A Conversation with Aron Ralston
In the course of writing about your experience was there anything that you
thought twice about including in the book?
No, my objective was to make the book as authentic and genuine a recounting of my experience in Blue John Canyon as I possibly could. The more I could relate what happened without filtering it, the better I hoped to draw readers into my experience.
Your experience is one that arouses a myriad of questions -- after the release of the book, was there anything else you wished you could've added?
Regarding the series of other accidents which I describe in the book, I would have liked to explain more precisely what the lessons were that I took from them and how they applied to my experience in Blue John. For example, I learned from the bear-stalking incident in the Tetons that letting fear and panic interfere with decision making (in one instance, orienteering) skews those decisions for the worse; it is necessary to maintain calm and rational thought processes, all the more so when the consequences are greatest.
You mentioned in the book that you have no regrets about your decision to go on your own and not continue with Megan and Kristi. Looking back, is there anything you wish you would've done differently while being held captive by the chockstone?
No, I am satisfied with my actions during my entrapment. In hindsight, I made the right decisions at the right times and maximized my resources. I am pleased, even, that I took the opportunity to record the goodbye video for my family and friends.
You wrote the book shortly after your experience. Could you tell us a bit about the writing process? In what way did writing the book help in your recovery emotionally? Do you think you would've felt similarly had you not written the book?
Writing about my accident helped me empathize with my parents and their experience during those long days after they'd learned I'd gone missing. Even talking with them on dozens of occasions never brought me the empathic connection I felt as I sat at my laptop and tried to put myself in their situation. In writing from their perspective, I found myself crying into my keyboard. Had I not been trying to get inside their minds to convey their side of the story in the book, I probably would not have come to terms as closely with the fear, anxiety, terror, and stress that they went through in those days.
In your book you describe many near-fatal encounters. What would you say was predominant in your mind during these moments? What drove you to continue on adventures most people would consider extremely dangerous or even suicidal?
Fear is always the overriding thought and emotion when your life is on the line, and it is something I have learned to respect, avoid, and manage. I do not go out on a trip intending for it to bring me to that state of fear. I am not seeking those experiences to feel the rush; rather I try to mitigate the risks -- but my motivation for adventure is to learn about myself. Basil Maturin wrote, "No one knows what is in him till he tries, and many would never try if they were not forced to." Adventuring in the outdoors is the process that forces me to discover what is in me.
Could you describe the differences and similarities in your thoughts and reactions from your previous near-death experiences to that of your entrapment in the canyon?
When fear and panic rear up, the most vital response is to take action and implement strategies to manage the situation in a calm and deliberate manner. This is the major similarity between the close calls I have had: I was successful in moving through the paralyzing effects of fear to take action for the better. I would care to note that of the hundreds, if not thousand, of trips I had taken in my life, only a dozen have resulted in close calls. I chose to write about those so readers could see that I could not have survived in Blue John Canyon without the lessons learned from other experiences. The saying goes, "Good judgment comes from experience, and experience comes from bad judgment."
You seem to have a close relationship with your family and friends, and you mentioned how often your thoughts were with them when you were close to death. How did these relationships aid you in your survival?
Both in the canyon and in my recovery, the love of my family and friends encouraged me to dig deeper and find the strength to last a little longer, make decisions that would lead to my freedom, and gave me the knowledge that my struggle was worth it, to have my life again.
What was your reaction to the media frenzy that soon followed after your rescue? How did the notoriety help you in your recovery?
My family and I were overwhelmed -- as were the hospital, National Park Service, Emery County Sheriff's office, and just about everyone else involved in my rescue and recovery. We basically put a gag-order on ourselves for the first week to focus on my recovery. I was hardly concerned with replying to the hundreds of requests when I was still fighting for my life; however, to alleviate the burden on the hospital of two hundred reporters and photographers hanging out in the lobby, we worked up press releases and I finally agreed to hold a press conference. Interestingly, the notoriety that came from all of the media coverage did help me psychologically as the cards, letters, emails, flowers, and gifts I received from friends and strangers alike boosted my spirit during the months to come.
What would you say to those who find it difficult to understand why you continue to take part in outdoor adventures after having lived through this frightening experience?
Adventuring in the outdoors is my passion, and passion is not something we control in our lives. To resume my activities was much more natural for me than to do otherwise, and has led my experience in Blue John Canyon to become a leap forward in my outdoor development, instead of the curtain call.
Besides being a jaw-dropping account of an astonishing experience, was there any message you hoped to convey through your book? Do you have any advice for others who seek outdoor adventures?
I wanted to avoid translating or reducing my experience to a message for others so that everyone who reads the book could make their appraisal and take away from my experience something personal and meaningful to him or her. Certainly, as a point of advice, I encourage folks going into the wildlands to leave word of their plans with a responsible person. More important, I hope people will understand from my story that we each have it within ourselves, through courage, faith, and perseverance, to turn adversity into possibility.
© 2005 by Aron Ralston, reproduced with the permission of Atria Books.
Unless otherwise stated, this interview was conducted at the time the book was first published, and is reproduced with permission of the publisher. This interview may not be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the copyright holder.
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