Fly Over McCandless' Magic Bus

See the Stampede Trail from the air for $250

May 14, 2014
Outside Magazine
McCandless' actual bus, not used in the tour's promotional materials. into the wild chris mccandless outside online die wild obsession lore folk tour alaska anchorage

McCandless' actual bus, not used in the tour's promotional materials.    Paxson Woebler/Flickr

The cult of Chris McCandless marches on. Texas businessman Brad Benson has announced plans to fly eager tourists over the Magic Bus and Alaskan backcountry where the 24-year-old McCandless spent his final days before dying more than 20 years ago.

McCandless is, of course, one of the most well-known characters in Outside's history. His story has fascinated and perplexed since Jon Krakauer's initial 1993 story for the magazine and subsequent book Into the Wild. Even as more details have emerged about McCandless' demise, adventurers have continued to fetishize him, poring over his pictures and recreating his dangerous journey.

Now, as the Anchorage Daily News reports, following in McCandless' footsteps will be easier than ever—if you've got a bit of cash. For $250 apiece, Benson will offer tourists the opportunity to safely connect with the McCandless myth via his company, Stampede Aviation, but his business plan has some critics shaking their heads.

Stampede's website boasts that on this new "economical tour," patrons will fly over Denali National Park, Healy Canyon, and Stampede Trail in a private, four-seat aircraft. The Stampede Trail is where the Magic Bus resides. But there's a catch—to advertise, Stampede Aviation has actually used photographs from Sean Penn's 2007 film adaptation of Krakauer's book. The company is advertising a cinematic facsimile, not the real thing.

Why did Stampede use that photo rather than the real thing? "That's a good question," Benson told the ADN. "It's actually kind of a difficult place to photograph, so all my pictures were poor. This is probably more of what people are envisioning."

Benson says he's just supplying a trip that's in high demand. He's a veteran of Fly Denali and Talkeetna Air Taxi and says that when he has flown patrons to see Mount McKinley, some have asked about McCandless. And, as the ADN points out, Krakauer and Penn's retellings of the story took creative liberties similar to the romanticism Stampede Aviation boasts.

The company is expected to begin operating later this month. Whatever its fate, we can be sure McCandless' legacy will continue to inspire adventurers of all stripes for years to come.