The Daily Herald's first attempt to interview long-distance hiker Ray Goodman got sidetracked when Goodman suffered a bout of H1N1. It's been going around, certainly, but the problem is a bit more alarming for Goodman than for most. It wouldn't be accurate to say that he's homeless, but the roof over his head is the nylon- and polyester-mesh ceiling of a Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 superlight backpacking tent.
It's not exactly intended to be home, sweet hospital, but Goodman is in the midst of attempting to complete the longest continuous backpacking trip ever made -- 13,000 miles on foot -- and his current estimate is that he won't be done until June or July of 2011. So when he gets the swine flu followed by pneumonia there's nothing to do but rest, sleep and wait to recover his strength.
"If I broke a leg today, I would hunker down in my tent and wait to heal and continue on," Goodman said, using public-access Internet to complete his interview via e-mail after two weeks of tent-bound illness. For anything short of death, he said, the only acceptable response is to rest, recuperate and get back on the move again.
After spending portions of September, October and November legging it down through Utah -- including camping in all six of the Beehive State's national forests -- sickness stalled Goodman out just as he was about to cross over into Nevada, on the way to California. (Good plan for staying warm in winter.)
It all began earlier this year. Twice. Goodman, 38, started walking from Philadelphia in April, but used the first portion of his travels to test his equipment and hike himself into peak physical condition. "My official 13,000-mile charity hike started from Damascus, Va.," Goodman said. That is to say, he didn't even start officially keeping count until he'd gone about 800 miles.
For Goodman personally, the hike has been a purifying experience, a means of forging a clean break from his emotionally draining past career as a judgment enforcement officer. (As a JEO, he would track down people fleeing from court-ordered debt settlements and attempt to negotiate with them. If that failed, Goodman would then supervise the process of seizing their assets in behalf of their creditors.)
That's not all he has in mind, however. His larger purpose is to promote awareness of the Sierra Club and, ideally, monetary donations to it in particular with respect to its mission of protecting natural environments. His route will eventually take in 25 natural landmarks, and Goodman hopes to encourage others to seek out America's scenic splendor as a means of stirring up their interest in saving the planet.
"I believe we have reached an environmental tipping point," Goodman said, "and must make every effort to protect and conserve our natural resources."
Mark Clemens, manager of the Utah Chapter of the Sierra Club, said that having an ambassador like Goodman helps people relate to a group that's often viewed as a faceless political entity. "A project like Ray's puts a human face on the organization," Clemens said. "The Sierra Club is based on volunteer energy and enthusiasm."
Sharyn Fleischer, a longtime friend and fellow Pennsylvanian who mails boxes of supplies to points along Goodman's route, said that she's gotten a steady stream of letters and e-mails from people who are rooting for the raggedy stranger. It's hard, she said, not to be won over by his environmental vision.
"He has always held a love," Fleischer said, "for all of the beautiful places we have right at our fingertips, so to speak, and some we may never hear about until someone like Ray opens our eyes to them."
On the other hand, it isn't just a love of the wild, mulish determination, or even commitment to principle, that provides Goodman's boundless energy. "He's met many wonderful people and has seen some amazing and beautiful places," Fleischer said. "That is what keeps him going."
What kind of equipment do you need to hike 13,000 miles across America? Long-distance hiker Ray Goodman ticked off some of the most essential items he carries:
• Kelty Coyote 4900 internal frame backpack. Typically transports a load of around 60 pounds.
• Big Agnes Seedhouse SL1 superlight backpacking tent. Has withstood "unbelievable" weather conditions; starting to show "the effects of massive use."
• Marmot Pounder sleeping bag. "Weighs one pound, compresses to about the size of a grapefruit and is good to 40 degrees." (It's 25 degrees if he sleeps clothed.)
• Big Agnes inflatable sleeping pad. Provides insulation and "a comfort I have no right to expect under present conditions."
• Katahdin Hiker water filter. "I can make the most vile and useless water totally drinkable and safe."
• Primus Classic backpacking stove. Provides a hot meal in any weather. Requires propane/butane fuel mixture sold at specialty outfitters and "fortunately for me" at Wal-Mart.
• PrincetonTec waterproof headlamp.
• Leki Makalu Tour trekking poles. Makes it possible to walk a straight line even when mind is wandering. Also a means of keeping "a possible hungry animal" at greater than arm's length.
• REI Elements jacket.
• REI base-layer cold-weather pants. Weather protection that weighs "less than a handkerchief."
• Under Armour base-layer cold-weather shirt.
A pretty, great state
For someone who's rambling 13,000 miles across America, it would be fair to suppose that trudging across one state is, on a nuts-and-bolt level, very like trudging across any other. Long-distance hiker Ray Goodman has a different opinion after walking the length of the Beehive State. "Utah is a natural wonder," he said, "one of the coolest places in the country for a lover of the outdoors."
While in Utah, Goodman camped in all six of the state's national forests and dipped into Zion National Park, Bryce Canyon National Park, Capitol Reef National Park, and Grand Staircase/Escalante National Monument.
"Almost the entire southern half of Utah is either a national park, national monument, or a national forest," Goodman said. "Southern Utah is, in my opinion, unparalleled for beautiful and abundant natural resources and remote places."
Goodman said that his favorite part of traveling through Utah was walking Scenic Highway 12 in southern Utah --âïGoodman never walks on interstate freeways, but said that about two-thirds of his travels have been along roads. Highway 12, he said, "connects many of the natural wonders of southern Utah and never really stops presenting you with awe-inspiring views. I will never forget the landscape of southern Utah, simply amazing."
Going it alone
While rambling across America, Ray Goodman has interacted with hundreds of people. For most hours, on most days, however, it's just Goodman keeping himself company.
Greg Hummel, president of the American Long Distance Hikers Association, said that hiking alone provides freedom. "Get up when you want, hike as far as you want in a day, camp where you want," Hummel said. "Your schedule is yours and yours alone."
On the other hand, Hummel said, if problems arise, "you're alone and relying upon your own experience and knowledge."
Since beginning his travels earlier this year, Goodman has had more than a few hair-raising adventures. While camped on a ridge in South Dakota's Badlands National Park, Goodman was greeted about an hour after dark by a howling storm with winds in excess of 100 mph. "My tent with me in it was threatening to blow away," Goodman said, "and I was on the edge of a cliff with a several-hundred-foot drop into the Badlands."
On another occasion, bears came foraging near his tent during a spring blizzard in Virginia. "It was about 10 degrees and snowing sideways and visibility was near zero," Goodman said. "I was totally surrounded by bears, and there was nothing I could do but pray."
Food, glorious food
Once in a while, people who encounter long-distance hiker Ray Goodman will feed him. "Occasionally," he said, "someone will insist on taking me to the restaurant of my choice for a meal, but that is a rare blessing I have not seen since Wyoming."
The bulk of Goodman's food, according to Sharyn Fleischer, who sends him packets of supplies from her home in Pennsylvania, is from Ohio-based Enertia Trail Foods. "Chris Pfeiffer is the president and owner of the company," Fleischer said, "and he has been wonderful."
And, as any backpacker knows, many long hours on the trail can be passed by thinking about all the good food there is in the world. "I would say that, outside of praying," Goodman said, "daydreaming about food is the most common way I occupy my time and mind."
Man of faith
A big part of what makes long-distance hiker Ray Goodman tick is his devotion to Christianity. After playing an uncomfortably intimate role in the U.S. legal system as a judgment enforcement officer for almost 15 years, seeking out debtors and either coaxing or coercing them into compliance with court-ordered settlements, Goodman had a spiritual awakening while participating in a Bible study class.
The story of the rich young ruler in the New Testament gospel of Mark especially affected him, in particular the response given by Jesus when the wealthy prince asks how he can obtain eternal life. The first step, Jesus tells him, is to keep the commandments. And then: "One thing thou lackest: go thy way, sell whatsoever thou hast, and give to the poor, and thou shalt have treasure in heaven: and come, take up the cross and follow me."
Goodman, who said he is a non-denominational Christian, decided it was that simple. He gave away everything that he owned and is following his Christian conscience across America.
One of the self-imposed rules for his hike is that he can't ask anybody for anything. One of the more pleasant discoveries he's made, is how frequently people offer him food, supplies and gear without any prompting. "People have been so tremendous all over the country," Goodman said, "that it really restores your faith in humanity, or reinvigorates it at least.
"It is really the most wonderful part of my journey to date, how wonderful people have been."
Before embarking on his quest to travel 13,000 miles to 25 national landmarks on foot, long-distance hiker Ray Goodman met with other long-distance hikers to determine some ground rules for his adventure. There are five basic points: He has to walk the entire route, he has to sleep in his tent every night, he can't ask anyone for anything, he can't use a GPS and he can't use a phone.
He has a Blackberry, and thinks he could probably use it to dial 911 in a severe, life-threatening emergency. If he's not in immediate danger of losing his life, however, he has to use his will and wits to bail himself out.
Among the mundane emergencies that have arisen recently: a 5-year-old driving an ATV ran over Goodman's tent. "I have been getting by with makeshift repairs that definitely will not last," he said. When the tent finally gives up the ghost? One of the rules has an important loophole:
Goodman can't ask for anything, but he can accept items or food when they're offered. Since he doesn't really have space to carry anything that's not being used on a daily basis, Goodman asks for most of the things he's offered to be sent to his friend and one-woman support crew, Sharyn Fleischer, in Pennsylvania: 36 W. County Line Road, Hatboro, Pa., 19040.
One foot in front of another
How many pairs of shoes does it take to walk 13,000 miles? Long-distance hiker Ray Goodman was on his 25th pair when interviewed by the Daily Herald. Most of those, he said, have been donated by people he's met while traveling. "They will ask sizes and types and then send a pair or two to my home base to be forwarded to me as I need them," Goodman said.
When no one's given him shoes recently, Goodman purchases them at thrift stores at an average cost of about $3 per pair. He switches between different kinds of footwear boots, trail-running shoes, cross-trainers at times based on seasonal weather conditions and terrain.
"I have used Nike, Reebok, Vasque, Montrail and Columbia, to name just a few," Goodman said. "The best pair I have worn was made by Columbia and the worst pair was by far Asolo."
As for socks, Goodman has four pairs at all times: two that he alternates during the day, when he walks distances ranging up to 40 miles, and two that he alternates for sleeping at night.