story by: nikki carlson
pages design by: stacy mantle
The day before Jerry Malkuch was to leave for London, terrorists blew up three subway cars and a double-decker bus in the historical city. He saw photos of bloodied, bandaged faces that were part of the tragic aftermath of the July 7 bombings there.
He had planned to take a group of 13 adults and children to London. He didn't want to put the group in a situation that resembled his experience during 9/11.
"I was in a panic state and I wasn't going to go. I didn't want to put them into the jaws of the lion," he said. "I was in the air on 9/11 when the first tower was hit. I was on my way to Atlanta, Georgia, from Great Falls, and my plane landed in Salt Lake City, Utah. It took me two days of hitchhiking and riding buses to get back to my car at the airport in Great Falls."
Malkuch, 56, talked to Gerry Veis, who was going with Malkuch to London, about his concerns. Veis calmed Malkuch down enough not to cancel the trip.
Imagine if the group of 13 people from Havre and one from Medicine Hat, Alberta, would've arrived in London one day sooner, they would've been in the midst of the terrorist attacks that rattled London's streets.
One would think the city would've shut down or at least taken a break from daily life. Veis said that was not the case.
"Unless you would've read the media or watched the TV, you wouldn't have even known anything had happened," he said.
The threat of terrorism or just about anything else also isn't enough to stop Malkuch.
Since the 1970s, he has traveled to 200 countries. He has been in the middle of gunfire, held the guitar played by Jimi Hendrix at Woodstock, and handed out Easter eggs to people on a train in China.
Traveling is a passion for Malkuch, and he urges people to pursue it in a certain way. For instance, the only reservations made for the European trip were the airplane tickets and the first night's stays in London and Paris.
Travel, Malkuch said, consists of three things - anticipation, preparation and realization. If one of those elements is missing, then the trip will not be satisfying in the end.
"I know that if I was stone broke, if I quit my job tomorrow, I would start to work again to get ready to go. Go see and do the wild and crazy things," he said. "Live your life every day like you're going to die tomorrow ... wild, crazy, fun and free.
"That's why you have to go now," he added. "You will never be better, faster or richer than you are right now. So go while you can."
Malkuch and his group of 13 adults and children boarded a nine-hour flight to London on July 7 for a European vacation. The third morning was spent in Paris, where there was a bomb attack on the subway. They stayed in Europe until July 19, two days before the failed bomb attack on London's mass transit system.
Veis, who was accompanied by his wife and two children, said he wasn't worried about taking his family to a country on high alert.
"It was very high security over there. But you really didn't even notice that anything had happened. They were going 100 miles per hour, and it was like nothing had happened."
During the two-week trip, they visited landmarks like Piccadilly Circus, Buckingham Palace and the Hard Rock Cafe in London, and the Sacr Coeur Basilica and Eiffel Tower in Paris.
Malkuch's favorite place was Paris.
"It's the city of light. It is the city of romance and art," he said.
Halfway through the trip, the group split up. One group went to St. Andrews in Scotland to see the British Open. They stood a few feet from Jack Nicklaus and Tiger Woods, who went on the win the championship. They watched as Nicklaus stopped atop of the Swilcan Bridge on the 18th hole to say a final farewell to the British Open.
"Gerry Veis loves (golf) with a passion. He plays it barefoot and bare-headed out there on the course," Malkuch said.
They also toured Amsterdam; Aberdeen, Scotland; and Newcastle, Oxford and Birmingham, England.
The other group toured Northern Italy.
"I did things on this trip that I had never done before," said Dave Hamilton, who was accompanied by family members. "I would go again."
Others in the group also gave the trip rave reviews.
"It was a wonderful opportunity. It was great because I got to spend it with my daughter," said Sherry Stone, who traveled with her 17-year-old daughter, Becka.
"It was fabulous," said Deb Hamilton, who went with her boyfriend, Craig Rundle. "It was the most awesome thing I had ever done in my life."
Malkuch has gotten other people to travel with him since 1989, but this was the largest group so far. Traveling partners said his vast experience allowed them to substantially reduce their traveling costs.
Deb Hamilton said the reason Malkuch wanted them to go with him overseas was to share his passion for travel.
"He's been traveling all of his life," she said. "He wanted to show everybody how easy it is."
The Havre railroad worker's love for travel began in 1976 when he went with a group of Montana State University-Northern professors and students on a two-week European study tour.
"The people that went were meant to go," Malkuch said. "The young people - I was really proud of them and I'm glad that they were able to go. Now everyone knows they can go on their own and they'll be OK."