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Mountains to Sea : 1 • June 15-June 28, 2016

Final update!

July 2, 2016

Reaching the end of our trip with a bittersweet atmosphere in our home on wheels. I have Sophia sitting here next to me to make sure every last detail is put in place (gonna miss these kids and their helping hands)! It’s safe to say all of our hearts are heavy knowing this is our final morning with our new family. Lee is setting the tone with sad songs to sulk in and Allie is requesting the upbeat DJ jams one last time. These last days after our trip to Charleston have been filled with laughs. Lee, Sam and I got a quick moment of bliss in our four hour drive to Charlotte while each kiddo took a well deserved nap, mouths wide open.

Arriving at our last camp ground in South Carolina we all got the chance to “dance” out our left over energy from the day. AT and Brooks led our Moonup with another thought-provoking question of “what’s the scariest thing you’ve ever seen?” We all realized how nice it is to reflect on whatever life has thrown our way and how we’ve grown. It shows us that sharing moments of vulnerability with people we trust can make us even more grateful for the bonds we share while being placed in this journey filled with adventure together.

Waking up for a fun-filled Monday, we departed for our last adventure together at the whitewater center (without the white water of course!). Carter jet to the front of the group and showed us all how to bravely embrace the 100 foot free fall. She then proceeded to the double zip line run and got stuck mid way which gave us all a laugh as she got rescued safely. Mike faced his fear and conquered the jump as well, happy to place his feet on the ground and ready to race for the zip line! He then helped prepare our final lunch together of delicious PB&J’s. Once our stomachs were full, we had an afternoon filled with cleaning our gear and getting ready for banquet. Henry, once again, had us all in hysterics after selecting his perfect outfit for our banquet dinner. He looked dashing in his new coat and lucky charm hat.  Jeb rocked the lunatic hat also looking very dapper to say the least. Livie and Gigi convinced some of the crew to get matching pajama pants, which were hilarious. Allie wore a new Hawaiian shirt and sunglasses being most appropriately dressed for the “mountains to sea” occasion. John got a new hairdo (thanks to Sophia) for the special occasion and brought back the Mohawk. Gus’ pizza certainly has a night to remember because of us. They graciously welcomed our wild crew as we happily ate our last meal together.

We excitedly got back to camp to get our stuff out of the rain and have our final Moonup. This special Moonup was led by Gigi and Robert. Robert opened up the discussion with an unforgettable quote that reminded us how important it is to enjoy each step of every journey. That it is not the destination or figuring out the outcome of an adventure, but the moments of bliss we have along the way.  Reflecting on all the small moments that made our trip so uniquely unforgettable and then falling asleep to the sound of rain.

Lee, Sam and I are reluctant to have to send our new friends on their way but we know the bonds will last forever.  A reunion is in hopes for the future but until then we will bask in the memories of our Moondance summer together!

Sophia: I loved the whole trip. Made so many friends and memories I have learned a lot from everyone!

Livie: I loved this trip and I’ll never forget the fiends and memories! It’s so sad to say goodbye after everything we’ve been through.

Allie: I can’t believe this trip ended so quickly! I had the greatest funniest moments ever with my new friends over the past 2 weeks. I will miss my Moondance fam so much and wish I had more time to spend with them. This trip has changed my life forever.

Gigi: I loved this trip so much! I will never forget the people that were by my side the whole time and this trip has changed my life forever.

AT: This trip went by so fast! I will miss all of my new friends so much!

Jeb: The trip was amazing and it went by in the blink of an eye. I will miss everything and everyone.

Michael: This trip was an amazing experience. I made so many new friends and I will miss all of… Henry.

Henry: This trip is one of the best experiences I have ever had. I made many new friends and I never thought I could do some of the things that I did.

John: This trip was one of the greatest experiences of my life. I will never forget it because of how much fun I had and how many friends I made.

Brooks: The trip was very fun! I am very thankful for the opportunity and definitely returning!

Carter: I had a lot of fun in the trip and I want to come back again! I loved the white water rafting and other activities. I hope we can go back to some of the places we went.

Robert: I’ve had fun the entire trip and I’m sad that it’s over. I did my best to live in the moment and I was rewarded for that.

From the mountains to the sea!

June 26, 2016

After arriving to James Island County Park in the evening of Wednesday, June 22nd, we all realized how glad we were to have made it to the coast. This relief was then quickly morphed into some form of precipitation profusely pouring out of the sweat glands of the entire group. “Welcome to James Island” the park attendant told us as we stepped into the thick air of  Charleston’s “low country”, and wow, I do not believe we could get any lower!

Moral was kept high through pure excitement as we unpacked the u-haul and all reflected on the climate change on our “Mountains to Sea” journey. Cook crew was set in charge of feeding the heard of teens with some, requested by all for the second time, tortilla pizzas filled with mozzarella, pepperoni, onions, and spinach. By the time we all realized how full and happy we had been made by the pizzas, Moonup had begun with John and Allie leading the way as Leaders of the Day. After days and days on end with jokes and humor overflowing out of these hilarious individuals, it was nice to sit down as a family and speak with serious intentions and sentiment. “Why did you pick Moondance?” asked John as we all thought quickly to add our input into the diversity of the groups answers; speaking on the love for the outdoors, adventure, and just the simplest mindset of “just getting out there” for new experiences. After this worthwhile reflection, it was finally time for bed, as the bullfrogs supplied the white noise in the background free of charge.

Thursday morning, we were all in for an early wake-up call, as we distributed food and supplies for our journey out to Capers island by means of two person sea kayaks. Everything brought was of the utmost importance, as we would be out on this island without any connection with the world we left behind. Finally getting to the put-in for our kayaks on the outskirts of Charleston, we met our guides for the next two days – Geoff and Storm. We were each supplied with dry bags for which to hold all of our supplies for Capers Island – holding dry our rations and gear to keep exposed our minds and bodies for the experiences of the intercostal waterways. Geoff and Storm taught us how to properly pack our two person kayaks, and coached us on paddling technique that would prove to be most effective. As we set off into the marsh, we began the see the biodiversity and raw nature we would be exposed to. Our paddle to the island on the edge of the estuary was a good 2 hours of conversation and work ethic, taking in the nature made tangible by our boats. Dolphins, pelicans, and sea grass were all in reaching distance during this shared experience that was enjoyed immensely by all.

After reaching the island and seeing our home for the night, camp was coordinated and formed into the sand. Geoff, our guide, put in perspective all of the sand that engulfed the beach; he stated “All sand has come over millions of years down from the mountains, breaking up into the grains you see today to form the beaches you are now sitting on. You all have come from the mountains and are here now sitting, equally connected to the environment for tonight you’ll make your camp in.” Allie was awesome in her making of pb&j’s and Nutella wraps for the group’s lunch, with fruit as a sweet side dish. After lunch, we all raced into the ocean for a well-deserved and cooling swim. The water was warm but still cooled our bodies, as we decided to play a favorite game of ours, “big booty,” in the ocean. After wearing ourselves out and retreating to the beach for some hydration and sunscreen, Geoff and Storm offered up a hike around the uninhabited island. They spoke of alligators, deer, and coastal forests that we would be exposed to. We then started our two mile hike around the north tip of the island to the “Boneyard”. The Boneyard is a section of beach where giant dead trees are being washed by the salt water and stained by the sun to create large white forms resembling dinosaur bones. Geoff and Storm gave us a marine biology lesson as we walked by pool after pool filled with crabs, snails, hermit crabs, sea stars, and oysters. They showed us the huge impact the tide has every day by supporting so many creatures and changing the landscape for even more to come. Robert couldn’t contain his excitement as he ran from tidal pool to tidal pool searching for next discoveries from the creatures that lie within.

Getting back to camp after our walk, we all realized how tired we had become. Dinner was provided by cook crew as a beautiful example of a back-country meal, rice and beans with chicken. After our stomachs were full and spirits lifted, we set up for an awesome photo shoot leading into our seaside Moonup, as the sunset was imminent. We invited Geoff and Storm to our sunset Moonup as they were welcomed with open arms by the group. After a 5-minute moment of silence watching the sun vanish beyond the horizon, Jeb and Sophia provided a great question to go along with our unbelievable setting. They stated “What are you going to miss most about Moondance?” A question easily answered by the scene we were placed in at the very moment. Beauty found with the people we shared this amazing sunset. After Moonup, our guides built us a beach fire, and for payment we proceeded to include them in one of our infamous big-booty games. We sat by the fire and gazed at the stars as Storm and Geoff shared more wisdom. Showing us Mars, the Big Dipper, and the Milky Way (these barrier island being one of the few places in the area you can view them). We all went to bed tired with excitement for the next day under a rising Spanish red moon.

A select group woke up the next morning at 6am to join Geoff and Storm for some Sunrise yoga. Gigi, Anne Travis, Carter, and leader Lee were all lucky enough to see the sun leave the horizon and then gently come back over it 10 hours later. After packing up camp and eating a warm bowl of oatmeal for breakfast, the group was ready for some hard paddling. The group did an amazing job at overcoming the wind and showed toughness both physically and mentally. The kayak of Michael and Brooks got a kick out of a little segment of speed competition with the kayak of leaders, Sam and Lee – the results are still subject to some speculation by a 3rd party.

After driving into town, we had the opportunity explore historic King St. in Charleston. After three hours of exploring, we joined back together to show off our purchases and get into the van to cool down. Julia was nice enough to do some group laundry during this time, and the kids were treated to some fresh clothes! These clothes would have to be put to the perspiration test as we headed back to James Island County Park to camp for the night. Cook crew whipped up an awesome spaghetti dinner that everyone enjoyed immensely. We settled into camp for Moonup led by Michael and Carter. They asked the question “What is your favorite thing about the outdoors?” This question spurred thoughts centered on the ideals of Moondance, and we shared opinions centered on the environments we have been in for the past 12 days.

Saturday morning, the group travelled to Folly Beach for some surf lessons. Our instructor, Chris, told us how much he loved all we had been doing on our trip, and he was so excited to get us out into the waves. After sharing some knowledge on the tides and wind condition, Chris showed us firsthand how fun the waves of South Carolina could be. The 3 to 5 foot surf proved to be great means of fun, as everyone tried their hardest to master the technique and mentality of a true surfer. John was out to a great start catching some awesome waves and riding them to shore. Henry was still characterized by his standout camo shirt that he has been wearing all trip. Who knew that a surfer wearing camo was that easy to see in the ocean?

After our lesson, we travelled to our stand-up paddle boarding outfitter to eat our pre-packed lunches. Big John would be our guide to explore the waterways throughout the marsh, and he would prove to be a huge hit with the kids. The easy-going nature of standup paddle boarding was a relaxing way to go about our afternoon, as the kids caught on quickly to maneuvering the boards and began swimming. Jeb, Henry, and Brooks were in a constant battle of seeing who could stay on their board after being messed with by the other, hoping for a plunge into the waters of the river. After finishing our paddle board adventure, we hopped in the van to get treated to some air conditioning and travel back to camp. After getting back to James Island campground, the leaders rewarded the kids with some well-deserved ice cream comes after a long day in the heat! Cook crew then cooked up some breakfast for dinner, which turned out to be a huge hit. Banana and Chocolate chip pancakes complemented with bacon was a wonderful way to end the day.

Livie and Henry led Moonup after dinner and started off with the question “What is the coolest thing you have ever seen?” Answers were spread out from some special shared moments with loved ones, to amazing wildlife and awesome scenery. After Moonup, we all retired to sleep in our tents. Sunday morning, we woke up to get to Folly Beach for another round of surf lessons led again by Chris. This morning was characterized by some big egos; after all, we had been surfing once before and knew everything there was to know about the pastime. We realized how much we enjoyed surfing this second go around, how peaceful the waves were and how good the warm sun felt on our shoulders. Sophia wore a rash guard provided by our instructors and truly looked the part of a real surfer. After finishing up and thanking everyone at Shaka Surf School, we stopped to get sandwiches and started our journey towards Charlotte and our final night’s campground.

After spending the past couple of days at sea level and getting to know each other even more, I can’t express how much I admire the spirits of all of these individuals. The passion they have for each activity and interaction they are a part of is truly inspiring and it is contagious to be around! As the trip is winding down and our relationships grow closer, we all can only hope that we get the most out of everything we do together and close on an amazing note.

Shout outs:
“I learned how to sea kayak!” -Gigi

“I learned how to surf and I actually rode some waves” -Anne Travis

“I learned to surf and I saw bioluminescent at capers island!” -Jeb

“I slept in straight up sand and learned to surf” -Brooks

“I got to sea kayak to an island and sleep on it and I learned how to surf!” -Michael

“I enjoyed surfing, swimming in an island and shopping! Boneyard beach at Capers Island was awesome, wish you could’ve seen it!” -Allie

“I caught a wave by myself while surfing and we found a bunch of different types of wildlife like crabs and horseshoe crabs on Boneyard beach!” -Carter

“I caught six waves and saw some dolphins up close while sea kayaking!” -Livie

“I learned how to surf and kayaked to an island and slept in the sand… I did stand up paddle boarding and have had a blast hanging out with my Moondance friends!” -Henry

“I slept on an uninhabited island and am way better at surfing now than before I came!” -John

“I learned how to surf and sea kayak and deal with natural conditions on a beach! I learned about different types of sea animals and it was a lot of fun.” -Robert

“I learned how to surf on folly beach and I paddle boarded and it was really cool!” -Sophia

North Carolina Mountain Fun

June 22, 2016

On Sunday, June 19, we woke up bright and early to raft the entire Ocoee River with the Nantahala Outdoor Center as our guide. Once we suited up in our PFD’s and helmets, and listened to the safety speech we divided into 3 rafts and the fun ensued. We started off maneuvering through what is referred to as “The Jungle” and stayed relatively dry (but not for long!) We then made our way into the scenic Olympic segment, used in the 1996 Olympics, of the river surrounded by people watching an cheering us on from the bank. After hitting some huge rapids, most notably “End of the World”, we stopped for lunch complements of the NOC.

The sugar cookies seemed to be a crowd favorite as they disappeared in a matter of minutes. We then trekked onto the most rigorous, but entertaining section of the river; the middle. The middle section is more challenging because unlike the previous two it involves almost no breaks as the rapids hit one after another, meaning everyone had to be alert and listening tentatively to our more than capable guides Parker, Brian, and Henry. When we dropped in everyone seemed a little more anxious, but that feeling was quickly replaced by an exhilarating spike in adrenaline. The two rapids that were unanimously considered the favorites were two that hit one after another with no lag time for preparation, Table Saw and Diamond Splitter, which invoked wide smiles and soaked boats. The water was freezing but relieving from the hot sun that had been beating down since the early morning. As we came through the last rapid Powerhouse, you could sense a feeling of relief as we had been conquering these class 3 and 4 Rapids for nearly 5 hours. After thanking our guides for an incredible day (and getting on some dry clothes) we loaded up the van to head to Turkey Creek campsite for dinner.

Due to popular demand we had Raman Noodles for dinner, which was preceded by an intense 3 on 3 football game with the boys while the girls hung around laughing and getting to know one another a little better. Following dinner our Leaders of the Day (LOD’s) Michael and Allie gathered the troops for our nightly Moonup in which we reflected on our highs and lows of the day before some long awaited showers and finally some shut-eye.

On Monday our LOD’s Brooks and Livie woke us up at the crack of dawn to head to the Nantahala River for a day filled with activities. We began the day in personal duckies (inflatable kayaks) floating down the Nanny’s white water rapids, which were a little less demanding but no less exciting than the Ocoee’s from the previous day. Anne Travis and Robert led the group down the river, while the rest of us followed. Unlike the day before, today we had a few spills on the river (don’t worry, no injuries!) that were hilarious. Michael and Henry were bringing up the rear when both got stuck on a rock and couldn’t stop laughing. Jeb, Livie, and Carter all fell out but hopped right back in and kept a great attitude despite the water being a chilling 53 degrees! After finishing up on the river, we headed to the NOC’s adventure zip line and rock climbing park. Allie was tearing it up, as she did both ropes course sections twice. She couldn’t get enough! The half mile zip line was a huge hit, especially after a long day of paddling. After we finished up there, we packed in the van to head back to North Carolina and the Davidson River Camp ground. Cook crew helped prepare some delicious spaghetti that left everyone fully satisfied. Brooks and Livie led Moon-up, asking a very thought provoking question; “what was the most difficult circumstance thus far in your life?” One that brought the kids together as they dug a little deeper into their personal lives and realized they have more in common than they thought. Henry still hasn’t hanged shirts (per a bet with the leaders) which has been a hilarious reoccurring theme throughout the last few days. He is determined to prove us wrong and receive the “mysterious prize” we have promised him. After Moon-up we retreated to our respective tents to get some much needed sleep before yet another full day. Gigi and Henry woke up the group on Tuesday the 21st, as we had to meet our rock climbing guides, Rick and Mike, by 8:15. We hiked a little ways near Looking Glass Falls before reaching the 100 foot rock face that we were set to conquer. After everyone reached the top once, the guides organized some awesome challenges for the group. Gigi and Livie, as well as Sophia and leader Sam, had their legs tied together and had to use team work, communication, and determination to overcome the steepest of the 4 lines the guides set up. Sophia was particularly nervous but she was set on getting to the top, and she ended up climbing more than any other student. Rock on Sophia! Carter, Jeb, and Michael all climbed blind folded, harnessing their inner monkey and shocking us all. John took part in the speed climbing challenge blazing to the top before we could blink. After thanking or wonderful guides we ate lunch and headed to sliding rock. Despite the line, the entire group slid down 7-8 times. Every kid had a smile from ear to ear and could not stop laughing when the others would slide down. The water was incredibly cold but sliding rock was definitely a great and relaxing way to cap off a full day. For dinner we cooked hot dogs, hamburgers, mac & cheese, and everyone ate more than enough. Before Moonup we played a 6v6 football game with everyone, and John caught 4 touchdowns while Allie also had an awesome TD catch. Once everyone was nice and tired, Henry and Gigi gathered the crew for a really special Moon-up. Their question was really difficult because of its personal and heartfelt nature; “what has been the happiest moment of your life so far?” It was inspiring to hear all of these new friends share with each other their most significant accomplishments and emotional experiences. This Moon-up captured the family atmosphere as smiles and laughs were contagious. The kids got to sleep in today, Wednesday June 22nd, before we broke down camp and started to head to Charleston, South Carolina. On our way to Chuck-town, we stopped by the Moondance office in Asheville for some much anticipated ice cream and finally getting to meet the Moondance staff. It was both delicious and a blast! We are halfway through the trip with so much left to do! Could not be more proud of this group and all we have accomplished together!

Shout outs:

Sophia: Happy Father’s Day sanddaddy! <3 We listen to GD in the car everyday! Sick tunes man!

Livie: Happy Father’s Day! I fell out of my ducky cause a man pushed me into a rock, then floated down the river until I found a ducky to get in!

Allie: happy Father’s Day dad! Miss you so much and wish I was there with you! Hope you celebrated with lots of coffee and bike riding!!

Gigi: Happy Father’s Day dad! I love you and miss you so much! 🙂 I went duckying and stayed on! Wish you were with me.

Anne Travis: hfd dad! I got my ducky stuck in a tree but I’m good! I went rock climbing and it was so fun! Miss you both! See you soon!

Brooks: happy Father’s Day daddy! Give Maxi lots of kisses and tell Colson one of my leaders is just like Mac

Carter: Happy Father’s Day! We went white water rafting down the Ocoee and Nantahala rivers. I got my own ducky and tipped over 😛   When we went rock climbing, I climbed up with my eyes closed and right hand behind my back.

Jeb: We whitewater rafted down the Ocoee and duckied the Nantahala and I fell off going down a rapid then we rock climbed and it was fun.

John: Happy Fathers Day dad! We whitewater rafted down the Ocoee and Nantahala rivers. Then we rock climbed, I’m having so much fun!

Michael: Happy Fathers Day dad! I whitewater rafted on the Ocoee and duckied on the Nantahala, it was really fun! Rock climbing was awesome.

Henry: Happy Father’s Day! I whitewater rafted in a single person ducky, it was so fun. I rock climbed twice and it was awesome. I have had a great time so far. Can’t wait to learn to surf! Welcome to Moondance!

Robert: Today is Father’s Day, so Happy Fathers Day dad and grandad. We went whitewater rafting and we also went rock climbing. It was so much fun. I miss you guys.

New Friends, New Skills & Games Galore

June 18, 2016

The hardest part of the trip has been conquered and we have officially summit the highest peak east of the Mississippi!

The first day at the Davidson river campsite was prime for enjoying a night under the stars. We played in the river which was cool and refreshing. During our first moon-up we discussed our goals for the trip after the pizza party. The group bonded by having common ground of wanting to make new friendships and enjoy the outdoors.  Starting our hike down on Thursday we were welcomed with blue skies and many rhododendron bushes. Carter led the group because she was selected as leader of the day, as well as Jeb. They did an awesome job keeping track of the entire group. The trek down had some slippery rocks and big roots which were tricky to work around but everyone made it down safely. Once we made it down to our campsite at commissary ridge we had a lesson on purifying water with iodine. After our safety lessons were covered the games began! Henry won big booty by making everyone laugh with his impersonation of a “birthed carrot” during the veggie off. We finished off the day light with an intense game of capture the flag. Having a late dinner of chicken and pasta we discussed our highs and lows of the day, everyone was happy to get a heavy bag off their back after our hike.

The next day AT and John were our leaders of the day (LOD’s), and AT set the pace for the hike to the top. It was cold and cloudy but we still had a good time playing big booty at the summit and eating sandwiches. After our hike down we had another game of capture the flag and Brooks set up his hammock for anyone to relax in. Gigi challenged the group with her skills in ninja. Once we finished up with games the LODS took cook crew to get fresh water for dinner. Allie and Livie were a huge help cutting peppers and onions for our Tex-Mex feast. In the midst of cooking dinner we found ourselves sitting in a huge cloud and it began to pour rain. Luckily, Michael aka “dirty mike,” grabbed his tarp to build a shelter. Sophia did a great job of helping tie up the tarp for everyone to sit under during moon-up and dinner. We discussed when we were the happiest that day and everyone was pumped to get a good meal under the warm shelter. Robert and Sophia were selected as LOD’s for today. They set the pace on the way back up with our packs which was challenging. We had a few spills but everyone supported each other and we celebrated with lunch at Zaxbys.

Now we are on our way to Tennessee to start white water rafting tomorrow!

Shout outs:
“I learned to tie two sick knots!”- Sophia

“I climbed down Mount Mitchell with no stops”- Livie

“I climbed and reached the summit of Mount Mitchell” -Robert

“I climbed to the top of Mount Mitchell with a backpack!!”-Gigi

“I learned how to turn stream water into drinking water.” -John

“I climbed up to the summit of Mount Mitchell!” -AT
“I ate at Zaxbys for the first time!”- Brooks

“I climbed Mount Mitchell with a backpack” -Michael

“I climbed up and down mount Mitchell with a heavy backpack.” -Henry

“I learned how to change dirty water into clean water.” -Allie

“I fell on my face but got back up and backpacked up Mount Mitchell! Feeling great!” -Carter

“I climbed Mount Mitchell and learned how to purify creek water.” -Jeb