Bucket list

LOS ANGELES—A “bucket list” is an enumeration of things one resolves to do before “kicking the bucket,” or before reaching a defining age, like 40 or 60.  More than a wish list, it is typically created against the backdrop of a profound awareness of one’s mortality. The point it conveys is that one must make time for those things one considers worth doing. Yet, in an important sense, a bucket list signifies not so much a plea for time as a plea for life.

In the movie by the same title, Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman play the roles of two men who are both suffering from terminal illness. Nicholson is mostly indifferent to his condition, having lost any taste for life long before his illness. He is alienated from the only relative he has: his daughter. Though he is rich, all the money in the world couldn’t buy him happiness or give meaning to his life. Freeman is the opposite. A simple man who delights in simple things, he is surrounded by a loving family. In his loved ones, he finds the biggest reason to live longer.

By chance, they find themselves sharing a hospital room. The amiable Freeman ignores the reticence of the snooty Nicholson. In turn, Nicholson makes obligatory conversation to humor the voluble Freeman. But in the course of what seemed like aimless talk between two men facing death, they begin to talk about themselves, their respective families, and about the things they wish they could have accomplished if they had been more mindful or persistent. Soon, their exchanges take a more structured turn, and they start composing a joint bucket list. The list entails foreign travel, but it also includes simple acts of kindness done for a total stranger. Nicholson, finding at last something worth doing, offers to fund its realization.

The movie is a morality tale. It shows that the most precious thing in life is neither time nor money nor health but the attentiveness we give to the enduring relationships that matter to us. Most bucket lists may not be as sublime as this in their underlying purpose. My friend, Romy Bernardo, who can talk of a bucket list with the passion of a devotee, is not above making light of the whole concept by referring to it as the “bakit” (why) list—as in why do we do these things?

I myself do not have a bucket list. But, since I turned 60 some years back, I have felt a constant need to push myself out of my personal comfort zone. I am bothered by the thought that I could be spending the remaining years of my life doing the same things, without noticing the physical and mental degeneration that is rapidly taking its toll. Perhaps, more than losing my instincts and faculties, it is losing my taste for life that truly frightens me. I think I’d rather die than let this deadly rot eat into my life. This is the reason I push myself to take long adventure motorcycle rides through our beautiful Philippine countryside, and, occasionally, when time and resources permit, abroad.

Last week, I left for the United States to finish what I failed to do the first time I attempted it three years ago—to ride from Los Angeles to Yosemite Valley and back, a journey of close to a thousand miles. This time around, I retraced that first US ride with my regular riding buddies from the Hombres of Manila motorcycle group. A visit to the Yosemite Valley National Park on motorbikes is a bucket-list item we share in common. Yosemite with its towering ancient sequoia trees, waterfalls, and stone formations, is one of the most stunning natural wonders of the world.

With my youngest brother David “Goli” David and our first cousin, George Gopiao, both US-based, I started out from Brea City near Los Angeles on a bright and cool Sunday morning. We headed toward Route 101 where it melds with the beautiful Pacific Coast Highway: I on a borrowed white Ducati Multistrada 1200, Goli on his blue Triumph Explorer 1200, and George on his bright-red snub-nosed Ducati Monster 1100—a dazzling tricolor on six wheels.

We broke the trip in San Luis Obispo, one of those old, charming mission towns dotting the California landscape. From there we proceeded the following morning to Monterey to unite with the rest of the Hombres who rode from San Francisco. The group, shepherded by Eric Mananquil, included Pete Cariquitan (the wisest at 83), father and son Romy and Ibba Bernardo, Richie TiuTan, Ruel Maranan, and Francis Gomez. Bringing up the rear was a backup SUV skillfully piloted by Eric’s partner, Michelle Manuel, and carrying concerned Hombre spouses, Amina Rasul-Bernardo, Grace Bernardo, and Nida Gomez.

America’s roads are among the world’s finest and safest. The ones we took could have been also explicitly designed with motorcyclists in mind—endless twisties and hairpin turns, gentle loops ascending to a height of more than 6,000 feet, and broad ribbons of sweeping highways laid out on open rolling hills. With the guidance of a couple of local riders led by Ripon-based Hombre Zeke Covarrubias, we entered the vast Yosemite park through tree-lined back roads that cut through sprawling family-owned ranches. California’s freeways are fast and uncompromising but we found a riding culture here that is highly accommodating and respectful of bikers. I hope to write a fuller account of this memorable ride in another column.

My aching joints had bothered me throughout the flight from Manila. Miraculously, all the pains vanished as I stood up on the pegs of the Multistrada to breathe in the fragrance of the mandarin blossoms pervading the nippy spring air somewhere along the orange orchards of Casa de Fruta. At that point, I felt I could ride forever.

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