus is left of the entrance and admission is free. Inside the bus is a small exhibition on Christopher McCandles, including postcards he sent, notes from his diary and photographs that were found on his camera. Also note the signpost, indicating 35 miles to the 'real' magic bus.

Into the Wild, 2:00:07
'Magic Bus', 49th State Brewing Company, Healy, 14 July 2015
Into the Wild, 0:11:59
'Magic Bus', 49th State Brewing Company, Healy, 14 July 2015
Into the Wild, 1:44:01
'Magic Bus', 49th State Brewing Company, Healy, 14 July 2015

The photo of Christopher McCandles sitting in front of the bus is also part of the movie. Director Sean Penn recreated the scene and wanted to end his film with this photo. He was granted permission by the family.

Into the Wild, 2:16:49 (self portrait Christopher McCandles)
Into the Wild, 1:43:27
'Magic Bus', 49th State Brewing Company, Healy, 14 July 2015

Healy is located near the Denali National Park and Preserve, a beautiful nature reserve that for the main part can only be visited by bus. It is very likely that you will see wildlife. During our visit we saw, amongst others, bears, moose, caribous, squirrels, and birds of prey. The national park is named after Denali, the highest mountain of North America. The mountain can be glimpsed in the movie for a moment when McCandles is attempting to return to the civilized world.

Into the Wild, 1:44:33
Denali National Park, 15 July 2015

The movie features a lot images from Alaska's nature, for instance a bumblebee on a fireweed. In the summertime, Alaska turns lilac when this plant is flourishing everywhere, partly due to the fact that it does not get dark at night. It was quite easy to photograph a fireweed with a bumblebee. After a forest fire this plant will grow first on the burnt site, hence the name fireweed. Also found everywhere and seen in the film is foxtail barley, a grass species.

Into the Wild, 1:42:59
Fireweed with bumblebee, Denali National Park, 15 July 2015
Into the Wild, 1:21:37
Foxtail barley, Denali Borough, 16 July 2015

Screenshots © Paramount Vantage/River Road Entertainment