Gambalie was a master; he'd managed to leap off New York's Chrysler building, steering his chute between the skyscrapers and landing on a side street, where he hailed a cab to Brooklyn. That exploit alone qualified "The Gambler," as he was known, for immortality. Then in June 1999, after jumping from El Capitan, Gambalie fled from Yosemite park rangers and drowned in the Merced River.
After Gambalie died, Daisher and McConkey started BASE jumping together, partly as a way to avenge their mentor's death. McConkey turned into a kind of BASE jumping evangelist, and together with Miles staged a "Death Camp" short for "Plunge to Your Death Camp" – where they convinced total newbies to fling themselves off the Perrine Bridge across Idaho's Snake River Canyon. The first "campers" were their girlfriends (now wives), Sherry and Nikki, followed by friends like Scott Gaffney and JT Holmes. They BASE jumped at their bachelor parties (after doing beer funnels) and pretty much anytime they had a few hours to spare. McConkey liked to brag about Death Camp's "100 percent failure rate," meaning nobody had actually died. His sense of humor was like that: ironic, with a dash of morbid. When friends left to go on dangerous expeditions, Shane would wag his finger and recite his favorite line from 'Dumb and Dumber:' "Don't you go dyin' on me!"
"He's just the nicest guy you'll ever meet," says Daisher, still speaking of his dead friend in the present tense. "I honestly can't believe this happened. As my wife said, the safety bubble just burst. Because she thought we had a magic bubble around us."
Perhaps they did. By the time of his death, McConkey had more than 800 BASE jumps to his credit – a good number of them with Miles – with only one really close call, in 2003, when he jumped in bad conditions and slammed into a cliff called the Chief, near Whistler, as his wife and father watched. He barely managed to save himself by grabbing a lone pine tree on a ledge halfway down – then pulled out his cell phone and called Daisher, back in Squaw, for advice.
McConkey also hooked Daisher up with a Red Bull sponsorship, which completely changed his friend's life. Up until that point, Daisher had been something of a dirtbag BASE jumper, living in a tent and working as a parachute instructor. Red Bull paid him a basic retainer in the low five figures, plus additional money for appearing at demonstration events and going on Red Bull–sponsored expeditions. The money wasn't huge, but it meant that he and Nikki could actually buy a house in Twin Falls, Idaho, near the BASE-legal Perrine Bridge – and Miles could devote himself full-time to his passion.
Over the previous six months, Shane and Miles had been on a BASE binge: They leaped into an enormous natural sinkhole in China; dropped from the Peak to Peak tram at Whistler; performed at an air show in Mexico; and wingsuited or BASE jumped off pretty much every cliff in the spectacular fjordlands of New Zealand's South Island, where they spent three weeks this past February – normally the heart of Shane's ski season – filming a movie for Red Bull. "We were on fire," Daisher says. And Red Bull paid for it all.
Red Bull is an adventure athlete's dream sponsor. From the beginning, it has eschewed the wholesome, Wheaties-box type of jock in favor of a bolder, edgier breed; the company's burgeoning stable now includes everyone from Shaun White to surfer Bruce Irons, mountain biker Jill Kintner, and skiers Daron Rahlves and Chris Davenport, plus a rowdy posse of skateboarders, BMX vert riders, kayakers, climbers, motocrossers, and paragliders – all of whom share one common trait: a total disregard for the law of gravity.
McConkey was Red Bull's Athlete Zero. Instead of having him sit in front of cameras and recite some ad agency script, the company paid him to travel the world to ski and BASE jump with his buddies – including one epic trip to northern Canada's Baffin Island in 2001, where he, Miles, and three other Air Force members jumped off cliffs a mile high. His chief responsibility was to make sure he wore his silver-and-blue Red Bull helmet whenever the cameras were rolling.
"It's sort of like having a rich uncle who thinks these sports are cool," says Red Bull–sponsored ice climber and explorer Will Gadd. "But we'd all be doing these things anyway, with or without Red Bull."