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Author Sets Out To Find Gold In 'Fever'

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

Back in 2008, when the world was tumbling into recession, the price of gold went through the roof, hitting a thousand dollars an ounce and beyond. A modern-day mini gold rush took off in California. And writer Steve Boggan was sent to report on it. There, he found people afflicted with gold fever. And he came down with a case of it himself. He's written a new book about the experience. It is called, "Gold Fever: One Man's Adventures On The Trail Of The Gold Rush." Boggan says that while most people he met were prospecting for fun, for others this was serious business.

STEVE BOGGAN: They're the ones who've really got gold fever. You know, they go on regardless. And they kid themselves into thinking that today could be the day that they - you know, that they strike it rich. And the problem is, they're absolutely right. You know, it could be. As recently as last year, one guy out prospecting with a metal detector found one nugget that weighed somewhere between 5 and 6 pounds. And it fetched $400,000 at auction.

MARTIN: You are this outsider in this world - self-proclaimed. And you realize that you've got to kind of earn people's trust because the goal, you're trying to convince people to teach you how to do this, to let you in on these trips.

BOGGAN: Yeah, that's right. That's absolutely right. And the thing is as well, I turned up thinking, you know what? This is going to be a very solitary pastime. People are going to be, you know, reluctant to tell me where their best spot was. They don't want to teach me how to do it. I mean, who wants this - you know, this Limey who turns up with nothing but a pen-knife? I mean, you just know that he's the one who's going to get lucky on your claim. And I thought people would really keep me at arm's length. But they didn't. For the first few days I was there, first of all, they helped me put my tent up (laughter). That's one thing. And then they tell me what gear to get. And I was there, you know, with sort of - a sort of a real greenhorn's wallet, open, prepared to pay anything. And in actual fact, it doesn't cost very much to get the basics. But, you know, that's day one. Somebody shows me equipment I need. And then the next day, somebody gives me a bit of a lesson in panning. And then the day after that, another guy gave me carte blanche to prospect on his claims.

MARTIN: Several people said, listen, I could have a different kind of career. I could work in an office. But, you know, this is a beautiful way to live, outside, searching for gold. There's a certain romance to it, I suppose.

BOGGAN: Completely. There's one guy springs to mind called Dwayne (ph), a really, really wonderful guy and a very interesting character. And he had been a Marine. He was a former Marine. By now, when I met him, several years earlier he'd had a business as a carpenter. But he got cancer. And when it was all over, when he recovered, his business was gone. And he did that thing that we hear about. You know, we read about it in the '70s - you know, guys coming back from Vietnam. They would, you know, under the radar. They'd get off the grid. They'd go and live in the woods. Well, he actually did that. And he did that for a while until he discovered prospecting. He was prospecting every day. He was finding more than enough to live on. And he was one of the happiest people I've ever known. You know, and who's to say that one day, he won't be the guy who really does strike it rich? You know, and if he does, he deserves it.

MARTIN: What does it feel like to find gold?

BOGGAN: It's actually an incredible feeling. The very first time I found it, I was - I was sort of waddling along this riverbank, looking over my shoulder because I was terrified of bears. I was terrified of rattlesnakes. I was terrified of poison oak, of ticks - everything. And I didn't want anybody to see me. And I bumped into this miner. And his name was Doug (ph). And I said to him, that's appropriate. And he said, what? And I said, Doug. And he said, what? And I said, nothing. It doesn't matter. He then sat me down, and he told me where to look for gold, where the best spots where. I went off down the river. And I worked, and I worked. And in the last pan from the last bucket, there was a flake of gold. That - that one piece of gold - that changed me. And the next day, I worked like you can't possibly imagine. And every day after that, I did just to try to re-create that sensation. It's a wonderful feeling.

MARTIN: "Gold Fever: One Man's Adventures On The Trail Of The Gold Rush." It is written by Steve Boggan. Thanks so much for talking with us, Steve.

BOGGAN: Thanks, Rachel, really appreciate it. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.