The concept of the bucket list has crept into popular culture right alongside greek yogurt and skinny lattes. Now you would think that a bucket list would be a highly personal, filled with the individual accomplishments one would like to fulfil before their inevitable journey into the void of nothingness. But fortunately for those without enough ambition to decide on their own life goals, the list comes made to order, like a combo meal at your favorite fast food joint.
Surprisingly, the list is quite low on things like: “make amends to my parents for the great sacrifice of bringing me into the world.” Or “reduce my consumption of fossil fuels so that future generations may continue to inhabit the earth at the time when this list is permanently rendered null.” Or even more general objectives like “try not to be such an asshole”.
The list is focused on personal goals, and the highest rank almost inevitably goes to travel. Actually, let me take that back. The bucket list is dominated only by very specific things you are required to see (Egypt’s pyramids or Machhu Picchu) or do (dive the Great Barrier Reef or walk on the great wall of China).
Anything between these visits is largely deemed unimportant. So, for instance, a generality like “backpack though Asia to come back with a broader perspective on my own culture” is far too vague to make the cut.
Very recently I travelled to one of the sights that features prominently on the list, the great rock at the center of the Australian continent called Uluru. This 600 million year old, 348 meter tall monolith is impressive largely because the terrain in this region is so completely pancake-flat that the rock dominates the field of view for hundreds of kilometers. It becomes even more impressive at sunset, when rock emits a vibrant red hue as if thousands of stage lights are hidden in its interior. With an almost biblical appearance it’s no wonder the indigenous residents of the area revere the rock as sacred. Finding this thing must have been like travelling through Kansas and discovering the Empire State Building.
I arrived to the rock’s viewing area at 5:45 pm as the sun was still high but beginning its descent, unloaded with the other 35 people in my group and joined the throngs of other tourists eager to check one more item off of their list. Apparently (and news to me) to fully check off sunset at Uluru, the viewer should also do expensive things as the sun descends. This includes five star dining or at least a glass of Champaign and several tables were set up by tour operators to indulge this req1uirement. The scene was chaotic as each person jostled to get in front of the other and capture the image that would soon be distributed on social media networks around the world. In fact, I could already imagine the Facebook caption:
“Here is me at another of the world’s great sights. I am moving through the list in rapid enough succession that when I die my gravestone could very well say: RIP: Kevin managed to cram in at least 3 minutes at every single item on the bucket list. “
As the sun dipped below its apex, I looked over the shoulders of the several tourists in front of me (being short is a curse every baseball game, movie and bucket list sight) and I was truly rapt by the incredible sight. This was a marvel of nature. It seemed impossible that a huge chunk of inert material could give off such a vibrant glow.
But as quickly as this feeling came, it was gone as I took an elbow to the pelvis by a group member looking for that perfect perspective. And soon after, the sun fully extinguished and the rock became nothing more than a silhouette.
Soon our bus was loaded, as were dozens of others and the site was deserted. As we careened out of the parking lot and towards our resort complex it struck me that I had just checked off another of the world’s most impressive natural phenomenon. But, as with all of my experiences at these sights, there was no epiphany and no transcendent moment that you would think should accompany a visit to a place we “should all see before we die”.
Instead, the majority of my time at this great bucket list site was spent elbowing through the crowd or picking at the antipasto spread. And in the end the photo I got is way inferior to anything you would see in so many postcards and travel guides. But then I suppose that is not the point. You see, having my head superimposed against Uluru brings me one monument closer to completing the list that on my death bed will give me the satisfaction that my life had meaning.
Or so I am told.