It is a rare adventurer who chooses to go life alone. We are social creatures, comforted by the presence and encouragement of others. Some Adrenalists, however, don’t need it. Some find reason to push on within themselves. Sometimes, in the wilderness, they find a lot more. Here are the adventurers who, by choice or by force, found more than they bargained for while alone in the great outdoors.
Hiroo Onoda (1922-Present)
You’ve no doubt heard the story about the soldier who was found on a remote isle, clutching his rifle in the bush decades after some war ended. Well guess what, that story is true, and that soldier, at least the most prominent one of that mold, is Japanese Lieutenant Hiroo Onoda. Sent into the jungle of a tiny island in the Philippiines in 1944 to spy on the encroaching Allies, Lt. Onoda waited for nearly 30 years as those in his garrison deserted and died, rejecting dropped leaflets that reported the war was over and shunning the pleas of local villagers who tried to tempt him away from the coconuts and bananas that kept him alive into middle age. Finally, in 1974, Onoda was found by another Japanese adventurer, Norio Suzuki. Suzuki had set out on a continent-wide journey in search of “Lieutenant Onoda, a panda and the Abominable Snowman, in that order,” Onoda wrote later in his book, No Surrender: My Thirty-Year War. Still, Onoda refused to leave the jungle until his commander, now a bookseller, arrived on the island to order him out, which he did. Onoda is still alive today.
Richard Proenneke (1916-2003)
Before Bear and before Grizzly Man, there was Richard Proenneke, the original self-sufficient wilderness documentarian. A naval carpenter during World War II, Proenneke escaped to Alaska in search of health, happiness and solitude, building a log cabin from scratch, using only traditional tools and filming every step of his survival in the Alaskan wilds. For nearly 30 years, Proenneke lived in that cabin, only occasionally receiving companionship and supplies from a bush pilot buddy. Year after year, he hunkered down during winter and awakened to an Alaskan spring exploding with life. Today we can watch his existence unfold in the documentary, Alone in the Wilderness, and its two sequels, which were pasted together posthumously after a large cache of unused video was found after his death. The films, especially the first, are required viewing for any aspiring Adrenalist who wants to document his or her adventures, or capture the awe-inspiring peace of the great outdoors.
Christopher McCandless (1968-1992)
Like Richard Proenneke, Christopher McCandless ran off into Alaska in search of solitude and self sufficiency. Unlike Proenneke, McCandless never made it out. The subject of Jon Krakauer’s book Into the Wild, and the film of the same name, McCandless gave away all his money after graduating from college in 1990. He didn’t think he would need money where he was going. He didn’t think he would need a compass either. When McCandless’ body was found four months after he trekked into the Alaskan wilds, it was all too clear the 24-year-old was ill-prepared for the idealistic journey he had undertaken. His corpse weighed just 67 pounds. According to entries found in his journal, McCandless had succeeded in killing a moose, however he failed to preserve the meat properly. Two decades after his death, McCandless continues to inspire others to venture into the wild and his story continues to serve as a cautionary tale of what can go wrong without proper preparation in the outdoors. On August 12, 1992, McCandless wrote two final last words in his journal: “Beautiful Blueberries.”
Alexander Selkirk (1676-1721)
The original castaway, Alexander Selkirk befriended feral cats on a remote Pacific island centuries before Tom Hanks ever made a friend out of “Wilson.” Of course, Selkirk, a Scottish sailor, is best known for inspiring Robinson Crusoe, which Daniel Defoe wrote in 1719, ten years after Selkirk was finally rescued from the Juan Fernandez Islands off the coast of Chile. You might not know Selkirk was put on those islands by choice, a wise choice in fact; he thought the ship he was sailing to be un-seaworthy and requested his captain drop him on the islands instead of take him into the rough seas that would soon kill half the crew. So Selkirk waited and waited, fending off sea lions and bellicose Spanish pirates, and eating turtles and shellfish and constructing huts, the remains of which may have been found just a few years ago. Finally, after four years on the island, Selkirk was rescued. Now his story is ours.