By Michael Rogers
Photos by: Paxson Woelber
It appears yet another adventurer to the famed “Magic Bus” has perished. 24 year old Veramika Maikamava drowned in the Teklanika River while hiking to the bus with her new husband Piotr Markielau on Thursday (7/25/2019) according to Alaska State Troopers. Maikamava was able to reach his wife a short distance downstream but she had already perished in the strong current.
The abandoned Fairbanks bus has become a mecca of sorts since being popularized in the 1996 Jon Krakauer book “Into the Wild” and later in the 2007 Sean Penn film of the same name. The bus is the site of the death of Christopher McCandless, a trust fund hippy who wandered into the woods in April of 1992 and, essentially, starved to death. His body was found in August that year by a group of hunters who used the bus as a hunting camp.
While many Alaskans remain singularly unimpressed by McCandless, his wilderness travels, and his peculiar demise…he has become something of a celebrity among certain circles. While I’ve said before, McCandless isn’t all that different than many folks who wander up here and die in the woods- he did have the benefit of a better than average storyteller. While I have enjoyed Krakauer’s work in the past- he wove very little fact and a pile of speculation and some outright fiction into a popular story.
The only problem is, it’s that- a story. A story that ignores the very real fact that the Alaskan backcountry is no place for the inexperienced. The price for hubris here is, not infrequently, death.
His fan club however has taken the story and ignored reality and made something of McCandless he never was in life. I remember a long conversation with our guides in Costa Rica- they were positively starstruck with the guy and it’s not unusual for folks to come from around the world to attempt a trek to the bus. Searching for meaning in something that was never there to start with. As a local, a somewhat deranged guy walking into the woods and dying isn’t romantic- it’s dang sad. And folks dying while attempting a pilgrimage to the spot of something so sad, is sadder still.
In fact, it’s become something of a regular SAR (Search and Rescue) call in the Interior. Every year, multiple people attempt the trip and become lost, injured, or die and that requires the services of authorities and volunteers who pay the price in risk to pull these folks “out of the wild” and the rest of us pay the price in dollars. A lot of dollars.
While this isn’t the only place a search and rescue occurs, that bus has become something of a loon magnet. A beacon to the misguided romantics with poor risk assessment and poor critical thinking skills. And those folks require saving a lot more often than others.
Maybe it’s high time we drag that bus out of the woods and let the willows and time reclaim the place. It was out of place when those hunters drug it out there to start with and even more so today.
Let’s just be done with it.