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Trailblazer: John Goddard – Life and The Ultimate Bucket List

I love my travel, and I’ve always had a hunger and desire for adventure, but it all pales into insignificance when you read about American adventurer, John Goddard. Way back in 1940 at the mere age of 15, while most of us were still many years away from discovering who we really are.

John Goddard sat down at his kitchen table and scribbled down on yellow writing pad, what he describes as ‘My Life List’. Under that heading he proceeded to jot down 127 goals that he wished to achieve throughout his life. When you scroll through the list below, you will notice that John was not one for taking the easy path.

John Goddard - The Ultimate Bucket List

A generation later, John has achieved 109 of his original 127 goals, and in many cases’s he was not just satisfied with achieving his goal, but he actually excelled at the task.

John Goddard Achieved 109 of His Original 127 Goals

John was the first man in history to explore the Nile River (1951) in it’s entirety, and then backed up this achievement with an ever greater one by becoming the first man to explore the entire length of the Congo River (1956). It was this journey that claimed the life of one of John’s best friends. John has also scaled many high mountains around the world, including the Matterhorn, where he refused to turn around, even when his professional guides decided it was to dangerous to go on.

Throughout his adventures, he has been bitten by a rattlesnake, charged by elephants and trapped in quicksand. He has crashed planes, and almost drowned twice in pursuit of his dreams.

John is also noted for his honesty where in his book ‘The Survivor – 21 Spine-Chilling Adventures on The Edge of Death‘ he admits his own recklessness in many of his adventures, and gives gratitude to the supreme force that miraculously allowed him to survive some of his great adventures.

A couple of Johns listed items were pushing the envelope a little, even by his lofty standards. Item 125 gets a bit of a laugh from myself, where he states he wants to go to the moon. I suppose you can forgive him as he was only 15, but I shouldn’t laugh to hard, as John is still alive (he’s now in his eighties) and if any could make it happen, he could.

John Goddard is one of the worlds true adventurers, a real life Indiana Jones, and I think he deserves his self proclaimed title as ‘The Worlds Greatest Goal Achiever’.

I’d like to know if anyone else out there has complied their own list? I’ve never actually had a ‘Life List’ or ‘Bucket List’ as there now called, but maybe I should sit down and pen one of my own. Anyway here’s John’s ‘Life List’, listed below.

My Life List By John Goddard (√ marks accomplished goals)

EXPLORE:

  1.  Nile River (√)
  2.  Amazon River (√)
  3.  Congo River (√)
  4.  Colorado River (√)
  5.  Yangtze River, China (x)
  6.  Niger River (x)
  7.  Orinoco River, Venezuela (x)
  8. Rio Coco, Nicaragua (√)

STUDY PRIMITIVE CULTURES IN:

  1.  The Congo (√)
  2.  New Guinea (√)
  3.  Brazil (√)
  4.  Borneo (x)
  5.  The Sudan (nearly buried alive in a sandstorm) (√)
  6.  Australia (√)
  7.  Kenya (√)
  8.  The Philippines (√)
  9.  Tanganyika (Now Tanzania) (√)
  10.  Ethiopia (√)
  11.  Nigeria (√)
  12.  Alaska (√)

CLIMB:

  1.  Mt. Everest (x)
  2.  Mt. Aconcagua, Argentina (x)
  3.  Mt. McKinley (x)
  4.  Mt. Hauscaran, Peru (√)
  5.  Mt. Kilimanjaro (√)
  6.  Mt. Ararat, Turkey (√)
  7.  Mt. Kenya (√)
  8.  Mt. Cook, New Zealand (x)
  9.  Mt. Popocatepetl, Mexico (√)
  10.  The Matterhorn (√)
  11.  Mt. Rainier (√)
  12.  Mt. Fuji (√)
  13.  Mt. Vesuvius (√)
  14.  Mt. Bromo, Java (√)
  15.  Grand Tetons (√)
  16.  Mt. Baldy, California (√)
  17. Carry out careers in medicine and exploration (x)
  18. Visit every country in the world (30 to go) (x)
  19.  Study Navaho and Hopi Indians (√)
  20.  Learn to fly a plane (√)
  21.  Ride horse in Rose Parade (√)

PHOTOGRAPH:

  1.  Iguacu Falls, Brazil (√)
  2.  Victoria Falls, Rhodesia (Chased by a warthog in the process) (√)
  3.  Sutherland Falls, New Zealand (√)
  4.  Yosemite Falls (√)
  5.  Niagara Falls (√)
  6.  Retrace travels of Marco Polo and Alexander the Great (√)

EXPLORE UNDERWATER:

  1.  Coral reefs of Florida (√)
  2.  Great Barrier Reef, Australia (photographed a 300-pound clam) (√)
  3.  Red Sea (√)
  4.  Fiji Islands (√)
  5.  The Bahamas (√)
  6.  Explore Okefenokee Swamp and the Everglades (√)

VISIT:

  1.  North and South Poles
  2.  Great Wall of China (√)
  3.  Panama and Suez Canals (√)
  4.  Easter Island (√)
  5.  The Galapagos Islands (√)
  6.  Vatican City (saw the Pope) (√)
  7.  The Taj Mahal (√)
  8.  The Eiffel Tower (√)
  9.  The Blue Grotto (√)
  10.  The Tower of London (√)
  11.  The Leaning Tower of Pisa (√)
  12.  The Sacred Well of Chichen-Itza, Mexico (√)
  13.  Climb Ayers Rock in Australia (√)
  14.  Follow River Jordan from Sea of Galilee to Dead Sea (x)

SWIM IN:

  1.  Lake Victoria (√)
  2.  Lake Superior (√)
  3.  Lake Tanganyika (√)
  4.  Lake Titicaca, S. America (√)
  5.  Lake Nicaragua (√)

ACCOMPLISH:

  1.  Become an Eagle Scout (√)
  2.  Dive in a submarine (√)
  3.  Land on and take of from an aircraft carrier (√)
  4.  Fly in a blimp, balloon and glider (√)
  5.  Ride an elephant, camel, ostrich and bronco (√)
  6.  Skin dive to 40 feet and hold breath two and a half minutes underwater. (√)
  7.  Catch a ten-pound lobster and a ten-inch abalone (√)
  8.  Play flute and violin (√)
  9.  Type 50 words a minute (√)
  10.  Make a parachute jump (√)
  11.  Learn water and snow skiing (√)
  12.  Go on a church mission (√)
  13.  Follow the John Muir trail (√)
  14. Study native medicines and bring back useful ones (√)
  15.  Bag camera trophies of elephant, lion, rhino, cheetah, buffalo and whale (√)
  16.  Learn to fence (√)
  17.  Learn jujitsu (√)
  18.  Teach a college course (√)
  19.  Watch a cremation ceremony in Bali (√)
  20.  Explore depths of the sea (√)
  21.  Appear in a Tarzan movie (he now considers this an irrelevant boyhood dream) (x)
  22.  Own a horse, chimpanzee, cheetah, ocelot, and coyote (yet to own a chimp or cheetah) (x)
  23.  Become a ham radio operator (x)
  24.  Build own telescope (√)
  25.  Write a book (On Nile trip) (√)
  26.  Publish an article in National Geographic Magazine (√)
  27.  High jump five feet (√)
  28. Broad jump 15 feet (√)
  29.  Run mile in five minutes (√)
  30.  Weigh 175 pounds stripped (still does) (√)
  31.  Perform 200 sit-ups and 20 pull-ups (√)
  32. Learn French, Spanish and Arabic (√)
  33.  Study dragon lizards on Komodo Island (Boat broke down within 20 miles of island) (x)
  34.  Visit birthplace of Grandfather Sorenson in Denmark (√)
  35.  Visit birthplace of Grandfather Goddard in England (√)
  36. Ship aboard a freighter as a seaman (√)
  37.  Read the entire Encyclopedia Britannica (has read extensive parts in each volume) (x)
  38.  Read the Bible from cover to cover (√)
  39. Read the works of Shakespeare, Plato, Aristotle, Dickens, Thoreau, Rousseau, Conrad, Hemingway, Twain, Burroughs, Talmage, Tolstoi, Longfellow, Keats, Poe, Bacon, Whittier, and Emerson (not every work of each) (√)
  40. Become familiar with the compositions of Bach, Beethoven, Debussy, Ibert, Mendelssohn, Lalo, Liszt, Rimski-Korsakov, Respighi, Rachmaninoff, Paganini, Stravinsky, Toch, Tschaikosvsky, Verdi (√)
  41. Become proficient in the use of a plane, motorcycle, tractor, surfboard, rifle, pistol, canoe, microscope, football, basketball, bow and arrow, lariat and boomerang (√)
  42. Compose music (√)
  43. Play Clair de Lune on the piano (√)
  44. Watch fire-walking ceremony (In Bali and Surinam) (√)
  45. Milk a poisonous snake (bitten by diamondback during photo session) (√)
  46. Light a match with .22 rifle (√)
  47. Visit a movie studio (√)
  48. Climb Cheops’ pyramid (√)
  49. Become a member of the Explorer’s Club and the Adventure’s Club (√)
  50. Learn to play polo (√)
  51. Travel through the Grand Canyon on foot and by boat (√)
  52. Circumnavigate the globe (four times) (√)
  53. Visit the moon (“Someday, if God wills”) (x)
  54. Marry and have children (has five children) (√)
  55. Live to see the 21st century (√)

Your Thought’s and Comments

As you can see, John Goddard put quite  a large dent in his 127 original goals, by completing 109 of them. There are also several that he has partially finished, or attempted during his life as well. I believe John went on to add even further additional goals to the original 127 on his life list. For me personally, I believe those original 127 goals that he set are the most interesting, due to him setting them at such a young age. Do you consider John Goddard’s life list, ‘The Ultimate Bucket List ?’

A Little More About The Author

Jason has traveled the world extensively during the last 20 years, with overland journeys on six continents and across over 90 countries. This site serves as a chronicle of the images and tales from these journeys, as well as offering advice and general information for other like minded travelers.

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51 Great Comments So Far (Have Your Say)


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  1. James Dorsey says:

    For those who have not heard, John Goddard passed onto the great adventure on May 17 of this year. Typical of his life, John battled cancer for over 20 years and kept winning until this last fight. He was my good friend and mentor and has left a huge hole in my soul.

    He has left behind an extended and loving family who are my friends along with all of his brothers at the Adventurers Club.

  2. Rich says:

    I just went to see John Goddard and Family at his Tribute from the Adventures Club of Los Angeles
    at 88 and with Brain cancer he showed up, he could not stand up so he sat and they turned his chair for him, he did talk very softly because he is going through chemo now so he was weak, his main message was thanking his wife and friends and telling us all to count our blessings, he is a very humble man and has a beautiful family

    • Administrator says:

      Hey Rich, It must have been a great night. It’s sad to see a great adventurer as John. Who was such a beacon of life, be in such a bad shape. Although in the end, we all have a finite time on earth. But it’s people like John who live their lives to the fullest and fit more into one life time then most can dream of.

    • C William Anderson says:

      A very select few living people have inspired me beyond the normal. Pete Seeger and John Goddard are probably the top two.

      During the 1960s in southern California’s Lynwood, I was fortunate beyond belief – Four years in Lynwood High we had John Goddard Assemblies – the world’s last great adventurer would come and show films and slides of his adventures and impart his life philosophy intrinsically upon us.

      I can’t really guess how many of the lives of the other students John Goddard changed – probably many – but I can say he had a profound influence on me.

      I spent all of the 1970s in the Navy and would spend most of the time from August 1986 through the present day working in North Africa and Botswana.

      My bucket list was more free-flowing than Goddard’s and less well thought through – consequently I had a harder time living life for the moment. Still, I have no regrets as I near retirement, except for not yet having seen Australia or the South Pole.

      My bucket list? Was more the different careers I hoped to live. My accomplishments will not be detailed here, for they are significant only to me. What is important is the impact Goddard had on me.

      See, a couple years ago I ran into a man I commenced my expat life with – he became a hardened conservative, while my progressive attitude blossomed into an outright liberal political outlook. My friend, Mr. Pat (the author) asked how I stayed liberal?

      Only upon recently reading his kindle version of The Survivor did I realize my attitude of respect and understanding for other societies and cultures and their inalienable rights is based on Goddard’s philosophy, melded with my Episcopal upbringing.

      So, just as many above note, I am saddened to learn of John Goddard’s debilitating health. Yet, he lived many lives and not only has those memories and his family’s love, his memories are memories of others who will pass them on through the ages.

      John Goddard is far more than a real life Indiana Jones. He is a pharaoh surpassing the importance to humanity even of Tutankhamen.

    • Jason says:

      Well, I’m glad John had such an importance on your life. As I am way younger than most people who grew up with John I can only gauge my feeling based on what I’ve read. To accomplish what he did so many years ago was brilliant. But to follow through on his convictions of that infamous list completing all but a few items is even more impressive. Safe travels and thanks for stopping by.

    • Lisa Goddard says:

      Thank you, Rich, for your kind words about our Father! Although his family misses him beyond words,
      the legacy he left behind will continue to be an inspiration to countless, adventurous souls like you!
      May all of us continue to find great joy in the journey and many happy travels!

  3. Rich says:

    Tonight I touched the very Kayak that John Goddard traveled down the whole Nile , 4100 miles in, the top was made of a cloth like material like canvas and it only weighs 60 pds.

  4. rich says:

    John Goddard use to come to Alhambra high and show us videos of his trips, these were the best part of school, so entertaining and he was a good and funny speaker, i dont think any will ever beat his record ever ! rich severson

  5. Tracy says:

    I think my bucket list pales into insignificance compared to this one! Really interesting article (entire website has had me sad down for hours now actually), thanks! Off to think of some more things for my list!

    • Jason says:

      Hey Tracy, Yes Johns life list (bucket list) is quite astonishing but what makes him stand out from most others is that he had the drive and the desire to almost complete this grand list. I read recently a quote stating something down the line of ‘If your dreams don’t scare you, then they are not big enough!’. Glad you’ve enjoyed the blog. Safe travels……

    • Richard says:

      There will be a tribute to John Goddard on April 25 in Los Angeles since he is Terminally ill with Cancer

      What a Man, Maybe teh man of the century!

    • Jason says:

      Thanks for informing people Richard. A celebration of a great life should be in store.

  6. John Goddard had a profound influence on my life as a major world traveler.
    Thanks for visiting John Marshall High School in the late 50s and sharing your
    Adventures around the world.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Bill, Thanks for taking the time to comment. It’s great to see that John had such an influence on so many people when it came to travel and adventure. I am well aware of your exploits over the years (I recognised your name as soon as I saw it in the comments list) and it’s great to see that even someone such as yourself. A person who has seen more of the world than most could ever dream of, was possibly set on your course by a person such as John Goddard.

      Jim Dorsey who regularly checks in on this post has informed us that John is still doing well. Safe travels Bill for any further journeys or adventures you undertake, if there’s anything left for you to see?.

  7. najib says:

    I want to know …is John Goddard alive? And how old is he now?

  8. Nyle Keith Walton says:

    I find it amazing that John Goddard on top of his many amazing feats has found the time and energy to raise five kids and endure three marriages.

  9. Nyle Keith Walton says:

    In terms of accomplishments I would place John Goddard in a class by himself. He has accomplished more feats and experienced more of the world than I have. I feel honored to be mentioned in the same sentence with him.

  10. Jim Dorsey says:

    For all those who think John Goddard is deceased, I direct you to his website at http://www.johngoddard.info. I had dinner with him at the Los Angeles Adventurers Club last week, and if you are in town any thursday evening you may find him there. FYI, it is a private mens club, so check the calendar at http://www.adventurersclub.org to find out when there is a ladies night if you want to meet him.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Jim, Thanks for keeping people informed on John’s well being, and I’m sure meeting John would be a great experience for any up an coming adventurer.

  11. Nyle Keith Walton says:

    I remember John Goddard in the 1950s making the travel lecture circuit much in the same way Richard Halliburton had done one generation earlier. I particularly admired how Goddard had kayaked the entire length of the Nile River from its source in the Mountains of the Moon to the Delta in Lower Egypt. I also remember a film of him parachuting from a plane and filming Angel Falls from its base in Venezuela. With world travel losing much of its mystery and novelty in the 1960s probably best explains why his career didn’t advance much beyond that time.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Nyle, I knew you’d appreciate the exploits of John Goddard, as I think yourself and John (and even Halliburton) were poured in the same mould. I think the way his lived his life would have been tough on people around him, but I admire his resilience to the task. I feel John was a ‘Trailblazer’ such as yourself, and I’ve just had an idea. I think I will now make a category on this site dedicated to ‘Trailblazers. With yourself and John, the prime inductees.

  12. jim Dorsey says:

    Jason

    Sorry it has taken me so long to reply. I am having serious medical issues that will be over soon and then its time to hit the road again. I will give John your best.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Jim, Hope your over your medical problems quickly, and your back on that open road and enjoying life soon mate. I hope John is doing well, and appreciate you passing on my wishes, to one of the world’s great adventurers.

  13. Nyle Keith Walton says:

    I fondly remember attending one of your lectures in the early 1950s and remember films of you parachuting from an airplane and looking up at Angel Falls. I too set out to do much of everything you aspired to do. You can read about me by googling in “Hitchhiking after Halliburton.” I’m delighted to see you are still alive and a “survivor.” You must be about eighty-five now.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Keith, Sorry mate but you’d better read the post again. Although at times I’d like to think I am John Goddard. The post is just written about him and his life of adventure. Good luck with your future endeavours.

  14. Heather says:

    I didn’t know anything about him until now, I am definitely going to have to do some research now! I should also start finalizing my list!

    • Jason says:

      Hey Heather, It’s funny how we all tend to focus on what is current and in vogue at particular times. Someone such as John Goddard I feel is a legend in his own lifetime, and probably hasn’t got the recognition he deserved. That’s why I decided to write about him. Hopefully my little blog will reach a few people, to let them know about this fascinating and inspirational adventurer. Thanks for stopping by, and taking the time to comment.

  15. [...] most famous mountains in the world and studied some of the most primitive cultures on Earth. The list of famous sites he has visited is astounding, and one look at his bucket list will have any adventure seeker motivated to close [...]

  16. [...] most famous mountains in the world and studied some of the most primitive cultures on Earth. The list of famous sites he has visited is astounding, and one look at his bucket list will have any adventure seeker motivated to close [...]

  17. jim Dorsey says:

    Joohn Goddard is a dear friend and has been for many years. He is in fact one of the reasons I do what I do. He made his money from producing films about his adventures and speaking on lecture circuits that he still does at age 86. I have dininer with him most evenings at the Adventurers Club.

    • Jason says:

      Hey Jim, Thanks for taking the time to read my post. I hope this puts to bed some of the talk about John being born into money and only being able to achieve these great things due to this. He is definitely a one of a kind, and they surely broke them mould after he was created. Give me my regards, and let him know that he is an inspiration to many adventurers the world over.

      I’m also aware of your own travel and adventures, of which there have been many, so thanks for taking the time to vist my site.

    • Sue Baden says:

      I am so glad to hear that he is still alive. As a teacher in the 70’s and 80’s, I heard his amazing tales as he spoke to our students. I was honored to be invited to his home, and to hike with him in the local mountains. I couldn’t believe that I was hiking with THE John Goddard. I’ve been a fan for 30+ years!

    • Jason says:

      Hey Sue, WOW….you actually got to meet the man. For someone such as myself, who has had a thirst for adventure and travel for most of my adult life, John Goddard is the stuff of legend. He is obviously getting on a bit these days, but he was not only an adventurer but also an accomplished athlete as well.

      No doubt some of that healthy lifestyle has helped him throughout his older years. Great to hear from another person who has met him. Thanks for stopping by.

  18. Sel says:

    He’s a very outstanding character. In response to one of the above posts, I do believe he was in a few adventure clubs and may have had assistance from them, but I can’t be certain. I wrote a blog on how he inspired me to create a list as well (they’re posted on May 21st and 22nd)
    Feel free to follow and enjoy!

    • Jason says:

      Hey Sel, Agree entirely that John is an outstanding character, and you are no doubt one of many that he has inspired to achieve great things in their lives. The world needs more people like John Goddard. Thanks for your input, and good luck checking off the items on your list.

  19. Elle says:

    That guy is out of control. Imagine being able to sit down with him and hear the stories he has. Very cool, thanks for sharing!

    • Jason says:

      Hey Elle, I believe John is still alive and it would no doubt be amazing to site and talk with him. He would be one of those people, you’d love to put around that imaginary dinner table. Thanks for stopping by.

  20. Ant Stone says:

    Wow. What a list! Without the asterisks’ it would seem completely ridiculous, but he’s done it. What a feeling that must be. I know he hasn’t made them all, but still, what a great achievement.

    • Jason says:

      Ant, I agree that at first glance it seems ridiculous ‘Maybe going to the Moon is a little over the top!’, but he’s had a fair crack at getting them checked off, one by one. Some items are a little vague, but his exploration of the Congo and the Nile by kayak were massive feats. Considering they were achieved in the fifties. I appreciate your input.

  21. I LOVE THIS MAN! How amazing that he set his sights to something that insane at that time. How amazing and inspirational! EEEEEE! This totally made my day.

  22. Steve says:

    This guy is amazing. It really takes guts to do all of these things. I’ve done a few of these, but not as many as he has – of course, he has had a lot more time to do them. His list has given me some ideas of what I want to do now. It is really inspiring to read stories about great adventurers like this. Thanks for sharing.

    • Jason says:

      I agree Steve. John Goddard has achieved plenty in one life time. Some people may not realize, but some of his items in relation to athletic achievements are also quite special. I’m someone that enjoys my running, and item 101 is to run a 5 minute mile. This is also a tough ask, and for most people not possible to achieve without a fair bit of natural ability, as well as many months/years of dedicated training. Even then, most will still not achieve the 5 minute mile.

  23. Coolest bucket list ever! This guys is my new hero!!!

    • Jason says:

      It is one hell of a bucket list, I know. I reckon that also by making a bucket list, and putting it out there for all to see, puts more pressure on the composer to achieve the items listed. I have vague details in my head of what I would like to achieve before I die, but no real list. I should start working on it I suppose.

  24. Francis says:

    Wow – AMAZING ! ! ! If this account is even Half true ? I must get on my knees and kow-tow to a Modern day ” HERO ” . Clearly I would be a lyer to say I wasn’t a bit Jealous ! But two things I’d like to Know .
    1.) What’s it like to be Born so rich that one need not work but be totally self obsorbed ?
    2.) What Exactly does Retrace the ” Route of Marco Polo ” mean to John ? It seems that just about every westerner that steps foot in China Claims Polos route to some degree ?
    lastly as they say ” A Jack of all trades and a Master of NONE ” if the shoe fits………………..
    Francis O’Donnell , Explorer , Award Winning PBS Documentary Filmaker , Emmy nominated Director of ” In the footstep of Marco Polo ” and Author of the compaign book of the same name ! Please visit wliw.org/marcopolo

    • Jason says:

      Wow – Francis, John Goddard seems to have hit a raw nerve with yourself. I’ve heard of your documentary previously, but I have never seen it, and I will now make the time to sit and watch it. I’m not sure on what John Goddard’s financial upbringing was, but I feel that most things he has accomplished (or has said to accomplished as you point out) would be obtainable within a lifetime, to any hard working individual with the complete desire and dedication to achieve. I suppose his adventures took place in an era where it wasn’t as easy as it is today to document, so if you’ve got any further info on his claims, let me know as Im quite interested. I suppose your put out by the fact that he claims to have retraced the footsteps of Marco Polo, when you guys claim to be the first. Lets hope your comment creates a bit of debate and if anyone else has anything to add, don’t be shy. Anyway, I appreciate your comment and thanks for stopping by.

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