Field Notes

Northern Lights 1B • June 13-July 3, 2018

Final Update!

July 3, 2018

Dear parents of the young people that make up the raucous Alaskan tribe we have been calling “Northern Lights 1B 2018”,

The emotions we are currently feeling are simultaneously warming our hearts and wrenching our guts. We are being hit by waves of realization that our beloved, weird, wild, joyous crew has actually disbanded. Our hearts are warm because we know we are lucky to have gotten to know these unique individuals on a deep level. We know that they are leaving Alaska changed for the better with their heads in a new space that will affect the way they carry themselves and consider the world. Our guts are wrenched because now we have to say goodbye to these lovely souls, hoping that we will see them again soon.

It has been truly inspiring to see these crazy young people reveal their true wacky selves over these past 3 weeks. Facilitating this experience in the outdoors for them has been an indescribable joy that we will never forget.

We can’t wait to see what these people do with their lives. We love each of them, and we mean that.

So thank you, parents, for allowing us to watch over your progeny (calling them children just wouldn’t feel right), and thank you for allowing them to participate in this magnificent journey.

 

Sincerely,

BoBo, Oakes, and Wick


We’ve made it out of the wilderness!

July 3, 2018

Our eight day backpacking excursion has been so fabulous. We started off with a bang- a steep uphill five mile day with heavy packs on our backs. Alston and Tara led the way as leaders of the day. With the help of lots of singing “The Climb” by Miley Cyrus and after completing our first of many river crossings, we made it to our first campsite tucked away in a stunning valley. The rain was coming down when we woke up the next morning, but some hash browns and a tarp kept us warm and dry. Our day ahead was long, a winding eight miles, and the group absolutely crushed it. We got super creative with ways to be loud to keep all the animals aware of our presence and away from us. William has a special knack for imitating a monkey, so he helped us out heaps. We had our first of many summer sausage and peanut butter lunches alongside a lovely lake. The sun had peaked out again and we were pumped. After continuing our way down following a river bed, we set up camp at an old hunting campsite. In our Moonup that night, we got to munch on some specialty oreos. The leaders, Abby and Grace, thoughtfully asked us to share about some people in our families. It was cool to get a glimpse of how much we all care about people at home. After some rest, we packed our packs and headed out for day three. We wandered over rolling hills. As he clouds parted, we got to see some pretty stunning views of snow capped mountains before us and behind us. Our lunch spot was right on top of one of the hills. We treated ourselves to a massage train which was much needed after lugging around our heavy packs. Next up was our biggest river crossing of the whole trip. We crossed the Chitna River in groups of four. The current was strong and the water was quite chilly, but with proper form we all made it across so safely! We camped right on the other side of the river. Wick whipped up some divine chicken pesto pasta and we huddled up to hang out in the tarp before hitting the hay to energize for day four- the biggest day of the whole trip.

 

Allie and Jack led the way on day four. Allie started off the day strong by introducing us all to a backcountry mocha (a pack of hot chocolate and a pack of instant coffee). The extra kick was needed on the early morning. The first part of our ten mile journey was spent winding through some thick bush, catching some short trails when we could. The whole group did a great job getting through it. Alston kept the spirits high by proudly and consistently singing the song “I’m Walkin on Sunshine.” After clearing the bush, we were headed for Chitna Pass. Jack was beginning to really get the hang of working the map and the compass and helped gauge where we were and how far we had left. Once half way, we stopped for the most epic lunch break right near the top of the pass. Ava especially loved our spot because it had a little patch of snow right next to it. She made quite the adorable snowman, complete with a carrot nose. Wick, the most spectacular chef, whipped up some warm homemade walnut raisin biscuits during lunch which were a huge hit. From here, walked into what seemed like mars- the clouds were super low and the ground was all black rocks. The other worldly experience didn’t last too long- we descended from the pass into a green field of wildflowers that wound through a valley. Grace was really living up Moondance’s “live in the moment” motto as she soaked in all the wild views around her. She invited us all to do the same. After descending one more time and right before reaching the campsite, it was time for the big reveal of the mystery ball. Oakes had wrapped a treat in duct tape before the trip. It was up to the group to decide when to open the ball, and they had chosen that moment. When Oakes made the big reveal, she opened the package to find a ball of dirt instead of Sour Patch Kids. Will had led the way in this hilarious prank- they had eaten the sour patch and re-stuffed the package before backpacking had even begun. Although baffled, Oakes was so proud of everybody for the successful prank. We feasted on some more ramen bombs once we arrived at our campsite by the river. After yet another lovely Moonup in which we all complimented the person sitting to our left, we hit the hay, over “the Pass” and ready for the next section of backpacking.

 

Day 5 was a much more mellow stroll in the woods and Oakes’ birthday! We woke up on our beautiful riverside campsite, ate m&m and blueberry pancakes for breakfast, then gathered our belongings to continue our trek. William and Kalli successfully lead our group through the very braided Boulder Creek. For lunch we crushed more summer sausage,  cheese, and peanut butter along with our gorp and leftover fruit. We took a longer lunch break to complete the NOLS Leadership Grid Game, which is an activity that helps identify leadership styles. It was a really cool opportunity for the students to learn more about themselves in terms that they may not have come to realize beforehand. Then Will, Bowen, Allie, and Oakes played hackysack. They were very bad at it. Our day ended with a after we got a solid 6 miles under our belts and arrived to a wooded flat area alongside the river. We pitched our tents and quickly began dinner because we were all pretty hungry. As Bowen, Wick, and Oakes were cooking everybody gathered around. We played music in celebration and watched Ava, Tara, and Allie show off some dance moves while Clara so thoughtfully made Oakes a flower crown for her birthday. After eating an unhealthy amount of Mac and cheese, we had Moon Up. The question was to name a song that describes the person to your left. We unanimously decided that the most spot on answer was Kalli to Alston with the song “All Star” by SmashMouth.  Afterwards, we all said our “I love yous” and went to bed.

 

On day 6 we woke up, ate some delicious oatmeal with a choice of walnuts, raisins, chocolate chips, blueberries, and/or brown sugar then left camp. All morning we continued to admire the beauty and nature of the Talkeetnas and eventually made it to our lunch break. After crossing Boulder Creek, Ava and Will were our LODs and successfully guided us to our campsite that afternoon. We had a beautiful set up of tents on one side of the trail on a plateau overlooking Alaska’s finest mountains. On the other side of the trail, up a big ole hill, we set up our kitchen. After collecting water for dinner and setting up a tarp, we cooked Moroccan lentils which surprisingly the majority of the group enjoyed and would recommend to a friend. After Moonup all of the students went to camp side while Wick, Bowen, and Oakes made bread for empanadas the next night. Now try to picture a group of eighteen year olds singing as loudly as they possibly could, jumping up and down, hugging each others necks with a background of a lightly tented color sky invaded by intimidatingly beautiful mountains. Then it hit midnight, and from both sides of the mountain we all sang Happy Birthday to Wick! This was a favorite moment of the trip.

 

On Day 7 our day began by throwing the rain fly off of Wick’s tent and singing Happy Birthday once more. We made pancakes for breakfast, topped off with additional oatmeal then began our day of trekking. We love oatmeal. Right before we left, the students performed a song they wrote for Wick. It is important to highlight and note William, Jack, and Alston’s beatboxing in the background. We went through many rolling hills, nearly 5 miles. A snow capped, crazy mountain range was on our right and the Talkeetnas remained on our left. We lunched by a small lake where we really crushed all the rest of our lunch food. The plan was to hike up to the switchbacks which would indicate we only had two more miles until the trail head where we were to exit. We found a campsite right before those began and stopped for the night. For dinner we gathered all of our remains, which primarily consisted of peppers, onions, corn, beans, chicken, and “wanna be” cheesy empanadas. The empanadas were more like delicious little cheese filled biscuits.

 

Day 8 we hiked out!!!! We experienced a bitter sweet realization as we descended nearly 800 vertical feet to the trail head. We woke up and ate leftover bars and oatmeal, eventually making it to the bottom of the trail where everyone sprinted out with pure joy as a Jerky stand awaited our arrival. We all ordered different kinds of Alaskan jerky and then played Hangman in the dirt of the parking lot. The word was “showers” which was code to tell everyone they were going to have the opportunity to bathe themselves for the first time in almost three weeks. We got picked up by Dave, a friend with NOVA. Once we arrived to our beloved home, we unpacked, showered, and prepared yet another feast. As everyone waited in line to shower, we all stared in horror and slight disgust at the fact all of our hair stood straight up without any kind of hair tie. For dinner, we threw in everything we had left over inside our action packers which ended up consisting of Mac and cheese, beans and corn, pesto chicken, and quinoa. Everybody participated in creating the feast and it was especially entertaining to watch Allie attempt to prepare Annie’s add in water Mac and Cheese. It was definitely the biggest hit. We went to bed STUFFED.

 

After crushin the backpacking trip, it was time to get in the water. We started off the morning with some crazy glacial white water rafting. We suited up in dry suits and life jackets and headed out on the Matnuska River. Ava really had quite a time “riding rodeo” (sitting on the front of the boat) on some of the more tame rapids. She managed not to fall off and even smile through all the waves. William especially thrived while surfing the waves- he was in the front and the waves were coming straight at him. A few students and a leader took a brief dip in the chilly water, but the dry suits kept them somewhat warm. We deemed the swims type two fun- it was not so fun in the exact moment, but it’s super fun to look back on. Our guides got us safely to our home base at NOVA, and we prepped for our overnight rafting trip. Right before launching, our guides Peter, Robin, and Johnny set out the most wonderful sandwich bar and mint oreos for all of us. It was a treat to have the food prepared for us. The following float down the river was a pleasant cruise. The rapids were much smaller than the morning, and we just enjoyed the ride. We set up tents on the beach and and piled in to shelter ourselves from the wind. Tara, Alston, Jack, Wick, Bowen, and Oakes all squeezed into one 3-person tent for the most relaxing nap. The dinner bell rang and we all went running- the guides had prepared a Mexican style feast of enchiladas in a cast iron pot. With full bellies, we had our final backcountry Moonup right by out bonfire on the beach. Kallie and Tara, the LODs, asked us about things that scared us. After an incredible conversation, the guides had brought us brownies they made on the beach, and we freaked out with excitement. Will won a few extra brownies by answering Alaskan trivia questions- who knew there were 35 species of mosquitoes in Alaska alone. We all went to bed a bit sad that it was our last night in the backcountry but so happy about all of the good times.

 

On our final day of rafting we woke up to some very welcoming and well deserved clear skies and dry tents. After we broke down and packed up our tents we walked down the beach to be greeted by our guides with fresh coffee and delicious breakfast tacos. We enjoyed breakfast as we basked in the luxury of the shining daystar and soaked in the incredible views of the Matanuska Valley. We marveled at the fact that we were standing right at the intersection of two of Alaska’s most magnificent mountain ranges; the mystical Talkeetna range, and the mighty Chugach range. The incredible landscape of the Matanuska Valley brought about a sudden realization that our time together in this far-gone land of wild wisdom was quickly coming to an end. While a sense of sorrow came over the group regarding our departure from that beautiful place, we (the leaders) knew that the true beauty we had been witnessing was not found in the views and the sights, but within our group and in the love and friendship we had been cultivating throughout our time together in that wild rugged place.

 

Our oncoming sorrow was quickly dissolved when the guides called for strong hands to help load the rafts. Naturally the boys hastily obliged. Before we knew it we were back on the river taking in our ever changing surroundings. Just as we were approaching the confluence of the Matanuska and Chickaloon rivers we heard a buzzing noise coming from upstream. Out of nowhere, a small Cessna bush plane buzzed RIGHT over our heads! It was only about 30 feet above the water! As the pilot banked left and looked down at our group, he gave us a wave…. it was Chuck! Owner and operator of Nova river runners! We all whooped and hollered at the top of our lungs hoping he could hear. Before we knew it we were pulling off the river and munching on some lunch as we awaited the arrival of our beloved Magic Bus. Once we loaded the Magic Bus with all of our gear it was nap time all the way back to Anchorage. When we got back to Ship’s Creek we hung out in the grass, set up our tents and started in on dinner. We ate an ungodly amount that night, but of course we had room for Anchorage’s finest ice cream eatery, so we headed to Wild Scoops for some baked Alaska.

 

That night’s Moonup was full of thoughtful reflection on our time together and the ways we have all grown. We showed each other our genuine love and our genuine selves and bestowed praise on each other for the things that make us all unique and great. We were clinging tightly to our last 24 hours together. After Moonup we watched the ever-so-slow Alaskan sunset (yes it was that late), then headed back to camp. We crawled in our tents but there was no way the kids were going to sleep. There’s no telling how many hours of sleep they got that night, but our guess is between 0 and 2.

 

The next morning we were groggy from overeating and self-imposed lack of sleep. Nevertheless we cleaned up camp and munched on some breakfast. All we wanted to do was hang out with each other while we still could, so we did just that.

 

For our final banquet, we went to La Cabaña for some Mexican fare. At banquet we (the leaders) held the very first “Moonie” awards, during which we bestowed awards on each student. We hope they cherish their trophies for years to come.

 

Now we’re headed for the airport with tears of sorrow and joy welling in our eyes. We will check in again soon when the kids are all off the ground!

 

Tata for now!

-Wick, BoBo, and Oakes


Wildlife and Watersports

June 21, 2018

Greetings from Alaska!

The group has really started to come together and we’re having the best time getting to know each other through both challenging activities and casual conversations. The first night of our paddling section was spent inside the Alaska Sea Kayaker’s cozy office with a whole bunch of pizza. While the rain was coming down outside, we learned about our upcoming excursion, sealed all of our gear in some nifty dry bags, and shared a wonderful moon up. Early the next morning, adorning our stylish rubber jumpsuits, boots, and jackets, we were on our way despite the quite rainy weather. An Alaskan charter boat dropped us on the shore of a beach in Blackstone Bay off of the Prince William Sound. After setting up camp in the rainforest, we paddled out to see a stunning glacier.  Our fearless guide, Natalie, from Alaska Sea Kayakers and our LODs, Alston and Tara, kept us hard at work on our ten mile trek. It was not an easy day to be an LOD, but the two really stepped up to the plate. Ava and Kalli crushed it on the water, speedily paddling in unison. We were rather chilly and wet after our paddle, so we ate some warm curry for dinner and hit the hay.

 

The weather kept us hunkered on the beach for the following day. Our LODs, William and Ava, kept our spirits high. Oakes made us some rockin’ pancakes, Jack taught us all how to skip rocks, and Tara guided a lovely group “tarp talk.” Allie was an endless source of hilarious stories (and ghost stories). Wick and Allie introduced us all to Ramen bombs for dinner- a mix of ramen noodles and mashed taters. They got us all ready with energy for a big paddle the next day.

 

The wake up call came super early compared to in the previous day’s sleep in. We loaded up the kayaks and headed out into the foggy bay. We were SO pumped about the fact it wasn’t raining. We busted out countless rounds of 20 questions as we explored the waterfalls along the shore and all the wildlife in the bay. William and Oakes found themselves right next to a precious otter. Later, the group came across a sea lion which was not quite as adorable, so we paddled away briskly. We enjoyed lunch on a beach of perfect skipping rocks. Will was quite the gentleman and helped prepare some summer sausage tortillas for everybody.

 

The sun finally started to peak out for the rest of the paddle. Our campsite for the night was the coolest- winding boardwalks, dark greenery everywhere, and wooden platforms for our tents (a huge plus). Abby, Clara, and Grace found a gorgeous overlook where they lingered and chatted. They generously shared the view with the rest of us as the night went on. Meanwhile, Natalie spotted a whale. We freaked. Its spout blew a few times before it made its way out of our little cove. We then crashed from the long day.

 

Today, we made our way back to Whittier in the kayaks, ending on a warmer and more sunshiny note than we began. After returning all our rubber suits and dry bags, we indulged on some local ice cream. We learned Alston was a huge mint chocolate chip fan in Moonup a few nights before, and he gave his ice cream choice absolutely no second thought. The whole crew is now loaded up on the “Magic Bus” on our way to Hick’s Creek to begin our backpacking section. It’ll be special to get to continue to grow closer in such a beautiful place. We’ve loaded up with plenty of hot chocolate, so we’re all ready to go! We hope all is well with y’all.

 

Cheers,

Oakes, Wick, and Bobo


Greetings from Alaska!

June 17, 2018

To say these last few days have been nothing but unexpected and outrageous fun would be an understatement. Our epic adventure began at the airport in Anchorage when a massive squad rolled up to baggage claim from Atlanta. A mix of students from all of the Northern Lights groups just so happened to be on the same flight. Apparently, they quickly realized before their flight and bonded instantly. We waited for everyone else to arrive, ate some Uncle Joe’s Pizza, then hopped on the Magic Bus which took us to our first campsite. Wick, Bowen, and Oakes already set up camp so when we arrived we put up luggage, placed all “smellables” in the bear fence, and had our first Moon Up! Sitting around in a circle, we shared a few quick lessons on Exhibition Behavior, bear protocols, as well as the purpose and idea behind Moon Up. We handed out swag bags and asked everyone to share their spirit animal and, also, why they are on Moondance? Afterwards, we met with Grace and Allie, our first two Leaders of the Day (LODs) to discuss the itinerary for the next day while everybody else went to bed.

 

A very surprising first full day! We woke up hungry so our solution was to stuffed our mouths with delicious blueberry and chocolate muffins plus some grapes and bananas. After we taught the students how to take down a tent so they could do it for themselves. We packed camp and were waiting for Magic Bus to take us to Whittier until we received news of winds and rain that were going to permit us from sea kayaking. This was not what we had planned for; however, here at Moondance we are incredibly flexible and easily adaptable! While creating a new plan, everyone hung out at the campsite playing ice breaker games, some were practicing sun salutations, and Bobo and Will were swing dancing until informed that we would be ice climbing first and getting picked up in 20 minutes. Quickly we gathered our belongings and left the outskirts of Anchorage for a more secluded area. After spending the majority of the drive coming up with trivia in order to receive a sandwich for lunch, we made it. Our campsite sat in an area surrounded by beautifully snowcapped mountains, a running stream, and many many trees.

 

Once our tents were pitched we explored the area down by the water and stubbled across an old two seater airplane, which was super cool. We skipped rocks for a while until walking back up to camp to learn about LNT and then play Signs. This is our entire groups new favorite game. To sum it up quickly, everyone stands in a circle and has a personal “sign”, it can range from a simple peace sign to a modest dab. One person goes in the middle while someone standing on the outside is given ZE POWER and starts the game by signaling their sign first followed by a different persons sign in the group. That next person has to catch it and then continue passing it throughout the group while the person in the middle is trying to figure out who has it. I think everyone could attest that William always got stuck in the middle, which was so classic. This happened because he would uncontrollably laugh quietly or smile when he had it so everyone always caught him.

 

After many rounds of this game, we decided it’d be best to start cooking dinner. Kalli helped the LODs prepare a scrumptious chicken stir fry, which also contained carrots, onions, broccoli, and peppers. For Moonup we were asked to share one of our most embarrassing moments and our greatest achievements. This combination was awesome! A time to make fun of yourself and then give yourself a pat on the back. It was pretty neat because so soon we are able to proudly say we have a team full of total rockstars. We then got ready for bed and went to sleep.

 

On this sunny morning, we woke up eager and excited! Our LODs, Will and Abby, prepared French Toast with blueberries and maple syrup. After scarfing down the deliciousness, everybody prepped their day packs, and filled up their water bottles. We were fitted for boots, crampons, and helmets. Then we drove to Matanuska Glacier for trekking. The glacier is insane! Our guides took us all over and taught us about mulans and calving. At one point we were even able to repel down the ice. This was our groups first introduction to technical skills on ice, a little nerve racking for some. It was so impression seeing Abby show a few reservations before her descent then absolutely crushing it without hesitation the entire way down! At the end of our trek we stopped by a massive ice exposure near water, little did we know this is where we would be climbing the next day. While the leaders were organizing gear, the students sat under a covered area and played Pterodactyl for long time, which is when you say “pterodactyl” in a weird voice without showing your teeth. One of the funniest moments that only Alston witnessed was when a random family walked by as the game was in motion and said something to everyone playing the game and Tara, committed to the game, turned around and answered with her face unbroken. Truly priceless. Cook crew was called to the kitchen to prepare Wick’s special pasta recipe. It consists of noodles, as that is a given, and a coconut cream, mushroom, cabbage, onion sauce. We call it, the coconut cream, mushroom, cabbage, onion pasta sauce with pasta. After dinner Clara and Grace sat under the tarp with the leaders and discussed what we would do if we know we couldn’t fail and if we believe in aliens, which we all do. There just has to be some other form of life out there! At Moonup our two questions were favorite ice cream and if you could eat dinner with anyone who is dead or alive, who would it be? Wick played a Dixie Chicks song on his guitar and sad to say that our crew is not familiar, but we will fix that. At the end of Moonup we played a game where everyone would create a story by adding just one word. Our stories were absurd, which obviously inspired us to make story writing a nightly ritual.

 

Today we woke up earlier than we have been because we had to take down camp, compile all of our gear into a shed, and make egg sandwiches for breakfast!!! The morning was busy, but we eventually made it back to Matanuska Glacier for some radical climbing. Our guides brought speakers and set three different lines for anyone to tackle depending on their ambition. William stepped up first and Jack took a gander for the most challenging line right off the bat. All day we were kicking it on the ice, jamming to good tunes, and cheering each other on. One highlight was when Allie was successfully climbing the hardest line and everyone was cheering, then suddenly it turned into a massive dance circle. Ava and Oakes were trying to do a foot dance until Ava fell to the ground, but popped up with pure joy. Then Will and Alston were break dancing in the middle of the circle. Don’t worry, this is was all captured on our GoPro. We ate our lunches that were filled with leftover eggs from the morning, climbed some more then thanked our guides because unfortunately our time had to come leave our peaceful yet adventurous playground, simply known as our 27 mile long ice block. Now we’re on the way to Whittier to begin our next incredible 4 day sea kayaking adventure!

 

Signing off until next time. Hope all is well in the world of the reader and thanks for reading!

 

Sending all our love and appreciation,

Wick, Bobo, and Oakes


Arrived in Anchorage!

June 14, 2018

Hello Northern Lights Families!

We heard from our leaders, and the group arrived safely in Anchorage. They departed for their first campsite last night, and the trip is off to a great start.

  • Moondance HQ

Students

  • Alston
  • Jack
  • William
  • Tara
  • Abby
  • Grace
  • Will
  • Clara
  • Ava
  • Allie
  • Kalli

Staff