Fully Alive with Ben Moon Episode #150

Aaron McHugh


“Guided by sheer joy and a deep appreciation for being alive” and “A craving to connect with others and see what’s deeper-not just the pretty part of our life.”

Ben Moon is a good human. Photography and filmmaking are his craft taking him across the globe for big brands like Patagonia, Adidas, Sony, Yeti coolers, and Subaru. He won’t brag about climbing with Alex Honnold or surfing with Yvon Chouinard. Boasting isn’t his style. Inviting you in for a restorative surf set at his local Pacific City, Oregon break is more Ben’s MO.

Ben Moon on Mt. Hood looking like an arctic explorer © Ben Moon

At age 29, “the picture of balance” was diagnosed with cancer. In Ben’s words, “it stripped away the B.S.” as he learned to focus on one day at a time and not look too far ahead into the future where doom or what if’s might sniper his hope.

Ben’s portrait photography captures the soul of a person. He invites each subject to close their eyes, get centered, open their eyes and be you. Witness Ben’s art here on Ben’s Instagram

Aerial image shot from a small single engine Cessna plane of professional surfer Peter Mel outrunning a 25 foot plus wave after it broke while competing in the 2009 Nelscott Reef big wave surf contest in Lincoln City, Oregon. Contestants were using the assistance of personal watercraft for transport to the reef which is nearly 3/4 of a mile offshore, as well as for safety and to tow in to catch the waves. © Ben Moon

My interview with Ben Moon

  • His friendship with his dog Denali and the Felt Soul Media Denali Film viewed over 14.1 Million times
  • Ben’s pending book about his Denali experience, cancer, friendship and the writing process and the help he received from other notable pros like Tommy Caldwell.
  • Ben’s adventures with Daniel Norris, Major League Baseball pitcher for the Detroit Tigers in “Shaggy” Dan’s 1978 VW Bus.
  • Hear about the two women that saved Ben’s life and how long he ignored his cancer symptoms.
Daniel Norris, a Major League pitcher for the Detroit Tigers, enjoying the simple life on the road in the offseason, in his ’78 VW Westfalia named Shaggy © Ben Moon

Official Ben Moon bio

Ben Moon is a Pacific City, Oregon based photographer and filmmaker who enjoys working with a diverse range of adventurers, athletes and musicians. Surviving cancer in his twenties inspired a greater connection and appreciation for others and the natural world. Ben finds human emotion to be a source of constant fascination. He is best known for his viral short film Denali, which explored the friendship between Ben and his dog. #DenaliFilm on Vimeo.com/122375452

Belinda Baggs ducking underneath a wave in New South Wales, Australia © Ben Moon

Transcription of my interview with Ben Moon

Aaron: Friends. Welcome to work life play. I’m your host, Aaron McHugh. I’m here to help you find work you love, learn to play, live adventurously, become curious and live your life with joy and purpose. Ready, set, go friends.

Welcome to another episode of work life play. Today. My guest is Ben moon. And how I found Ben moon was I think probably originally through a Patagonia catalog. So Patagonia, the clothing company and then is a adventure photographer. So a lot of the images that you’ll see in the catalog, he is the guy behind the camera. And then I saw a really amazing short film by Yeti, like as in the cooler company and Ben moon and a pitcher for the tigers. A guy named Daniel Norris, who as a side note lives in his bus. He drives a 70 early era, um, VW bus similar to our bus. And they did this movie called off season and off season was following Daniel Norris as he lived in his bus and travels. And it turns out he and Ben go on this annual trip together. So that was my interaction. Number two, interaction number three was a movie that you can find on Vimeo by Felt Soul Media called Denali.

And it’s a tribute film to Denali Ben’s dog that he had for a number of years until he passed away. What’s beautiful about the Denali story is it was about his dog getting sick, but it’s also about Ben and his journey of getting sick with cancer and subsequently as a survivor now of cancer. So in the course of this interview, we kind of talk through the spectrum of cancer to the Denali story, to now him moving into writing a memoir and a publishing deal that he’s just landed or on the Eve of landing, um, some of the work and the help that he has received from, uh, the people in this writing process to some of the shouts out to folks, the two particular ladies that helped him in his cancer diagnosis, and also just kind of the soul of the guy of who is Ben moon and what makes him tick and what does he, what’s like, like gets him out of bed in the morning.

So he’s a beautiful man. I think you’ll really enjoy the conversation with us and what you’re going to hear threaded throughout the course of the interview is segments of audio from the film, the Denali film. I would highly recommend that you look up the Denali film and you can just type in and Google Denali, Vimeo. So Vimeo as in the video channel. And then I’d highly recommend you watch the offseason film by Yeti, also about Ben and Daniel Norris, particularly about Daniel Norris. But Ben does all the photography and film behind it, and he is also a participant in the road trip that is featured through the course of this offseason film. So really just killer dude. Um, check out Patagonia. Um, definitely find Ben moon on Instagram. It’ll blow your mind the stuff that he posts in terms of the photography that he does. And one of my favorite things is he does these portrait stills of, I just call them people of great impact.

So what he can capture with this camera of an individual person, and they’re almost always black and white. It’s the one that I’ve seen and they’re these really powerful, powerful, powerful pictures of the soul of a person. And so on there you’ll find folks like Yvon Chouinard and you’ll find folks like Tommy Caldwell, a lot of folks in the outdoor scene, a lot of folks that are doing neat rad stuff. I’m in the outdoors and also in conservation and other neat endeavors related to the outdoors. So I hope you enjoy this interview. Definitely spent a lot of time in crafting it so that it does a good job hopefully in being attribute to the life, the man, the lessons in the journey and moon hope you enjoy.

Aaron: “Guided by sheer joy in a sincere appreciation for being alive.” Mr Ben moon, welcome to the work life play podcasts. Thanks Aaron. It’s great to great to finally meet.

Ben Moon: Yeah, yeah, it is.

Aaron: So I found that quote, I was doing some reading on different articles and stuff that you had had appeared in different interviews. So the part I’ve been super stoked about connecting with you on is not only the work that you do and in your world of adventure photography, but also just the, what I perceive to be the guy that you are. So I’m excited about just having, like I mentioned, like a, Hey, can we just have a real conversation and let’s just see where it goes. So thanks for making time for this and tell us a little bit about where you’re calling in from and where’s home for you.

Been Moon: Yeah, I live on the Oregon coast. Um, it’s about two hours Southwest of Portland. Uh, it’s a little town called Pacific City. It’s kind of an amazing little, um, convergence of a lot of different lifestyles. Um, it’s an old, uh, you know, it was a native fishing, you know, as a native settled settlement was here and there, you know, the, the resources naturally here, so bountiful, there’s, you know, obviously on land there’s the elk and the deer and I’m in the water. There’s, you know, we have, you know, don’t just grab and lingcod and you know, the clamming and there’s the salmon run up this river. Um, and so it’s a pretty incredible place just in general. The, the Niseko river runs through runs through your town and that’s where the salmon run. And, but also it’s like there’s a really incredible surf break, um, here.

And I’ve been surfing it for about the last 19 years, I guess. And so it’s, yeah, so it’s, it finally made me home over here. I used to live in, uh, bend over on the other side of the mountains for about nine years. And then I live in Portland for a bit and finally moved over to the coast a couple of years ago and made it my full time home. So, um, but one thing I love about this beach is you can drive right up to the break the, the beach and, you know, tourists can enjoy it. Um, surfers can enjoy it. The fishermen, the dories launch straight from the beach, um, his little Cape called Cape Coanda, um, that shelters us in Northwest wind. And there’s a big haystack rock out front. And, um, the Dory fishermen, the Dory boats that fishermen launch from right from the beach, and they, you know, bring them up on beach and it’s kind of one of the rare places that that still happens. Um, and so it can get a little hairy with it when the surface good, cause you got to kind of, you know, watch out for the Dory boats as well. But the tourists and surfers and fishermen and everybody can enjoy it equally.

Aaron: Right on. So Ben, what I love about watching your work and seeing the photography you do in video and film is it really does seem like there’s this convergence of what we we talk about on Work Life and Play. And it’s this when all things, this trifecta, you know, merges into one. So I, I just see that from, again, looking through the lens of Patagonia magazines or, um, through your, your film with your dog Denali or your Yeti off season with Daniel Norris. Like you just seem like you, you just view the world through this, this really unique lens. So tell us a little bit about the backstory and um, I’d love just to hear you riff for a bit.

Ben Moon: Yeah. The, I mean, the film I made about my dog was, you know, he was one of the reasons why I used, you know, Pacific, the, the for the film and for the ocean segment was, was here in um, where I’m at right now. And it was a pretty incredible space too. He and I had been coming here since, you know, he was a puppy and so it was kind of a no brainer. It was like this, the ocean, the ocean here and the Smith rock, which was the other backdrop in the film where the two places were at basically kind of through all life struggles and ups and downs, you know, through cancer. And you know, I was married really young and had a divorce. And through, through all of those struggles, I, I always kept coming back to those places even though, you know, that was kind of like, that was there before.

And after all of these, you know, kind of the most challenging experiences of my life. And, um, and so I think that’s why this, this place is so special and decided to make it home. I’d lived over near, you know, near Smith rock, um, while I was in bend and not, not too far away and you know, really dedicated myself to climbing for a solid 20 years. And, you know, and that was kind of where I was my playground and I still love going there and I still love to climb, but I decided to switch it over to the ocean and I’d always kind of found my kind of my center and where I was felt the most restored and grounded by being in the water. And when I was first diagnosed with cancer when I was 29, I had all these second opinions and things and all I wanted to do is go to the water.

And I remember I’d heard some really gnarly news that I was going to have to have, um, you know, colostomy bag and emergency surgery for that. And that was one of the heaviest things for just that younger, you know, person to deal with. And as far as like, you know, you might live from this but it’s going to be permanent. And, um, so I, I remember just diving into the ocean and swimming out and in Denali following me out there and you know, just, I was just in my board shorts and it’s, you know, ocean here’s like, you know, 45 C for warm. And so, and it just, but it was a place that I felt like I wanted to wanting to come to you and, and so it’s kind of played a backdrop of a lot of my films and such. I’ve just, I just appreciate having that blend of ocean environment and natural landscape. And you know, when, when Daniel and I met, I wanted to like, you know, come and show him where I, where I like really found my home too. So, and his off season just kind of plays into the fall season and which isn’t always the best. I mean, it’s sunny, we have sunshine for the next two weeks, but it’s just, you know, every winter is different here. So, um, you never know what you’re gonna get.

Aaron: So what I hear is what I would just call it is it sounds like it’s like a, let’s use the word grounding home. It’s like a spiritual home, like a place where all is well in and things are safe. And there’s some, I guess rebar to the place that just provides you comfort and meaning in your life. Is that fair?

Ben Moon: That’s super fair. And I mean there’s two, there’s a kind of the, what came to mind when he said that was there’s a haystack rock up in cannon beach that is really famous. And then here in Pacific city there’s also another rock that, um, key Yolanda rock that they’re these giant, you know, monoliths that are out in the ocean. There’s something, I don’t know, that’s kind of why that played such a strong role in Denali because it sits out there and doers these intense winter storms, you know, and you know, 30, 40 50 foot, you know, surges and swells that have, you know, just pounded those things for, you know, a really long time and, and, and just, there’s something really grounding about looking out at that, those rocks and just being like, you know, you can stand strong and stand tall.

And that really played an important part in the, in the Denali piece because basically the week, the new year’s Eve, before we started filming that, I just, I had a pretty intense experience where I just realized that, you know, he was going to be gone. Like I was going to be alone for the first time in my adult life. And I told him it was like, okay to go whenever he was ready. And I was like, man, I, I’ve, you know, I got married super young, I ran for college and moved out with her, you know, and then, got Denali and then he’d always been by my side. And so he’d always been, you know, from age 24 on, I was just basically or 23 or, um, I guess I was 24 when I got Denali. Um, I’d always had him with me. And I remember staring out at the rock in the middle of the, you know, in the moonlighter and there the stars and just being like, wow, you just got to stand tall and be a man and like, it’s going to be okay. That was kind of one of those more powerful moments. And then a few weeks later it was when we started making the film and it kind of evolved from there. Over the next year and a half, finally turned into something that I felt was universal enough to share.

Excerpt of the Denali story: I overheard someone talking about their problems the other day. I had the worst day ever. They said first there was nowhere to park at whole foods and everyone was acting all aggro. So I had to walk like two blocks in the rain and my shoes got soaked. Then my stupid salad was like $12 and I was in such a rush to get to yoga. I forgot my mat. I had to use some nasty loaner mat and smelled like balls. I don’t know what the big deal is. I love the way balls smell.

Aaron: One of the questions I wrote down that I’d love to ask you is as you’re again already into the, the deeper waters is one of the quotes I read was that you have a craving to connect with others and see what’s deeper, not just the pretty parts of life. So even as you’re describing your experience with your dog and this awareness and just, I’m curious, where does that come from? What’s behind the deeper thing for you that makes you crave and desire those kinds of connections and to be able to, what I believe then translates into the photography that you shoot is just kind of other, in my view, you just seem to see something that people can’t see and then you translate that through your photography too. So tell us just I guess about the deeper part of you that drives that. I think there’s a couple of things that come to mind.

Ben Moon: You know, I, I definitely am someone who has, I think a lot and there’s a lot of inner dialogue that goes on and it’s, there’s a lot that goes on at night. I think. I want to know and others what, what their inner dialogue is. And it’s so easy. We put on a mask and you know, and when I do with my portraits, I often, you know, people are wanting to throw on a smile first, you know, and you know, at first they’re, they’re unguarded and then they throw on it. They throw on what they think they want other people to see. My goal with shooting those portraits is I just really want to see who they are for real. Just like, Hey, let it all go. And I often tell people that it just take a deep breath and close their eyes and let whatever they’re trying to be go and just be who they are.

And it’s kind of often just, it’s amazing what you can see in someone’s eyes and how it’s translated and what they’re going through. And if they’re going through something super intense, it’s, I’m also just a really sensitive person and you know, you know, I guess I’ve been labeled by those that label things such like that is a, as an empath and someone who can really just really sensitive to other’s feelings and yeah. And that can drive you crazy sometimes do cause it’s hard to translate where emotions are coming from. It’s like, you know what I, what I think I feel is actually what someone else is feeling and I have to be really careful of not shifting into make everybody happy mode. But I also, I think I just want to know, I want, I want them to show me that part of them.

And, and I see the other part that really brought that to front and is, I mean, when I first started shooting photos, you know, for Patagonia and traveling around and shooting climbers and surf lifestyle and whatnot, I was, you know, I was really interested kind of people’s accomplishments and you know, athletes. I was kind of enamored by athletes that, you know, could do things at a high level. And I still have a respect for that obviously. And once I went through cancer treatments and you know, just being smacked down and not being able to even get out of bed for you know, weeks and not being sure if I was gonna even live, it just really made me aware of our connections with others and how, you know, how much we are connected and how much friendships and relationships and those who care about really matter. And it kind of stripped the BS, you know, and just like there wasn’t a reason to, you know, I don’t know. I just stopped. I stopped wanting to chase the biggest waves and the best climbers and, and it was really more about relationships and I worked with, you know, a lot of the athletes I worked with. I’d worked with them over the course of decades, you know, and it just was more of a friendship and we’d go play and get ideas and collaborate.

Excerpt of the Denali Story: I’m pretty sure had Ben knows I’m dying. I’m not sure if it’s the cancer or something else, but he’s been taking me to all the places we used to go to and checking on me a lot. The other day he asked me to let him know when I was ready to go. He, he didn’t want me to suffer. Growing up with Ben is pretty great. He made pictures for living and didn’t feel as comfortable in the city. So we traveled around a lot. He’s what his hippie friends call it free spirit or something.

We camped a lot. I’d pretend I was a giant, stinky butterfly. I’d help him find girlfriends. We’d go shark fishing, we’d do yoga. I’d give him kisses. We’d hang out with famous people. We even went sailing in the desert once, which brings me to a time in my life that I’ve always been a little self conscious about. Of course, it’s not my fault, but I became so handsome that it was impossible to ignore. When Ben started to notice, I had to start working for a living. Humiliating outfits became pretty standard. If you’ve ever been told to look cute, you know, it’s not as easy as it sounds and you can’t just fake special kisses in the studio. It won’t look authentic. Oh man, those were the good old days for sure.

Ben Moon: When I first met Daniel, Dan on our stuff, the baseball player, he pitches for the tigers and I had seen something in his photographs that he had been sharing that I was like, man, this guy, guys, there’s something different about him. And he’s living in his van in the parking lot during spring training and you know, um, there’s, you know, you just think of like spoiled athletes and, and there’s something different there. And, and I’m, uh, reaching out to him on Instagram and just being like, Hey, I dig your story. Like, it’d be fun to do road trips sometime and you know, he, he blew me up immediately and was just to be, just became kind of immediate friends. And while we are trying to do this, I pitched this story idea to Yeti and it was kind of a small world moment there too where there’s just, I think the content creator, Scott Ballou over at Yeti.

He knew Daniel’s agent through another friend and it was like we ended up, yeah, it ended up being just being a really this amazing road trip. But it was also just a Daniel and I like hanging out every off season now. We were just down in Santa Barbara Ventura for about three weeks this off season. And the last year we went down and kind of finished our road trip per se cause we had so many van issues with, um, on the first road trip, um, went to Patagonia and he got to meet all them like brothers. And we went up and surf with Yvon Chouinard on his ranch and it was, you know, he’s significantly younger than me, but we have had a really strong bond. And he survived cancer as well and just have a lot in common. And the point of all that is when people are real and can be real and can get real really quickly, I just, it makes me really interested in their story and want to want to tell their story and want to know more about them.

Excerpt of the Denali Story: I think most people would have left their old dog at home, but Ben insisted on taking me to all our favorite spots. One more time. I think he feels like he can’t leave my side right now. This one time, about 10 years ago, we were camping at Joshua tree and Ben stood up by the campfire and just passed out and he started bleeding. Things changed a lot after that. When I licked him, I could taste the chemicals they were putting in him to kill the cancer, but it just seemed like they were killing him too.

Aaron: I’m intrigued. I’ve been intrigued about you and your work because those similar things intrigued me. And so the, the inner dialogue I’m just really curious in life about, because I have a lot of inner, my interior world is, um, Is pretty rich and because of that I get really curious about other peoples. And so I enjoy when I find other like kind of what I would consider like like-hearted people on the planet or like, Oh I think, I think they might have some of that same thing. And then I also get really curious about people who don’t appear to have any at all. Um, but I know that’s not true cause I think everybody has an interior life. But be curious, pick, you know, invite whatever the words would be to say, Hey, what’s, what’s that like? Because I also realize that there’s a, I would call it like an overhead, you know, amount like an overhead to my life that requires management of my interior life and sel- care related to that, that I kind of get envious at times that other people don’t appear to be as bothered by as I am now.

I wouldn’t trade it, but if there is a, you know, I guess a pro and a con to it and some days, you know, most days I would never trade it. Some days I would love to turn down the volume of it and just experience more ease and lightness without having to be so tuned in all the time to what’s actually occurring around me. So anyway, those were some of, as you talk, I connect with a number of those ideas and being empathetic and all those kinds of things, which I’d never trade. And yet it is, it’s just, it’s kind of this interesting thing to learn to wheel like guess is maybe a way to say it. Have you ever done eneagram tests? Yeah, we just did it. We talked about it last night over dinner. I’m a, I’m a three. I’m an achiever. Um, and then with, uh, with a helper is my, I guess number two, my wing. Yeah, my wing. Yeah. How about you?

Ben Moon: I’m a five. I’m the observer or, uh, the and then I think my wing is the four. Um, that is interesting. The five has two completely opposite, opposite spectrums. The Five, there’s a five with a six wing. I was just very analytical and more of a linear side. And then there’s five of the four wing, which is more realistic. Yeah, yeah. And just individualistic and also just do a little bit more uh, brain, um, oriented. And it earlier in life I feel like I was more the very linear and then I gradually like, you know, through my teens just switched over to, Oh, now it’s like, I, you know, I used to love all the super statistics and nerdy stuff and now I’m kind of just, I’d rather leave that to someone else and you know, think, think about things and, but yeah, it’s really cool to understand that because I realize that’s why sometimes I, some people are like, man, why do you spin your wheels on stuff for so long?

And it’s like, well, this is, this is just how I operate, you know, and it, and it does help me pay attention to detail and more ways. But sometimes I wish I was honestly more of a, a three achiever or like a seven, like the seven is the other side of the intellectual thinker. It’s like where it’s like, instead of thinking before they act, they just act before they think and do things and they call it. Yeah, yeah, yeah. So, and I know a lot of enthusiasts and a lot of my friends and you know, have been, you know, our enthusiasts and it’s like, it’s sometimes they’re just like, man, I wish I could just get up and move like that and I will if I need to. But at the same time, I want to make sure I’m doing things thoughtfully as well. So it’s, it’s finding the balance.

Aaron: So, one of the questions I wrote down to Ben was, again, just observing and watching the experiences that you have and the way you capture it, the eye in which you capture it, even as you were describing like the portraits. Um, just for the listeners, you know, Yvon Chouinard, founder of Patagonia, I’ve seen Tommy Caldwell and Alex Honnold and you know, a long, long list of, I just say I’m easily recognizable people, um, in, in all kinds of whether athletes or business and otherwise. So I’ve been curious though for you, like how do you define what’s, what’s a well-lived meaningful life to you?

Ben Moon:  To be able to spend time with others and feeling, you know, just having, having friends that you love around you and experiences where you can truly be completely happy in that moment. And you know, for me that’s being out in the ocean, whether it’s, you know, nice, unexpected, uncrowded day, you know, here, you know, and in the water with just a couple of friends or, or just, you know, it doesn’t even have to just be uncrowded. It could just be really great waves or it could be going out in the water. The visibility is really great for spear fishing and I’m down there and it’s, you know, I can see 20, 20, 30 feet and it’s just those experiences where you’re completely present. Those are the moments that really matter. And, and I think it’s so easy, you know, to get spun out and what these little super computers in our pockets that, you know want to, you know, have algorithms that want to like keep us sucked in and you know, until they get sucked into that and social media likes and all this other stuff.

And, and yeah, all those connections are phenomenal. But it’s just, it’s really about being present. And ironically I’ve talked about this before, when you’re going through something like cancer and cancer treatments that you, you have no choice but to be present. Like you only can focus on that day because you literally have no energy for anything. But getting through that moment, oftentimes, you know, you have a test in five days but you can’t even see past the next few minutes cause you’re so nauseous or weak or, and you know, somebody wants to come visit but you don’t even have entity to talk to them. And so that’s why having them, you know, a dog by my side was so special. Like, you know, it’s like he, I didn’t have to give anything. They were just, they’re giving 100% and

Excerpt of the Denali Story: If anyone had tried to take me out of that hospital room, I would have bitten their face. I remember feeling really sad for Ben when he found out he’d have to poop into a plastic bag attached to his stomach for the rest of his life, mainly because he already had to put all of my poop into plastic bags. The worst though was when this letter came from the insurance company. One time I had the best dream ever. I dreamed I had rabies and snuck into the insurance company to share my rabies with as many people as I could before they shot me with a tranquilizer gun.

I don’t know what I would have done without him. I’m so glad his cancer went away. It’d be so scared right now if I was going through this without him.

Ben Moon: I agreed to a book deal with a pretty major publisher. I probably shouldn’t say it until it’s completely inked, but, um, the dried up, to write a memoir about the Denali story. And so I’m really excited cause we have, um, there’s some really solid people on board and I love my editor and I’m super excited for that to be coming to fruition.

Aaron: One of the things you mentioned is that in our article I read is that related to cancer was that focusing one day at a time and not looking too far ahead, which is what you were just kinda talking about and then not allowing defeat to creep in. So, I think what I hear you saying is that this life transforming experience really shaped how you experience your life now today. How you experience using another couple of words that I’ve found was joy and contentment and um, you know, the depth of the real thing and not being distracted fully by the pings and the buzz at the likes and the, and even maybe even the achievement of hanging with the cool crowd that you might hang with or some next new somebody that you get to go shoot. And then it sounds like that maybe I’d call it the value, the value in the things that you derive as meaningful. It sounds like those have shifted because of this, because of your cancer. Was that 12 years ago? 13 years?

Ben Moon: Yeah, 13 and a half years since I was diagnosed. So yeah, I guess I was up 15 years ago when I first started having symptoms. So,

Aaron: Which is super young, so 29 years old to get this really big life altering thing when you’re a climber and a surfer outlive in, in your van, hanging out at Smith rock, right. Catching waves and shooting cool shots and then all of a sudden you had this really, really, really big life altering thing that’s entirely abnormal, especially for the crowd you were rolling with too.

Ben Moon: Yeah, I was completely blindsided me for sure. It was, I mean I tried to justify it for a long time when I first had symptoms and thought it was diet and all sorts of things. And it’s interesting to go back and researching and trying to bring myself back on those moments for this book. It’s, interesting to think about all the excuses I made and justifications I made. Even those, you know, that a year and a half of pretty severe symptoms. Um, you know, like I was, you know, visible blood and when I’ve used the bathroom and it just like, there was things that I would always, you know, try to figure out what that could be, you know, and honestly that, you know, there were two women that saved my life. One that, you know, I was, we were hanging out at the time and she, she made me go in and, um, um, Jeannie Young, she’s a climber and then, just one of the rad, just a really amazing woman there.

And she basically is like Ben and you need to go get some tests and you know, she, you know, just kind of innocent tests. And when those came back, you know, so, so there was, you know, it’s okay, I don’t have a parasite and all these other things. She’s like, go see it. Go see my nurse practitioner friend and this nurse practitioner, um, Gail Riffle and then, she, she found something there and she could have, she’s like, I could give you an inflammatory but let’s just get you scoped just in case, you know, it’s probably this hemorrhoids or something, you know, you’d probably find, but let’s just get you scoped. You know, had that moment not happened. Like I wouldn’t be here, you know, it would have, it was like, it was, it was kind of like there was gas on a big pile of brush and the torch was being held to it and it just was, you know, literally just needed to be leaned forward.

And it would be, it would have been everywhere. And so it was, the tumor had grown to the point where it was through almost the, my lymph nodes is touching, but it hadn’t entered yet. And so once that happens with colon cancer, it’s really, really hard to get after that. I mean, I’ve lost a couple of friends recently. They were my age, you know, at the time to it. And it’s like, it’s, I’m always like, Oh no, you’ll be fine. You’re going to survive this too. And then they’re gone and you’re just like, man, this is, I’m here for some reason and I need to figure out what that is. And you know, I want to be able to help others. And that’s what’s really driven me to write more about it. And this, this book is, you know, it’s about friendship and you know, my friendship with my dog.

But it’s also, I just, I really wanna tell him more about the cancer story. Like that’s what, you know, and just like, there’s so much to learn from that. This past summer I was doing a documentary project and I’m actually going out to New York to shoot a couple more legs of that. I’m shooting stills on a documentary film called, this is living with cancer and just meeting with different people that have been living with cancer symptoms or have survived it. And Pfizer oncology is actually funded it. But it’s a really amazing, it was incredible to meet with everybody of all ages and demographics all over the country. And to like realize how similar stories are and how seeing their caretakers and those that are around them and how they handle, you know, some, some were instilling the thick of diagnosis, some had survived cancer like three times, some, you know, and it’s just, it’s phenomenal to see what, what those life altering experiences can, how they can shift your perspective.

Excerpt of the Denali Story: I’ve been trying to be really strong for him this week, just like he was when things were going really bad. My last night was really peaceful. I wasn’t hungry anymore, so I let Ben know it was time and he let me sleep on his chest all night. Ben said a raven swooped by while he carried me to the vet’s car in the morning. I’m sure his hippie friends had lots to say about that. There’s this really smart scientist guy who thought that people could learn a lot from dogs. He said that when someone you love walks through the door, even if it happens five times a day, you should go totally insane with joy.

Aaron: We have three kids and our middle daughter passed away from, she was born severely disabled when she, so she was 12 when she passed away. So she would have just turned 19, um, on Thanksgiving, um, last week. And she was in a wheelchair and had cerebral palsy and tube fed and everything under the sun and the moon. And she was beautiful. And it changed what I determine as valuable and how I see things. And so I think that’s probably some of it too, is um, so yeah, just to be vulnerable with you of like, that’s so, so I, because of that, I have a lens for, Oh man, when I watched Denali, we showed it at our, we did this reboot your life event and we had like 46, 48 people come through and we used your film is one of the, the ways to get access to people’s hearts, you know, to get out of their head and into their heart.

And, I can very much identify with this new, uh, revised and I would call upgraded better perspective on kind of my hierarchy of value in life of how I value things. And so things like, um, prestige success and money have been downgraded for me. They’re not that they’re not important, but they’re just not as important and things like authentic connections and just being real with folks of saying that. Cause I think with a part that’s been helpful for me to realize is that everyone has a story if you listen long enough and they’re all beautiful and they’re all difficult and they’re all wonderful and they’re all under renovation in process cause nobody’s finished yet. And so when I, what I love about that is that all of a sudden then that’s actually the place that like Brene Brown talks about the point of vulnerability is where everyone can connect, everyone can identify, they might not be able to identify with the surf break that you have out your backyard, but they can identify with, Oh yeah.

Right. Yeah. Friendship and loss and hardship and you know, not allowing defeat to creep in and moving forward in spite of, and a nurse practitioner that saved your life that thank God she pushed on you. You know, like all those things I just find are like the transcendent connectors. And so that’s part of the work I, I tried to do here is to make that available for other people as way of invitation to say, Hey, come on, come with us. This is good for you. This is good for us. We could do this. Let’s keep going.

Ben Moon: There’s no, there’s no time for small talk. And that’s kind of, that’s where I’m at. You know, just it’s like I just want to cut through that. And I think that’s why I’m just drawn to connecting with people that I can get real with. It doesn’t matter who you are, you a few. If you can confine that vulnerability and find that moment of connection, that’s what it matters. And I think that’s what, you know, going through something like you’ve gone through with that loss and hardship. And when I was working with that night and skip Armstrong on this film with Denali, um, I remember Ben asking me like, what, you know, what do you, what is your, what do you use your goal for this? And I was like, I just want it to connect with others and I want it to be universal. It’s like it’s, the story is not about Denali and I, it’s something, you know, it’s something greater and, and it always makes me glad to hear when those that haven’t necessarily been directly touched by cancer have just had something gnarly happened in their life or you know, it’s like we all can relate to that.

When I was first like presented the opportunity to maybe write a book about my time with Denali, I was just like, why? What have I done to even for warrant writing a memoir? Like that just didn’t make any sense to me. Like it just, I was like, why would I, why would I want to, what would I have to share that would be unique? Or why would anybody care? And I had, when I started seeing it through the lens of like, well, these, there is, there are so many elements of the film that touched people’s lives. And that was a seven minute just feeling, I guess. And as if I could dive into things that are universal and make it, it’s not about, yes, I have to relate my own story in there, but if I can find the elements that can, you know, be relatable to others, then it’s going to, you know, it’s going to resonate. And so that’s what I have to tapping into is my muse to when I’m writing this drives me crazy.

Aaron: You know, I love is, I’ve been calling it, it’s like what’s the higher truth? Like what’s the high, the universal theme? And one of the things I, I read, um, was, was that you talked about it being universal themes as friendships and loss, but ultimately about the transcendent pieces, overcoming life’s challenges. And that when people can connect with their specific [inaudible] of the life challenge, then they can look through and say, Oh yeah, I can do it too. And like that haystack rock like you’re talking about. My son and I did a really fun trip when he was, Oh, I don’t know, maybe like fourth, fifth grade, and we came out to cannon beach and we retraced the movie, the Goonies and a lot of the scenes that they shot like cannon beach and then all up and down to a story. We had so much fun doing it and so we would have this little DVD player set up in the middle of the car.

We’d pull over and we had this like printout of where they had shot these different scenes and then we’d get out and re-enact them and so we can be to the big haystack you’re talking about. I relate to a lot, but what I love about that as you were describing it, is this big monolith which has gotten the crap beat out of it for millennia. It’s pretty rad that it’s still standing. You know that it’s still going, that it’s okay. I know for me that time I spent outdoors and the wilderness of, of all kinds. Sometimes it’s just comforting to know that like when I go in the high country here in Colorado, a lot of the trees are wind blown. You can tell what the predominant direction of the wind is, you know? Right. So in the Leeward versus Windward side and you can just see this tree gets just pounded and pounded, pounded cause it has no, um, especially Pines or you know, they have no leaves or needles on that side of the tree and you can just see it grows with the direction of where it gets beat up.

But that the fact that it can keep taking it year after year, after year after year at that altitude, those are the things that help remind me that I’m going to be okay. Like I’m not the first person in the universe in history, in mankind and creation that’s ever faced, difficult challenges. I’m going to be okay. It’s going to be okay. I don’t know how, but I’m going to, like you talked about shrinking, you know, your perspective. I learned to learn to live for some period of time, like in what I’d call it, 15 minute increments and just shrink it to the smallest period of time as I could handle and just stay, stay there because anything more than that, which is so daunting and so unforgiving in my own mind of what I feared and so I’d get so worked up so then I could find I could shrink it down.

Well then it was tremendously helpful to just say, okay, I’m okay right now. Or using outdoor experiences and outdoor adventure and back country travel as a, I’d call like a classroom to learn those lessons that then I can bring them back to my real life and say, Oh man, Oh yeah, right. Well, somebody has an I. We mountain bike to the Colorado trail a couple of years ago, and I remember just each day it was like, I can’t believe today is harder than yesterday. How’s this possible? I thought yesterday was supposed to be a hard day, but realizing like, Oh, I needed that expansion of what hard was an expansion of my definition of hard in some ways that when my real life I was like, okay, I can do this. Cause I did that and that was okay. And it turned out all right and I was able to keep going. So what I’m facing right now, my real life off a mountain or out of the ocean or wherever I can do this. So I’m curious for you what you’ve learned in those same ways about how wilderness and adventure have taught you some of those similar lessons that cancer has.

Ben Moon: One thing about going into the ocean is it always reminds you that you are small. Um, even on a tiny, you know, waist-high day, you know, there can be a rogue set that comes in and just smacks you down and pushes you down and, and getting beat up. And wind just reminds you that, you know, you’re not really that significant. Yeah. Yeah. And there’s no, and I just always loved that. Like you just, and you’re also floating and just this immense, you know, it just makes you have that same feeling as when you’re in the desert and he’s, you know, or up at the top of a mountain plateau and you, the sky is super clear and you can see like into the galaxy and you can see that depth and it makes you just feel very finite. You’re not, you’re not this, you know, as big as you think you are as your problems are.

And I love that about that. That’s my quick reset for the ocean. It’s just always reminds me of that. And there are those things, there’s the, you know, the Cape that just gets pummeled here and it’s, you know, it has eroded and spend sculpted by the weather and the trees here are similar to the wind blown, you know, trees you’re talking about out there in Colorado they can, you know, the, the  the primary predominant wind in the winter is the, from the South. And it’s just, you can just see a lot, you know, the, the weaker trees all are blown halfway over, you know, and then there’s ones that are really strong. And my property I had, there’s one tree that I wanted to keep it, it was right, um, in, in the Southern exposure and just, it was right. It’s going to be blocking the light most of the day. And it was where the kind of just, it didn’t work with the layout at all. And I, um, it wasn’t like a particularly majestic tree by any stretch, but cut it down and you were taking it out and we’re trying to get the roots out. And how was it blown away by the root system on that tree? It was five directions that had these horizontal roots that were the size of my, my, you know, body, all directions. And the tree wasn’t even, it was only, it was only a couple of foot diameter tree, but it had these giant roots that went off in all directions. This sand here obviously, but it was just so stable and, and it just, that to me it was a good metaphor for like, you just had to have got to have your roots to weather out all the life’s storms. You know, you gotta really what, what really drives you and what, what is your, like you talked about your inner life. Like what is that? Like, what, what, where can you keep grounded too? So

Aaron: I think that sounds like a chapter title of a book. They’re right. Deep roots and stability. Yeah. That’s good man. So tell us a little bit about what the next year will look like then for you. So you’re home in Oregon, you’re going to be building this house, you’re going to be spending some time, um, I’m guessing going through old journals and picking apart that, picking it, some of those scabs really of what that story was like because a memoir is, isn’t a third person observation about someone else’s life. It’s a deep dive into your own. So that’s, wow, that’s a big job.

Ben Moon: Yeah. I mean, uh, fortunately I’ve had a really amazing support system for that. When I first was approached about the book stuff. I, um, talk to the first person that I could think of who is, um, you know, uh, I had been through that world a lot and, um, I had knew John Krakauer through some of the climbing world and I just reached out to him and said, Hey, I don’t have a clue what to do and any of the situation, can you just point me in the right direction? He’s a Jedi Knight to me. Yeah. And so he called me from some anonymous number and you know, just, you know, talk to me for like through it for like 45 minutes and gave me a lot of advice and two of his collaborators or you know, Mark Bryant was his editor on a lot of the major books and he, he sent me in his direction and Mark became an incredible mentor to me and you know, he used to be outside editor for outside and men’s journal and immense experience in the publishing world.

And he helped me for a year and a half of getting the book proposal together. And so we kind of dove in together and I have the same agent as to, uh, Tommy Caldwell had, um, there has an for his book. And Tommy was an immense help to you. And he kind of helped me walk through that. And so I feel like, I remember Tommy telling me that he’s like, Ben, it’s just like, it’s like therapy. You’re, you’re going through the experiences. Don’t be daunted by them. They’re, they will really, they’ll help you work through them, reliving them. And, and so I feel like I’ve done a lot of the foundational work and gotten the sheer terror of trying to dive into the story out of the way. And so now for the next, you know, I have a year, actually less than a year now to write the manuscript, but the, the outline has already established and you know, that’s what we, you know, sold the book with was the writing a 45 page outline of what the book would be.

And so I’ve had to dive in and I’ve already kind of gone through all my old shoe boxes of journal and scrapbooks and found an incredible amount of your archive in my archive. And I found just set aside everything that had anything to do with the that story and found some, you know, notes from when I was sick. And you know, just funny stuff about Denali that I, it was fun to dive in as immensely emotional too. But it’s, so yeah, it’s, I’m planning to, you know, I’m tackling two things. I haven’t done personally write a book and build a house, but I’m excited for it. Let’s do this. Let’s do this. It’s cool.

Aaron: A friend told me once that when our scars begin to bring life to other people, then they, they, they take on new meaning and they aren’t just scars anymore that they become like an in, in a good, in a good way, like blood transfusions. And so yeah, it hurt like hell to go through what I’ve gone through and hearing you gone through what you’ve gone through and yet there is an offer where that pain can become life-giving and then it just feels so much more useful. It doesn’t, for me, it doesn’t hurt any less, but it is, it feels like it’s there’s purpose, you know, and usefulness to it versus just the sake of just gut wrenching pain, which just doesn’t, it doesn’t feel very good. But when it can become life-giving, then I’m like, I’m down with that. I’d be happy to do that. Yeah. And let’s take a swing at that. So I was hoping that’s what we would do today and I think we’ve been successful with that.

Ben Moon:  Yeah, I think so too. And um, I love that. That’s a, that’s a great way of thinking about that. Um, I remember after the Denali film went crazy online, it was, you know, I’ve got thousands of emails and, and you know, there was no way I could physically respond to all of them without making that my full time job. And nor could I emotionally have the capacity to totally, you know, be everyone’s, you know, cause it was like once you dive into that story, it’s like I, I realize that my physical, emotional, you know, orbit couldn’t, I couldn’t handle being the therapist for everyone, you know, cause once they feel are telling me really personal stories and I wanted to be there, but then I realized I was like, Hey, this somehow triggered them and allowed them a way to grieve and you know, process their story and that’s all I can do. And you know, maybe this book can do the same thing. And, and so yeah, that’s a interesting experience that you’ve kind of like once, once you’ve shared something like that, it’s just, it’s not yours anymore. It becomes, it just, it’s like kind of, you just put it out there and it’s like, it’s so interesting to have such a personal story be that’s kind of like, I’ve almost like donated it to, it’s like a, yeah, there’s like a blood transfusion. It is.

Aaron: It’s like, yeah, it’s at the blood bank. And, and then I found that to the people who connect, who then write, you know, the emails and want to tell their personal story that oftentimes, although it would be, you know, nice or flattering to get a reply, that it’s just therapeutic for them to even have sat down to actually write that email. And that is somehow healing and good for them to say, no, I felt this, I connected with this, I observed this, I wanted you to know and I wanted to say thanks. And that sometimes that that alone is like, like great, like I don’t actually need to do anything. And as you’re saying, capacity, I use that word a lot. Like, um, I found that for me, I, I’m prone to get a compassion fatigue is what guy called it for me of like, I can too easily take on because I have empathetic, you know, uh, high capacity.

Um, but I can get saturated pretty quickly too. And that saturation just takes me out in my own life. And so I’ve just found out I’d have to, I can be a conduit maybe for the conversations to help people begin to have them on their own. But as you said, I can’t be the therapist that that helps them as they move forward. Cause there’s plenty of people who can do that. I’m just trying to start and begin the conversation that may not otherwise happen if it wasn’t for, you know, conversations like this one when we push send.

Ben Moon: Yeah. Yeah. And it’s, yeah, there’s a, we all have our, I think realizing our, our capacities on our body, obviously we can expand those all the time, but we do have a finite amount of energy, energy and resource that we can just as human beings that we can give, you know, and it’s easy like being an empath or, you know, I, I call myself the, the social introvert, you know, I like I can go out and like when I’m feeling good and I’m around people that I love and like I feeling on, you know, I’m feeling the flow happen, I can just go. And then I, you know, come back, you know, my van or you know, if I’m on the road and you know, or uh, for traveling, it’s like the hotel room and I just collapse, you know? And it’s like, it’s like a realize that you’ve just like given everything out, you know? And, and I need that time to recharge. And building a home to me isn’t just like building a house to like throw my stuff in. It’s like more of finding a place that I can recharge and have as my sanctuary, but also share it with friends that I care about, you know? And then be able to share that with others. And so I’ve, you know, even just my van, I just, I’ve tried to make it a space that feels really know restore. It’s a little cabin, you know, in there and it’s, you know, it’s like all the woodwork with my dad and stuff has been really fun to make that a special space, you know? And so no matter where it is, it’s like finding a place to really recharge. And just so you can give again. I mean honestly it’s like, you know, if we just recharge so we can go do whatever we want for ourselves, it doesn’t really matter. I mean it’s like you can have enough energy as we can share with others too that that’s what matters I guess.

Aaron: So I view that as a renewable, um, recharge to renew, to renew so that I can give versus renew so that I can just, you know, um, keep it internal. Those are I guess two different reservoirs I try and fill up cause some of it is just for me and, and some of it is for others and trying to learn that distinction. I think you even mentioned one of your writings about self-care and the importance of that. So I’d say that’s another kind of journey of um, I call it like the art of living that I’m, I’ve been working on is you know, mastering the art of living and some of that’s just taking good care of myself so that I can do this work. And some of it is just for me, you know, put my own tank cause it’s good for my own soul in life. And then some of it is to renew me so that I can offer, you know, my, this, this kind of work to the world.

Ben Moon: And I mean that is important to have our own, you know, we have to have a healthy grounded center to be able to give to others. You know, if you’re just exhausted and just run ragged and not self-aware and you know, not taking care of yourself, it’s pretty hard to try to tell someone else to do that. So

Aaron: Or have your best offer. So Ben, tell, tell us where we can find your work and if people want to track you down, watch your movie cry and then send you an email about it. How would they do that?

Ben Moon: Um, the film is pretty easy to find that this, if you just put Denali, Denali on Vimeo in the Google, it’ll, it’ll pop up. It’s on, um, it’s on Felt Soul Media Vimeo page, but, um, it’s on my website as well. My website benmoon.com. Um, and then on Instagram it’s probably the, the social media I use the most is uh, Ben_moon. Yeah.

Ben Moon: Fun. I’d recommend you put up a bunch of live video feeds and I kind of like on location just doing your real life like surf breaks and buddies and you know, hilarious stuff too. Like really cool new portraits you throw up or whatever. So definitely I would recommend follow along there.

Probably the thing I posted the most is my dog’s Instagram, Nori, Nori by the sea. Just like that. Yeah, that’s, that’s, I have a lot of fun with that. It’s some, there’s, there’s just like with, you know, spending time with your dogs, there’s no, there’s not all the baggage and I feel like that’s what I haven’t got Instagram for your dog is to just get, it’s fun. There’s no, no pressure.

Aaron: You’ve been listening to work life play. If you like what you’ve heard, please do us a favor and rate us on iTunes. It really does help. You can get more information about this and other episodes at Aaron, mcu.com. Thanks for listening. Thanks for being part of this adventure for being part of braving the pioneering work of discovering sustainable work life. Play rhythms. Love your work, live your life, and play a whole lot more. I’m Aaron McHugh. Keep going.

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