The Space Between Living and Dying

The sad news of Dean Potter and Graham Hunt’s deaths during a wingsuit flight gone horribly wrong has divided opinion between those who think they were inspiring, or reckless.

The truth is that whether they were both, or neither, or just one of the above, it doesn’t matter. How they lived was their choice.

Reckless would have been to jump hundreds of times without checking gear, without thought or evaluation or calculation. Dean’s girlfriend Jenn was there at the launch point. Graham’s partner Rebecca was waiting at the proposed landing. To think that either leapt aimlessly into the void without care for those who loved them is tremendously ignorant.

The tragedy of these guys dying young has blinded everyone to the simple reality that they made their decision daily, and they choose to have fun. It’s inconceivable that any human would choose an alternative to this, but millions, billions, many do.

They chose to live life with a hell of a lot more risk than many would, granted. And yes, wingsuiting is buzzing the line more than almost any other pursuit that humans have devised. But they were smart, self-conscious, capable men. They chose that risk knowing they could manage it, to a point.

Graham Hunt climbing in Yosemite. Photo: Fred Pompermayer

And as much as a lifetime sport-hater has zero right, knowledge and ability to make a concise judgement on the ins and outs of a footballer’s career, unless you’ve stood on and jumped from the edge that Potter and Hunt were so familiar with, you’re unqualified to judge them.

It’s horribly easy to step back and say, 'my God, it’s so obvious, they jumped off a cliff, they were obviously going to die. How stupid.'

Yet it’s unsurprising that their friends are largely rallying around, stressing that the pair knew the danger and actively chose that route rather than creeping into an easy cubicle, where they would have died every single day rather than live the hell out of the few they did have. And yes, they would probably have died a few more days than they lived, with hindsight.

They chose not to, and while that path was perhaps more admirable when they were alive than it is now, I doubt they would have done anything different.

Dean Potter climbing Yosemite. Photograph by Jimmy Chin.

We’re not in a position to judge the rights and wrongs when it comes to Dean Potter and Graham Hunt’s deaths. We can only make decisions for ourselves.

I'm asked maybe 50 times a year why I risk my life doing what I do and to me it seems ludicrous that the question even arises.

My journeys are slow and of course have hazards as every walk of life does. But I don’t thrive on speed and being on the edge. I choose the plod and conversations and quiet forests and hammocks.

My awareness of danger is always heightened because I'm regularly in unfamiliar territory. I’m rarely able to be complacent. I don’t drive and, bar sometimes cycling (or skating, or…) down a road, my reaction time to avoid calamity will always be huge. I’m safe.

There are people for whom risk is changing jobs. Or taking a sickie when they’re actually fine. Or going somewhere that was in the news three years ago because one person once did something illegal.

If I die during an adventure there will always be a clamour of Daily Mail readers who claim that my early demise was inevitible (I’m not suggesting my goodbye would be in the newspapers, just digging up a stereotype ☺). But actually, their thoughts would be based only and entirely on the fact that what I did was different to them.

To be different is to take risks but to live with those 'risks' and manage them everyday decreases danger.

And that’s all it is. I wouldn't care either way if I died, I’d be dead.

Dean and Graham could only care when they were breathing, swooping and sweeping their way across valleys feeling the rush of air on their face like we couldn’t imagine. They chose to live as birds, with a perspective we could only dream of, with fire in their blood, with passion, with freedom, with spirit.

Let’s allow them their choices and may both positive and negative lessons from their full story shape our own paths.

There is no bravery in comment and opinion. Just in living with honour of the blood pulsing through our veins.

Graham and Dean sure did this. Rest in peace.

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Make life memorable. Say yes more.

Adventurer | Yes Man | Motivational Speaker | Author | Filmmaker | Leader of a Happy Cult. I live on a boat and spend my time encouraging folks to #sayyesmore

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