I first met the late John Goddard at the Adventurers’ Club of Los Angeles. The club first inspired by Teddy Roosevelt is dedicated to worldwide travel and adventure.
Goddard, one of the club’s premier members, was telling me about his more technical climbs in some of the tallest mountains of the world.
He insisted that I had overthought the importance of climbing shoes. I rolled my eyes because every technical climber understands the importance of this piece of equipment. Traction on the rock tends to be very important, I sarcastically advised. He then proceeded to show me pictures of him climbing Washington’s Mount Rainier wearing Converse sneakers.
Goddard, a celebrated longtime resident of La Cañada Flintridge, was an explorer, adventurer, national lecturer, motivational speaker and author. We became entrenched in a philosophical discussion when I realized that his values mirrored the Transcendentalists, the first American school of philosophy.
Thoreau, the movement’s most celebrated writer, coined the phrase “suck out all the marrow of life” or, better said, to live one’s life to the fullest. I was speaking to a man whose life’s ambition was to do just that.
Often called the real life Indiana Jones, Goddard, at the age of 15, made a bucket list of more than 100 goals he hoped to accomplish. I recall making at the age of 20 a similar list of what I hoped to achieve by the time I turned 30. I only finished two on the list: graduating college and going to Vietnam. Life had taken me down paths I had never known existed.
Throughout Goddard’s journey and to end of his life in 2013 at the age of 88, he explored the seven continents, studied ancient cultures, climbed, photographed, explored underwater domains, adventured through the wonders of the words, navigated the Nile and the Amazon, and read the treasure trove of our classical human heritage. He was able to tap into the limitless possibilities that sparked his imagination.
I would often attend his lectures. We would speak about a mutual desire to venture beyond the map. I found him to be more than a man who enjoyed living on the edge. He was a savant who believed in the potential of the human spirit and our will to self-actualize.
Goddard’s lectures were not a mere account of his accomplishments. I kept a separate journal, which I titled “meetings with remarkable men.” In 1984, I wrote, “John Goddard uplifts the human spirit and allows one to believe that nothing is impossible to a valiant heart.”
If we spend a moment viewing humanity from the ground up, it’s easy to see the void in many lives. In “Walden,” Thoreau expressed the importance of finding the “tonic” as a means of self-preservation. The tonic is that “ah-ha moment” that is the rapture of being alive.
I believe John Goddard left us directions on how we should proceed. He was an advocate of doing things that perhaps we may not have previously considered or we were too cautious to attempt.
People often experience life within unhappy circumstances and yet will rarely take the initiative to change the status quo because they’re accustomed to a life of security, conformity and conservatism. Although these values may appear to give one peace of mind, in truth, nothing is more damaging to the adventurous spirit than grasping for security.
The essential core of our human potential is an appetite for adventure. I believe that the joy of life evolves from our encounters with new experiences. There’s no greater joy than to have an endlessly changing horizon, for each day to have a new and different sun.
John Goddard was a fascinating man and La Cañada’s own. Just think: This extraordinary adventurer was once one of our neighbors.
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