web analytics

Romanticized Adventure


142 Fairbanks City Bus – Image copyright Christopher Johnson McCandless Memorial Foundation

I’ve found it fascinating how the story of Christopher “Into the Wild” McCandless has become legendary. It touches on a deep spirit of adventure that is common among most people, whether they express, or even recognize it, or not. I’ve noticed that this story tends to polarize people into one of two camps: McCandless was a reckless fool, or McCandless was a noble adventurer pushing the limits. Whatever your opinion, it probably rises from the same basic emotion involving a fascination with adventure.

W.B. Churchill was seeking something with far more depth and seriousness in the same sort of wilderness isolation that I wrote about in the book Forty Demons. It also appears likely that Dustin Self was also on a similar kind of extreme adventure.

However, the poor young man in this incident, if you can believe what is written in the online story, is not in the same category. Jonathan Croom was reported to be distraught before he disappeared, unlike McCandless, Churchill or Self, who were all on epic adventures of self-discovery. He was found a short distance from his SUV, not in a remote wilderness area, days from civilization. If the 18-year-old Croom committed suicide as the authorities believe, they probably have evidence of the fact. Both Churchill and McCandless were initially thought to have made mistakes that trapped them in a remote area, their bodies weren’t found 1000 feet from their car.

Unfortunately, the media has apparently decided that because there was a remote link to the McCandless story, they decided to exploit the tragic death of Jonathan Croom. Croom must have been “inspired” to go off into the Oregon wilderness and try and adventure for himself. Perhaps he was in some way, but the reality seems to be that it’s an attention grabber for a media outlet desperate for web hits. Note all the photos of McCandless and publicity photos from the “Into the Wild” movie, both of which have only the most remote connection to Croom.

The terrible downside to this is the romanticizing the mix of McCandless’ adventure and tragedy into a seductive death-wish archetype that can be so appealing to young adults. This is a good example of irresponsible media at it’s worst. The least the media could do is publish stories about actual tragic adventures of self-discovery, there are plenty around.

Posted in 40 Demons Archive, Journal by with 2 comments.

Missing in the Wilderness

Steens Mountain Wilderness in Oregon, where Dustin Self is presumed missing

Today this story about Dustin Self of Oklahoma City caught my attention. He went missing about a month ago and his abandoned truck was recently found near Steens Mountain, a remote wilderness area in southeast Oregon. Another story is here.

These are the apparent facts: Dustin Self drove from Oklahoma City to Oregon. He was last heard from about a month ago when he made a call to his ex-girlfriend saying that he was lost. His ex called the authorities in Oregon and they did some investigation and find out he was last seen in the small community of Fields, Oregon, where he asked directions to Lakeview, a town about a hundred miles west of Fields. There were no other signs of Self until Monday when his truck was found by a rancher. It was located about 500 feet down a ravine, in the desert on the east side of Steens Mountain, which is about 25 miles north of Fields. Self was not in the truck and there were no reported clues as to where he is. The search was postponed due to high winds in the area yesterday.

The background story is this: An Oklahoma teen tells his parents he is “going off the grid” for a few months and drives to Oregon. He wants to live off the land and investigate a religious group that drinks South American hallucinogenic tea in its ceremonies. He is reportedly a big fan of Into the Wild. He had broken up with his girlfriend the day before he left Oklahoma.

This is another interesting mystery of disappearing in the wilderness. What really happened we don’t know yet but I can’t help but notice the similarities between Self and Winston Branko Churchill, who I wrote about in Forty Demons. Like Winston and Chris McCandless from Into the Wild, Self apparently had a love of the wilderness and was seeking a more intense connection. And like Winston, Self seemed to have an interest in Ayahuasca, the South American hallucinogenic tea mentioned in the articles.

But to be frank, media reports on stories like this are notoriously inaccurate. If you read the two articles I linked to at the beginning of this post, you’ll notice that when they mention Self’s outdoor survival experience, one article spins it to give an impression he is a complete novice while the other one gives the impression that he is well equipped and ready to survive anything. Which is it? Also, he is described as a “teen,” which I guess is technically accurate but in reality he is a 19-year-old man. I and my friends went on many true wilderness adventures at this age and younger.

Also, if Self were trying to drive from Fields to Lakeview, he was way, way off track based on where his truck was found. There are many possibilities for this other than being lost. He may have been intending to disappear, as one report stated. Or he may have had an accident, got stuck and tried to walk out and became lost. Or he may have been the victim of foul play. We don’t know and may never know. Even after Winston’s body was found near a remote cabin in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, it took significant investigation to understand what might have been going on in his head during his last month of life.

Or Dustin Self may walk out and have a great story to tell. Only time can tell.

Posted in 40 Demons Archive, Journal by with comments disabled.

The Militant Environmentalist

Contaminated water at the abandoned Summitville Mine in the San Juan Mountains of Colorado

What would you do to prevent an environmental disaster such as what happened at the Summitville Mine in the early 1990s? I told the true story in Forty Demons of how a private Canadian company, seeking profit from industrial-scale gold mining, destroyed vast areas of Colorado wilderness, poisoned streams and forced the state and federal government to spend hundreds of millions of dollars in a clean-up attempt.

Do we, as a society, need to tolerate this kind of irresponsible action simply because a company wants to extract an unusable mineral? Yes, gold is “valuable” but mainly as bullion. It sits inertly in a vault somewhere forever. Yet the wilderness that was brutally destroyed to extract this metal cannot be re-created. It may be rehabilitated to a degree, but it will never be completely restored. Anyone who has ever driven through the mountains of Colorado can see the scars and tailing piles left by mines that were dug more than 100 years ago. Just like today, once the “money” is gone, the mines are abandoned and nothing gets cleaned up.

When Winston saw the possibility of this same thing happening in the Uncompahgre Wilderness, not far from the Summitville disaster site, he took drastic action. To him, the wilderness was a holy land and these developments were an intolerable outrage. He was compelled to take action. Something drastic.


Posted in 40 Demons Archive by with comments disabled.


The Chakras

Now throughout your life, God, or your higher self has been dishing out these little bits of guidance to you, and depending on what you do with it will dictate whether or not you get any more. God will keep handing out those doses of enlightenment until you use them the wrong way, or even if you don’t use them at all. God wants to see what you can do with it, God wants to see what your true potential is, and who really knows as a society what our true potential is, we sure as hell don’t. – Winston Branko Churchill

Winston understood the gift, what did he do with his enlightenment?

Kundalini is a powerful psychological energy. It has been recognized for a long time. The Hindus described it long before Christ was born and so is now recognized as spiritual phenomenon. It is described as a potential energy coiled at the base of your spine like a snake, a personal power laying dormant, waiting for the right conditions to be released. Carl Jung understood the relationship between Kundalini and western understanding of psychology. The effect on humans is real.

In Hindu understanding, to reach its full potential your Kundalini energy must rise through your spine up to your head. This can only happen if your 7 chakras have been opened. Then you experience a great understanding and connection with the universe. In Eastern interpretation, Kundalini is what gives rise to genius, to great wisdom and understanding, to absolute contentment.

To achieve this involves extensive training. It takes years of study and meditation under a guide, or guru. However, in rare individuals it can happen spontaneously, a great and dangerous power poured into a psyche unexpectedly. An unprepared mind can be greatly disturbed by this surge of energy. A Kundalini Awakening can be a gift from God or a curse from the Devil.

During a particularly intense meditation exercise Winston experienced a strange and profound transition in awareness. Later he became convinced that he had experienced a Kundalini Awakening. At the time it was unexpected and unprecedented, he had no idea what had happened to him or how to cope with it. But his life had changed forever. His awakening had given rise to the demons.




Posted in 40 Demons Archive by with comments disabled.

An Astonishing Vision Quest


This isn’t a camping trip, it’s a shootout with the Devil. I didn’t come here to build campfires and look at the stars, I came out here to track something down, to kill them, one by one, forty days, forty demons.

-Winston Branko Churchill

This is the true story of a man who abandoned a successful business and wrote a 500-page manifesto, became absorbed in Eastern mysticism, exotic hallucinogenic drugs, day-long meditation sessions, and 10 hour mountain bike marathons. He was temporarily committed to a mental hospital before setting off on a 400 mile solo wilderness trek where he experienced increasingly strange visions that lead to his intentional starvation in a tent, alone at 11,000 feet in the San Juan mountains. It was near where members of the Alfred Packer party committed murder and cannibalism in the late 1800s, and close to the location of the Summitville Mine disaster, an irresponsible, man-made environmental catastrophe. This disaster is an important connection. Winston revered the wilderness and this was a great sin against the holy land.

I found out these facts after being drawn to what was already, in late summer of 2008, an intriguing story. Winston had disappeared somewhere in western Colorado and his family and friends were desperate to find him. When people disappear in that manner they’re usually gone for good. It appeared hopeless.

I learned in retrospect that, at the time, Winston was still alive and would remain that way for many more weeks before dying of starvation. His death wasn’t the result of being trapped or disabled in the wilderness, he intentionally starved himself to death. Why would one do that?

As I delved deeper into Winston and the final year of his life, it was revealed to me what his friends and family already knew: He was one of the most interesting, strange, intelligent, wild and intense people I had ever known and his story needed to be told. The strange events that drove him and the reason for his intentional death is told in Forty Demons.

Posted in 40 Demons Archive by with comments disabled.