Just passing through
Ray Goodman was once a guy that few people wanted to see coming to their door. He was someone who, by law, took away people's possessions - their homes and basically their lives.
One day, a couple of years ago, he looked around and saw what he had, then ruminated about how he had achieved his material trappings.
"I worked repossessing stuff from people, taking away all they had," he said, of his former career as a judgment enforcement officer. "I started to see that everything I had I had gained from hurting people, mostly poor people. It really began to bother me."
Then, last winter, a friend of his invited him to a Bible study class. He saw the light because the lesson just happened to be about the scripture in Matthew 19:24. In that scripture, Jesus tells a rich young man that it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter heaven.
"The story exposed me to what I had to do to be a better person," said Goodman as he sat in the Sun Advocate office. "It was the first time in my life that I was scared to death. I had been the ruination of thousands of people's lives. I had to get rid of all my material trappings and help people, help a cause."
So Goodman gave away his boat and his truck. He sold his possessions and cleaned out his bank account. He gave the money to charities that help poor people; the very individuals he said he had hurt for so many years. In total, he gave away $514,000.
Then, in April, he set out for a hike, but it was no ordinary trek. Setting his sights on earning money to protect the environment, he set up a Facebook site (Ray's Sierra Club Hike) where people could follow him and pledge money to support the Sierra Club. He planned a 13,000 mile hike, a walk across America that would smash the previous single hiker record in the United States. And he started the hike with absolutely no money in his pocket.
"But we went public with the idea and we had $100,000 for the Sierra Club before I even took a step," he stated.
A week ago he came to Price, Utah, after starting on the east coast from his hometown of Philadelphia, Penn., and wandering across two- thirds of the United States.
"I have been amazed at how this has worked out, how kind people are," he said. "I have some strict rules set up by the American Long Distance Hiker's Association which I have to follow or the whole record thing is off." One of the rules says he cannot ask anyone for anything "But all along the way, people have helped me," says Ray. "They see me and they are curious about what I am doing and where I am going. When I tell them the story, many give me money to live on while I hike. I am basically living from day to day on the good will of strangers, and I have come 6,000 miles as proof of that."
He says each state he has walked through has its own personality. Often that personality is what he expected.
"People from Utah have been particularly kind to me," he said. "This is a good state with very good, friendly people. They are spontaneous and have a lot of down- to-earth friendliness. Overall, I wanted to prove that America has the best and coolest people in the world and it has been proven to me so far."
Once, a 220-pound tough guy who took things away from people through legal channels, Goodman is now a thin man, who has not only lost weight because of the hike but also because often he doesn't get much to eat.
His path of ecological devotion has brought him to many national parks and monuments, which has been one of his goals. He recently visited Mount Rushmore and the Crazy Horse Monument in South Dakota and then traveled west to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. He then headed south through Evanston, Wyo. and down through the Uinta Mountains to Kamas, to Duchesne over Wolf Creek Pass and ended up in Price, Utah. In the next few weeks, he will travel through Emery County, Wayne County (across Hells Backbone) into Escalante, and then onto Bryce and Zion National Parks. Then he will go onto the north rim of the Grand Canyon.
While in Price, he said that he had felt well until he reached the continental divide; then the altitude started to affect him.
"I really didn't feel very good going over Wolf Creek Pass," he said of that part of his trip where he crossed over the 9,485 foot passage.
"I am working it so I traveled in the northern part of the country this summer and now I am headed south for the winter," he said. "Eventually I will head up the California coast, stopping at Sequoia National Park, Yosemite and eventually to the Redwoods. He will then backtrack across the country, eventually ending up in Florida in 2011."
"I think I would like to be a tour guide in the Florida Everglades or in one of the national parks in California," he said. "I just want to do something that will make people happy for the rest of my life. But I also want to spread environmental consciousness."
Here are the rules that the American Long Distance Hiker's Association has set up relative to Ray Goodman's hike across the United States.
He can use no cell phone or telephone of any kind. He will not hear the voices of his family or friends until he finishes his hike in 2011.
He has to use paper maps to find his way. He cannot use GPS technology.
He has to camp in his tent, outdoors, during the entire hike.
He must walk the entire route. He carries about a 60-pound backpack. The rules do allow him to "slack pack" or have someone drive him ahead in his route for 20 miles, drop off his pack and then drive him back to his original starting point, eventually catching up with his pack. He can also accept rides to places off his intended route, but must go back to where he picked up the ride to continue his hike.
He cannot ask anything from anyone. He can accept anything that people offer, he just can't ask for it.