Reflection by Skye

I’m still trying to make sense of losing Ben.

I remember a conversation I had with Ben & our friend PJ in the parking lot after Ben & I climbed the Maroon Bells traverse (well beyond my comfort level). PJ was giving Ben a hard time for spending so much time on the “selfish” activities of mountain climbing, running, and the like. Why not put that energy into helping people in the more traditional sense? I didn’t really understand Ben’s reply – something about inspiring people – but I think just today I got it.

Listening to everyone else talk about how he inspired them – in the mountains, in the city, in their relationships – Ben was inspiration. That’s what he was to all of us. He brought the message of STOKE. Since we’re here in church, we could say he was an apostle of STOKE.

At 10,000’ on San Jacinto mountain, we slowly struggled upward in deep snow, 10pm at night. A helicopter came in to rescue us. We waved it off. Darkness settled over us again. And Ben said “I think we’re just about at the end of the gully – about to hit the ridge.” He had said this at least 20 times already. He was lucky I was so far behind, so I couldn’t hit him with my ice axe. (He broke trail the whole way – at least 10 times more work.) His endless optimism was at times too much for a mortal like me. But that’s the stoke. He was always positive. When he ran trail races, Ben passed people on the uphills. He complained that the Western States “didn’t play to his strengths” – not enough mondo uphills. He enjoyed alpinism because it made suffering into an art. He did “Power Travel.” Climbing was just one display of this stoke. He had it with his siblings, nieces and nephews, parents, political discussions, friends, sunsets, and Lithuania.

Talking with Greg earlier today, I’ve been thinking about this idea of “no ambition.” “No ambition” is safe. No ambition to summit the mountain, make the change, start the revolution. “No ambition” is really good for safety. And it’s really bad for living. Ben was really living.

He had a whole philosophy about this, evolutionary psychology – we need to get out and run/hike/climb/adventure together, like we used to before history. Ben had a whole paleo theory. I know people who bet millions on the stock market – they take the risks most valued by our society. Ben took risks that matter – paleo risks. 

Ben wasn’t materialistic. These pants [baggy corduroys with hand-made bell-bottoms] prove it.

So: inspiration. I’m so glad I went to Zion and met many of you here. I saw how many people Ben inspired out there. I went back to Seattle and had a bonfire on the beach and people told stories about how they were inspired by Ben at the Badger 100-miler, or when we did a climbing trip in the Enchantments. Friends who only met Ben once and were deeply moved, motivated. Inspired. I saw a book from fellow Peace Corps Volunteers, at his parents’ house. People all across the world.

You know, one of the things I’m saddest about is we had a plan to climb in Colorado for 50 years. We’ve been climbing the harder peaks the last few summers. We were going to save the “easy” ones for our 70s. Well, I’m not doing that with Ben anymore. But I have other partners, and I know Ben will be there in spirit too.

When I run the Badger 100-miler, my first 100 – I know Ben will be there.

When I climb Longs Peak, the Diamond, in Colorado – I know Ben will be there.

When I climb the Torres del Paine in Patagonia – Ben will be there.

I know his spirit lives on in us.


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