Monday, March 15, 2010
The passing of an adventurous soul
Today I read the horrible news that a former colleague of mine, and friend, at the Park Service died piloting his ultra-light aircraft in Alaska. Somehow, one sad day, I knew I'd hear this terrible news. Today it came.
Jeff Bennett was above all, an adventurer. I met him working for the National Park Service GIS Team where he was consumed with maps. He and I shared a love of maps, and could look at satellite photo of a remote corner of Alaska and dream of climbs or paddles or ski trips long past the time we should.
On any given Monday, even though I knew he'd probably spent the weekend skiing some untracked corner of the state, or flown over the most extreme and awe-inspiring corner of the wilderness, he'd listen to my story of a mild roadside adventure with more enthusiasm than I had telling it. He loved to hear about others out enjoying their world, and his infectious wanderlust caught us all.
A perfectionist, he would laugh about himself being the anal retentive type, yet also so daring. He knew the risks of the sports he'd chosen, and not surprisingly, was the most safety-conscious person I’d met.
Even in his 50s, Jeff was the best telemark skier I've ever seen. His mastery and grace left us all with jaw-opened awe as he'd ski, nay, float down the hill so fast and so perfectly at ease we'd wonder if we'd seen an apparition instead.
It has become cliché to say, "He died doing what he loved" and it falls so very flat. What he loved was so much more than this world. Jeff loved the timeless glaciers and endless landscapes, but also the thrill of a vertical drop, the bliss of the perfect run, and exotic lands far away.
At our going-away party, when he found out what Monique and I were planning to do for the next few years he couldn’t have been happier for us. In fact, I could safely say he was more excited than we were. So thrilled with the possibilities and new horizons, he nearly leapt out of his seat encouraging us to get all we could from the world in front of us.
He was likely getting his little plane ready for his planned trip to fly the length of the Yukon River. And he would have probably been the first in an ultralight aircraft to do this.
There will be an inquiry and investigation into what happened, but it is not so important as who he was to so many. He lived life big enough for all of us, and he lived life in a way that death was not a worry to him. A bigger worry to Jeff was not living life as it should be lived – fully and with passion.
Pilot, skier, explorer, enthusiastic friend; Jeff, your spirit will inspire us still.