"When I got to work I told Barbara, my office gal, 'Get Ric down here, I'm going to make an old man cry.'"
When Ryan arrived at the shop, there was a $2,500 check waiting for him. He cried.
Ryan wears braces on both legs and uses a walking stick. Years of playing soccer and marching in the Marines left him, he says, with knees that are down to bone on bone. But he still covers nine miles in two hours.
He takes every other Tuesday off from walking and drives 35 miles to the veterans' clinic in Sonora for treatment of what he now knows is PTSD. Shortly after he started his walking routine, he ran into an old buddy who told him that a group of guys were getting together at the clinic and he should check it out. He did, going on to graduate from an anger-management class and now faithfully attending group counseling with 20 other men.
He's been told he needs to talk one-on-one about things he remembers, but the only private counseling available is by teleconference. He went once.
"The hardest thing I've ever done. And the doctor on a computer screen? Nope, not for me," he said, rolling his blue eyes and shaking his silver head. "Anyway, they told me I was already doing the best thing I could do: walking and giving."
On a recent Saturday, when the sky was an ever-changing swirl of white clouds against bright blue sky and the fields vivid green, Ryan parked his pickup at Tower Gas in Murphys and started marching. His back was ramrod straight. When someone waved, he'd flick a quick acknowledgment, keeping his hand at his waist. He only gave an honest-to-goodness wave a couple of times.
Some of the people knew their waves meant a quarter. Most didn't.
"It's not a secret," Ryan said. "If they ask me, I'll tell them. But I'm not the kind that likes to draw a lot of attention."
As he walked, he sang along to his MP3 player, interrupting himself somewhere along Mile 2 to say "Good morning, donkey" to the creature that always comes to the fence to watch him pass by.
The summer he was 15, Ryan walked from Seattle to South Dakota to find a man he thought might be his father. It wasn't the right man. But he spent every summer after that walking, hitchhiking and hopping trains.
"Just moving and looking at the countryside, that's part of me," he said.
Giving freely is also part of his history.
A few years ago, Ryan saw a story about a little girl selling lemonade to help her mother, who had cancer. He went to her stand, ordered a glass and paid with $1,000 in gold coins he'd been collecting. He didn't mention it to anyone until he told his wife a few days later.
"I suppose there was a part of me that thought, 'All $1,000? Would $500 have been enough?'" she said. "But I really love that part of Ric. He's a giving man."
Ryan said his contributions to Operation Mend are small.
"They auctioned off this Camaro in Texas to raise money, and one man paid $330,000!" he said. "One soldier's operations can run $500,000. But Operation Mend pays for everything. The guys and gals don't spend a dime of their own money. So I figure, even if my bit just pays for gas to get them to the airport or a ticket to Disneyland for their kid, it's helping."
Ron Katz, the Los Angeles philanthropist who gave $1 million in seed money to start Operation Mend, said Ryan's contribution is anything but small.
"Ric Ryan mesmerizes me. He's one man walking, without even a sign, just a passion to help this enormous cadre of wounded soldiers," Katz said. "The money he gives is an extraordinary contribution of hope."