At some point, we've all been asked, “What would you do if you had a million dollars?” Today I thought back to when Red asked me that question while we were in Maine five months ago.
We were two weeks into the Appalachian Trail. I finished hiking for the day and carried my water bottle to a nearby pond to fill up. The daylight began to fade to warm hues as the sun sank toward the horizon. I put my bottle underwater, waited for all the air to gurgle out, then screwed on the cap. The sky was too pretty to leave. A fallen log on the shore of the pond provided a seat to watch the sunset.
The sky slowly transitioned to an intense fiery collection of light. Red showed up with his water bottle. He filled it up then walked out on the log to join me. We talked while we waiting for the vibrant colors to reach their peak. That’s when he asked me that million-dollar question.
“If I had a million dollars?" I said. "I would quit my job and hike the Appalachian Trail."
“You didn’t need a million dollars to do that,” he said.
That had been my answer to that question for a long time. I’m glad I realized before it was too late, that I didn’t need it.
“This is beautiful. Yeah, same here man. I’d still be here even if I had a million dollars,” he said. “Although, I would own the lightest gear money can buy.”
He stood and started to walk down the log to back up to the shelter.
“What are you doing? It’s not done yet,” I said. “It will be worth it, trust me.”
He sat back down and slowly the sky became even more vivid. When we finally left the pond and headed back up the hill to the shelter, Red said, "Thanks for forcing me to stay longer."
A few others where gathered around the shelter: Moccasin, Deckeye, a girl chaperoning a small group of girl scouts nearby, and a northbound thru-hiker who we later referred to as "The Negative Nobo." He was about as far from his finish line back then, as I am from my finish line today. I stood by our fire and talked to the Girl Scout leader who asked questions about the trail.
"How many total mountains do you have to climb on the Appalachian Trail," she asked. I began to answer, but was cut off by The Negative Nobo.
"Thousands. And all of them pointless. You go up, then just go back down, then you go right back up again," he said. Now you sort of know why we called him that.
I wondered if I would be as positive about the trail when I had hiked as long as he had. I don't think he would give the same answer for the million-dollar question, but even today, after more than 1,900 miles, my answer remains the same. I asked Red this question again last night.
"Red, if you had a million dollars, would you still just want to hike?"
"Yeah, man. I would just go to another long-distance trail and keep hiking,” he said.
A Backpacker's Life List by Ryan Grayson is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.