John Goddard Turns Pursuit of 127 Boyhood Goals into a Lively Career
Even at 15, John Goddard knew what he wanted to do with his life. One rainy morning in 1940 the ambitious Los Angeles teenager wrote down 127 goals on a pad of yellow paper. Some represented the simplest adolescent longings: to high-jump five feet, broad-jump 15 feet, do 200 sit-ups and 20 pull-ups, and weigh a trim 175 pounds. Others were a little more demanding. He wanted to explore the Nile, fly in a blimp, light a match with a .22 rifle. He was determined to climb the Matterhorn, ride an ostrich and read the Bible from cover to cover.
So far Goddard, 52, now a professional adventurer-lecturer, has achieved each of these goals and more—105 in all—while traveling the equivalent of 40 times around the world. In the process he has been chased by a warthog (while photographing Rhodesia’s Victoria Falls), bitten by a diamondback rattler (while milking it for venom) and nearly buried alive in an African sandstorm.
To be sure, there have been disappointments. He has not climbed Mount Everest (No. 21), become a ham radio operator (No. 95) or owned a cheetah (No. 94). Nor has he read the entire Encyclopaedia Britannica (No. 109), although he has managed to plow through sizable portions of each thick volume.
Goddard probably won’t become a doctor (No. 37) either, but he hasn’t given up. “I might still,” he says. “I don’t believe in retirement.” He now regards appearing in a Tarzan movie (No. 93) as a silly boyhood dream. Getting to the moon (No. 125) seems improbable, and Goddard will realize his final goal—to see the 21st century—only if he lives to be 75. For Goddard, living as long as he has seems a miracle, considering adventures like his kayak-and-canoe voyage down the Congo River 20 years ago. It took six weeks to travel the first 450 miles and 127 rapids. During one watery spill, his partner, Jack Yowall, drowned. “We had made a pact,” Goddard recalls, “that if one of us was killed, the other would finish.”
Exploring the Nile back in 1950 wasn’t much easier. Goddard and two French companions spent 13 months navigating the great river’s 4,187 miles. Goddard nearly drowned in Uganda, was charged by an elephant near Lake Albert and brought home malaria, schistosomiasis and a tapeworm.
But he also came back with enough material for a dramatic National Geographic article (goal No. 98) and the beginning of his career as a lecturer. (He had planned a semiacademic life while studying anthropology and psychology at USC.) Nowadays he gets as much as $700 for each appearance. Though listeners sometimes feel that Goddard overdramatizes his accomplishments, he is a bona fide member of the Explorers’ Club (goal No. 121). The La Canada, Calif. home which he shares with his second wife, Susan, 30, and their two young children is decorated with wooden sculpture from New Zealand, the Congo and Indonesia, Coptic crosses from Ethiopia and carved ivory from China. (Three children from his first marriage live in Arizona with their mother. To “marry and have children” was goal No. 126.)
Goddard continues to work his way through the list. In the next few months he expects to learn to play polo (No. 122) and visit Easter Island (No. 57): “Life should be a series of adventures,” Goddard declares in words that have the ring of another, simpler era. “Boredom is responsible for a great deal of our juvenile—and adult—delinquency. People should reach for their potential. Adventure is where you find it, and you can find it anywhere.”