Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Remembering David Schmitt

Dave at Kootenai Falls, 2010 Dave Schmitt

As many of you already know, our good friend Dave Schmitt died last Friday, May 6th. He and a friend were in the War Memorial Stadium at the University of Wyoming the night before his graduation, and — to present a very condensed version of the events that were described to me — Dave fell trying to climb onto a ledge that wasn't there. There was a small amount of alcohol involved, but Dave was never known to drink to excess. They weren't being irresponsible or clowning around, just having fun. It mostly sounds like a case of very bad luck.

Natalie and I were very shaken when we heard of Dave’s passing while on our way to camp the night before a high-water Gore run. We quickly decided to stick with our original plan, and we had a great run in our friend’s memory.

Dave was an exceptional person. There is a tendency to see the recently deceased in overly flattering light, but in Dave's case, all the praise is deserved. Dave was always cheerful. I never saw him angry, grumpy, or mean. To sum up Dave's character — for those that didn't know him, and to help those that did know him remember why he was great — I’d like to share a story from our March spring break trip that we took together.

The trip was long, wet, and cold. Natalie and I were grumpy and cold some of the time, and we were even sleeping in the car while Dave slept outside in his bivy sack. He always seemed bright and cheerful in the morning even though his sleeping gear always completely soaked. About halfway through the trip, we had a break in the clouds as we were getting ready to put in for a high water run down the Nordheimer section of the Salmon River in California. Natalie and I have a plastic snake, and our traditional prank is to hide it in people's gear at strange times. I pulled the classic snake-in-the-boat prank on Dave just as we were putting on. It was Dave's response to the snake that I will always remember.

Ask yourself how you would react if you saw a plastic snake in your boat. Sure, given a second or two, you realize that the snake is not real and have a chuckle or maybe get mad, but for one brief second, all that your brain sees is this striking sign of danger. All the reactions that I've seen have been basically the same. People see the snake, representing the dangerous unknown things in life, and their instinct is to feel fear and withdraw. Dave was different. When he saw the snake, in that short, unguarded window of genuine reaction — instead of jumping back or dropping the boat — Dave let out an exclamation of amazed curiosity. "Woah, cool!" Dave said, as he tried to get a better look.

Dave’s genuine interest in life was what set him apart. When he would see anything new or dangerous or adverse, instead of retreating, he would advance to investigate. When faced with a new rapid, instead of seeing all the ways it could go wrong and then gradually figuring out a way that it could be possible, he would see all the awesome lines that could be run, and then check for dangers and complications. When he would wake up at 5:00am on that spring break trip, drenched to the bone from the rain, I like to think that his first thought was to wonder what new runs would come in with all the extra water. I hope in the brief time I knew Dave, some of his attitude might have rubbed off on me, and I'll always strive to see things the way he would have. Dave embraced the unexpected, not as a learned response, but instinctively.

Here are some of the great memories Natalie and I will remember Dave by:

- Those damn sunflower seeds he was always eating on long road trips. There is still a handful on the floor of my car.

- The first time he saw the Slave River, walking over a hill behind John Blyth's house after a three-day drive.

- Dave hooting and hollering after running Skoonichuck Falls on Eagle Creak in Oregon. He was so excited that at first we thought he was hurt.

- His first day of ocean surfing, on tsunami aftershocks.

- Double Rainbow, Bananaphone, and Who's the Shit

- Paddling the Topo Duos on the Slave

- Muscle Milk and the neoprene muscle tee

- Dave and those cute French-Canadian twins

- His ability to throw and land a donkey flip on the smallest feature

- His great smile and genuinely infectious laugh

Here is a slideshow of some of our favorite shots of Dave:

Here is a video of Dave and Ruthy's run in the duo down Pelican. His excitement and joy to be on the water really shines through.

Dave and Ruth duo run on Pelican from Leif Anderson on Vimeo.