Ever since the hit film “The Bucket List” ran its first trailer, this term has been flying around quite a bit. It isn’t like the concept of such a list is new, but now it has a popular new name.
This has also been followed up by various television shows such as “100 things to do before you die”. Not exactly a charming title but it makes its point nonetheless. Yet all of this kind of thing never really triggered much thought until after I turned 50 years old.
It seems like overnight your perspective on many things begins to change. This isn’t helped by the fact that every time you visit your doctor for whatever might be ailing you, his response is now prefaced by ” when you reach your age this becomes a risk factor”
Your optometrist is happy to jump on the bandwagon as well with “when you reach your age things just begin to deteriorate.” These are all very cheerful things for you to hear on regular basis as well as your loved ones throwing you a bash birthday party which boldly announces that you are officially “Over the Hill”.
To a great extent this is not far from the truth. I can only think of it as kind of an analogy where you have struggled climbing a mountain towards a destination for all of your life. You have slipped and fallen on occasion and had your share of skinned knees and elbows. You have watched others get a free ride to the top while some you have met along the way took daring risks and tumbled back down to where you started.
This day finally comes however and now you can actually see over the crest of the peak. Down in the valley below is this wondrous destination you have heard everyone speak of but until now it was just talk. Yet now the journey takes a very different turn, instead of you struggling and clawing to reach the top, the game plan now seems to be to keep from tripping or taking a bad step with the result being an ugly plunge down the rocky slope.
These thoughts are also compounded by those who always remind you (i.e. your insurance agent, your doctor, your co-workers) that you only have just so many years left to work before you either cant keep up anymore or the company you work for boots you out for cost savings. All ugly little reminders that the game has a few different rules you’ll be forced to deal with. Your experience up to now is still valuable but the landscape has changed and you must be wary.
I can see how this combination of things can bear down on some people and bring on the dreaded “mid-life crisis”. I don’t think I have suffered from that particular syndrome but I did go out and buy myself a “mid-life Chrysler”. A Sebring convertible to be more precise, so I suppose I am somewhat guilty in that regard.
Once I thought about this concept of a Bucket List a little more I began to classify some of my thoughts. I think any of us could come up with a list a mile long if money were no object, but when was the last time money wasn’t a factor in just about everything, so this list was no exception.
So I decided to go with three categories, reality, near reality and fantasy, with the latter encompassing all those “money as no object” kind of things.
In the reality department I must give a large portion of credit to my lovely wife. I was never really terribly enthralled by the concept of travel when I was younger despite the fact that my Father carried the family on vacation almost every year until he became disabled. Although I do still have some vivid memories of those trips, for the most part they felt like many hours of staring at the air conditioning vents of our old Dodge sedan since I wasn’t tall enough at the time to see over the dash very well.
While my kids were growing up every place we ever considered taking them was crazy expensive so most of those plans got dashed. We managed to make it to amusement parks like Busch Gardens and Kings Dominion and we took in the Smithsonian Museums in nearby Washington DC (those were free).
It wasn’t until I met my second wife online that I had ever driven farther than a few hours for my adult life. I had ridden on buses farther but never driven myself. I had no fear of it, I just never thought of it as affordable or doable. Yet there she was in New York City and here I was in little Colonial Heights, Virginia, it felt like it might as well be the moon.
We spilt the difference the first time we met but on the next try I wound up venturing all the way to New York. The trip was long and probably felt even more so since I was in unfamiliar territory but those factors would change as the months passed. I got to the place I was making the trek north about once a month and the six hours on average it took for me to complete the journey altered my perspective on distance a great deal.
Then she took me one year to meet her relatives in Connecticut which was an additional three hours north. Now I make this trip once a year on the Easter holiday so she can visit with her family and it has proven to be a trip I look forward to greatly each time we go.
All of this gets back to the vote of thanks I owe her for introducing me to the marvel of travel. I have learned that it need not be lavish or expensive, especially since there are just the two of us. We don’t go for the resorts or the glitz and glamour but more for the journey itself and destination that is decidedly different from the landscape of home. Some of the things we see are man made but most are the awesome beauty this country and this planet have to offer. I have found that even though she is an excellent photographer, that pictures can only try to capture the magnificent sights that are out there to be seen. So things that relate to travel and sights basically dominate my Bucket List.
My Father was a professional driver and he drove Greyhound buses for 18 years all over the east coast. He was struck down quite young in my opinion at only 51 years old. A two year battle with cancer made his last time here quite a struggle but he also confided in me many of things he wanted to do in his lifetime. Most of them he accomplished, visiting family, seeing the Blue Ridge Mountains in the color change of autumn and going back to the places of his youth in North Carolina. The one thing He told me he wished he could have done long ago was to drive a cross country trip. He said he had never been west of the Mississippi River and wondered what the Great Plains and Rocky Mountains were like.
This December I turn 51 years old myself and I have found that many of the things I have left on my list to see are out west, so a cross country trip has been on my mind for the past few years. Partly it would be a vicarious honor to the man who taught me about cars and driving even if it was against my will in the beginning. How ironic it seems sometimes how the things he force fed me as a child are the things that are my passions in my adult years. I have been to Texas twice, so crossing the Mississippi has been done but there is still much left to accomplish.
So the things that could be taken in on this “Lap of America” are…
The Gateway Arch in St Louis or the “Gateway to the West” as it is also known is the tallest monument in the United States and opened to the public in 1965 (I was seven years old then)
Rocky Mountain National Park, which boasts the highest paved road in the country, Trail Ridge Road. This two lane strip of asphalt not only winds it way through the park but also passes through several ecosystems, crosses the great Continental Divide and carries you to a high altitude tundra not unlike arctic Canada and Alaska. The road peaks at an astounding 12,183 feet of elevation where you can actually see into the State of Wyoming. This road is a vista of superlatives of both wildlife and the stunning beauty of this planet we call home.
Salt Lake City, Utah… This city carved out of the high desert by a handful of Latter Day Saint (or Mormon) pioneers is now a flourishing oasis. The centerpiece of this desert jewel is Temple Square where these same pioneers cut stone and erected the Salt Lake Temple. Considering the tools and equipment they had at their disposal, the construction of this exquisite gem of architecture cost them untold man hours along with generous portion of sweat and blood. The end result is a truly worthy House of God. While certainly not as new or modern in design as the equally beautiful Washington DC Temple, the Salt Lake Temple represents the dedication and faith of a people and what they can accomplish.
Adjacent to the Temple is the Tabernacle where the famed Mormon Tabernacle Choir performs and houses the enormous Tabernacle Organ. The building itself was a marvel of its time with its domed ceiling spanning over 150 feet without center supports.
Salt Lake City is also home to the Family History Center which houses the genealogical records of over 2 billion deceased. Since my wife is a bit of a family history buff, I’m sure this would be a welcome stop. Any place I get to carry her that she enjoys will always be on my list.
The Bonneville Salt Flats…this marvel of nature stretches out across 159 square miles west of the Great Salt Lake. The surface of hard salt is inhospitable to even the smallest of plant life. The wind sweeps the surface so flat that it lies with the curvature of the Earth. This desolate expanse is also a kind of Gearhead Mecca, where each summer men and their machines flock to the salt to find the limits of speed. The salt was first used for a speed run in 1914 and later Sir Malcom Campbell became the first man to surpass the 300mph mark. Legendary names like Craig Breedlove, Art Arfons and Gary Gabelich drove jet powered vehicles here to aircraft like speeds of over 600mph. “The Salt” is hallowed ground for any car guy, to be able to stand in the places where these daring souls reached for the outer limits would be incredible. Bonneville is the last outpost where just a man and his creation can come with no corporate sponsors and shoot for the record books. How fitting that this vast expanse of nature is the most perfect raceway over anything man has ever constructed.
The Grand Canyon…there is probably very little explanation needed for this miracle and wonder of the Earth. There is an old saying that The Grand Canyon is the one sight people travel to see that never disappoints. Different seasons and even the times of day have huge effect on how the canyon appears and recently a new attraction has been added. The Grand Canyon Skywalk, constructed on the west rim on the Hualapai Indian reservation, this architectural creation is a glass floor bridge that extends in a giant “U” shape 70 feet out over the Canyon wall. This stunning and breath taking point of view places you 4000 feet above the canyon floor below. Feel the wind and watch the eagles soar in a vantage point like no other above the greatest natural creation on Earth.
Las Vegas…my attraction to Vegas is a limited one since I really have no interest in gaming in the casinos. I would love to drive the Strip at night and take in the lights and see the incredible over-the-top hotels that have been built there. Every November also brings the Specialty Equipment Manufacturers Association or SEMA show to the convention center. SEMA is the Super Bowl of the latest aftermarket parts made available for the car world and the showcase of these parts are done so with some of the premier names of the custom car building arena. Basically its the worlds biggest toy store for Gearheads with doors open once every year.
Farther north is “Little Vegas” or Reno, Nevada where for one week in late summer the city plays host to “Hot August Nights”. This week long auto show brings rods,customs and muscle cars from all over the country. Casino parking lots become car shows each day and the main street becomes the nightly cruise to show off all that hardware.
Evergreen Aviation Museum…This aircraft museum in McMinnville, Oregon houses one of the true legends of aviation history. The largest aircraft ever flown, the mighty Hughes H-4 Hercules or as it is most widely known, “The Spruce Goose”. This gigantic flying boat boasts a wingspan longer than a football field and eight engines of 3000 hp each. Originally designed to ferry troops and supplies across the Atlantic safely above the German U-boats of WWII, the massive project wasn’t finished until after the wars end. However in 1947 Hughes silenced his critics by launching the seaplane into Long Beach Harbor and after a taxi test, lifted the behemoth into the sky. The Hercules stands as monument to one of the greatest innovative minds of our time.
Crater Lake…This National Park in Oregon is home to another of nature’s gemstones. This lake fills the top of a collapsed volcano with a depth of nearly 2000 feet and its deep blue color must be seen to be believed. The cold temperatures have also well preserved “The Old Man of the Lake” which is a full tree that has been bobbing and floating vertically in the lake for nearly a century. The Lake is 6 miles across and the rim road of the mountain reaches nearly 8000 feet of elevation.
Yellowstone National Park…This is another place that almost needs no introduction and is probably as well known as the Grand Canyon. Yellowstone spans nearly 3500 square miles and is home to vast numbers of various wildlife as well some of the most unique geothermal activity anywhere in the world. Most renowned of these of course is “Old Faithful” along with many other geysers throughout the park. This is most likely the kind of place you could return to over and over and still not see all it has to offer but to at least soak in its stunning beauty would be amazing.
Mount Rushmore… This carved mountain in the Black Hills of South Dakota is a monument to the most influential Presidents of our first 100 years as a nation. This tourist attractions brings millions to the Black Hills each years to behold this amazing sight of both dedication and workmanship. From 1927 to 1941, Gutzom Borglum and 400 workers labored to sculpt the colossal 60 foot tall faces of the four Presidents.
Crazy Horse and Devil’s Tower…nearby to Mount Rushmore is another mountain carving project being carried out by the Native Americans. The proposed sculpture depicts Chief Crazy Horse upon his steed pointing towards the lands of his tribe. The sculpture in the round when finished will dwarf Mt Rushmore in scale but the question is when will it be finished. The progress has been slow and I don’t know if it will be completed during my lifetime but I would like to see it underway just the same.
Devil’s Tower is natural rock formation in nearby Wyoming. Most notably recognized as the mountain in Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind”, Devils Tower juts almost 1300 feet into the air above the surrounding landscape and is an imposing sight from pictures alone. In person I can only believe it must be magnificent.
I’m sure there are other attractions out west, the redwoods of California and the Golden Gate Bridge come to mind but those are not so prominent in my mind as the ones listed above.
My wife has told me many times how beautiful Canada is in the summertime, especially Quebec City. We went to Niagara Falls on our honeymoon and that was incredibly beautiful and awe inspiring, especially the “Maid of the Mist” boat ride towards the base of the Falls. So Canada as a whole remains as a place I would like to explore more deeply as long as it isn’t buried under a blanket of snow. She also wants to attend the Houston Quilt Festival which to quilters is as much THE place as Bonneville is to the gearheads. Besides, a trip to Houston is close enough for me to visit the new Dallas Cowboys Stadium and Hall of Fame so that easily works for me.
A annual quilt show in the mountains of Oregon at a small town called Sisters is also an event she wishes to attend and anywhere we get to vacation together is forever on my list.
More in the “things to do” department is my desire to drive an honest-to-God race car. I’ve already had the opportunity to drive my Grand Prix around Texas Motor Speedway at speeds above 100mph, which was thrilling but to put on a firesuit and helmet and climb into a purpose built racing machine is altogether different. The Richard Petty Driving Experience holds weekend track days for all of us racer wannabes. Some classroom time gets you ready and then its into a prepped stock car for some hot laps around the track. Speeds up to 150 mph can be reached so I would certainly choose to tackle this at one of the legendary race courses such as Daytona or Indianapolis.
Second to the Richard Petty School would be a weekend venture called “World Class Driving” where a slightly higher entry fee gives one the chance to hold the reigns of such thoroughbreds as Lamborghini, Ferrari and Porsche. A combination of closed course driving and select rural roads give both a real world and track only taste of the exotic supercars.
That last item begins to reach into the realm of near reality or vacation/travel ideas that begin to get pricey. A cruise to Alaska falls into that area as well as vacation to Hawaii. Alaska I believe would possess the kind of visual majesty that would make a thrilling trip. Hawaii is also rich with sights to behold and a visit to Pearl Harbor would be a crown jewel in my thirst for museums and aviation and naval history showcases.
A little farther into this area is a vacation we have talked about at length and that is across the ocean to France. The lure of Paris for my wife is a strong one, rather more on the intoxicating level. The Louvre art museum alone is enough to suspend her in time for days but the rest of the city calls to her for many different reasons. All of this sounds intriguing and interesting to me as well but my passion lies to the southeast in a little country town called LeMans.
LeMans (Lee-Mon) is the home of one of the oldest and most enduring events in all of motorsports. The Grand Prix of Endurance and Performance, The 24 Hours of LeMans was first run in 1923 and has always been based on how far a car can go in a 24 hour period. The race has become a testing ground for manufacturers for many years, proving your machines at LeMans is a true test of mettle. The race is run on mostly public roads that are closed off for the race weekend. One lap around the course is almost 8.5 miles, the longest of any racecourse in the world. Modern race cars routinely touch the 230mph mark on the Mulsanne straights in a phenomenal display of power and speed. Three drivers take their turns as this frenetic pace continues for the 24 hour period. The course also encompasses three villages within its inner loop which is probably a good thing since over 250,000 people attend the event. To be able to roam free around the French countryside and witness this one of a kind event in its many places and times of day would be a dream come true.
The things that would fall into the fantasy area I could probably fill pages on so I’ll leave those right where they are…in my head.
As with any list things are always subject to change and a solid dose of perspective is always good to have. Maybe I’ll get these things done and maybe not since our future is not promised to us. We all have hopes and dreams, we need them to help us continue to strive to improve ourselves and keep us moving forward. I hope you have a list for yourselves as well because the only thing better than having dreams is having someone to share them with.
T. August Green