Guest Editorial: The audacity of adventure

“Climbing a mountain is a bad investment; any financial consultant will tell you that.” Jonny Copp wrote that in an article reflecting on his life that appeared in 2003 in the now-defunct "Hooked on the Outdoors" magazine. In an industry that in recent years has tried to contain and trademark the concept of “adventure,” Copp's words are an enduring reminder of the soul of why we do what we do.
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“Climbing a mountain is a bad investment; any financial consultant will tell you that.” Jonny Copp wrote that in an article reflecting on his life that appeared in 2003 in the now-defunct "Hooked on the Outdoors" magazine.

In an industry that in recent years has tried to contain and trademark the concept of “adventure,” Copp’s words are an enduring reminder of the soul of why we do what we do.

Adventure is neither a commodity nor a marketing scheme, and at its core, it defies containment. Nor is adventure limited to climbing big mountains or exploring uncharted geographies. Every time we leave the trail of our personal comfort zone or attempt to create something new or take on a task that makes us fearful or uncomfortable, we are adventurers. As a wise person said, “Only a fool feels no fear.” Living an adventurous life is not about being fearless, it is about knowing, feeling, and having the heart to face and contain fear, and still take the next step.

Jonny Copp, Micah Dash and Wade Johnson fully exemplified and embodied that sentiment.

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The outdoor and climbing community came together Saturday, July 11, in Boulder, Colo., to honor the lives and inspiration of these beautiful young men who were lost to us this spring in a tragic climbing accident on Mount Edgar in western China.

Appropriately located kitty-corner to the Tibetan Buddhist Shambala center, the 103-year-old Boulder Theater was nearly filled to capacity with friends, family, climbers, writers, photographers and the greater outdoor community. As would have been Jonny, Micah and Wade’s wish, the bar was open, the food plenty and the mood celebratory.

Prayer flags hung above the stage and memorial presentations for each man greeted us in the lobby. Old friends embraced as they arrived and spoke softly, laughed and cried.

Malcolm Daly, one of our lions of the climbing community, presided as MC with heart, humor and presence, leading the lineup of speakers that included fellow climbers, family members, girlfriends and associates.

Eric Decaria, Mick Folari, Nick Martino, Nick Rosen, Steve Su and Pete Takeda each told the story of their hasty trip to Sichuan and the heartbreaking recovery and cremation of their friends’ bodies.

We were honored to be provided an intimate look into the lives of each man as their parents recounted their childhood precociousness and antics. Anita and Eric Dash, John and Phyllis Copp, and Bruce Johnson spoke of their loss with stunning openness and humility. What became clear was these were normal parents with healthy families, extraordinary only in their love for their sons and support for their passions.

“I wasn’t even a kid by the time my passport was full of stamps,” Copp wrote in that 2003 "Hooked on the Outdoors" piece. “I still come across that wrinkled old document sometimes -- with its faded black and white baby picture and its red, blue and black hieroglyphics -- and I wonder if all those symbols of borders and disputes and nations somehow took from me the burden of having to view the world as a fragmented and disbanded operation.”

For a young Jonny Copp to develop this expansive perspective gives us a hint of how, as parents, we can raise unfettered kids. We don’t need to push them to be inquisitive or adventurous, rather just be so ourselves and let them explore.

Sender Films colleagues Peter Mortimer, Nick Rosen and Jocelyn Corkin, and Adventure Films’ Mark Reiner shared stories of late nights, editing, writing, filming and camaraderie. Others who spoke with eloquence and passion included Robb Shurr, Sara Close, Matt Segal, Nellie Milfield, Erin Addison and Lennie Zivitz.

When it seemed grief and tears were uncontainable, Timmy O’Neill took the stage and tore the place up, with irreverence, comedy and volume. We laughed until we cried again. O'Neill ended by leading the audience in a minute-long roar that threatened to peel the art deco paint from the roof of the historic theater and surely purged our inner demons.

Our MC, Malcolm Daly, shared this impression of the afternoon’s memorial: “My feeling is that the afterlife is really the residual sum of the effects we have on others after we pass. Wade, Micah and Jonny touched our lives and asked us to be better people.”

We shared our loss, and in so doing, we may have been healed. We left the theater and stepped out into the bright Rocky Mountain sunshine to face our fears and new adventures. We regrouped in a nearby city park for food and friendship as the sky went from blue to black and the wind and rain tumbled down Boulder Canyon with the fury and fearlessness of an adventurous heart.

-Geoff O’Keeffe

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