The narrator and author of Into the Wild receives a letter from a man named Ronald A. Franz, who asks for a copy of a 1993 magazine article about Christopher McCandless’s death. This leads to a visit between Krakauer and Franz, a recovered alcoholic and Vietnam veteran. Krakauer learns from Franz that he and McCandless met while camping at Anza-Borrego Desert State Park near the Salton Sea. McCandless shows Franz the hot springs where he camps in exchange for a ride. The two become friends. Franz lost his wife and child while he was overseas, and he takes to McCandless as if the younger man were his own son. Franz buys McCandless food and listens to his stories as well as his theories about life and society.
Franz tries to convince McCandless to get a job, but McCandless explains to him that he has a plan. He also begins lecturing Franz about how sedentary Franz’s life is. Franz teaches McCandless leatherworking, and McCandless produces a monogrammed belt with a number of symbols from his life as a tramp. Eventually, Franz drives McCandless to San Diego, where he attempts to get work. Later letters arrive from McCandless to say that work is hard to come by in San Diego. By late February, McCandless writes to Burres and Franz to say he has jumped trains to Seattle. His next contact with Franz comes after his arrest and release for jumping a train further south, in a small California town called Colton. Franz drives to Colton, picks McCandless up, feeds him, gives him supplies, and helps him pack to depart for Carthage, where he says he will work for Wayne Westerberg again. On one of their last drives, Franz asks McCandless if he can adopt him as his grandson, but McCandless pushes off the conversation for after his return from Alaska.
Krakauer then breaks off tracking McCandless and relates that Franz received a letter from McCandless in early April, which he quotes in its entirety. In the letter, McCandless urges Franz to pack up his belongings and embark on a traveler’s life, chastising him for settling for less joy than the world has to offer. Krakauer relates then that Franz followed McCandless’s advice. He bought a camper and moved to McCandless’s old campsite in the Salton Sea, where he lived until he heard news of McCandless’s death from a pair of hitchhikers while in town to retrieve his mail. Rocked by grief, Franz drank a bottle of whiskey, breaking his hard-won sobriety.
Almost two months after the discovery of McCandless’s body, the narrator meets with Wayne Westerberg in Carthage, South Dakota to discuss McCandless’s last period of work at Westerberg’s grain elevator. McCandless intended to stay from March until April to raise funds for his trip to Alaska. The narrator also speaks with Gail Borah, Westerberg’s girlfriend, who describes McCandless’s seriousness and his affection for his sister Carine, as well as his disagreements with his family. Westerberg’s mother also tells the narrator that she felt particular affection for McCandless even though she only met him once.
The narrator describes McCandless’s feelings that his parents were oppressive, secretive, and irrational. He also relates that McCandless never had a girlfriend and may have remained celibate throughout puberty and afterward. McCandless apparently marked up passages of Leo Tolstoy’s “Kreutzer Sonata,” a story about the renunciation of sex. Krakauer analyzes McCandless’s character at length, concluding that he was drawn to nature because of a desire for human contact too strong to be satisfied by other people.
On his last night with Westerberg and Borah, McCandless entertains a bar full of Carthage locals by playing the piano. Together, the three polish off a great deal of Jack Daniels, one of McCandless’s favorite drinks. In the morning, McCandless’s friends see him off, and Borah discovers he is crying as he says goodbye to her. A week later he writes from Montana. At the end of April, 1992, Burres and her boyfriend as well as Westerberg and Borah receive postcards bidding them goodbye forever and explaining that McCandless is never coming back from the wild.