Book review: 'Learning to Fly' is a glimpse into the adrenaline-filled work of climbing and base jumping

By Steve Larson

For the Deseret News

Published: Saturday, April 6 2013 12:30 p.m. MDT

"LEARNING TO FLY: An Uncommon Memoir of Human Flight, Unexpected Love, and One Amazing Dog," by Steph Davis, Touchstone Books, $24.99, 282 pages (nf)

In "Learning to Fly: An Uncommon Memoir of Human Flight, Unexpected Love, and One Amazing Dog," world-renowned climber, skydiver and BASE jumper Steph Davis tells the story of her transformation from a professional climber to a skydiver and BASE jumper.

"Falling into dead air felt nothing like I thought it would. I'd spent much of my life trying not to think about it. It was my worst nightmare," she writes in the opening lines of "Learning to Fly," which was released April 2.

It begins with Davis living the life of a sponsored athlete. She and her husband are both sponsored climbers and enjoy the opportunity to get paid for doing what they love. After 20 plus years of climbing, Davis is at the top of her profession.

Just when things seem to be going well, Davis' husband, Dean Potter, makes an ill-advised climb up the famous Delicate Arch in Arches National Park. While not illegal at the time, this climb quickly became controversial in the world of climbing, propelled by Internet chat boards and a media firestorm.

Potter's climb resulted in a federal investigation by the National Park Service and ultimately led major sponsors to drop their sponsorship of Potter and Davis.

Davis found herself surrounded by controversy and missing a husband. Potter, it seems, had retreated to one of his favorite places, Yosemite National Park. When Davis finally locates him, he determines it is time for them to take a break from their marriage.

Thus begins the transformation. Davis originally sets out to return to her adopted home town of Moab, but instead finds her way to Boulder, Colo. There Davis begins her new life as a skydiver and ultimately a BASE jumper. BASE stands for buildings, antennae, spans (bridges) and earth (cliffs), the locations from which they jump.

Leaving behind her climbing life and divorcing her husband, she learns to let go of her need for control and study a new discipline that requires her to trust in someone other than herself.

"Learning to Fly" is a fascinating read. It looks inside the mind of a unique individual. Davis lives a life very few will understand. Her willingness to push herself physically while protecting herself emotionally is only part of what makes her so unique.

Many of Davis' climbing adventures and BASE jumps take place in the sandstone cliffs around Moab. She currently lives in Moab, where she runs Moab Base Adventures with her husband, Mario Richard.

If you go ...

What: Steph Davis book signing

When: Tuesday, April 9, 7 p.m.

Where: Back of Beyond Books, 83 N. Main S., Moab

Web: www.backofbeyondbooks.com

Also ...

When: Thursday, April 11, 7 p.m.

Where: Weller Book Works, 607 Trolley Square, Salt Lake City

Web: www.samwellers.com

Steve Larson is one of the founders of Information Alliance, a Utah-based data collection company. He currently serves as vice president of sales. He spends his free time writing and practicing photography. He also enjoys spending time outdoors.

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