A few weeks ago, I dug out an old voice recorder for an interview and turned it on while I was driving. Shane McConkey’s voice came out of the device: “This wingsuit is probably going to be too big.” My heart jumped. His voice echoed as he talked to a friend in his garage. “You’ll have to get someone to show you how to put it together,” he said.
I’d interviewed Shane in spring 2007 for a Ski Journal article. Then 37, McConkey had made a profound impact on the ski world. He died two years later, in spring of 2009, in a ski-BASE jumping accident.
I lost that recorder in my boxes after the interview. As I listened to the tape now, Shane’s words blended together in my mind until all I could hear was the tone of his voice – soft, sweet, scratchy, fun. I skipped it forward, and he talked about his wife and his young daughter, about his dogs and shralping Squaw on water skis.
I spent the day at their place in Squaw. That afternoon, we hiked up the ski area in our flip-flops. I’d just climbed El Cap for my first time, and Shane asked about my experience, then told me about a five-pitch climb he’d done in Thailand.
“Do you believe in God?” he asked me as we climbed above the Shirley lift, wallowing around on a muddy hillside.
“I don’t know,” I said. “You?”
“I bet you, if there is a god, it’ll come a lot closer to Mother Earth than anything else,” he said. “I just read Sam Harris’s Letters to a Christian Nation and The End of Faith…That subject matter really fascinates me. I’m an atheist … To me, [that] means I require proof and evidence for what I’m going to believe. I don’t believe in ghosts or fate or destiny.”
The afternoon after I’d rediscovered the recording, I rode the chairlift at Moonlight with my friend Brandy and told her about the tapes and the interview.
“Shane is one of my heroes,” she said.
I looked at her. “You said that in present tense.”
“Heroes never die,” she said and smiled.