Ten years ago, Steph Davis would have listed skydiving and BASE jumping as among the last things she planned to do. An internationally known, professional rock climber, Davis spent all of her time trying not to fall. But after a series of life-altering events, she found herself jumping out of a plane and loving it.
Davis, a Moab resident, has recently written and published a book about her experience of learning to skydive and BASE jump. “Learning to Fly” is a memoir that begins during a tumultuous time in Davis’ life. With her career falling apart and her marriage to well-known extreme sport enthusiast Dean Potter over, Davis says she found herself looking for solace in the most unlikely place: flying through the air at 13,000 feet.
According to Davis, her first solo skydive took place in June 2007. Since then, she has progressed to BASE jumping – parachuting from a building, antenna, bridge or natural formation – as well as skydiving with a wing suit.
“I try to be really open to things,” she said during a recent interview with The Times-Independent. “I try to stay as unscheduled and free as possible. Things always come up.”
Davis has called Moab home since she first ended up here in 1995. At the time, she was living out her car and working as a waitress or climbing guide to help pay for her climbing.
A news release from Touchstone Books, which published Davis’s memoir, describes her as “a superstar in the climbing community.” And it is true. Among her many achievements as a climber, Davis was the first woman to free climb Salathé wall in Yosemite and to free solo the Longs Peak Diamond in Colorado.
“Learning to Fly” is the second book Davis has published. Her first, “High Infatuation,” is a collection of personal stories chronicling some of her climbs. It was published in 2007.
“I always write about my own experiences,” Davis said.
Davis says she decided to write “Learning to Fly” to share her experience of learning to skydive and BASE jump.
“It’s an interesting world of knowledge,” she said, noting that a lot of people don’t know much about the technical sides of those sports.
What began as a book about learning to jump turned into an emotional journey toward healing, she says.
“I didn’t really plan on it going everywhere that it did,” she said.
Despite the fact that the story took place during an emotionally unsettling time for Davis, she says that it wasn’t difficult for her to share those emotions.
“If you want to write about your own life, at some point you just have to say ‘Oh well,’” she said. “I just write and don’t think about where it’s going to go.”
Although a small press that catered largely to climbers and other outdoor enthusiasts published her first book, Davis sought out a larger, more mainstream publisher for her latest book.
“It would have been easy to go back to the Mountaineers,” she said. “But I wanted to reach a larger audience ... I didn’t write it just for climbers and jumpers.”
For Davis, that decision meant a lot of work without any guarantee that the book would ever be published. Davis says that in order to find a literary agent to represent her book she first had to write a book proposal outlining her idea.
“It was a 60-page document,” she said, adding that it took two years to write the proposal and find a publisher.
Now that the book is done, Davis is staying busy by climbing and jumping. She has been doing some guiding clinics at the Indian Creek climbing area near the Needles district of Canyonlands National Park, as well as guiding experienced BASE jumpers. She and her husband, Mario Richard, operate Moab BASE Adventures. Davis says Richard is the only person in the world who currently offers people the chance to do a tandem BASE jump.
“People are telling us that it changed their lives,” she said.
Davis’s book was released April 2. As part of a book tour to promote “Learning to Fly”, Davis will be doing a book signing and reading at Back of Beyond Books, 83 N. Main St. in Moab on April 9 at 7 p.m.