This week, my dad checked off the last item on his Bucket List: visiting his 50th state, Alaska. More specifically, it was the 50th state he has played a round of golf in. This Bucket List item was about more than being able to say, “I’ve been to all 50 states.” On Monday, my dad fulfilled a dream to not only travel the country, but to experience its different climates, scenery and cultures – all while playing a game that he loves. It was about the experience.
When I was in college, a friend texted me during a layover at the Cincinnati Airport (CVG). He wrote, “O-H-I-O… Another state off my Bucket List!” I remember this exchange well, because I had the unfortunate duty to inform him that the Cincinnati/Northern Kentucky International Airport is actually across the state border, in Kentucky. If I had kept quiet, he might never have known. This is a prime example of why Bucket Lists should contain more than destinations. Certainly more than airports.
My Travel Bucket List is built around experiences: things that I want to see, taste, touch, hear or smell. They are moments that I have dreamt of and thought about. I want the memories of these experiences to challenge my intellect and shape who I am.
Allow me to share a few photographs and stories that will show my idea of what a Bucket List should be.
The Kremlin – Moscow, Russia
I used to watch the History Channel in the good ‘ole days, when their programs focused on historical events. Today, they broadcast various flavors of Antiques Roadshow on an almost 24-hour basis. I do credit the cable channel for passing on to me an intense love for studying the past. It led me to pursue undergraduate and graduate degrees in the discipline and, later, to teach history in a St. Louis high school.
Throughout my teenage years, I was consumed by a curiosity about the events of the Second World War. As my study of Modern Europe grew, I became particularly interested in the Soviet Union, from its founding after World War I to its collapse in 1991. At university, I read Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn’s The Gulag Archipelago. This text, with its graphic account of the Soviet system of terror, left me with a great admiration for the Russian people. They had survived.
Meeting some of these people, and seeing the country in which such atrocities took place, was near the top of my Bucket List. Until April 2015. I landed in Moscow, Russia on a beautiful morning. The air was cool and the sun was shining. I couldn’t place a check mark on the list just yet, though. I was in search of something. It was the moment pictured above. This beautiful woman had just emerged from a Eucharistic celebration at the Dormition Cathedral, located inside the walls of The Kremlin. We talked about our faith. She was Russian Orthodox; I am Roman Catholic. We were united in that moment, not by nationality, heritage or lifestyle, but by a shared love for Jesus Christ.
I realized then that I had found what I was looking for; the experience of meeting, and connecting in a meaningful way, with a stranger. All of the books I had read and documentaries I watched led me to this moment. It was perfect.
One World Trade Center – New York City, NY
Until May 2015, I had not visited Ground Zero, the site of the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks in New York City, NY. On that day, the Twin Towers of the World Trade Center disappeared from Manhattan’s skyline. It was a terrible day for the United States, and a sad one for my family.
Some years before that fateful day, my dad made a new friend on a golf course at the Walt Disney World Resort in Orlando, Florida. His name was Michael Tinley. It was a random pairing among two solo golfers. That day, my dad hit his first hole-in-one.
Their friendship was brought to an abrupt end on 9/11. Michael worked on the 100th floor of the World Trade Center’s North Tower. At 8:46 a.m., the hijacked American Airlines flight 11, a Boeing 767, crashed into the tower between floors 93 and 99.
This past May 31, I visited the new One World Trade Center, or “Freedom Tower,” for the first time. The One World Observatory, located on floors 100, 101 and 102 of the tower, had opened just one day before my visit. From the 100th floor, I offered a prayer for Michael, his family and friends. It was a difficult moment, as I recalled the pictures and news reports of that day. But, it was also a happy moment. New York City rose from the ashes. The panoramic view of Manhattan from the observatory was proof that the American spirit had triumphed.
This trip was never written on my Bucket List. It didn’t need to be. It was always there, in spirit.
The Great Wall of China – Beijing, China
Don’t we all have the Great Wall of China on our Bucket List? It is commonly thought of as a Wonder of the World and is listed as a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Having learned about the Great Wall in grade school, I thought of it as a marvel. It was something I definitely wanted to see… eventually.
In September 2012, I was involved in a fiery car accident. After more than a year in and out of the hospital, I finally gave up the battle to save my badly burned legs and authorized their amputation in November 2013. Six weeks later, I took my first post-accident trip. I learned that travel was possible, even with a crippling (or so I thought) disability. The travel bug was back, fiercer than ever.
In April 2014, I found an excellent $650 round-trip airfare to Beijing. I bought it, and was soon on a 12-hour flight from Seattle to China… Alone. Landing in the Chinese capital was a triumph in and of itself. A triple amputee, with my arm still bandaged from the amputation of my hand, alone in Beijing, exploring the world. My next stop: The Great Wall.
Crossing this off of my Bucket List was one of the most fulfilling moments in my life. While ramps made it possible for me to sit atop the Wall, I still consider myself to have climbed it. My human spirit had come forth and said, “I still have a life to live.”
DUBAI. In October, I will be on the inaugural flight of KLM’s first Boeing 787 jet, which will travel from Amsterdam to Abu Dhabi to Bahrain. I plan to spend only 1-2 days in Bahrain, then backtrack to Abu Dhabi for a few more. I’ll take a bus to Dubai to cross off a more recent addition to my list, the Burj Khalifa tower. It is the tallest building in the world and is said to offer an incredible view from its observation deck. It will be my first trip to the Middle East, and one I am sure I will not forget.
What is on your Bucket List? Tell us where you’d like to go and the experience you hope to have in the comments below. Remember, engaging your senses is the only way to create a lasting memory!