(Chico Enterprise-Record, September 2012)
‘Bucket list’ wasn’t in my parents’ vocabulary when I was a kid. The buckets we used carried paint.
My folks live in Colorado. We typically see each other three times a year. We often speak via phone but it’s during visits I notice their mortality. They tire easily and discuss ailments. They’ve been married over 50 years. Much of the time they drive each other crazy.
Tensions spiked during one particular visit. The house was full of in-laws: my wife, his wife, and my daughters. The estrogen meter rose with each passing moment. Within four hours of their arrival on a Friday afternoon, Dad whispered, “Let’s go. Too much commotion.”
“Where?” I asked. “To the bar?”
“To the Galapagos Islands and the Amazon River. They’re on my bucket list.”
Ugh, trouble ahead. We sneaked away to meet a travel agent. By Saturday morning we booked flights to Quito, Ecuador, our temporary base between jaunts to the Amazon and the Galapagos.
Dad and I connived. We would confess our plot to everyone that evening over dinner. We anticipated the questions: “What are you two thinking? What about the cost? And your daughter’s birthday?”
“Hold tight,” my dad advised. “Say nothing.”
By Sunday morning we had the green light.
“It’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity,” everyone admitted.
So, in 2009 we traveled 10 days together in Ecuador. Dad brought his cane and I made sure he took his medications. We explored the jungle, caught piranhas, ate snails, and teased army ants. We acted like giddy kids. No rules, total freedom.
Fast forward two years later. I received a permit to raft through the Grand Canyon after waiting 18 years on the National Park Service’s waiting list. I kayaked through the canyon in 1993, got injured, and finished the trip wearing a sling. I sought redemption but never figured it would take so long to return. My launch date was in 2011.
Trip planning for the expedition required numerous logistics. We had to be self-reliant for all food, potable water, waste management, equipment, shelter, medicines, safety and emergencies. Many friends expressed interest. I was allowed to take 15 people on a 16-day, 225-mile river trip through some of the most rugged country in the world. We’d encounter 20-foot tall waves and 25 mph currents in the largest rapids. I needed an enthusiastic, energetic and committed team, able to row a fleet of five rafts and weather the desert heat.
The group’s size ebbed as I made plans. Several friends canceled. They couldn’t afford the time. Then Mom called.
“If you have space, I’ll go,” she said, almost apologetically.
Mom’s a city-slicker but had previous Grand Canyon rafting experience. However, those were on commercially guided weeklong motorized trips when she was much younger. For this trip she’d be on my raft and I’d be rowing.
“You and Dad went on a trip,” she petitioned, “I want to do a bucket list trip with you.”
“Mom, you’re nearly 70. Once we launch there’s no way out except downriver. Cellphones don’t work in the canyon. We’ll be off the grid. What about Dad?” I tried to be gracious.
“Your brother and sister can check on him,” she insisted.
My siblings agreed, urging to go for it. Then I called Dad.
“Mom wants to raft with me through the Grand Canyon. You’d be alone for three weeks. Can you get along?” I asked.
“Take her, take her, put her in front!” (Dad later left a message for me to bring her back in one piece.)
So Mom joined the expedition as the group’s token grandma. She worked hard in camp, cajoled with the team, and earned bragging rights at her Pilates class afterward.
I recall my parents as vibrant adults but the years are quickly catching them. Just when I think they’re fizzling out they throw me a curve ball. Like wanting to go to South America or to raft the Colorado River. But after spending time with them I now know why I’m who I am. They’re wearing older bodies yet are as curious and adventurous as I am … and they’re fun.
I wouldn’t trade going on my parents’ bucket list trips for anything.
View my Grand Canyon rafting adventure on the Etc Guy Video Page!