June 27, 2017
“But if adventure has a final and all-embracing motive it is surely this: we go out because it is in our nature to go out, to climb mountains and to sail the seas, to fly to the planets and plunge into the depths of the oceans. By doing these things we make touch with something outside or behind, which strangely seems to approve our doing them. We extend our horizon, we expand our being, we revel in the mastery of ourselves, which gives an impression, mainly illusory, that we are masters of the world. In a word, we are men, and when man ceases to do these things, he is no longer a man” – Wilfred Noyce
These past couple of days have been filled with fun times beginning with our trip to the US National Whitewater Center. The US National Whitewater Center, which is an Olympic training site, was amazing to see and was definitely a highlight of our trip. At the center, we did zip lining across a man made canyon and conquered a ropes course. Will got stuck in the center of the zip line and was pulled across by a facilitator and he laughed the whole time. Finley even did a forty-foot free jump (connected to a harness, of course). The whitewater center proved itself to be an incredible final activity.
After the whitewater center, we surprised the kids and took them to a car wash, where they helped us clean the U-Haul and van! They were thrilled about this surprise and were ever so thankful to be vacuuming sand and collecting garbage together as a group. After the mildew-like smell was scrubbed away, we headed to Goodwill to get ready for our final banquet! Everyone took the time to find the most epic outfits to wear to our banquet dinner at Jo Mar’s restaurant, which was a meal to remember. The group strutted through the restaurant in their crazy outfits with confidence!
As of this morning, our glorious, fantastic, joyous journey together has come to a close. Mitch, Grace, and I said our goodbyes to your kids and sadly returned to an empty van. It’s not the same without Mason’s energetic soul boosting everyone up or J.P.’s desire to educate others on music. We miss Finley and Camille’s smiley faces in the far back seats, the sound of Will’s laughter filling the van, and Sam’s passion for spotting Dodge challengers. We miss Matt E’s determination to accomplish his goals, Matt S’s thirst for knowledge, Olivia’s energetic spirit, Marlin’s grateful attitude, and A.P.’s hilarious personality.
This group has absolutely transformed from day one to day 14 and we are so proud of every single child. They have accomplished so much in the past two weeks- backpacking, whitewater rafting, duckying, rock climbing, kayaking, surfing, and paddle boarding! Through these activities, they have learned so much about themselves and grown as human beings in wonderful ways. Thank you for sharing your kids with us for these past two weeks. It has been a pleasure to get to know them, laugh with them, teach them, and learn from them. To our students, remember, we are always under the same moon. We will adore you all forever!
With great sincerity,
Mitch, Grace, and Emily
June 26, 2017
Thursday morning everyone practically jumped out of bed ready to surf on Folly Beach! Our LOD’s, Mason and A.P. were ready to take the day by storm. Before we left for our activity, we sat around our campsite table eating cheerios for breakfast and enjoying the company of one another. It’s amazing to see how kids connect with each other when they are removed from the everyday world where technology often reigns. The conversations they have range from being hilarious to poignant and it’s been a treat to witness their relationships with one another form. We bought some very potent sunscreen and headed out to meet the Shaka surf school instructors for our first surfing lesson.
Prior to becoming surfers, our instructors helped us become yogis by leading a group yoga session in the sand. After doing some sun salutations and tree poses, we drew surfboards in the sand and learned how to stand up on the board before hitting the water. We followed one another like ducks in a row carrying surfboards on top of our heads towards the ocean. Our instructors said the waves were rough and there was lots of whitewater, but that didn’t intimidate anyone from giving it their best shot. Will used his swimmer-like wingspan to paddle through some intense whitewater to reach “the safe zone”, where the waves don’t break. Sam followed suit and rode a wave all the way to the beach with a gigantic smile on his face! Marlin is a surfer at heart and everyone agrees she should pursue the sport in her everyday life.
After our first surfing lesson ended, we headed straight to our paddle boarding activity, which was a blast. We thoroughly enjoyed a calm paddle out in the Folly River, which is the second most bio diverse ecosystem in the entire world! Matt E. paddled amazingly and was often leading the way with the guides. Mason covered himself with mud and jumped off his paddleboard several times to enjoy the water. Unfortunately, A.P. lost a chaco in the mud that was not salvageable, but that didn’t bring her down one bit, which speaks volumes about her positive outlook. We even spotted dolphins during our “SUP Safari” and our guide mentioned that a National Geographic episode about bottlenose dolphins was filmed in that exact spot, which was amazing. After our stand up paddleboarding activity, we headed to the Folly Beach pier, where we had ice cream and enjoyed the beach. Later that evening A.P. and Mason led Moonup and asked the question, “Who is your role model”?
Today, we woke up and went to our second surfing lesson with Shaka surf! After experiencing more difficult ocean conditions on the first day, it was such a treat to walk up to the beach and see rolling glass like waves complete with small barrels and the perfect amount of white water. It was simply perfect. Everyone reached “the safe zone” and the majority of people got up on multiple waves! Matt S. got knocked over by several waves, but his perseverance never faltered and he did amazingly! While on the beach, J.P. said, “it’s so sad this trip is coming to a close” and each student solemnly agreed with him. We took in our last moments at the beach together before heading out of Charleston back towards North Carolina.
Everyone was pretty tired during the drive and got some well-deserved rest! However, when we arrived at our campsite, Andrew Jackson campground, every student’s energy levels were high and we played some incredible rounds of a fan favorite game called birdie on a perch. Will and Olivia were champions three times in a row and have dominated the game, in my humble opinion. Afterwards, we did an activity where each student was able to find out what his or her leadership style is. The students took this seriously and discussed how they could use their natural skill sets to their advantage and how they could gain skills in other leadership styles that may not come as naturally. Finley and Camille even took the time to talk with me to understand their individual leadership styles in depth, which impressed me greatly. Tonight we are cooking burgers and hot dogs and we are excited to see what our LOD’s, Marlin and Sam have in store for Moonup tonight! Finley, Camille, and I are about to set up our enos and are looking forward to sleeping outside under the stars tonight! I cannot fathom that this trip is ending the day after tomorrow and I am sad thinking about it, so for the time being, I won’t think about it! Stay tuned for one final update!
Camille: Happy birthday William!
Finley: Happy birthday Mom!
Olivia: See you soon mama!
Will: Love you family!
Matt S.: Happy birthday Dad!
Sam: I miss you! I’m having a fun time!
Matt E.: I’ll be home soon keep on keeping on!
Mason: I love you guys see you soon!
Marlin: Everyone did great surfing today and I was glad I got to go! Love you!
A.P.: Love and miss you guys! Having fun!
June 23, 2017
“All of us need to explore, Go out there and see what’s beyond the next horizon. When you get there, your heart beats a little faster, you’re focused, you’re living in the moment. It’s those experiences that are the richest in life”. – Conrad Anker
We have arrived safely in Charleston, South Carolina! We’ve had a great couple of sunny, fun filled days in this fantastic city. Our first night here we stayed at James Island Campground, where we spotted tree frogs at every turn and enjoyed each other’s company thoroughly. At the campsite, A.P. and Olivia assisted us in making sandwiches for our kayaking expedition and earned the nicknames “peanut butter queens” because of the insane amount of peanut butter that ended up all over their faces. For Moonup that night, Camille and Matt S. chose a fascinating question, “If you could live in any time period, what would it be?” It was a great one and the kids’ replies were quite interesting and thoughtful. We went to bed that night ready to kayak the next morning!
That morning we drove to meet our Coastal Expedition guides, Kevin and Hannah, who were awesome and helpful. We arrived to our departure site and loaded ourselves along with our stuff into seven tandem kayaks. We kayaked through marshes and across some sections of open Ocean. We were so lucky to be able to paddle to Capers Island, where we got to camp out on an overnight! The kids were thrilled to be setting up tents on the beach. After we set up our tents, the sparkling waters seemed to scream our names and everyone immediately leaped in. We saw a wide range of wildlife, including dolphins, a small shark, and a horseshoe crab, which Mason initially believed to be a bucket. Marlin, A.P., and I covered ourselves in mud, which our guide said was used in local spas for facial treatments! Everyone caught the swimming bug and didn’t get out until we pulled them out of the water.
Our guides were kind enough to take us on a hike around the island, which was a special treat. Will, J.P., Mason, and Matt E. found a bunch of cool crabs and fish on our route. They are truly becoming ones with nature! We walked through an area called “the boneyard”, which was composed of eroded trees that used to be the center of the island. Once we arrived back at the campsite, Finley, Camille, and Olivia wrote Moondance in the sand complete with gorgeous shells and Sam impressed us all with his sand castle building skills. Mason collected clams and someone on the island was kind enough to cook them for him!
Everyone agreed it was an incredible day (it was our first without any rain, but everyone knows it never rains on Moondance). The sunrays warmed us the entire day and the picturesque view of the glowing waters and rolling fields from our campsite was unrivaled. Will and Olivia led a cool Moonup and asked a thoughtful question, “What is your greatest fear in life?” Everyone went to bed listening to the sounds of the waves crashing on the shore. In the morning, we woke up and kayaked back to the mainland. The wind was strong, but the kids were unwavering in their paddling efforts and performed incredibly on the ride back. They were rewarded with showers and a town day in Charleston, where we explored the markets! There might be sand everywhere, but this crew is reveling in the beach life! Tomorrow we will surf and paddleboard, which everyone is looking forward to. We only have three days left, but we will treasure every last moment we have with one another.
June 21, 2017
“To those who have struggled with them, the mountains reveal beauties they will not disclose to those who make no effort. That is the reward the mountains give to effort. And it is because they have so much to give and give it so lavishly to those who will wrestle with them that people love the mountains and go back to them again and again… The mountains reserve their choice gifts for those who stand upon their summits”. – Sir Francis Youngblood
The speed at which this trip is progressing is unbelievable! We are already on day eight! Yesterday, we awoke ready to do some climbing on the famous Looking Glass Rock! We arrived at the climbing site feeling determined and prepared to take on new feats. Our guides, Stewart and Rick, helped us adjust our helmets and harnesses and demonstrated important safety practices to implement during our climb. Everyone traversed the rock with tactful skill! Marlin completed every run on the rock with inspiring poise and confidence. She and Mason, who conquered every run with a sense of pure joy, definitely have a knack for rock climbing. I spent our time at Looking Glass rock hanging from an anchor above the runs so that I could take photos of the kids reaching the top. The only word to describe that experience is priceless. I wish all of you could have given A.P. a high five when she conquered her fear of heights on one of the most difficult runs, or seen the ear to ear smile on Matt E.’s face while he took in the enormity of what he had just accomplished. By the end of the activity, everyone looked like an absolute pro and on the hike down from Looking Glass J.P. and A.P. shared their riveting life stories and kept us entertained on the whole way down.
After Looking Glass, we traveled to Sliding Rock, where everyone slid down into freezing cold water! Olivia, Camille, A.P., Finley, and Marlin slid down the rock in a train-like fashion, which was hilarious to see. Matt S. and Mason slid down the rock at least six times. The kids’ faces when they hit the water were incomparable. We then took the kids to Dolly’s Ice Cream! Will was so excited to be at Dolly’s and A.P. was his paparazzi the entire time he ate his ice cream cone. At dinner, Sam busted out incredible dance moves that impressed us all. Each student made their own tortilla pizza for dinner and their creativity was splendid! Marlin chopped up all the pepperoni and peppers, which everyone was thankful for. Matt E. and Marlin led an awesome Moonup that was filled with excessive amounts of laughter. The students’ cackling was causing them to roll backwards in their crazy creek chairs. They elected Camille and Matt S. as LOD’s for today!
Their leadership has been essential today on our ride to Charleston, SC, where the last leg of our trip will take place! We have some fun times ahead with sea kayaking, surfing, and paddle boarding! Today we went to Zaxby’s and Mason got a sugar high from a Zaxby’s brownie. Currently, we are in the van taking song requests and having a blast. A four and a half hour car ride is a treat to look forward to with this amusing group of individuals! They have accomplished so much throughout their time with us and you all should be incredibly proud. This trip has been fabulous and we are cherishing every last second we have left. We’ll be back in touch soon!
Marlin: I hope you’re having fun in Florida! I love you and miss you! I am having fun!
A.P.: Hope you’re having fun in Cali! Love you guys miss you!
Mason: Hello! Having a great time I hope y’all are doing okay love ya!
Sam: It’s really fun and everyone is chanting for the fat rat [a singer]!
Matt E.: Love you mom and dad!
Will: I love you!
J.P.: Happy fathers day!
Matt S.: I love you!
Finley: Happy birthday mom!
Camille: I’m having fun!
Olivia: Don’t forget to water my plants and I love you!
June 19, 2017
On our drive to the Parksville Lake Campground, we stopped at Ingles to restock on a couple of essential Moondance food staples: Nutella and peanut butter. What delicacies! On a side note, no one has yet to tire of sandwiches and it’s not uncommon for Matt E. to eat three in one meal. We pulled up to the Ingles parking lot when suddenly the group spotted a shopping cart gone rogue. This shopping cart was going about 30mph downhill approaching a large curb in front of a field. The shopping cart crashed into the curb and did a full 360-degree flip in the air. Eggs and tea were flying in the air and exploded with a splash when they hit the ground. Everyone’s jaw was on the floor. It was incredible, the definition of epic. Whoever has video footage of that scene at the parking lot is a lucky person because we all agreed it was one of the coolest things we had ever seen. Luckily, the customer who had just bought the food laughed it off.
It wouldn’t be a complete update without mentioning the shopping cart, but back to the activities! The group arrived at the Parksville Lake Campground and everyone was initiated into the Secret Moon Society. It’s a secret, so I can’t reveal any insider information. For dinner, Matt S. was Grace’s sous chef extraordinaire during the preparation of a fantastic spaghetti meal. Later that night, Olivia and Will led an amazing Moonup and asked the question, “What is your spirit animal”? Sam said his spirit animal would be a hedgehog because “they’re cute, until the spikes come out”! His creative answer left the entire group in stitches. Olivia and Will elected the dynamic duo of J.P. and Finley as LOD’s to guide us through the next day, which consisted of whitewater rafting!
Whitewater rafting was a hit, to say the least. We warmed up for the day with the trunk trunk trunk trunk branch branch star exercise. It tends to be a crowd pleaser. We rafted the upper and middle sections of the Ocoee River, which consisted of awesome rapids like “Diamond Splitter” and “Broken Nose”. We even got to raft on the section of the Ocoee where the 1996 Olympics slalom events were held. Your kids are basically Olympians now. Mason and Matt S. took the helm of our boat and carefully listened to the river commands given to us by our guide, Kleinis. A.P.’s joy was contagious throughout the entirety of our rafting trip and Olivia was hesitant at first, but once we reached the middle section of the Ocoee she exclaimed that rafting was “dope”. For the last half of our time on the river, it rained sideways, but that did not hold a single person back from having fun. Everyone jumped in the water and swam alongside the boats in the pouring rain. We got back in the van from whitewater rafting feeling absolutely overjoyed and accomplished. In my eyes, that is what the Moondance spirit is all about.
This morning (our sixth day!) we went duckying on the Nantahala River. We met our guides at the Nantahala Outdoor Center and went over safety procedures for the river and what to do in the scenario that someone falls out of the boat. Mason fell out of his boat, but quickly jumped back in with a smile on his face ready to get back to paddling. He said he enjoyed the swim though! It rained throughout our time on the river and dense fog prevailed, but Camille said it was super cool and felt like we were in a movie. At certain moments, the yellow boats (duckies) on the river reminded us of an insane game of bumper cars. We were provided with black wetsuits and everyone looked like ninjas dodging tree branches and rocks. The run we did on the river was full of class 2 rapids and even a class 3 rapid at the end called Nantahala falls. Everyone went down the falls like a champ! It was a fabulous time! Immediately afterward, we had a quick lunch and then headed over to the Nantahala Outdoor Center’s adventure rope course and zip-line. A.P. impressed us all by conquering her fear of heights and completing the ropes course before anyone else!
We are now headed to the Davidson River Campground in Brevard, NC where we will be based for tonight and tomorrow night. Mitch, Grace, and I want to reiterate how thrilled we are with every single student on this trip. They have bonded and become a powerful force ready to conquer every activity planned on our itinerary in stride. At the moment, Marlin’s uncanny impression of J.P. is making everyone, including me, laugh so hard, so I will sign off for now!
June 17, 2017
Cheerful greetings from the Mountains to Sea 1 group! It’s been a whirlwind couple of days and we are having an incredible start to our trip. On Wednesday, we woke up bright and early feeling excited to FINALLY meet our kids! Will and Matt S. were the first of the fam to arrive at the airport. They were integral additions to the welcome crew at the Delta baggage claim. Kids arrived throughout the morning and into the early afternoon by both car and plane. Many kids flew for the first time alone, and we were blown away by their independence and brave attitudes. What an accomplishment – and it was just the first day!
After everyone arrived, we packed our U-Haul and got into our fifteen-passenger van, which we have lovingly named Destiny. We traveled from Charlotte, NC to Curtis Creek Campground near Asheville. On the ride to our first campsite, Marlin and A.P. wowed us with their DJ skills. Despacito by Justin Bieber is a fan favorite in our van. We had pizza for dinner while we discussed “Leave No Trace” principles, which are vital to the Moondance experience. Afterwards, we demonstrated how to set up our fabulous homes for the next two weeks – tents!!! We were pleasantly surprised to see that many of our students were well versed in tent setup. Specifically, Mason and Matt S. have demonstrated impeccable outdoors skills. The creek running alongside our campsite was an enormous source of entertainment and joy. The kids were so excited to get into the creek. Sam was hesitant at first, but before we knew it he was taking full advantage of the water and wowing everyone with amazing rock finds.
On Moondance trips, we end each night with something called Moonup. During Moonup, everyone gathers in a circle while the Leaders of the Day (LODs) guide the group through a ritual that includes highs and lows of the day, a quote of the day, a question of the day, and “nugs” to fellow group members. Since it was the first night, Mitch, Grace, and I chose to ask the question “Why are you here”? The students’ answers blew us away and we were pleased that the kids opened up even though it was only the first night. For the first LODs, we chose Camille and Mason because of their kind spirits, positive attitudes, and ability to bring the group together. We were confident in their ability to lead the group on our first day of backpacking!
The next day we woke up bright and early ready to take on the day. We swapped everything from our duffel bags into our backpacks in the morning. We separated group gear and everyone pitched in to carry pieces of tents and ingredients for meals in their Moondance provided 40 liter backpacks! The kids’ attention during the “duffel shuffle” lesson was remarkable and much appreciated. We took off to the Mt. Mitchell trailhead with smiles from ear to ear and a van blasting with the top 50 hits. Dancing is an important part of our daily ritual. We showed the kids how to fit packs and everyone was a champ about it! Before we began the hike, Marlin blew me away by expressing how lucky she feels to be able to be on this trip. I agree with her wholeheartedly. It was a beautiful day and we took some photos then took off! We had some mountains to SEE! The weather was absolutely gorgeous and the students took advantage of the picture-perfect views of the Blue Ridge Mountains surrounding us. Camille said she gained some muscle from the hike! Everyone took to the trail with stride and we made it to our destination in record time. The kids helped us choose a campsite near Commissary Ridge and we were so lucky that the sun shone down on us the entire evening! We were happy to be next to a flowing water source, where the kids purified their water using iodine tablets. It’s amazing to see the kids realize the power of self-sufficiency in the backcountry. They learned to set up a tarp, cook meals on Whisperlite stoves, and even make bearitos, which are used to keep bears from getting into food in the backcountry. Camille and Mason led a fun Moonup with the question, “What would your B-list superpower be”? They chose Sam and Marlin to be the following day’s LODs because they knew Sam and Marlin would make an excellent team to lead the group on summit day! Moonup also included a fascinating light show performed by swarms of fireflies.
The next morning, we woke up ready to hike to the Mt. Mitchell summit, which is the highest peak east of the Mississippi! You all should be very proud of your kids because they performed amazingly on the hike and possessed positive attitudes even throughout difficult moments. On the hike, Olivia even exclaimed, “This is more fun than I thought it would be!” Matt E. embodied excellent Expedition Behavior throughout the hike up to the summit and had great conversations with everyone. We were near the top of the mountain when it began to downpour. The kids were disappointed in the rain until they realized that they have the power to choose whether they look at the rain in a positive or negative light. When we reached the summit, it was quite foggy and nothing was visible, but for a gorgeous minute the clouds parted and the kids reveled in the view they hiked up to. J.P. said it was “very cool.” Witnessing these kids recognize what they had accomplished was a beautiful sight to see! We began the hike back down to our tents and Finley led the group with gusto! Her leadership helped us return to our cozy campsite, where we played riveting games of mafia where J.P. was an epic narrator creating intricate story lines.
For Moonup, Sam and Marlin asked the vital question, “What are your goals for this trip?” As leaders, we were happy to hear their answers and will do everything in our power to help your kids achieve their goals over our time together. Camille, Finley, A.P., and Marlin led us with confidence back to the trailhead to meet up with our van, Destiny. The LODs, Olivia and Will helped us surprise the group with a congratulatory Chick-Fil-A meal! Will had us cracking up about a chicken the entire time. We’re in the van now prepping for our next activity, whitewater rafting! This is such a special group of kids and we are so thankful they are here with us. We cannot wait to see what is in store for the rest of our time together. We will report back soon!
Shout-Outs from the Kids:
Matt E.: Happy Father’s Day and I hope Ben has a great graduation!
J.P. Casey- Having fun! Tell Keller I said what’s good.
Mason- Happy Father’s Day! I hope you are enjoying your weekend.
Camille- Happy Father’s Day! I’m having a good time!
Finley- Happy Father’s Day and happy birthday to my mom!
Will- If you read this, tell me. I rule this place.
Olivia- Love you, but don’t forget to water my plants. My room better be done when I get home.
Marlin- Happy Father’s Day! The van rides are fun. I love you!
Matt S.- Happy Father’s Day!
A.P.- Happy Father’s Day! Miss you guys!
Sam- I’m having fun and I’m making new friends!
June 15, 2017
Hi Mountains to Sea Families!
After arriving in Charlotte yesterday, the group is headed into Pisgah National Forest for three beautiful days of backpacking. Stay tuned for the first update from the leaders after the group finishes hiking! We’re excited for this adventure to begin!
-The Moondance Administrative Team