Bucket List Adventures: Hitting the (midlife) road
By KATHY WITT
To eat a Belgian waffle in Belgium. Cuddle a koala bear. Meet snack maven Little Debbie. Tug on Carol Burnett’s ear. If you’re going to dream, you’ve got to do it big. And some of the biggest dreams are realized within life’s simplest moments.
Not that the iconic Carol Burnett isn’t bigger than life, but that doesn’t keep Sandra McKenna and Rick Griffin from harboring their fantasy, perhaps while singing their own rendition of the comedian’s signature closing song … “I’m so glad we had this time together…”
McKenna and Griffin are the creators of “The MidLife Road Trip,” an Internet-based food, travel and adventure series that debuted in August of 2010 and propels the pair around the world checking items off their bucket list while encouraging others along the way to do the same.
“The MidLife Road Trip is all about making the most of every moment,” says McKenna. “It’s ‘stepping out of the box’ and trying something you never thought you could do.
“It’s ordinary people having extraordinary experiences.”
Meeting actor Kelsey Grammer backstage during the production of “La Cage aux Folles.” Walking across San Francisco’s Golden Gate Bridge. Rock climbing at AZ on the Rocks in Scottsdale where an apprehensive McKenna provisioned herself with a sandwich tucked into her bosom, sustenance for the 31-foot climb.
After a life-threatening illness in 2004 led to an epiphany about all his unfinished bucket list business, the then 43-year-old Griffin sold his chain of child care centers and got busy pursuing his triple passions: travel, writing and video production. Call it a midlife crisis or a reshuffling of priorities, but Griffin knew there was no time like the present to follow his bliss.
He met McKenna via Twitter conversations about travel the geneses of “The MidLife Road Trip.” In 2009, the two met in person when Griffin, based in Atlanta, Ga., brought his family to McKenna’s hometown of Tampa, Fla., for spring break. Both embraced the adventure of making a show about, well, people embracing adventure.
Now an Internet sensation, the unscripted reality-based show pulls in thousands of viewers worldwide monthly who watch the intrepid twosome mark off their bucket list milestones: skydiving, meeting Mark Burnett (creator of “Survivor” and “The Apprentice”), seeing the world’s largest urban bat colony.
Millions follow them on Twitter, faithfully tuning in each Tuesday afternoon for “The MidLife Road Trip’s” weekly Twitter Chat #NUTS (Not-so Usual Therapy Session). Guest therapists, culled from an enthusiastic fan base, ask a new question every six minutes for what McKenna and Griffin describe as the “most productive way to waste of your time on the Internet.”
“We’ve made it up as we went and we work really well together,” says McKenna, who confesses that Griffin is the true adventurer of the pair. “Rick and I are exact opposites. He is not afraid of anything and he talks me off the ledge so many times.”
Taking a riverboat tour of Alaska’s Chena and Tanana Rivers, where the captain let Griffin pilot the riverboat. Rocking a helicopter ride, also in Alaska, over stunning glaciers and meeting a woman celebrating her 50th birthday by living out her own bucket list dream or, as she called it, “the full Monty”: Walking atop a glacier.
“I love the people that we meet on these trips,” states Griffin on a segment featuring his Alaskan adventure. “One of the best things about ‘The MidLife Road Trip’ is we meet inspirational people … who make it a priority to live their dream.”
“The cast is wherever we go,” McKenna says. “In every community we visit there’s always someone and we’re telling their story. We try to keep it open whoever wants to hop along with us, that’s how we do it.”
In fact, the freewheeling co-hosts are never a stranger no matter what community they land in. Fans of the show routinely contact the two and come out and see them wherever they go.
Flying a Cessna. Driving a NASCAR race car. Attending rodeo school. Skiing.
Although learning to ski was on McKenna’s bucket list (and learning in Utah was icing on the cake), she admits many of the adventures horrify her but are pure adrenaline rushes for Griffin. He gravitates toward the items in the “Action” section of the show’s ever-evolving bucket list.
“I realize as I get older my desire or ability to do some of things on the list will wane,” he says. “I don’t want to remove items from the bucket list because of bad knees or cold feet. I want to check items off the list because they are accomplished.”
Still, no one could ever call McKenna a “scaredy-cat,” as she refers to herself on occasion. Her mettle has been tested on numerous journeys, including taste-testing “critters” while tailgating in Tuscaloosa, Ala. not to mention eating alligator on a spit and crab salad atop a live crab on other adventures where she has shown a grab-the-bull-by-the-horns fearlessness.
“I’m an ordinary person who has extraordinary experiences,” she says. “You don’t have to be extraordinary to live out your bucket list dreams.”
Back to Carol Burnett’s ear … Griffin feels certain that if the entertainer knew she was an adventure on their bucket list she would invite them to tug her ear.
“We are still holding out hope,” McKenna says enthusiastically. “We have been in training for this since ‘The MidLife Road Trip’ began.”
And that is really the premise of the show.
“Don’t put off pursuing your dreams,” Griffin says. “None of us knows how much time we have and none of us, at the end of our lives, wants to say, ‘I wish I would have…’
“Make out your bucket list, share it with others, and DO IT even if it’s just one item on your list.”
– Watch episodes of “The MidLife Road Trip” show here: www.MidLifeRoadTrip.tv.
– Be part of the “therapy session” at www.MidLifeRoadTrip.tv/nuts.
– Get ideas for your own bucket list adventures here: www.MidLifeRoadTrip.tv/bucket-list
– Have the adventure; eat the food yep, there’s a “MidLife Road Trip Recipes from the Road” cookbook app for iPad: www.BakeSpace.com/cookbooks/detail/MidLife-Road-Trip%27s/26.
Kathy Witt is a freelance writer and the author of The Secret of the Belles. Visit Kathy’s blog at www.TravelinTales.com.
2012, McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.