Jim Gallien, the same Alaskan who gave Christopher McCandless his final ride into Alaska, sees a front-page news story about the boy’s death based on another story that appeared in TheNew York Times. Because Gallien thinks he knows the identity of the body, he calls the Anchorage police. After struggling to differentiate himself from other tipsters and cranks, Gallien convinces the police he encountered the dead hitchhiker on the Stampede Trail. He can only be so helpful, however. In informing the police that McCandless was from South Dakota, he unknowingly repeats a lie McCandless told him. The police begin an erroneous search for McCandless’s family in South Dakota.
In what Krakauer calls a very fortunate coincidence, a South Dakota friend of Wayne Westerberg then hears a description of Chris McCandless on a radio show. He radios Westerberg, who tunes into the show and then calls the Alaska State Troopers. They don’t believe him and ask him to call back when he has concrete evidence. He calls again and gives them the social security number McCandless used while working at the grain elevator as well as McCandless’s given name. A homicide detective reaches Sam McCandless, Chris McCandless’s half-brother, since the rest of the McCandless family has left Virginia. Sam travels to Alaska and positively identifies a headshot of McCandless. He then heads home to explain to his parents that McCandless is dead.
The narrator visits Samuel “Walt” McCandless at his home in Maryland. Walt, a jet propulsion engineer and sensor expert who oversaw a NASA satellite launch, describes his frustrations with and affection for Christopher McCandless. His son, he says, caused his parents great agony despite his kindness. Krakauer then relates Walt McCandless’s past. After college, he went to work in jet propulsion after the launch of Sputnik pushed the United States to pursue space exploration. He married young and was financially successful, but his relationship with his first wife and family fell apart. Walt then met Billie McCandless, Christopher’s mother. Billie McCandless worked as a receptionist at the science park where Walt McCandless was employed. She moved in with Walt McCandless, who already had three children, when she was twenty-two.
Christopher McCandless spent his childhood in an atmosphere of thriftiness and striving as his parents worked together to build a satellite systems consulting company. Fights between Billie and Walt McCandless led to closeness between McCandless and his sister, Carine. The tension was sometimes alleviated by camping trips that may have sparked Christopher’s love of the outdoors. Christopher’s paternal grandfather’s love of camping and climbing may also have contributed. Carine and Christopher were musical children and loved the family dog. McCandless also ran cross country and showed extreme determination to succeed in every task he undertook. Anecdotes from his school friends illustrate both his dislike of his parents and a contradictory unwillingness to complain. Other anecdotes from his parents demonstrate Christopher’s intensity and strong-willed independence, including a run-in with a physics teacher that led to him being failed for not wanting to follow arbitrary rules. Christopher also secretly housed a homeless man on the family’s property. The McCandless family lived comfortably. For example, as their business succeeded Billie and Walt McCandless eventually bought a sailboat and took their children on a cruise.
The narrator next details Christopher McCandless’s extraordinary success working as a manager for a construction firm before college. Subsequently, McCandless purchases the Datsun he will drive to the American West. When McCandless graduates from college, his parents offer to buy him a new car out of the money remaining in his college fund, but he lectures them about the folly of materialism. He donates the money to the charity OXFAM without telling them.
Initiated by the retelling of the process of finding positive identification of Christopher McCandless’s corpse, Chapters Ten and Eleven reach all the way back to the second chapter of Into the Wild. Krakauer left McCandless as he walked into the wild. From this new visit to Jim Gallien, he begins to tell the story of the months and weeks just after his death. Rather than interrupt the narrative, this move begins to tie together plot points and themes. The return of Jim Gallien’s character underlines the reader’s rich familiarity with the small group of people in the American West who came to know McCandless well. As the efforts to identify McCandless’s body proceed, Krakauer begins to subtly intimate to the reader that his efforts to examine McCandless’s mind are about to deepen and that a link between McCandless’s life in the West and his past in the East might be established. The phone call from an Alaskan homicide detective to McCandless’s half-brother accomplishes precisely this.