Goddard On His Last Adventure
School assemblies are notorious for being many things: boring, lame, tedious, unintentionally hilarious and other even less charitable classifications. But on rare occasions, students get to attend a presentation that is not only fun and fascinating, but it winds up being potentially life changing.
Such was the case for untold numbers of students – myself included – who were privileged to skip classes while La Cañada resident and worldwide adventurer John Goddard recounted his stories of world travel (he circumnavigated the globe not once but four times, for crying out loud!), exploits among the primitive peoples and accomplishments that would make even Indiana Jones and the World’s Most Interesting Man sit at his feet in rapt attention.
Mr. Goddard’s own website labels him both, “The World’s Greatest Goal Achiever” and “World-Renowned Adventurer, Explorer, Author, Lecturer.” If anything, I would say that’s an understatement.
A man of surprisingly short stature, slight build and impossibly jet-black hair, Mr. Goddard delighted countless audiences with tales of daring do and impossible feats. I’m sure that his hyper-normal physique and markedly un-adventurous appearance made audience members think to themselves, “If he can have such adventures, so can I.” At least that’s what I remember thinking the several times I heard this mega-adventurer speak over the course of my school years here in the Crescenta Valley.
It wasn’t only Goddard’s tales of adventures that made him so interesting. It was also the list he made at home in Los Angeles in 1940, a list which he would spend the rest of his life trying to fulfill. Sitting at his mother’s kitchen table at the age of only 15, young John made what may well have been the world’s first bucket list.
And what a list it was. Adding up to 127 things to do before he died, from becoming an Eagle Scout to climbing Mt. Everest, Goddard’s list was broken up into categories including “Explore,” “Study Primitive,” “Climb,” “Photograph,” “Explore Underwater,” “Visit,” “Swim In” and “Accomplish.” Of his 127 goals, only 16 would never be checked off. (To be fair, some of the 16 would have been impossible, such as “Appear in a Tarzan movie” and “Visit the moon.”)
Surprisingly, a few of the items Goddard failed to accomplish would seem at first glance to have been relatively easy to do for a man of his determination and experience, like “Climb Mt. McKinley,” “Follow River Jordan from Sea of Galilee to Dead Sea,” or “Become a ham radio operator.” I can’t help but wonder why a man who would “Become proficient in the use of a plane, motorcycle, tractor, surfboard, rifle, pistol, canoe, microscope, football, basketball, bow and arrow, lariat and boomerang,” couldn’t or didn’t learn to operate a ham radio.
I remember, in particular, hearing him say that one of the goals he wrote as a 15-year-old was to marry a beautiful woman and have children. I’m happy to say that I was able to emulate him in this goal, although I “only” had four kids to Mr. Goddard’s six. As to the rest of his list, I can only say that I have accomplished a mere 20 of his 127.
Then again, the theme of Mr. Goddard’s presentations to students was always to make your own list of goals to strive to achieve. I worry that this sense of adventure and self-challenge may be all but gone in today’s youth. Hopefully I’m wrong.
Goddard’s final goal, number 127, was to “Live to see the 21st century.” Indeed, he did. John Goddard passed away on Friday, May 17 at the impressive age of 88. I would venture to say he is the embodiment of a life well lived.
And now, he’s on his last and greatest adventure of all. It wouldn’t surprise me to learn that this very minute he’s speaking to an attentive audience of angels and regaling them with his life’s adventures.
Godspeed and safe travels, John Goddard!
I’ll see you ’round town.