Reflection by Dallas

If I had to sum up my initial impression of Ben in one word, that word would be "nomad." I first met Ben when we entered grad school together in San Diego. He was sleeping on the floor of his office. He wore dated clothes I think he had held on to for well over a decade. I offered to help him move once and quickly realized he didn't need any help because nearly all of his belongings fit into one carload; mostly clothes and sports equipment. One thing I always admired about Ben is that he didn't care about material things. Instead, he valued experiences. And not just outdoor experiences or events, but the experiences that come from personal relationships and sharing time with people.

Every year during grad school, he would plan an "annual friends camping trip." And as was Ben's style, every year it involved a more strenuous activity and a larger group of friends. It was amazing how Ben drew so many different people in. He had several different social circles and would bring old and new friends together through trips like these. I had the chance to help him plan our last big trip, to Zion, where we did the Narrows hike. There were roughly 30 people that showed up from different parts of the country. And he was always took it upon himself to make sure everyone was included, had a good time and stayed safe. Rather than trying to maximize his own experience, Ben would try to maximize the joint experience of all those around him. He must have called me every day the week before the trip, worried that certain people may not be properly prepared or asking how we could accommodate people with gear for the trip.

I had a lot of great times over the last 5 years I wouldn't have otherwise had, thanks to Ben. He was always planning the next thing to check off his lists of achievements. But it was definitely difficult keeping up with him. He was an animal outdoors. At one point, Ben and I were talking about snowboarding. He told me it was something he had not done much of, but wanted to get back into it as he loved the mountains. Having had many years of experience on a snowboard, I thought, "Finally. This is my chance to be better than Ben at something outdoors!" So I helped him find a board and some gear and we started going fairly regularly. He progressed pretty quickly and it wasn't long before he told me that he didn't really want to ride at resorts anymore. He wanted to snowboard descents while mountaineering. "Great," I thought. Well, my chance to be better than Ben at something didn't last long. I did have the chance to go with him though, following him up the mountain and riding down fresh, backcountry snow. Those are some of the best memories I've made snowboarding.

One of the recurring themes in the poems of Yates is the inner struggle between the person we currently are and the person we want to be. Ben and I discussed this topic at times and I think he found a good balance between these two competing forces. He fully embraced his natural tendencies for things like his unusual fashion styles, eclectic tastes in music and affinity for quick calorie items like cheese—never trying to hide or change those quirky things that many of us found endearing about his personality. But he also spent a lot of energy trying to better himself. He was always looking to push his limits along many dimensions: running, climbing, academics, philosophies, etc. He wasn’t satisfied unless he was working to increase his abilities in one way or another. Many of us know Ben lived by the motto, “maintain the light.” I also remember that when he was planning an activity or event, he would often end his emails with “Stoke!” I think the two went hand in hand for him.  One of the ways he maintained the light was doing things to stoke the proverbial fires of the things he was passionate about.

I’m going to miss Ben. I’m going to miss his unrelenting enthusiasm and positive attitude, his contagious laugh, his ability to hold interest in and contribute to just about any conversation. He’s one of the most genuine people I’ve ever known. I hope I can do justice to the impacts he made on me. Namely, challenging myself to go beyond my comfort zone and push my own limits. I feel very fortunate to have had Ben as a friend and I’ll always be grateful to him for that.


Given at Ben’s Memorial Service on August 14, 2012: