The following is adapted from Ethan Lou’s new book, “Once a Bitcoin Miner: Scandal and Turmoil in the Cryptocurrency Wild West.”

I grew up in Wuppertal in western Germany, the birthplace of both aspirin and heroin, invented by the same guy in a two-week period in the 19th century. My childhood began a little after the fall of the Berlin Wall, and my doctoral-candidate father supported the family on the modest income typical of his position. I remember when he hauled home an old bicycle for me, all the way from another city. I hated it and never rode it. I think it used to belong to a girl. The plastic decorations on the spokes were too pink, and like the hand-me-downs I wore, the bicycle was too big.

When I turned 18, it was in a job market battered by the 2008 financial crisis, a milestone marked by need and uncertainty. Banks had increasingly profited by offering risky mortgages to those who should not be getting them, and then building complicated investment products on top of them. When those borrowers couldn’t repay, that triggered an avalanche in the interconnected financial system, and people around the world lost homes, jobs and retirement savings.

That same year, a faceless figure known only as Satoshi Nakamoto released a nine-page white paper, made with off-brand software: “Bitcoin: A Peer-to-Peer Electronic Cash System.” Whoever was behind the pseudonym, that person or group had been fuelled and driven by the financial crisis.

Satoshi Nakamoto processed Bitcoin’s first batch of transaction records on Jan. 3, 2009 — called the Genesis Block — and in there was a message that directly referenced that sordid affair. The creator cited a Times of London article about a potential second government bailout for the banks. Billions were to be given to the usurers — again — to rescue them from a storm of their own making.

And that storm had spewed forth something: Bitcoin had been spawned from an opposition to the financial status of the world, a frustration against the same bleakness that had surrounded me my whole life. Many may not understand the appeal of cryptocurrency or the fervor of its devotees, but for me and my generation, it is, perhaps, only natural that we would be pulled in by this so-called “millennial gold,” even if inexplicably.

"Once a Bitcoin Miner: Scandal and Turmoil in the Cryptocurrency Wild West" by Ethan Lou.

I first heard of Bitcoin in my second year of university, but I can’t remember if it was 2012 or 2013. My friends Dillon and Clinton can’t recall either. It’s been too long, and there is a non-zero possibility we had too much marijuana that day. Clinton has the worst recollection: “Don’t think I was there.”

I was in university in Toronto, where I studied journalism. We three were at Clinton’s city-subsidized apartment, in a building full of drug dealers and hoarders, a place described by a newspaper columnist as “freakishly menacing and macabre” due to its frequent mysterious deaths. We were on the dark web that day, the internet’s uncharted armpit, for a reason commonly behind the questionable decisions young men make, not unlike the reason people risk their lives to climb tall piles of rock or ride raging farm animals just to see how long they can stay atop.

The dark web is unmapped by mainstream search engines and accessible only through special software, most commonly a browser called Tor. The dark web has many legitimate uses, but it is more well-known for the illegitimate ones.

If you can imagine something — anything — then it can be found on the dark web. Al-Qaeda and pedophiles and all forms of the grotesque have lurked on its pages.

My friends and I stumbled upon the term “vore” and clicked on a related link, only to discover it meant cannibalism porn. We did not linger long enough to see if it was real or staged. Elsewhere on the dark web, various marketplaces offered stolen credit card details and passwords, drugs and guns. You could also hire someone to say the right words to police so that a tactical team would raid a house of your choice, a process called “swatting.” My friends and I even found purported assassinations on offer — just unbelievable.

Whatever services or products offered, the sellers required payment in Bitcoin.

Not long after its release, the world’s first cryptocurrency had seen its first major use case. Like the BitTorrent file-sharing protocol, Bitcoin operates through a network of its users, without a central administrator. All the dark web transactions were theoretically outside any government’s reach. I could not help but feel that had some sort of broader value, even if I could not exactly place it, and I would soon revisit the subject.

After that year of university, I spent the summer interning at a newspaper in Saint John, N.B., and I interviewed a Bitcoin advocate for an article: Anthony Di Iorio, who would go on to co-found the blockchain network Ethereum and become a billionaire. That day in 2013, the two of us had a long talk about cryptocurrency.

While Bitcoin’s properties had implications for everything from monetary policy to geopolitics, my personal takeaway from our conversation was the price movement — with Bitcoin at around $100, Anthony made a prediction, “I think, eventually, it’s going to be up in the thousands.”

I could not stop thinking about all that as I walked home that day to my rental apartment void of furniture, passing the discount supermarket’s rusting trash bins, which inexplicably bore cheery slogans such as, “Smile,” “Enjoy life” and, “Never give up.” They spewed forth the whiff of expired milk that, damp with the ocean air, smelled just like cheese.

Late in 2013, I tried LSD for the first time with my buddy Dillon, with whom I had earlier discovered the dark web, in his little room in a shared house. We all lived in one of those places. Mine cost some $500 per month, and the streetlamps shone right through my windows, and hookah smoke kept creeping in from the hazy den downstairs. It was the hallmark for student life, even as many lived there long after graduation.

Dillon and I unwittingly took three times the standard dosage and followed Bilbo Baggins across Middle-earth’s vast and lawless plains in the film “The Hobbit.”

In terms of the original books, I’ve always loved “The Hobbit” more than the related “The Lord of the Rings.” The former I read as an adult, but the latter when I was no more than 13 years old, when I understood little and retained even less, perusing it in part because I wanted people to see me flipping through a big book and assume I was smart and beyond my years for reading such a big book.

Watching “The Hobbit with Dillon, what drew me in in particular was the sullen dwarf, Thorin, bitter and lonely after years of wander, who never so much as unfrowns until the end. “The young dwarf prince took work where he could find it,” Bilbo says in the opening narration. Thorin is on a quest seeking enchanted gold and a home — “you don’t have one,” Bilbo later says to him. That day, that resonated in me with an intensity that wrung my heart. When the end the year came, and Anthony’s prediction turned out to be correct, I took the plunge and bought Bitcoin.

With that, I crossed a threshold, and the line between journalist and adventurer would blur. I would go on a journey over the next few years — through riches, absurdity, wonder and woe.

I had the rare pleasure of meeting Gerald Cotten, founder of the collapsed QuadrigaCX exchange, now declared dead. I walked among an eclectic bunch, forging their paths in a new world, harsh and unpredictable, some of whom were ultimately entangled in a case now before the Alberta Securities Commission.

I even ended up in North Korea, spending a week in close company with the Ethereum Foundation’s Virgil Griffith, who would later deny having tried to help the totalitarian state break sanctions through blockchain, as he faced 20 years in prison in the United States.

Looking back, when trying to find a simple explanation for embarking on all that, I might say it had been sparked by my conversation with Anthony Di Iorio. But really, it had been seeded for years, in my very identity and existence in this time.

In the United States, young adults were half as likely to own a home as their counterparts in 1975. More than half of millennials had delayed major life events, such as marriage or children, because of debt. Full-time employment for Canadian men between 17 and 24 had fallen almost 80 per cent over the past 40-some years. In the United Kingdom, those problems were causing millennials to be the first generation to have worse health than their parents.

While looking up those numbers, I also read that a male millennial’s fertility would have been irreversibly damaged by age 18 because of all the processed modern junk food. It didn’t have much to do with the economy, but it made me sad all the same to learn that on top of everything, there was something wrong with the fundamental function of me and my fellow men. How I’d ended up investing in Bitcoin — perhaps it was only natural.

Adapted from “Once a Bitcoin Miner: Scandal and Turmoil in the Cryptocurrency Wild West.” Copyright Ethan Lou, 2021. Published by ECW Press.