The Biker and the Hiker

She missed her chance to aid a traveling stranger. Would she get another opportunity?

Posted in , Sep 18, 2014

An artist's rendering of a bearded man walking a mountain road.

Dottie Lloyd read about the walker one warm summer morning at breakfast. “Miles to Go,” the story in the newspaper was headlined. A man named Ray Goodman was on an epic walk across the United States. He’d already walked 1,600 miles, but had thousands of miles ahead of him.

That sparked Dottie’s interest. She and her husband, Stan, also loved traveling the country, although they did it riding their big Harleys, not on foot.

The paper said that Ray would be passing that day along Highway 412, the main drag in Paragould, Dottie’s small northeastern Arkansas town. Maybe I’ll see him, thought Dottie. Strangers stuck out in Paragould. She read on.

The story said Ray had worked as a repo man for an attorney in Philadelphia. When people couldn’t pay their debts, it was Ray’s job to repossess their house, car, savings, whatever they had that he could grab.

The job paid well, and Ray owned a house and a boat. But he’d been consumed by guilt for making his living off other people’s misfortune. “I’ll never get over it,” he told the Paragould Daily Press.

One day Ray decided he’d had enough. He quit his job, sold his house and boat, donated his money to charity and set off walking. It was no ordinary walk. In a sense, it was a walk of penance. After all, Jesus bids us to help the poor more than anything else in the New Testament.

Ray had no money for food. He couldn’t pay for lodging. Nevertheless, he vowed never to ask anyone for help, only taking what was freely offered to him. In a backpack he carried clothes, toiletries and a stack of brochures for the Sierra Club, America’s largest grassroots environmental organization.

With the blessing of the club’s directors, Ray had dedicated his hike to raising awareness about the environment and recruiting new Sierra Club members.

On his itinerary were numerous national parks. Ray had always loved the outdoors. The walk was his chance to give back. And to rely on other people’s generosity after a lifetime of taking things away.

Wow, thought Dottie. Ray Goodman sounded like one inspiring person. She almost hoped she would run into him that day.

That afternoon Dottie was in a rush, pulling out of the Walmart parking lot onto Highway 412 on her way home to fix dinner. She saw a lone man, strolling along the sidewalk, with a backpack and a pair of trekking poles. He was wearing a red shirt, blue shorts and a yellow baseball cap.

His tanned face was long and thin, framed by a neatly trimmed beard. He walked briskly and resolutely, as if walking was more natural to him than standing still.

Dottie was so startled she almost didn’t say anything. At the last minute she slowed, rolled down her window and said, “Hey, you’re that guy from the paper.”

Ray smiled. “That’s right,” he said.

She flashed a thumbs-up. “Good luck with your journey!”

“Thanks!” Ray replied.

Then Dottie pulled out into traffic again and lost sight of Ray in her rearview mirror.

Almost instantly she felt bad. Dumb. She remembered how Ray had forbidden himself to ask for help. Why hadn’t she offered to buy him some food? Let him camp in the backyard? Something, anything. How could she have forgotten?

She did a U-turn and drove back along the highway. By then Ray was gone. She checked a few side streets, then made her way to an RV campground where the newspaper said Ray was staying. No sign of him.

Dottie drove home feeling terrible. She hadn’t just let Ray down. She’d let God down. We’re supposed to welcome strangers and care for others! Dottie thought, remonstrating with herself.

She’d read that article about Ray and then run into him—if that wasn’t a call from the Lord, she didn’t know what was. But Dottie hadn’t even offered Ray something from her grocery bags. She’d been too startled, too much in a rush to get home. Still, it wasn’t like her to be so thoughtless.

The next few days she looked for Ray but never saw him. She showed the newspaper story to Stan. For a while she and her husband followed Ray’s occasional updates to his Facebook page. But life went on and Dottie’s remorse faded.

Three months later, Dottie and Stan set out on a 10-day, 3,000-mile motorcycle tour. With another couple, they planned to ride up to the Dakotas, then down through Wyoming and Colorado. It was September, the perfect time of year for a road trip.

At the halfway point of their odyssey, the two couples pulled up to the Mount Rushmore visitors’ center. They parked their bikes and went inside. That’s when Dottie saw him. A familiar figure.

His back was to her but Dottie recognized the same red shirt, blue shorts, backpack and yellow baseball cap. Trekking poles at the ready. Ray Goodman.

Dottie marched right up to him and said, “Hey, you’re the guy walking across the United States!”

Ray looked a little startled. “That’s right,” he said. “How did you know?”

“I’ve seen you before, in Paragould, Arkansas,” said Dottie. “You should have lunch with my friends and me. On us. I won’t let you tell me no.”

Ray smiled, a flicker of relief in his eyes. He looked much thinner than he had been when she last saw him.

“You’re sure it’s all right?” he asked. “I mean, I haven’t showered in days—”

Dottie cut him off with a laugh. “Ray, we’re bikers, for crying out loud!” she said, laughing. “We don’t mind.”

Pretty soon, Dottie, Stan, their friends and Ray were seated in a cafeteria with big plate-glass windows looking out toward the famous mountain. The great presidents seemed to look down in approval.

Everyone had pot roast, glazed carrots, roasted potatoes, crusty rolls, and cake for dessert. “I’m glad we ran into you,” said Dottie. “I still feel terrible I didn’t offer you anything in Paragould.”

Ray cocked his head. “Don’t feel bad,” he said. “I had tons of help in Paragould. What an incredibly generous town!”

They all talked about their travels and about the places Ray was headed next. Ray finished the last bites of his dessert, and Dottie offered him her leftovers. He ate them without hesitation. Finally, it was time to go.

“I can’t thank you enough for this meal,” Ray said. “Out here in the Dakotas, I’ve had long stretches where I don’t see a soul. This is the best meal I’ve had in days.” Dottie got the feeling it was the only real meal he’d had in days.

Dottie and the others watched him go. It was only as Ray’s lean, upright form faded from sight that Dottie realized what had just happened. She knew she’d been called to help, but there was a reason she’d let Ray pass by in Paragould.

He didn’t need her help then. He needed her help later, at the foot of Mount Rushmore, many miles further up the road than Dottie could have seen.


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