The Ultimate Bucket List - United Hub
Hemispheres

The ultimate bucket list

By The Hub team , September 19, 2016

Story by Eric Benson | Illustrations by Sara Stode | Hemispheres June 2016

Ten of the world's most accomplished adventurers on the one thing they'd like to do before it's all said and done.

Wade Davis, author and adventurer

Wade Davis

Anthropologist; ethnobotanist; author, The Wayfinders

Sailing from Hawaii to Rapa Nui aboard the Hokule'a

We know for a fact that, 10 centuries before Christ, when Europeans were hugging their shores for fear of the open ocean, the ancestors of the Polynesians set sail into the rising sun. These wayfinders knew that every island in the Pacific has its own unique refractive pattern, so they could read the waves the way a forensic scientist would read a fingerprint. It was all based on an attentiveness to the elements.

Hokule'a ship sailing from Hawaii to Rapa Nui

I've studied the wayfinders, and I've sailed on the Hokule'a, which is reviving both that navigational tradition and Polynesian culture itself. But I've never done an extended journey aboard it. I'd love to sail with them across the Pacific, maybe from Hawaii to Rapa Nui [Easter Island]. The Hokule'a is basically a catamaran that's wrapped together by five miles of rope, and everything happens on the ocean deck. You cook on the deck. You sleep on the deck. The wayfinder navigates from the deck. There is no compass.

The most amazing thing about that wayfinding tradition is that it was based on dead reckoning. You only know where you are by remembering how you got there. So the navigator has to sit monklike on the stern of the vessel, never fully sleeping, keeping in his or her mind all the data accumulated over the course of a multiweek journey—every shift of the wind, every shift of the tack of the vessel, every sign of the sea and the stars.

Benedict Allen, Explorer

Benedict Allen

Explorer; trustee and member, Council of the Royal Geographical Society

Traversing the Taklamakan Desert, China

There's a desert in northwestern China called the Taklamakan, and it's the largest waterless place on the planet: 600 miles from west to east, and no one has ever crossed it. It haunts me. The name Taklamakan means “go in and you won't come out."

I love the idea of somehow assembling a camel train and just crossing the whole lot. It's almost impossible. You'd need so many camels. You'd need camels to carry water, and you'd need camels carrying water for those camels. I think just managing the camels would be a massive challenge. Camels aren't like horses or mules or dogs—they don't need humans. They could walk off at any time, and if that were to happen, it would be the end of you. So you've got to win them over. You've got to be the one that the camels want to follow. But to maintain control over even one camel is quite hard. So I think the biggest danger in the Taklamakan is of a camel rebellion. I had this once when I crossed the Gobi Desert with a camel called Jigjik.

Two thousand years ago, there were little forts in the Taklamakan, but the whole area has dried up much more since. Now, those forts are sort of lost cities. Marco Polo talked about the Taklamakan. He didn't name it, but he told us how, walking along the Silk Road, people would get lured by spirits of the desert and go off into this place. And he told of a caravan of camels laden with plundered silver disappearing into the Taklamakan.

People talk about camels being the ships of the desert, and there is this feeling when you're with a camel that you're launching on a journey into outer space. That's why I love the desert. It's not easy to find a place on the planet where you can just disappear.

Badwater ulrtamarathoner, Pam Reed

Pam Reed

Two-time overall winner, Badwater Ultramarathon; author, The Extra Mile: One Woman's Personal Journey to Ultra-Running Greatness

Running the Grand to Grand Ultra race, Southwestern U.S.

I've finished Badwater 11 times. I've done 44 Ironmans. I've done 100-mile runs more than 100 times. So lately I've been trying to do a lot of new things. The past two years I was in Alaska and Minnesota, and I ran in races where I had to pull a sled. It was 100 miles in Alaska, and 135 miles in Minnesota. The next thing I think I'd like to try is a stage race.

The key in stage races is that you have to carry everything with you. They'll give you water, but that's it. So you have to get all your food, sleeping bag, and supplies into a little backpack. And there's one stage race in the U.S. that I'm really eager to do. It's called Grand to Grand. It's 170 miles over seven days on trails from the north rim in the Grand Canyon to the Grand Staircase in Utah.

It would be a challenge. I recover really fast day to day, but I'm not good at packing things. The challenge is trying to figure it all out. I think I should be OK with rationing what I'm eating, because I don't really eat that much, but when I don't have an abundance of something, it makes me nervous. But I've run the Grand Canyon rim to rim before with friends, and I just love that area. I love, love, love the desert.

Grand to Grand race, Grand Canyon

Alex Honnold, Rock Climber

Alex Honnold

Rock climber; author, Alone on the Wall

Climbing the Trango Towers, Pakistan

I've known about the Trango Towers as long as I've been a climber, which is forever, basically. They're in the Karakoram range in Pakistan, right on the border with China and India, and they're three enormous spires that are up to 5,000 feet tall. They start at around 15,000 feet, so the summits are at 20,000 feet, and it's super-hard granite, big-wall climbing. There was actually a National Geographic cover story about them in the '90s, where a guy called Todd Skinner, one of the really famous climbers from the last generation, spent 60 days or something working on the wall of one of the Towers so that they could free climb it, which means you still use ropes but you're climbing with just your hands and feet. It was a big story that year.

All of the Trango Towers have been climbed many times on many routes, but everyone has done them expedition-style, which means you climb them over months and months. No one has ever climbed them Yosemite-style, which means in a single push, usually a single day. My goal would be to climb all three of the towers that way.

I know it's possible to get up them pretty quickly. I have some friends who almost climbed one of the Towers in 20 hours or something, but they got stopped near the top because they didn't have ice-climbing equipment. To climb them in a single push, you'd have to get the right weather window, and you'd have to strike when you were feeling fit and feeling healthy, which is hard when you're living in base camp at 14,000 or 15,000 feet and eating stringy goat

The Towers are just so big and intimidating. It'd be the most time I've spent at altitude. It would be the highest I've ever gone. It'd be the biggest granite walls I've climbed, basically. Everything about it would be a step bigger.

Trango Towers, Karakoram range, Pakistan

Sarah Marquis, author and National Geographic adventurer

Sarah Marquis

2014 National Geographic Adventurer of the Year; author, Wild by Nature

Hiking Socotra, “The Pearl of the Indian Ocean"

I dream about so many things, but for me there is this magical place where I've always wanted to go: the remote Yemeni island Socotra. I've always had a love for trees, and on Socotra there are these weird, fascinating dragon's blood trees. They have shapes and colors that don't look like anything else in the world. They almost don't look natural, like they should be on the moon. Water is scarce there, so the trees survive on condensation. When I look at pictures of them, I feel I'm in Alice in Wonderland. This is a sacred place. I know I will go there some day. I don't know when, but I will go there, because those trees fascinate me.

Dragon's Blood Trees, Socotra

Elizabeth Gilbert, Author

Elizabeth Gilbert

Author, Eat Pray Love

I want to go to Japan because I'm a really passionate gardener. I wrote an entire novel about moss called The Signature of All Things, and the greatest moss gardens in the world are in Japan. There's a meditative quality to all gardening, but when that is made visible in a temple garden, with monks in the moss beds with tweezers going stem by stem, piece by piece, it's very similar to a meditational devotional practice. Part of the appeal of Japan for me is the spiritual world—as long as it's followed by a very good meal.

Juliana Buhring

Fastest woman to circumnavigate the globe by bike; author, This Road I Ride

Cycling the Transfagarasan, Romania

Juliana Buhring

When you start going on massive adventures, at least by bike, you're able to cover a lot of territory, so your bucket list ends up growing, and it doesn't really end. But there's a mountain road in Romania called the Transfagarasan that I'd really like to do. It's one of the most spectacular roads in the world.

I heard about it through Top Gear. They were like, “For riding a car or a motorbike, this is the most awesome road on Earth." I was like, “Wow, I gotta do that"—but by bike, obviously.

The road starts at the village of Bascov, and it follows the river valley before you start to climb pretty quickly. It's very windy, just constant switchbacks going up and up. It passes Curtea de Arges Monastery, then it goes past the castle of Vlad the Impaler—Dracula's castle. You can actually take the 1,480 steps up to visit the castle. I'd run up them.

At the very top is a glacier lake, Balea Lac, and in the wintertime it's where they build an ice hotel. It was the first ice hotel in Eastern Europe. It's more than 2,000 meters high. When you start heading down, you pass the Balea Cascada, the waterfall, and then the road goes into a long, long descent into a valley. It's only 90 km, so it's something I can do in a day, but it's still going to be a great, challenging ride. You have to do it in the summer, though. It's snowed-in for much of the year.

Transfagarasan mountain road, Romania

Anthony Bourdain, host on CNN

Anthony Bourdain

Host, Parts Unknown, CNN

If I were looking to go somewhere for the food, I'd go back to Japan. Much like Italy, the food in Japan is very, very seasonal and very, very regional, so I'm sure I've missed many things—maybe I've missed most things. But of all the places where I've made television, Japan is the one that I keep going back to the most. It's a continuing obsession.

Jeremy Wade, Animal Planet

Jeremy Wade

Host, River Monsters, Animal Planet

Fishing the Congo River, Central Africa

You know that old saying, “You can never step in the same river twice"? I've been to the Congo four times, but every now and then I get a thought in my mind: Is there another Congo trip in me? It is a huge river. I could go to a different area, or maybe I'd go back to the same area where I first went, in 1985. Back then, I got a ride on a boat that was very infrequently traveling up and down the river. I say “boat," but it was really eight or nine barges, all lashed together, with a couple of thousand people on board. It was like a floating city.

Congo River, Central Africa

The fish that first brought me there was the goliath tiger fish. It lives only in the middle part of the Congo and looks a bit like a scaled-up piranha. It grows to 100 pounds, but there are rumors that some are 200 pounds—as big as a person. Their sharp teeth interlock very precisely and are about an inch long. To give that some kind of context, that's about the size of the teeth you will find on a 1,000-pound great white shark. If you are bitten by a goliath tiger fish, people in the Congo say it's because a sorcerer has inhabited the body of that fish. It's a part of the world where people don't believe in things just happening by accident.

Diana Nyad

Record-setting long-distance swimmer, Cuba to Florida; author, Find a Way; motivational speaker

Staring on Broadway

Diana Nyad, swimmer

Honestly? I want to be on Broadway. I've always been a storyteller, and Broadway is the biggest stage there is for storytelling. My dream is to work with the director Moisés Kaufman. He knows I'd love to meet with him. I'm not saying he's going to do my show, but he's willing to consult with me.

This would be a one-woman show, and it would largely be the narrative of me realizing my lifelong dream, which was the swim from Cuba to Florida. We debuted a version of that in Key West last year, and it was good, but I wouldn't call it ready for Broadway. I probably don't even know yet what all the things are that I still need to know.

That's my bucket list for now, but who knows? I could talk to you in 10 years and tell you that I've never gotten a chance to climb Machu Picchu. Right now, though, that feels a little petty to me. I'm at a stage in life where I'm looking to do things that move more people.

The reason those people on that beach in Key West were weeping when I finished the swim from Cuba—and they weren't crying, they were weeping—wasn't because of the record; it was because of the elements that they could relate to for their own lives. They weren't saying, “Yeah, I'm going to swim from Cuba to Florida," or “I'm going to do the Ironman." They were weeping because this was about dreaming big. It was about tapping into your potential. And what I'd be doing on stage, it's the art version of that same thing.

But I'll tell you one thing: I try to stay in kick-ass shape. I try to stay in the kind of shape where if you called me tomorrow and said, “Hey, Diana, a group of us are going down to climb Machu Picchu on Monday—someone had to drop out and we got an open spot, you want to go?" I could tell you, “Yep, I'm ready. I'm ready right now."


Reflecting on Veterans Day: a message from our CEO Oscar Munoz

By Oscar Munoz, CEO, United Airlines , November 11, 2019

Right now, around the world, brave members of America's armed forces are on duty, defending our freedom and upholding our values.

When not laser-focused on the mission at hand, they're looking forward to the day when their service to our nation is fulfilled and they can reunite with their families.

They are also imagining how they can use their hard-earned skills to build an exciting, rewarding and important career when they return home.

I want them to look no further than United Airlines.

That's why we are focused on recruiting, developing and championing veterans across our company, demonstrating to our returning women and men in uniform that United is the best possible place for them to put their training, knowledge, discipline and character to the noblest use.

They've developed their knowledge and skills in some of the worst of times. We hope they will use those skills to keep United performing at our best, all of the time.

That's why we are accelerating our efforts to onboard the best and the brightest, and substantially increasing our overall recruitment numbers each year.

We recently launched a new sponsorship program to support onboarding veterans into United and a new care package program to support deployed employees. It's one more reason why United continues to rank high - and rise higher - as a top workplace for veterans. In fact, we jumped 21 spots this year on Indeed.com's list of the top U.S workplaces for veterans. This is a testament to our increased recruiting efforts, as well as our efforts to create a culture where veterans feel valued and supported.

We use the special reach and resources of our global operations to partner with outstanding organizations. This is our way of stepping up and going the extra mile for all those who've stepped forward to answer our nation's call.

We do this year-round, and the month of November is no exception; however, it is exceptional, especially as we mark Veterans Day.

As we pay tribute to all Americans who have served in uniform and carried our flag into battle throughout our history, let's also keep our thoughts with the women and men who are serving around the world, now. They belong to a generation of post-9/11 veterans who've taken part in the longest sustained period of conflict in our history.

Never has so much been asked by so many of so few.... for so long. These heroes represent every color and creed. They are drawn from across the country and many immigrated to our shores.

They then freely choose to serve in the most distant and dangerous regions of the world, to protect democracy in its moments of maximum danger.

Wherever they serve - however they serve - whether they put on a uniform each day, or serve in ways which may never be fully known, these Americans wake up each morning willing to offer the "last full measure of devotion" on our behalf.

Every time they do so, they provide a stunning rebuke to the kinds of voices around the world who doubt freedom and democracy's ability to defend itself.

Unfortunately, we know there are those who seem to not understand – or say they do not - what it is that inspires a free people to step forward, willing to lay down their lives so that their country and fellow citizens might live.

But, we – who are both the wards and stewards of the democracy which has been preserved and handed down to us by veterans throughout our history – do understand.

We know that inciting fear and hatred of others is a source of weakness, not strength. And such divisive rhetoric can never inspire solidarity or sacrifice like love for others and love of country can.

It is this quality of devotion that we most honor in our veterans - those who have served, do serve and will serve.

On behalf of a grateful family of 96,000, thank you for your service.

Humbly,

Oscar

United named a top workplace for veterans

By The Hub team , November 10, 2019

Each year around Veterans Day, Indeed, one of the world's largest job search engines, rates companies based on actual employee reviews to identify which ones offer the best opportunities and benefits for current and former U.S. military members. Our dramatic improvement in the rankings this year reflects a stronger commitment than ever before to actively recruiting, developing and nurturing veteran talent.

"We've spent a lot of time over the past 12 months looking for ways to better connect with our employees who served and attract new employees from the military ranks," said Global Catering Operations and Logistics Managing Director Ryan Melby, a U.S. Army veteran and the president of our United for Veterans business resource group.

"Our group is launching a mentorship program, for instance, where we'll assign existing employee-veterans to work with new hires who come to us from the armed forces. Having a friend and an ally like that, someone who can help you translate the skills you picked up in the military to what we do as a civilian company, is invaluable. That initiative is still in its infancy, but I'm really optimistic about what it can do for United and for our veteran population here."

Impressively, we were the only one of our industry peers to move up on the list, further evidence that we're on a good track as a company.

Mission Accomplished

By Matt Adams , November 06, 2019

The question of where David Ferrari was had haunted retired U.S. Army Sergeant Major Vincent Salceto for the better part of 66 years.

Rarely did a week go by that Salceto didn't think about his old friend. Often, he relived their last moments together in a recurring nightmare. In it, it's once again 1953 and Salceto and Ferrari are patrolling a valley in what is now North Korea. Suddenly, explosions shatter the silence and flares light up the night sky.

Crouching under a barrage of bullets, Salceto, the squad's leader, drags two of his men to safety, then he sees Ferrari lying face down on the ground. He runs out to help him, but he's too late. And that's when he always wakes up.

Italian Americans from opposite coasts – Salceto from Philadelphia, Ferrari from San Francisco – the two became close, almost like brothers, after being assigned to the same unit during the Korean War. When Ferrari died, it hit Salceto hard.

"After that, I never let anyone get close to me like I did with Dave," he says. "I couldn't; I didn't want to go through that again."

When the war ended, Salceto wanted to tell Ferrari's family how brave their son and brother had been in battle. Most of all, he wanted to salute his friend at his gravesite and give him a proper farewell.

For decades, though, Salceto had no luck finding his final resting place or locating any of his relatives. Then, in June of this year, he uncovered a clue that led him to the Italian Cemetary in Colma, California, where Ferrari is buried.

Within days, Salceto, who lives in Franklinville, New Jersey, was packed and sitting aboard United Flight 731 from Philadelphia to San Francisco with his wife, Amy, and daughter, Donna Decker, on his way to Colma. For such a meaningful trip, he even wore his Army dress uniform.

That's how San Francisco-based flight attendant Noreen Baldwin spotted him as he walked down the jet bridge to get on the plane.

"I saw him and said to the other crew members, 'Oh my goodness, look at this guy,'" she says. "I knew there had to be a story."

The two struck up a conversation and Salceto told Baldwin why he was traveling. She got emotional listening to him talk and made a point of fussing over him, making sure he and his family had everything they needed.

About halfway through the flight, Baldwin had an idea. She and her fellow crew members would write messages of encouragement to Salceto and invite his fellow passengers to do the same.

"We did it discreetly," says Baldwin. "I asked the customers if they saw the man in uniform, which most had, and asked them if they wanted to write a few words for him on a cocktail napkin. A lot of people did; families did it together, parents got their kids to write something. After the first few rows, I was so choked up that I could barely talk."

When Baldwin surprised Salceto with dozens of hand-written notes, he, too, was speechless. He laid the stack on his lap and read each one. At the same time, the pilots made an announcement about the veteran over the loud speaker, after which the customers on board burst into applause.

"It seems contrived, and I hate using the word organic, but that's what it was; it just happened," Baldwin says. "Mr. Salceto was so loveable and humble, and what he was doing was so incredible, it felt like the right thing to do. And you could tell he was touched."

On June 27, Salceto finally stood before Ferrari's grave and said that long-awaited goodbye. As a trumpeter played "Taps," he unpinned a medal from his jacket and laid it reverently on the headstone.

"I had gotten a Bronze Star for my actions [the night Ferrari died] with a 'V' for valor, and that was the medal I put on Dave's grave," says Salceto, pausing to fight back tears. "I thought he was more deserving of it than I was."

For the first time in years, Salceto felt at peace. His mission was accomplished.

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