50 Things to Do Before I Die

This is a self-indulgent repost of an older piece, freshened by thoughts of my recent 60th birthday:

I stumbled across the title phrase some time back, and Googled it. I found several lists and scrolled through them.

One of them was all “Go watch the Masters golf tournament,” and “Sit ringside at Madison Square Gardens for a boxing match,” and “See the Tour de France in person,” and it just seemed like most of it was a lot of crap you’d do to impress other people, instead of having an adventure exclusively for your own self.

I mean … golf?? Boxing? Sit on your duff and watch OTHER people do stuff? In a crowd? In a CITY?? Sheeeeit. I pass.

I’ve been making lists like this most of my life, and MY list has almost nothing in common with those dopey faux-cool lists.

(Speaking of trying to impress other people, I suppose that’s exactly what I’m doing by including here a Brag List of things I’ve already done. I have bowed very slightly to modesty by putting it at the bottom. Hopefully you’ll understand it’s at least partly here so that *I* can look at it and go “Hey, I’ve actually done some cool stuff! Yay, me!” Anyway, skip down if you want to see it first.)

But the funny thing is, even at the age of 60, and even though I’ve done a helluva lot of stuff from my earlier lists, I can STILL find more than 50 things I want to do before I die. (I refuse to call this a Bucket List; I liked the movie, but I was doing this list stuff for decades before it came out.)

Here are some of the things I wouldn’t mind doing:

Save a life
Own an Appaloosa stallion (and have time to ride him!)
Hike the Appalachian Trail
Hike the John Muir Trail
Get a pilot’s license
See whales migrate
See wild elephants and lions in Africa
Get close to polar bears near Churchill, Canada
Swim with dolphins (or whales!)
Visit the Australian Outback
Ride in the cab of a freight train
Ride a horse bareback on the beach
Run a marathon
Speak a second language fluently
Learn American Sign Language
Experience weightlessness
Fly in a jet fighter plane
Ride a horse across the U.S.
See mountain gorillas in person
Go on the nearby 650-foot-high, 3,000-foot-long zipline
See the Aurora in Alaska
Write a best-selling book
Meet Richard Dawkins
Walk Darwin’s Sandwalk
See the Green Flash
Learn to surf
Learn to windsurf
Fly a hang glider
Have a pet raven
Meet Koko the gorilla
Hear wild wolves howling
Go parasailing
For once in my life, get organized (no, really)
Visit Antarctica
Have dogs again! In a place I can hike with them!
Take an ocean cruise along the Inland Passage to Alaska
Go on an all-expenses paid speaking tour
Ride a train across the U.S. or Canada
Own my own ranch
See an erupting volcano
Learn to juggle
Patent an invention (I already know what it is)
Take up sculpture
Become a millionaire
Get buff again
Establish a black bear rescue foundation
Spend an entire year having adventures, and writing about it

Brag List

At the age of 60, my “done” list includes: Went parasailing, saw New York City from the top of the Empire State Building, toured Washington, DC by bicycle, saw the White House, went whale watching and saw whales, visited the Smithsonian Air & Space Museum (where I saw the Apollo 11 capsule!), visited Liberty Island and the Statue of Liberty, got bucked off a horse, rescued and adopted a dog, enjoyed July 4th fireworks from the deck of a cruise boat, shook hands with legendary southpaw Sandy Koufax, met Ray Bradbury, spoke to Ralph Nader, visited ancient Native American ruins, swam a mile (wouldn’t mind working my way up to that again, in fact), parachuted out of a plane (5 times), got certified in scuba diving, started a blog (several, in fact), hitchhiked around the U.S. (26,000+ miles — yes, really; in fact, part of that was a one-month, 5,200-mile hitchhiking vacation), hopped a ride on a freight train (2 days, 5 states), rode a bull (8 of them, actually, 4 of which I rode to the buzzer), conquered some of my major fears (heights, public speaking, etc.), flew in an aerobatic plane (hammerheads, barrel rolls, corkscrews!), rode horseback for 100 miles, rode a horse in a parade, drove a horse-drawn wagon in a parade, got a standing ovation (for baking, strangely enough), rode a snowmobile, lived in the mountains (High Sierras: Lake Tahoe, Mammoth Lakes), rode an Amtrak train (which I heartily recommend), climbed in one of those treetop challenge courses (ziplines, etc.), spent the day at a thoroughbred horse racing track, camped alone in the wilderness, visited a nude beach (with 30 leering cowboys), got to pet and feed marshmallows to a live grizzly (and got licked from fingers to elbow by said grizzly!), petted a real live wolf (got growled at by a real wolf), touched a live lion, hand fed a wild red fox, fed Oreos to a black bear, got bitten by a coyote, captained a magazine (several of ‘em), attended an annual deer migration from close range, spent the day at Disneyland, bathed in a waterfall, ate at a 5-star restaurant, photographed a wedding, shod a horse, drove a big-rig truck, roped a calf, rode a mule to the bottom of the Grand Canyon and spent the night, wrote a book, PUBLISHED a book, appeared on radio and TV, ran for public office (lost, twice), flew a plane, drove a team of draft horses (it was my profession for 8 years, so I did it lots), saw a glacier with my own eyes, took a cruise on a steamboat, lived and worked at a ski resort, flew in a helicopter, went whitewater canoeing and whitewater rafting, water skied, lived and worked at a winter resort and got to ski every day, lived at a ranch and rode horses every day, flew in a sailplane, swam in an ice-cold mountain lake (naked, actually; I was bathing; I don’t recommend it), soaked in a natural hot spring (LOTS of times), went winter camping (a near-death mistake), camped in the wilderness alone, sold a story to a national magazine (first I ever submitted), flew in a hot air balloon, went cross-country skiing under the full moon, got lost in the wilderness (and almost died), owned and rode motorcycles, owned my own house (well, me and the bank), went bankrupt (not every adventure is fun), joined Mensa, rode a dog sled, drove a car on a racetrack, visited Las Vegas, got to be self-employed (owned my own business 3 times), rode a steam locomotive and a cog railway, went canoeing in a wild place, heard the singing of coyotes, the bugling of elk, and the roars of African lions, saw the Aurora Borealis and the Hoover Dam, took a cross-country road trip with high school buddies, took a 5-day road trip alone (and yes, you should do it), spoke in public, visited a bawdy house (where I got fantastically overcharged for a half-size beer, so I can now honestly say “I got screwed at Janie’s Ranch”), worked as both a cowboy and a photographer at spring branding events at ranches, did a back layout dive out of a 3rd-floor ski lodge window into the snow, went elk hunting in Montana (fear not, I got skunked), and ran away and joined the circus.

In addition: It’s not an adventure one would choose, but still something I consider to be a substantial life accomplishment – I also sat at the bedside of my dying Dad, and said all the things that needed to be said.

But anyway … Looking back at that first list, I guess the next 20 years are going to be busy ones. Makes me feel guilty for sitting here writing.

But also, just out of curiosity: Have you made your own list? Are you doing it? Time to get cracking, maybe?

Ladies and gentlemen, life really can be a glorious adventure. You just have to do it.