Knowing where to start looking for the treasure was less than helpful. I was hiking the Appalachian Trail and planned on making this my second thru hike, which meant walking from end to end. From Springer Mountain in Georgia, along the 2,185 miles north to Mount Katahdin in Maine.
Though I had hiked the entire thing in one hike already, I had failed to complete a second hike the year before. And I hated failure.
I’d started early and had been frozen off of Siler Bald on the Tennessee-North Carolina state line, and though that didn’t dampen my excitement to be hiking I thought about the treasure every day while I hiked. Hiking gives you a lot of time to think, and well, the Forrest Fenn Treasure was the most interesting thing in my life.
Is this what Gold Fever felt like, I wondered.
Then, not much further up the trail, the fantasies about the treasure got so overwhelming that I thought about quitting after I’d only gone as far as Gatlinburg. Just over 200 miles of hiking and I was ready to be done? I thought about hitchhiking into Knoxville. Heading west to Thermopolis.
How hard could it be to find the treasure? It was just south of Thermopilis, right?
I forced myself back to the trail, because I was there to hike, but I only made it as far as Max Patch, less than another 50 miles up the trail, and sitting there in the cold wind, feeling inspired, I asked myself what I really wanted out of life. In a way where you leave a silence at the end and listen for a reply.
Find the treasure, it said.
I didn’t have a lot of money left, I’d grown accustomed to hiking on a budget. Which meant hiking for less than $1 a mile, something that most other hikers had a hard time achieving. So like everyone that imagined what they’d do if they won the lottery, I did the same with the treasure. A party where I used to work giving out gift certificates from the restaurant to my regular customers as a way of saying thanks. A thru hiker grant to help people all across the country struggling with the complexity of modern life, or maybe even a reality television show, Hobo Millionaire, where I’d use the gold to get my teeth fixed in Mexico…
Once I’d let the Gold Fever take hold I was as good as done with my hike,
Into Hot Springs, which was just under 300 miles from my start in Amicalola Falls, and I was ready for a different kind of adventure.
Getting my broke ass across the country.
There was no cell signal or wifi in Hot Springs to arrange bus tickets. I had no idea how I was going to get to Thermopolis or what I’d do once I got there. And that was far more exciting than hiking a trail I’d already hiked, no matter how much I thought of it as home.
I packed my stinky, sweaty shirts for the only semi-clean thing that I had and walked across the French Broad River and stuck out my thumb. I put on my glasses to look safer, i.e., normal, and the first car picked me up.
Carlos was going to Marshall which was on the way to Asheville, North Carolina. But he wanted to drop me off downtown, “Which is just up this hill,” he told me. What he didn’t mention was that it was off the highway, over the hill and down into the valley, unfortunately.
By then the sun was out, so hiking up and out of the town, trying to get back to the main road, made me sweat. Something I was trying to avoid for the sake of the people in whose cars I would be riding if I was to make it to Asheville to catch a bus west.
I got to the business road split and stuck out my thumb. What I thought was going to be impossible, again turned out to be a ride from the first car. Hopefully hitchhiking the rest of the way is this easy, I thought to myself.
“Can you straddle that?” The driver asked, pointing to a box on the floor. “It’s my wife. Her ashes. She died on the seventh of this month.”
“Sorry for your loss sir,” I say.
“I’m going to Ingle’s, how far are you going?”
“Asheville,” I tell him, thinking that Ingle’s might be a town. But it’s a supermarket a couple of miles away. He dropped me off there and I walked to a semi-decent spot from which to hitch. Cars could see me for a ways, but the location also turned out to be a good spot for the undercover State Trooper to tag speeders. He gave me about ten minutes of getting in the way of his radar before giving up and heading off to another speed trap.
Soon after I get a ride from Roland, a rafting guide headed to Asheville, which turns out to be much farther away than I’d anticipated. He dropped me off near Vance Square and my old friend Miss America sent me a text at almost the exact same time. She was out of work and would swing around to get me. We barely missed a pile-up crash on the highway as we went to pick up her daughter. Then she dropped me off at her house but had to run errands leaving me in her place by myself.
It took two hours to go from hiking the Appalachian Trail and eating a burger in Hot Springs to hitchhike to Asheville.
You can download the entire book of Quest in the West in PDF format here!