Houston makes impression with hiker making 11,500-mile trek

Ray Goodman expected to make a short stop in Houston as he makes an 11,500-mile journey around the country to 20 national landmarks. But his stay was extended when a supply package didn’t arrive at the post office. He says he couldn’t have planned it any better.

During a two-day stay in Houston last week, Goodman said he was flooded with generosity of those offering help. From free meals and supplies to a warm shower and the opportunity to wash his belongings for the first time in weeks, Goodman said he felt the best of humanity in the heart of Texas County.

“I came into this town a little down, tired and low on supplies,” he said. “The city and their kindness have lifted my spirits immensely.”

Goodman, a 38 year old from Philadelphia, is making an unprecedented hike to create awareness about the environment and raise $2 million for the Sierra Club. Beginning April 2, when he left his hometown for a nearly 700-mile trek along the Appalachian Trail to Damascus, Va., Goodman will zig-zag his way across the United States to landmarks like the Yellowstone National Park, Niagara Falls and the Everglades.

As if his journey wasn’t difficult enough – he’s already had a close encounter with three bears and was knocked over when a vehicle’s mirror slammed into his backpack as he walked along a highway – Goodman is adhering to a stingy list of rules on his journey. They include no cell phone or GPS, he must camp every night in his tent, he must walk the entire route and he may not solicit or suggest the need for food or supplies. His only help may come from the “unsolicited act of kindness from a stranger.”

Goodman, who receives a 14-day supply of food about every 28 days, can seek help through the media. He shares his story – and accompanying rules – with newspapers and radio and TV stations with the hopes that someone will feel compelled to help.

It happened here. Less than two hours after a short story about Goodman was posted online, he said a group of about 20 children and a few adults arrived at his tent at Emmett Kelly Park. They brought him a meal, played games and were a captive audience to his story.

The following morning, Goodman said he received an unsolicited breakfast from Stephanie Lake. Her children later found Goodman at the library, where he was researching Missouri trails. They gave him a bag of personal hygiene items and cookies.

Later that day, Goodman took a shower and washed his clothes at a local home and was provided a warm meal at Texas County Memorial Hospital. He said the turkey, mashed potatoes and gravy and cherry dessert were the best meal he’s had since his hike began.

The package of supplies Goodman was waiting for never arrived at the post office. But he replenished his supplies with the help of TCMH CEO Wes Murray, who took him to Wal-Mart for food and kerosene for his stove.

“That encompasses the kindness of Houston. I’ve met nothing but wonderful people,” Goodman said. “I have yet to have anything remotely resembling a negative experience. It’s all been absolutely wonderful.”

The idea for Goodman’s hike began shortly after a life-changing experience in a Bible study. He was ashamed of the many years he had taken assets from people as a judgment enforcement officer for an attorney. He quit his job and gave all his possessions, including his home, boat and stocks that added up to more than $400,000, to charity.

“I just could not come to grips with who I had become,” Goodman said.

Goodman’s actions caught the attention of the Long Distance Hikers Association, who offered their support and the rules that would make the already daring journey nearly impossible. It was at Goodman’s request.

“You see people that walk 2,000 miles across the country. The hotel hop and eat at restaurants, and there is no real challenge,” Goodman said. “The idea is that it be a struggle and be just difficult enough to earn your respect.”

Goodman planned to leave Houston around 3 a.m. Friday and head north on U.S. 63 toward Jefferson City. He hit his first landmark at Mammoth Springs, Ark., and is en route to Mount Rushmore. His two-year journey will end around May 20, 2011.

“Not everyone can leave their life the way I did,” Goodman said. “But unless you see the natural beauty of this country, you don’t know what’s at stake if we don’t take care of the environment.”

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