A trip from Los Angeles to New York takes most people about six hours. Ryan Ray is not most people. The LA-based motivational speaker is currently walking (yes, walking) from the Santa Monica pier to Times Square, and has spent the last several months traversing the American South. A bacterial infection sent him home after his first attempt, but he’s been going strong since May. Last Thursday, just as Pope-a-Palooza was winding down, he arrived in Washington.
Ray’s reason for walking is disarmingly simple. The Oklahoma native, who gave up a desk job to travel full-time, wants to inspire people to “live the life they love and do what they are passionate about.” The message is timeless, the mode of transport downright primitive. But Ray made it to Washington in one piece because of something distinctly 21st century: Facebook. He has prolifically chronicled his journey on the social network with photo and video updates, often accompanied by hashtags like #believeinyourdreams, #dreamBIG, and #nevergiveup. Since he arrived in Washington, the page has filled with selfies of a beaming, bearded Ray in front such landmarks as the Lincoln Memorial, the Capitol and the White House.
Facebook hasn’t just given Ray a platform for motivational hashtags, it’s put a roof over his head. On his website is a form where people can sign up to host him when he passes through their town. The kindness of strangers pulls through more often than not. According to Ray, he’s only spent 31 of the 177 nights of his journey outside.
“The only way that’s been possible is because of the reach I’ve gained through Facebook,” he said. “People recognizing me, seeing I’ve stayed with others, seeing they can trust me.”
He started the trip with about 1,400 Likes on his Facebook page. Somewhere in Texas, one of his posts went “semi-viral” and things took off from there. He now has well over 30,000. This online following has turned into a real-life community that has carried him through Arkansas, Tennessee, Virginia, and now Washington, where on Tuesday he visited the White House in hopes of nabbing a selfie with President Obama.
While he did not manage to meet the president during his visit, Ray later confirmed through a spokesperson that he was still not giving up on his larger goal of “inspiring people across the world to dream big.”
“The goal for this journey, it’s not just a physical challenge,” he said. “It’s really the human aspect. The only reason I feel inspired is because of the support I’m getting from all the people online and the people who meet me in person because they’ve seen me online.”
After leaving Washington on Wednesday morning, Ray will begin the final leg of his trip, with plans to arrive in New York on October 10. He says some of the people he stayed with along the way will be flying out to take the final steps into Times Square with him. What will Ray do when he’s done walking?
“Probably cry,” he said, laughing. “Tears of joy, and probably sadness too.”
After that, he plans to travel to a few more cities (on an airplane this time) for a speaking tour, and then return home to spend a few months writing and giving speeches about his cross-country odyssey. After that he’ll “do another adventure.” He doesn’t know where that adventure will take place, or whether it will be on foot, but Facebook will “absolutely” be a big part of whatever he does next.