July 26, 2018
And just like that our trip is over. The last of the students, Larkin, Frances, and David just walked off to their terminals and now it’s just Annie and me. There is such a deep feeling of sadness in our hearts as these young adults and our time together is nothing but a memory. We will try for the next days to hold onto this feeling, this energy, and the vibe they have created but it seems already to be dissolving into thin air.
We finished off the trip on a very high note with another day of surfing. We woke up early yesterday morning and ate the rest of our cereal. Andrew and Ana got us loaded up for our 9am surf lessons. We were thankful to be greeted by many of the same awesome surf guides as the last time. Not only were they very knowledgeable surfers, but they had an awesome sense of humor and were very engaging with our students. David adopted the nickname “Big Wahv Dahv” after surfing last time with an instructor named Big Wave Dave and it was an exciting reunion for the two of them.
With calmer seas than the last time and a little experience under our belts we hit the waves with more confidence and expertise. We surfed and body surfed all morning and were all getting the hang of popping up on our boards. Frances, Murphy, and Camilla were really making the most of their time on the water and didn’t turn in their surf boards till the instructors said it was time.
After surfing we had a beach picnic and Whatley lead us in getting celebratory Baja Blast slushees from the beachside Taco Bell. Goodwill was our next stop in order to gear up with crazy tacky outfits for our banquet dinner celebration. We had some amazing finds and rolled up to Tres Amigos Mexican Restaurant looking and acting like a bunch of weirdos. Hallie, Delaney, and Frances all found awesome old Hawaiian shirts to rock while David rocked an all black leather outfit. Ana scored a nice pair of Danskos. Andrew and Philip found some bright women’s pants to wear and Quinn found a women’s velvet shirt. All trip the guys had been debating who would win in an eating contest and they could finally put this argument to an end. Quinn and David sat down each with two super burritos in front of them. After about one and a half massive burritos David threw in the towel and Quinn could stand victorious as the champion. Larkin and Andrew were pretty excited for Mexican Coke in a bottle. We all got our fill on guacamole, which did not compare to Mitchell’s. After stuffing ourselves to the brim, we loaded up Vinnie to head back to Half Moon Bay for cookie dough and cake.
We had a special Moonup for our final night reminiscing about all the highs and funny moments that we shared. Each person shared what they learned and what they loved about every member in the group. This intentional reflection of the impact that each person made on our lives really cemented how meaningful these relationships are that we’ve made over the past three weeks. The love that was spoken through each of us boosted us and sent us out into the real world feeling appreciated and loved.
Thank you parents for sharing your kids with us for the past three weeks. Not only were they a blast to be around, but each one of them taught everyone in the group so much. I hope you know how special they are and that the growth is visible because we certainly witnessed it over the course of the three weeks. And to the KIDDOS: Annie and I love and miss you so much. Please, please stay in touch. Go out and be the independent thinkers, strong leaders, and kind souls that we know and love. We are so thankful that we were a part of your journey and that you were a part of ours.
July 25, 2018
The past few days have been full of exploration and relaxation. We slept in as long as we wanted on Monday which was much needed. It was nice to finally catch our breath in our jam packed itinerary. Camilla and Murphy teamed up yet again to cook us up some pancakes. This time we had the luxury to add chocolate chips, blueberries, and bananas and they were DELICIOUS. While we were eating, Frances and Quinn, the LODs, scouted out the map for day hikes and adventures that we could go on as a group in Point Reyes. They were calling the shots for the day and they set up the perfect itinerary.
We hit the Point Reyes lighthouse first where we hiked about a mile out and down 300 stairs to the edge of the peninsula where the lighthouse stood. Whatley spoke with a bird researcher who told him all about the common mures, the penguin like birds on the rocks below. Mitchell took everyone’s photos at the lighthouse before we headed to the next spot: Chimney Rock. Chimney Rock was another short little out and back hike. We stopped halfway along the coastal ridge trail because we spotted elephant seals lounging in the sun! These seals are ginormous and have very large noses. A couple of them flopped around or scooted themselves down to the water but the rest of them were so deep in sleep that we didn’t see them move at all. Whatley and Quinn set out a picnic lunch for everyone at this viewpoint before continuing on to the edge of the peninsula and Chimney Rock. Mitchell spotted the whales way out in the distance and we watched four or five of them bubble netting and sometimes jumping completely out of the water!
We then made our way to the little coastal town of Point Reyes where Delaney, Larkin, and Frances got their fix of Coca Cola in a glass bottle and Ana got her fix of coffee. We also spent some time in the local bookstore. Without technology our students have been reading quite a bit and seemed to really enjoy browsing the bookstore.
After town, we drove back to our campsite and Frances helped Annie and I cook up some Quesadillas, while Andrew, Philip, David, Mitchell, and Quinn played a game of football with the new friend they met named Willy. For Moonup, Frances and Quinn asked us all to share which famous person throughout history we would trade places with, and then pulled a prank on all of us. They asked us to all close our eyes for a game and then Frances and Larkin proceeded to spray us all with shaving cream.
The next morning we woke up and cooked some oatmeal before packing up and heading into Sausalito. Sausalito has been our biggest and busiest town yet; it was slightly overwhelming after spending so much time in the wilderness. We treated ourselves to fish n chips and ice cream, and walked down along the water’s edge.
After piling back into our van we made our way to the infamous Muir Woods just north of San Fran. On our way we had a quick picnic at the water’s edge and per usual the boys had their football break. Muir Woods was very cool. Muir’s quote “the clearest way into the universe is through a forest wilderness.” definitely rang true here as we were surrounded by enormous Redwoods which made us all feel like tiny ants.
Back at camp we cooked up some Quinoa, chicken, and veggies which many of the students were surprised by. Hallie said “I thought this was gonna be my least favorite meal but I actually liked it!” For Moonup, Philip and Larkin shared an awesome quote; “there is nothing like returning home to a place that remains unchanged to find the ways in which you yourself have altered.” And then many students shared their insightful perspectives on their reading of the piece. Hallie’s was very interesting as she brought up the fact that we were camping at the same site as our first night yet it felt so different because of how our group dynamic has shifted.
After a goodnight sleep we are now on our way to our final adventure, surfing one last time on the Pacific Ocean, and our final day together. I don’t even want to think about it as the end will bring much sadness. We will share more after our surfing but for now we’ve gotta go catch some waves.
Will, Annie, and the Moonfam
July 23, 2018
We have successfully conquered the Middle Fork of the American River. In the words of David: “it was pretty neat”. It’s scary how close we are to the end of our adventure, and it is clear that the students are avoiding this topic of discussion for it is too sad to think that we will all be going our separate ways so soon. We will surely cherish our final days together! After leaving Shasta we arrived to our American River campground to be greeted by another younger Moondance Group. By request of Mitchell and Camilla, we joined them for Moonup which was led beautifully by Andrew and Hallie. As a large, integrated group we shared what skills, perspectives, and philosophies we would be taking home with us after ending this adventure. It was fantastic to see our students practice their leadership skills and set such a great example for the middle school Moondancers. Hallie and Andrew definitely crushed it and were such strong role models for what the role of LOD should look like.We all slept out under the stars and rose with the sun in order to meet our rafting guides for a full day on the river. David and Ana, the LODs, divided everyone into three rafts and we hit the first rapid, A Cold Cup of Coffee, with our guides Enzo, Garrett, and Will. We hit a few big rapids back to back and the cold water quickly woke us up and made us excited to be on the water. Enzo is from Costa Rica and he taught his raft the Costa Rican saying, Pura Vida, which means pure life. Every time our raft successfully made it through a rapid we would hit our paddles together in the air and exclaim Pura Vida!About twenty minutes into the day we were faced with our biggest rapid of the whole trip: Tunnel Chute. We beached our rafts and hiked around to scout the rapid. We peered down at the churning water below and the 100 yards of pure waves and whitewater we would barrel through before veering into the iconic tunnel in the hillside. This tunnel was made during the gold rush to excavate millions of dollars’ worth of gold and ended up altering the path of the river permanently. The excitement was amped up a bit when we watched our gear boat guide attempt to maneuver his way through the waves only to be flipped in the middle. He remained calm through the rest of the rapid in the air pocket under the raft and safely surfaced in the calm waters of the tunnel.Everyone realized this was serious whitewater and we headed back to the rafts with more excited jitters than before. All three raft guides expertly navigated us through this rapid and we had a blast being rocked with waves as we plowed down the river. The tunnel was filled with joyous laughter and screams as we exited the hillside. After stopping to help flip our gear boat back over, we continued on to our spot on the river where we would eat lunch. The guides laid out a variety of fruit and chips and salsa for us to snack on while they prepped a sandwich buffet for lunch. It felt so luxurious to be catered to rather than cooking our own food for once! Everyone was so appreciative to the guides and thankful for the delicious food.With full bellies, we hiked up the mountainside to explore a slot canyon that the guides wanted to show us. After hiking literally underneath waterfalls of bone chilling water with slabs of rock on with side of us we returned to our rafts for a more relaxed afternoon of rafting. Philip and Quinn decided to brave the next rapids on their own on an inflatable kayak. They gave us all a good laugh as they made it their mission to go down the rapids backwards. Energies were high between our splash battles, flips, and raft games that the guides taught us.Eventually we pulled off the river and set up camp on a rocky beach. As the guides generously cooked our dinner we threw the football, frisbee, horse shoes, and Mitchell, Philip, and I had a rock skipping contest. For dinner we feasted on roasted chicken pasta, garlic bread, and a garden salad with brownies for desert. Shout out to Philip, Delaney, and Andrew for volunteering to wash the dishes.As the sun fell below the canyon wall Camila, Ana, Murphy, Annie and I shared an awesome DMC about our place in the universe. This led nicely into Moonup which was led by David and Ana where we all shared what was at the top of our bucket lists. We all cowboy camped and fell asleep underneath the stars listening to the sound of the river.We awoke to our guide Garrett yelling “Coffee!” and Ana went from fully asleep to upright in record speed. While a few of us sipped coffee and ate fruit on the quiet beach, the rest of the group caught some extra Z’s while the guides finished cooking up some breakfast. They spoiled us with bagels, eggs, veggies, sausage, bacon, and avocados. Volunteers for dish duty this morning were Ana, Murphy, and Larkin. Our guides were very impressed by the initiative and helpfulness of this group of teenagers!Quinn, Philip, and Whatley all started their day with an icy float alongside our campsite. After a chilly night the water was painfully cold. We packed up camp and loaded back onto our rafts. This time Larkin, Frances, and Whatley started out on the kayak. After showing off their expert paddling skills, they traded with Quinn, Philip, Whatley, and Andrew who were able to squeeze four on a two man boat while Delaney, Hallie, and Larkin got to enjoy some girl time on their own private raft. Camilla and Mitchell had an intense rivalry going and would push each other in whenever the other wasn’t on their toes. Murphy, Ana and David jumped at every opportunity to get in the chilly water and would take Enzo up on all of his challenges and raft games he had up his sleeve. They even learned some Spanish and about Costa Rican meals from Enzo which was pretty cool to hear about!We stopped at a side stream where we hiked to yet another waterfall with a sweet swimming hole, picking blackberries the whole way up. The blackberries were so abundant, plump, and delicious! On our hike back we were surprised by a burrito bar that the guides set up. They truly are pampering us out here. Camilla taught us a pro tip that putting salt on your watermelon surprisingly tastes great! After lunch we braved a stretch of back to back to back class IV rapids, the last of which we got to surf. To surf a rapid we had to first go down river through it, then turn around and paddle up river towards the rapid as hard as we could. Water comes splashing into the front of the boat and spins you around. It’s pretty challenging to do right but one of the rafts surfed successfully which meant Andrew and David got drenched by the wave. The guides let us all jump out and float through the rest of the swift moving rapid and we all laughed in surprise at how quickly the river moved us downstream. We loaded the rafts for one more rapid before take out where we had all hands on deck unloading the gear from the rafts and bringing the rafts up to the trucks. The guides surprised us with a post rafting cold soda and we boarded the bus back to Vinny and Holly (our van and uhaul). Nearly everyone snoozed all the way from Foresthill to Point Reyes after being wiped out from all of that time in the sun. Upon arrival, we had a cookout of hot dogs cooked over an open fire with baked beans and good old classic lays potato chips for dinner. Murphy and Mitchell then led us in an awesome moon up around the campfire and fell quickly to sleep. We have a fun couple of days of exploring ahead of us and can’t wait to see how they unfold!
Hey mom and dad this trip has been a lot of fun thank you for sending me we have had a lot of fun and I climbed a mountain which was pretty neat tell clay I said hi -Quinn
Heyooo mom and dad! We are close to coming home back to boring Monroe and wish we could stay here longer:( The weather here is perfect, and we never get tired of the Mountain View. Larkin and I have sooo many stories to share with y’all. P.S. tell Finley and Chris we said HEYYY! -L&F
Hey mom and dad. I have been having an amazing time and doing so many amazing things. I have met so many cool people and have lots of stories to tell for when I get home. Don’t miss me too much. David
Hi mom andd dad. Having a good time, can’t wait to see you guys. Love Ana.
How did Brazil not make it to the finals -Whatley
Hey mom and dad!! Hope y’all are doing well!! I’m having so much fun in Yosemite and can’t wait to tell y’all about everything. Love y’all so much and see y’all soon!Murphy
Hey mom and dad this trip has been super fun weather is super good love you! – Delaney
Hey mom and dad! I’m having so much fun and can’t wait to tell y’all all about everything I’ve done. Love y’all! -Hallie
Hey mom and dad the trip has been very fun and I’ll have to tell you all about it. But, more importantly, the hawks finally got rid of Dennis Schroeder, he’s trash.-Andrew
Hi mom and dad, I miss u and love you. Can’t wait to see y’all- camilla
Hey family, I’m having a lot of fun, see you soon- Philip
Hey Fam, I’m having a blast. I am definitely missing the bait and football right now. I can’t wait to see you guys I have tons of stories. ~Mitchell
July 21, 2018
Greetings from the road! We are alive and well after what must be the peak of our trip, the challenging and rewarding climb up mystical Mt. Shasta! The physical and mental strength of this group truly is unbelievable, we are so lucky to have them as students.
It started with our arrival to our campsite on Lake Siskiyou, where we would prepare for our trek up the mountain the next day. We stopped at Fifth Season Outfitters to pick up our cool mountaineering gear; boots, crampons (spikes on the bottom of our boots), helmets and ice axes. After our long car ride we did some group dances and chants, and then Philip and Larkin led us in a group stretch. For dinner Hallie, Murphy, Camilla, and Quinn all made us some personal pizza which were a huge hit. The group loved their creation, and were all impressed! Mitchell whipped up some guacamole as an appetizer which also went very quickly. We topped off our 3 course meal with the classic camping dessert: s’mores. Needless to say everyone was well fed leading into our great climb. Larkin showed off her fire building skills which I must say put the students from our last group to shame.
We woke up early next morning and ate one last big meal of breakfast burritos, cooked by Ana, Larkin, and Frances. We then packed up camp and headed out to meat our Shasta Mountain Guides who would lead us in our journey up the mysterious mountain. Jeff, Lauren, Nicole, Liam, and Maddie were all mountaineering experts who shared many cool stories and legends from around the mountain, making this climb that much more meaningful.
As LOD’s, Andrew and Delaney helped keep the group focused and in good spirits as we begun our climb to the snow capped California 14er. Typically climbers take 3 days to summit this peak, however due to the high heat and low snow pack we would have to make it to the summit in only 2, as if the climb were not already challenging enough. We spent the afternoon hiking up 2,000 feet of elevation to our base camp and cooked an early dinner while the guides gave us the run down as to what we would need for our big summit day. They shared that it was extremely rare for everyone to summit and that there was a possibility that we would all have to turn if conditions were not safe. We would be waking up early the next morning to begin our accent, so we mooned up and hit the hay early.
We got up at 3am to a cold and starry morning. Our group really impressed the guides at how quickly we were up and ready. The nerves were high as we looked up to the silhouette of this looming giant of a mountain with its snow reflecting the light of the crescent moon. The quiet breeze held its whispers which seemed to invite us to its peak. We really had no idea what would happen, but the faces of the group held a look of determination and a willingness to push themselves to new limits.
As we strapped up our mountaineering boots, fastened our headlamps to our helmets, and attached our ice axes to our packs the guides broke us up into our 2 groups and we took our first steps toward the top. We started our march in silence, taking one step at a time using the different climbing techniques we were taught the day before. The terrain was steep and made of loose volcanic rock called Skree. For every step we took up, we would slide down a few inches. The guides were strict about us keeping summit pace; should we not make the 6000 foot climb before 1pm we would have to turn back. We would climb for one hour at a time and then take a quick 10 minute break where we would eat a snack, drink water, and use the bathroom.
Quinn and Frances had a big responsibility as LOD’s managing the morale of the group on the most challenging day of our trip. Not only is climbing this mountain challenging, it is also quite risky. Rock slides, changes in weather, snow blindness, falling down the mountain, altitude sickness, exhaustion, hypothermia, and dehydration were all very real dangers we had to watch out for. Altitude sickness is perhaps the most common. It tends to hit many people around 12000 feet and there is no way to overcome it except to go down in elevation.
As expected, the altitude got to us. Hallie and Ana were unfortunate to experience it. It came with headaches, dizziness, and fatigue. Luckily we caught it early and were able to manage the risk by turning them around and returning to base camp with Annie and Liam. They displayed great maturity and even though it was clear they wanted to push through the pain, they were understanding in the importance of safety over summiting.
As they turned we all got to watch one of the most majestic sun rises ever as the whole sky turned into a spectrum of glowing colors. With the higher elevation came colder temperatures, heavier winds, and steeper terrain. The UV radiation was also more intense so we lathered up in sun screen and continued our summit pace. Eventually the terrain got so steep we had to rope up into smaller teams and scramble up what is considered class 4 climbing.
It seemed as if the mountain was teasing us with its false summits. We would get to what looked like the top just to see another higher point in the distance. So we just kept on climbing and climbing until finally we got the our last push to the jagged, snowy peak. It was such a magical and powerful moment in which we all cheered and took pictures in attempt to capture the feeling. I found myself speechless and together were read the Bon Vivant Manifesto; a call to those who love moments like these.
As any mountaineer knows, the summit is only the halfway point. Exhausted, we still had to climb all the way back down the mountain. Phillip, Whatley, Mitchell, and Larkin lead the way in our quick descent, skiing down the skree fields. It took 7 hours to reach the top and only half the time to get down but many students shared that the climb down was more painful. Frances and Camilla showed great mental toughness in pushing through the painful wear and tear that the mountaineering boots put on their feet.
We eventually got back down to the bottom and were reunited with the rest of our crew. Fortunately, Ana and Hallie seemed to be feeling better after a much needed recovery nap!! We were told that climbing Shasta we burned around 10,000 calories and felt the hunger as we ate tortilla, peanut butter, Nutella, goldfish, and pretty much all the food that we packed.
Camilla, Whatley, Ana, and Hallie cooked a chicken, rice, and vegetable curry dish which we proceeded to engulf. We’ve got some chefs in the making on our hands. The guides joined us for Moonup which Quinn and Frances lead by asking what we would want to be famous for. We then played a game of sardines which Mitchell won, and fell quickly asleep.
The next morning, Whatley and Camilla got the group packed up and lead us down the Mountain. One of the guides, Jeff, taught an orienteering lesson on the way down where we all used compasses to find Lemurian crystals. We were all relived to get back to our van and to get out of our heavy mountaineering boots. We then drove to an amazing waterfall where we swam in the icy glacier water which cleaned all of Shasta’s dirt and grime off our bodies. We changed into clean clothes and then headed into the small hippy mountain town of Shasta. Having not been in town for 2 weeks, we were all very thankful to purchase some comfort food and trinkets
For dinner we ate at the local pizza joint and played arcade games, in which I showed off my mastery in all games never once letting any student beat me in pool or air hockey. Ana and Frances came close, but could not quite pull off the W. David did get some pretty cool prizes though such as some mini binoculars and 2 bouncy balls for only one quarter! We returned to Lake Siskiyou for the night and fell asleep under the stars where Will and Mitchell made some Eno bunk hammocks.
Today, we got to sleep in and take showers before heading into Shasta for any last souvenirs. Mitchell, Camilla, Ana, Annie, and I all decided to learn lessons from Susan, the keeper of the 13th Mayan skull and long time psychic shared legends of Shasta. It turns out that this area is known as the first of the Earth’s Chakras (if you have no idea what this means… Google it). After gaining some insight into ourselves we got on the road headed now to raft down the American River.
As we near the end of the trip it is clear that we are a very close family of unique and inspiring individuals. It has been so beautiful to watch this group come together, achieve such challenging goals, and grow as individuals. This trip truly is not about the adventures as much as it’s about the people. Annie and I would like to thank all the parents for sharing these young minds with us. We hope to return them as stronger, mature, and more independent people with incredible stories to share.
Until next time,
Will, Annie, and the Moonfam
July 16, 2018
Hello! We survived and are FIRED UP after an epic backpacking adventure! Many challenges were thrown our way, but our group conquered each difficulty with style and grace. Our time in the backcountry really brought us together and concreted our bonds. With our bonds and adventures come stories. There are simply no words that will ever come close to truly sharing the incredible experiences we’ve had in the past week, but we will try to give you a glimpse.
Backpacking began with our preparation in which each student did a fantastic job of ditching all but the bare necessities but still our packs were quite heavy. As LODs Whatley and Camilla briefed us with an overview of our route on the map and we began our hiking in the hot but beautiful California sunshine. We then hit the trail, leaving behind everything but ourselves and 6 days of food and gear.
Our entire first day was spent climbing into the Yosemite High Country. We laughed and sang our way up into the mountains, stopping to drink from the fresh mountain streams where Camilla and Whatley taught us about water purification. Upon reaching our home for the night we were greeted by a series of majestic cascades called Chilnualna Falls. We spent the evening swimming, climbing, and cliff jumping in and around the falls. Mitchell even found a natural water slide. This clear icy snow melt doubled as a bath as we came out feeling clean and refreshed.
Upon returning to our camp we discovered that we were not alone out here. Some sort of animal got into our packs and ate Frances’ granola bars and Delaney’s GORP. While all the evidence point to birds, Delaney and Frances are still convinced it was a bear; however, Will and I disagree! For dinner Philip cooked us an Asian inspired Ramen and Veggie stir fry on our backcountry stoves, which we enjoyed with our gorgeous and private sunset view. After Moonup, where we talked about a time we faced and overcame a fear, we crawled into our tents and had no problem sleeping after a long day of hiking and swimming.
The next morning, we were woken up by the bright sun and we all packed up for what would be another challenging day with lots of ground to cover and over 2000 feet of elevation to gain. We ate some cereal and hit the trail. Frances and Andrew did a fantastic job at leading the group down the trail keeping everyone happy and together. There is something about walking through the woods that sparks deep and meaningful conversation; we call these DMCs. This group is incredibly insightful and great at listening to each other’s perspectives and views on life. The California summer heat dried up a few streams along the trail, so we had to be on the lookout for any source of water we could find. We were humbled by our primal needs and rejoiced when we found a lake with water that we could drink to quench our thirst. This lake was surrounded by pink wildflowers and we took our packs off for a well-deserved break before the final push to camp. Tents went up quickly as we raced to Johnson lake to cool off. Ana, David, Quinn, Whatley, Will, and I swam across the lake to the other side where we climbed up the granite slabs for a view of the valley below. Will led us in a guided meditation and afterwards we basked on the rocks letting the sun warm up and dry off our bodies. When we got back to camp, the crew whipped up some backcountry burrito bowls full of rice, beans, peppers, and chicken. At Moonup, Frances and Andrew asked us what our B+ super powers would be. A B+ super power is a tier below powers like flying or super strength. Something like being able to shoot Dr. Pepper out of your pointer finger or always being able to order the best thing on the menu at a restaurant.
The next day, Quinn and Delaney took the charge as LODs and got the group focused on the day of hiking that was ahead of us. We welcomed the cloud coverage overhead protecting us from the sun and didn’t even mind when it started raining on us when we were eating our pepperoni tortillas for lunch. At Buena Vista Pass, our highest elevation of the backpacking section, we soaked in the panoramic views of granite domes and distant mountains and peered below to see Buena Vista Lake where we would call home for the next two nights! Once again, we set up camp quickly so we could head to the lake for a swim. A group of us scrambled over boulders to reach a jumping rock across the lake that Quinn, Ana, Mitchell, and David had their eyes on. They all jumped in and claimed the water felt like a hot tub even though the air was chilly and still spitting rain. Back at camp, Andrew and Whatley found a rock that looked just like pride rock from The Lion King overlooking our campsite. They ran up there and Andrew held Whatley in the air and the group down at camp burst into singing the Circle of Life. We would spend a lot of time up on Pride Rock over the next couple days. Dinner that night was shepherd’s pie that Larkin, Andrew, and David worked hard on. At Moonup we talked about our spirit animals and became our own travelling zoo. We went to bed hoping to wake up early for a sunrise hike but when the time came, the clouds were too thick to see much so we decided to stay in our sleeping bags for a few extra hours of rest.
We slept in and had a late pancake brunch brought to us by top chefs Camilla and Murphy. Camilla, Ana, Quinn, Whatley, David, and I then went on a short scramble up to Buena Vista Peak for the best view we’d seen all trip. The rest of the crew hung around camp playing cards and relaxing. Murphy taught everyone how to play Swish, a version of blackjack where we used rocks for poker chips. Things got heated and Mitchell ended up with the biggest pile of rocks before we headed back down to the lake to swim again. We hung out for the next few hours jumping in and swimming around. David “Big Wave Dave” hands down won the unofficial biggest splash competition. After swimming, we took time to ourselves and each spent about an hour alone reflecting and taking in the beautiful scenery around us. Andrew and David were on cook crew for chicken pesto pasta and a new business idea was born. There’s a good chance David drops out of high school to pursue the creation of Papa Roni’s Pasta and Pizza Bar with his right-hand man Andrew. We produced a commercial over dinner complete with Italian accents and the enticing tag line “If you’re going to have ronis, make it Papa’s.” Larkin and Frances introduced the group to another game over dinner called psychiatrist and we spent a lot of time laughing while Mitchell tried to ‘diagnose’ us as patients. I don’t want to give away the game in case any of y’all play in the future but after some laughter and frustration Mitchell successfully determined our “illness” and we went on to Moonup. Hallie and David led Moonup and we all talked about our all-time favorite movies and took mental notes about what we need to watch when we get home.
The next morning, we hit the trail early because we knew we had a big 9-mile day ahead of us. Whatley and Ana were LODs and we flew on the mostly downhill trail in record speeds. I was super impressed with the determination and endurance of this group, especially Hallie fighting through painful blisters with a smile. We made it back to our first campsite of Chilnualna Falls after just a few hours and were catching our breath when we were greeted by Will and Philip! We all headed to the falls again and tossed the football to each other as we jumped in the water. We had noticed that the valley below was looking pretty smoky and headed back to our satellite phone to check in with the office about any news regarding nearby forest fires. They responded saying they would look into it for us. We went about our night and fixed a thanksgiving dinner in celebration of our last night of backpacking. Philip and Will surprised us with cookies for dessert. Ana and Whatley led us in Moonup and we all laid our sleeping bags out under the stars for our last night. We told scary stories and had some DMCs as everyone got ready for bed. Everyone was almost asleep and quiet except for Will and me when we heard the satellite phone start ringing. We received some messages from the office about the fire saying we should head down to our van early and that they had a campsite reserved for us for the night where we would be safer and away from the nearby smoke. We woke the group and told them we needed to do a late-night hike because of the fire’s smoke and everyone impressed us with how calmly and quickly they packed up their stuff to head the five miles down the mountain. Everyone was in great spirits given the situation and Quinn and Philip even made it through the entire 100 bottles of Coke on the wall song on the trail. We hiked at a swift pace with our headlamps for an hour and a half before making it back to sweet, sweet Vinny, our van. We drove to our campsite and all immediately fell asleep after such a long day.
We woke with the heat of the sun in the morning and were ecstatic to find out that this campsite had really nice showers that we could use. Our first shower in 10 days felt AMAZING! Everyone cleaned up and loaded up the van to check out the Yosemite Valley. First, we explored Bridal Veil Falls where we climbed past the swarm of people at the bottom to the base of the falls where it was practically only us. This waterfall is over 600 feet tall and the wind whips the water every direction along the granite wall before it falls into the pool where we were hanging out. Philip, Whatley, Camilla, Will, Quinn, Andrew, and Ana were quick to jump in the water and swim around. Next up, we headed to El Cap to see this bad boy close up. We all climbed around at the base, so we can now say that we have climbed El Capitan in Yosemite. On the way home, we made a pit stop for Mexican food where we were so thankful not to be the ones preparing our own food. Murphy and Mitchell, the LODs led Moonup and passed the figurative LOD torch (but in our case a literal pair of baby ray ban sunglasses) to Larkin and Philip. We’ve had a big travel day where Larkin and Philip headed up a food resupply run and surprised the group with the idea of going to In-n-Out, a famous Californian fast food chain, for lunch. We are nearing Shasta now with the view of the snowcapped mountain looming before us. Next time you hear from us we hope that our whole group will have conquered Mt. Shasta!
Annie, Will, and the Moonfam
July 10, 2018
We have now rock climbed in what is perhaps the best climbing in the world. Even without the world class climbing just being in this beautiful scenery and seeing the breathtaking vistas of giant granite domes and blue alpine lakes is such a gift. For this update one of our amazing students volunteered to share the experience from his perspective….
Hello, my name is Mitchell. Today, Larkin and I were L.O.D. (Leaders of the day). Today being July 8th 2018. The thing that is so great about Moondance and just being away from cities and civilization is that you forget what day of the week it is. We are only four days in and I could not tell you what day it is. Being LOD, it was Larkin’s and my job to wake everyone up. I have no clue what time we woke people up because we are not allowed to have our watches. I found this strange at the beginning, but then I understood that we are supposed to live in the moment. Sleep when we’re tired. Eat when we’re hungry. Drink when we are thirsty. Time is irrelevant. I was able to wake most people up, which I did so in a very abrupt way, like kicking Andrew. Not too hard of course. (Sorry bro.) Also unzipping Phillip and David’s tent and shaking them as if they were dead. Once we were all awake the first thing we had to do was break down camp which consists of breaking tents down and packing the uhaul to the brim. Once camp was cleaner and nicer than when we arrived we headed to ROCK CLIMBING! I have taken on the role as the photographer for the group. So to my parents specifically- the camera was worth it.
Once we met our rock climbing guides we headed to our climbing site. While the guides were setting everything up we decided as a group to do a stretch circle. It was very fun. Once the guides were ready they walked us through a tutorial of just how to be safe and still have fun on the rock. We then got into groups of three and started climbing. There were three different roles with climbing, hence the group of three: the climber, the belayer, and the back up belayer. Every one of these roles is very vital when climbing so you have to have good teamwork. Almost everyone made it up the rock. Murphy being the first up killed it and made the rest of us look like sloths on the wall. Whatley, Phillip and Quinn were able to create a bond through rock climbing, because they were all zooming up the wall just like Murphy. Rock climbing really does bring out the best in people for instance when Frances was going up the wall she was struggling a bit at first, but everyone started cheering her on and it was a pretty amazing thing to witness.
After rock climbing we all sat at the site and just bonded talking about some deep conversations or arguing over whether Duke was better than UNC or vice versa. Once we hiked back to the van we all climbed in and headed to where Larkin and I picked to go for our next activity. Us being on a leadership trip, you would think Annie and Will our amazing leaders would just give us advise about how to be a better leader in a group. Instead, they throw us in the deep end and we get to figure how to lead a group of people our own age. It kind of brought out different traits of leadership that I did not know I even had in me.
We headed to Tenaya Lake. It was so beautiful and me being who I am decided to swim to the beach from where we parked the van which was about 130 yards. Most everyone got in and swam for a bit. It was very cold water so many people who are from the south east were not used to that. After we all got out of the lake Annie came to me and said “we should play a game.” So… we played a game. I introduced a circle game called signs to the group. It took a little while for people to catch on but they did. After some heated rounds of signs, Francis and Larkin who are sisters from Monroe, Louisiana- if that city sounds familiar to you it may be because the “reality show” Duck Dynasty is filmed there- anyway they introduced the game Big Booty to the group. It is a very fun game that can make you really dislike yourselves at times.
Afterwards I whipped out the camera and became the “photographer”. We had a nice photo shoot of us trying and failing to make human pyramids, also just fun pictures. Once we all became tired and drowsy we hopped back in our amazing van and headed to the gas station for a quick snack break. Once we were all on our sugar highs Larkin and I decided we should go to Mono Lake, it is the saltiest Lake I have ever been in, Whatley said it feels like you have a life jacket on.
Thanks Mitchell! He never got the chance to finish, but it’s nice to see the trip through the mind of a student. Mono Lake was this unique desert lake outside of Yosemite, that is saltier than the Dead Sea. It’s full of 20+ foot stalactites reaching up out of the water which made it feel like we were on some foreign planet.
We finished that day with Spaghetti, Italian sausage and tomato sauce which was cooked by Camilla, Andrew, Quinn, and Phillip. The stars that night were unbelievable and we got to watch the stars fall behind the snow capped, jagged peaks in the distance. Ana fell asleep cowboy style underneath the shooting stars.
The next day Murphy and David woke us up as LOD’s with the sun to go meet our Yosemite Climbing guides for yet another day of world class rock climbing. Before leaving Hallie, Francis, and Whatley cooked us a delicious breakfast scramble with eggs, sausage, peppers, and mushrooms. We climbed this time on a more challenging, and equally breathtaking granite slab. Larkin and Phillip really impressed us conquering all of the hardest routes. Ana and Whatley stepped it up as great team players as they crushed it belaying for all the climbers. Our guides were awesome! They told us stories of their dozens of accents up El Capitan, sometimes spending over a week camping on the side of a vertical rock face.
After climbing, we returned to camp to prepare for backpacking, the biggest leg of our journey. We learned how to pack a pack, lightning protocol, and about staying found. The group was amazing in how quickly they adopted our minimalism philosophy, especially the girls Delaney, Hallie, and Murphy who have never backpacked before but were so willing to leave behind so much. We talked more about this during Moonup, but for backpacking we are really shaking life down to the bare essentials. We are leaving all the comforts of society behind to create space and open our minds to what Mother Nature has to teach us. I am beyond excited to see our growth, both individually and collectively, through this leg of the journey.
See you on the other side!
Will, Annie, and the Moonfam
July 9, 2018
Hello from the road to Yosemite!
We are happy to report that everyone has arrived to San Francisco safely! Our newfound family of 15 (13 students and 2 leaders) hails from 7 different states; mostly around the southeast except for David who joins us from New York. We loaded up our 15 passenger van to the brim and headed to Half Moon Bay to set up camp for the first time. Whatley whipped out his Rubik’s cubes to keep the crew entertained for our 45 minute drive. This group is full of quick learners and they set up their tents perfectly after a short lesson from us. We grabbed a layer and headed down to the windy beach just a minute walk from our tents. This beach is a little different than many of us are used to on the east coast. With jagged cliffs, chilly water, and giant clumps of seaweed, we got a taste of what California beaches are like. Larkin and Frances ran down to the water and touched the pacific ocean for the first time. We played frisbee, ran up and down the beach, and started to get to know each other.
We headed back up to the van where a pile of pizzas greeted our large appetites. We feasted family style before circling up for our first Moonup. Moonup is something we do together each night on every Moondance trip. It’s a chance for us to debrief the day, acknowledge our successes, and grow closer to each other. Many of the returners, like Camilla who joins us for her 3rd Moondance adventure, shared that Moonup is one of the highlights of Moondance. The leaders of the day are in charge of running it and come up with a question that everyone answers. They can be fun and light hearted like “what is your spirit animal?” Or a deeper question like “Who is a mentor in your life and how have they impacted you?”. We asked everyone why they decided to come on Moondance this summer. Our group is here for new experiences, relationships, and adventures so I’m pretty sure we’re all exactly where we need to be. We closed Moonup and headed to the beach to watch the sun set over the Pacific with a beautiful view of the sun sinking behind a water tower on a peninsula in the distance. We crawled into bed early after such a long travel day for most people. Quinn, Whatley, and Mitchell slept under the stars and were surprised with some spectacular firework views from their sleeping bags.
This morning, we woke up eager to get to the sand, waves, and surfboards. Ana and Philip, today’s LODs, helped everyone break down camp and pack their daypacks before breakfast. We ate yogurt, granola, and fruit and Mitchell tried his first peach! We’re not sure how he could possibly dislike these local, in-season California peaches but it just means more for the rest of us. We rolled up to Linda Mar, which means beautiful sea, for our surf lessons. We had some pretty experienced and fun surfing instructors. Delaney helped them teach everyone how to pop up onto the board and she did so incredibly skillfully. We practiced a bit on shore before facing the choppy ocean.
The freezing water quickly jolted us awake and then we were faced with our first challenge; charging through 4 foot waves with 8 foot surf boards. I was very impressed to see many of the students, like Hallie and Murphy, get up on waves without ever having surfed before. While other experienced surfers like Phillip showed off his gnarly surfing skills getting up on nearly every wave. Our guides told us that the best surfers are the ones having the most fun; by this measure we were surely some of the best on the water.
After an ocean front lunch we hit the road and are now headed to the infamous Yosemite National Park. After an exhausting morning on the water our group fell fast asleep in the car and we learned Andrew is a very deep sleeper. We are currently jamming to a diverse mix of music from the playlist we created as a group. We are beginning to see the foothills of the High Sierra and our spirits our rising. Our next adventure will be rock climbing in the birthplace of climbing.
As leaders, we feel very good about this group. There seems to be a very positive vibe so far. To all the parents reading this, thank you for sharing these amazing young men and women with us. We are truly blessed to be on such grand adventure with such fun people. I can’t wait to get closer to each of them and watch them grow.
Annie, Will, and the Yosemite Moonfam
July 6, 2018
Hello Yosemite Families!
We just heard from Will and Annie – All students have arrived in San Francisco and the group is headed to their first campsite. Stay tuned for more news from their adventures.