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.


  1. Thanks Blain. You've stated so eloquently what I have been struggling to say in my own mind.
    - Dorothy

  2. Blain,

    After a sleepless night trying to come to terms with this, your comments and thoughts really resonate with me. Recently Jeff and I talked about the difference between adventures dreamed versus adventures done. I commented as we get older maybe just dreaming of doing exciting things is satisfying enough. Jeff didn't buy that. I think Adventurer is a good way to describe that trait in Jeff.

  3. Blain, your description of Jeff makes me also think of the passion that you put into everything you do. I am so sorry for the loss of your great friend.


  4. Thank you for putting into words what so many of us are thinking. I miss Jeff. I remember him saying goodbye to me at my "going away bash" and all he had was positive encouragement for the adventure that Mike and I had before us. The thing was he was just as encouraging with my decision to be closer to my family as he was my adventure getting there. He was always ready to share so much of his life and always listened to my small adventures. I am sure when I am in Alaska this spring it will seem more real, but even being this far away his presence is missed.

  5. Hey,
    That was really beautiful Uncle Blain. I'm sorry for the loss of your friend. I'd have liked to meet him. Love you, miss you, wish you were here.

  6. Wow Blain, what amazing eloquence. I am sorry for your - no, the collective - loss; may the spirit and inspiration of all adventure live on!

  7. Thank you for finding the words that so many of us could not. It has been an up and down week, tears and laughter, smiles over fond stories. Seeing his boys has been the hardest as they remind me so much of the young man I met so many years ago. We received your card today and appreciate that you have kept us in your thoughts. Joni