July 2, 2019
We are back in the striving metropolis of Anchorage, hearts full from a truly life changing trip. We soaked up our last night together with music, games, dancing, and a good old-fashioned game of iron chef! Huge shoutout to Annie and Chase for absolutely slaying the competition during the minute to win it Oreo face challenge!!!! To say our group was thriving that night is an understatement. Abbey, Courtney, and Annie did headstands in the grass, the kids played soccer with toddlers from another campsite, Berkeley brushed the knots out of my hair for almost an hour, and the sun was OUT and keeping us energized! The competition later that night was FIERCE for Iron chef and we truly could not decide who made a better meal. With a smorgasbord of food that was left over throughout the trip to choose from, and the mandatory ingredient (avocados), the group decided to do a boys vs girls competition! The girls were strong in the kitchen, immediately deciding to make BBQ chicken, avocado toast, honey bbq summer sausage, and marshmallow pancakes (s/o Dorothy and Mary Gray) with a peanut butter, honey, and sriracha glaze reduction (Berkeley killed it with this sauce). The boys fought back with McKee’s famous sweet BBQ chicken and hash browns! Extra points to Ben and Chase for creating a charcuterie board with saltines, summer sausage, hash browns, and a dash of bbq sauce. Mega shoutout to Blake and Trip for attempting to make the first ever mega blueberry muffin/pancake and really going for gold there. We decided that the best part of the meal was McKee’s BBQ chicken on the avocado toast, so Iron Chef ended in a tie.
We had a record long 4 hour and 15-minute Moonup to finish off our last night all together in Alaska, full of love, tears, hugs, and laughs. We are so blessed to be in such a breathtaking place with an irreplaceable group of kids. Nugs to the parents for raising such intelligent, brave, and adventurous lovers of life!!!!!!! Although we feel like we could do this trip all over again tomorrow, we are so grateful for the time we’ve been given. We are headed off to banquet this morning at a local cafe in Anchorage and then on our way to the airport to get these kids home safe to you!
Love,Molly, Abbey, and Reece
KIDS, IF YOU JUST GOT HOME AND YOU’RE READING THIS, we absolutely cherish and love you guys! Alaska won’t be the same without you.
June 30, 2019
Holy Guacamole! We are all healthy, happy, and at last in Whittier, Alaska where we will begin our four day sea kayaking section on the Prince William Sound tomorrow! Unfortunately, with heavy hearts we had to say goodbye earlier today to our AMAZING and WONDERFUL family member Elizabeth! We already feel the void in our group but know we will be seeing that smiling loving girl soon! (If you’re reading this Liz scroll down)! We love you like crazy and you are missed more than you’ll ever know #missmoondance!
It was a travel day for us from the jagged mountains at Hicks Creek we can’t get out of our heads to the lush green fiords of Whittier, which are just as jaw dropping. IT IS SO BEAUTIFUL HERE! We wanted to start this last section of our trip right, so we made a huge pancake breakfast and packed up all our gear to head south. Blake and Chase as LODs made sure we had all our things ready to go. The kids have anticipated this day for so long because we would be stopping at Fred Meyer to get food for sea kayaking and they had a chance to get some personal snacks that we heard so much about on the trail! We stopped for lunch on the way at a local organic restaurant in downtown Anchorage, Middle Way and we treated the kids to smoothies! The night before the kids had chosen the meals for the sea kayaking, so we gave them the opportunity to also get the food items Fred Meyer, and they crushed this task! We filled up the action packers and Yeti and took off to Whittier. On the way we pulled over for a quick stop at an incredible lookout over a glacier and Ben, Chase, Berkeley, MG, Trip, and Courtney saw an island on the fiord with an unbelievable view and ran to the top to check it out, it was totally worth the sprint back to the bus to get to the Whittier tunnel on time! We love how this group always takes advantage of their surroundings! We arrived in Whittier and set up camp, met with our outfitters for sea kayaking, and MG, Dorothy, and McKee made THE BEST chicken curry quesadillas we’d ever had! We had a Moonup that had us laughing for over an hour, and then knowing we had a big day / super early start in the morning we all went to bed stoked for the sea kayaking.
Our first day of kayaking!! We woke up eeeearly and feasted on some breakfast sandwiches, fruit, and cinnamon rolls. The fresh blueberries and blackberries truly hit the spot after so many days in the backcountry. We met our guide Rich and loaded up the kayaks to set out for the Sound! The first half of the day breezed by with a tailwind pushing us further and further away from the harbor. Before we knew it, we were paddling past glaciers and hugging the beautiful coastline. The sun was OUT and we got to bask in it all day! To paint a picture, we paddled into a small cove for lunch and sun bathed on the beach, enjoying our sammies. Trip and McKee skipped rocks (honestly getting a record number of skips) while some of us dipped our feet in the water. With four miles down, we only had about 7 more miles to go after lunch and we crushed! Seriously, this group is SO good at paddling, and it warmed our hearts to see everyone back in full swing after a week of feeling sick. We continuously turned corners to find the Chugach mountains beaming over us in the distance with several shades of blue sparkling in the ocean below. Not to mention the bald eagles that seemed to be perched up in the trees around every bend! Berkeley said over and over that this was hands down her favorite day. We sang songs, played an epic game of contact, and before we knew it, we were at camp on the edge of the coast. Our campsite was straight out of Neverland and we are not joking about that. It was insane!!! The forest service put down these narrow wooden planks that serve as a durable surface to walk on throughout the woods and the tents have wooden platforms, tucked away in the mossy, bright green forest. Fairies could live there! Trip, Chase, and Berkeley cooked us teriyaki chicken and veggie fried rice for us to eat as a family on the edge of the beach. Rich (our amazing guide!!!) joined us for Moonup as Annie and McKee had us reflect on a time we thought we would fail, but ultimately succeeded. We ended the day with several Oreos, eager to get to bed to prep for the next big day of paddling!
This section just keeps getting more and more amazing! Day two of paddling was UNREAL and the group crushed! Whittier is #1 for being the wettest and rainiest place in the U.S. and today we got nothing but blue skies and sunshine for miles! Berkeley, LOD for the day, started off the day by yelling she wouldn’t want to be anywhere else and how much she was loving this part of the trip, and everyone else agreed! Her and Trip rallied everyone super early and we filled up on Lucky Charms and Honey Nut Toasted Oats. Rich, our awesome guide, who all the kids love so much, went over the 11.5 mile, and we were cruising on the water by 9am! The water was smooth as glass, and we all had never seen water that blue and crisp! We paddled till lunch and pulled up on a warm rocky beach where we all fell in love with fluff and PB sandwiches, MG also found out that an apple and fluff is where it’s at!! We took the hour to give massages, nap, and McKee and Trip demonstrated there incredible rock skipping skills!!! Seriously, could not believe how good they were at it. After lunch we geared up and Berkeley and Trip had us back in the water pushing for camp. An hour in Rich huddled us into a cove and proposed the idea of a silent paddle along the coast line, where we were all supposed to think of someone who has inspired us in our lives 🏼! The kids were beyond into it, we were able to appreciate all of the water falls, coves, caves, green trees growing out from the coastlines, and quirky rock formations! The question to open Moonup was to briefly explain what your favorite part of the silent paddle was, this naturally turned into a 15 min conversation about how flipping cool it was *thanks Rich!!! After the silent paddle we got to camp where the glaciers were in full view and we all took it in after bringing the boats in for the night! We had crushed so much we got to camp by 2pm, and took the opportunity to chill in the afternoon. Some made HUGE rock formations, napped in the sun, polar plunged, played cards! Blake, Annie, and Ben cooked up some scrumptious Southwest Mac n Cheese that everyone got seconds and thirds from because it was THAT good!! We all fit into the bug net and closed the day with another phenomenal Moonup, BEYOND EXCITED for what tomorrow will bring!
Dear Parents, we are so thrilled to tell y’all about the third paddle day because we all agree that it was the BEST day ever! Since we are base camping in Blackstone Bay we were able to sleep in just a bit, which the kids appreciated! We feasted on some oatmeal and grits and got on the water for a full day of shenanigans and adventures! OH AND IT STILL IS THE SUNNIEST! Our first stop was the Blackstone Glacier and boy was it unreal! There was a gushing waterfall we were able to paddle close too and it was the most powerful waterfall we’d ever seen! Annie was loving every second of it and getting tons of pics, while Dorothy and Ben Go Pro’d the whole thing! After the waterfall we crossed the bay and passed the glacier McKee and MG saw a HUGE piece of ice fall and it sounded like thunder! We paddled over to a beach where we could still see the Bay and enjoyed more fluff, Courtney, Dorothy, Berkeley, Annie, and MG sun bathed, and there was more rock skipping! On the way to our next stop we saw an Eagles Nest with a baby eagle, and we all did our best to stay silent because it was so awesome to see! Lawrence glacier was a mammoth of a glacier and here the group decided to go for a small hike to a glacier on the way home to base camp. We pulled our boats to shore at Beloit glacier and followed a bellowing river up to the glacier! WE ALL SCREAMED WHEN WE SAW IT! It was massive, so much blue, the water, the ice! We were freaking out over the cave that had formed! We were so happy the group chose to do this optional hike, they seriously made the most out of the day! Even though it was an exploring day we still paddled up to 10 miles, and we all agreed that we had fallen into a groove, Chase and Annie crushed and were always leading the way along with Blake and Courtney who tore off in front as well #twinpower! After the hike we returned to camp to cook dinner and discuss a little surprise we’ve had cooking for a couple days. We proposed an optional midnight paddle because when in the world are we going to have that chance again?! Berkeley, Trip, McKee, Court, Annie, and Chase were down so after dinner and another ten star Moonup we got back on some smooth water that looked like rainbow sherbet and Rich led us on an unbeatable paddle. The sun descended behind the mountains, which was the closest thing we have to a sunset and the mountains turned this purplish gray, the water was shades of orange and dark blue, and the mountains were stunning silhouettes in the distance. We sang soft songs and glided along the water, it was so dreamy and sublime! It was our last time on the water, and we soaked up every bit of it! It was the perfect way to end this sea kayaking section. While we were out on the water Blake, Ben, Dorothy kept living in the moment with a refreshing polar polar plunge. Every single kid crushed this last section (Molly crushed in a huge foot boot, which was incredible to see and the kids stepped up to help in any way) and had the best time. We absolutely loved hearing them reflect on the section while in their boats, chilling on the beach, or at Moonup! Whittier was so good to us, and we love this place in Alaska! Tomorrow morning we are being picked up by a charter boat and taken back to Whittier where we will spend a couple hours before heading back into Anchorage!
These past few days have been truly magical, and we want to thank y’all for sending the most AMAZING kids to experience it all! :)! We can’t believe we only have a couple more days left with them. We tear up talking about them because they have all impacted us, and we are going to take these last couple days to give them all the hugs, have a ton of laughs, and enjoy this amazing time we left!
Talk to y’all soon!
<3Abbey, Molly, and Reece
Hola Elizabeth, miss you so much, I wish you were here on the magic bus with everyone! – Ben
Magic Bus isn’t the same without you. We’re going under the tunnel right now and I wish you were here because we haven’t seen darkness in 3 weeks and it’s scary. Dorothy and I miss you every night in the tent and wish you were here more than anything. Can’t wait to come visit you up at Chapel Hill :))) – MG
On the bus and last time we were here, we were all together. Miss you more than anything Elizabeth. You’re the BEST! So excited to visit. Love you- D
HEY sweet Liz! Miss you tons the trip isn’t the same without you 🙁 we all miss and love you! Hope you’re doing good and have your wonderful, amazing, contagious smile on!!! LOVE YOU!!! – Annie
Hey Elizabeth, we all miss you so much, you’re the best! I hope you’re doing great. – chase
HEY CUTIE!!!! I miss you more and more every day, we all wish you were here (GARY picked us up, from Whittier so that’s pretty sick) I miss your sweet self and contagious good vibes and I love you bunches and bunches- BUT DONT WORRY ILL SEE YOU SOON NUGGET BOI – peace n luv frum cOrnnUt
What’s cooking bosshog, comin atchu from the magic bus here with papa G. There seems to be a piece of the jigsaw missing when you are not with us. But we certainly learned a lot from your badassery so we can take a little bit of you with us wherever we may roam. Peace out boss-McKee
Hey boo boo… I’m missin you like crazy. Ever since you stepped off the bus you haven’t left my mind for a second. We all love you dearly. I can’t wait to visit you in chapel hill. Love you booger 🇺🇸🇺🇸ove Berkelium
Thanks for being a literal leader, running with me, and becoming my friend even after speaking so little.Blake
Yooo Elizabeth! Miss you sooo much homie. The squad hasn’t been the same without you and we miss the chillin vibes you bring to the table. Love and miss you and your dope Alaskan socks! -Trippp
June 27, 2019
Northern Lights 1A checking in here and we are THRIVING!! Thanks to a quote read by Courtney during Moonup the other night, we have collectively decided that our group motto comes from the quote by Charles R. Swindoll:“
Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.”
This week was wild! Full of unexpected turns and surprises, but we are so incredibly proud of this group for adapting to changes and having the highest tolerance for adversity we have ever seen as leaders. We could not be more proud of these students and feel so blessed to have each and every one of them in our group.
Backpacking day 1 was intense! We started off with a strong elevation gain of nearly 1500 ft over the course of a few miles. Spirits were high though, and we ended up singing the whole way up through the gateway to the Talkeetnas. Day one was mostly about getting into our backpacking groove, making a lot of noise on the trail (which wasn’t hard), and figuring out how to support each other best. After a calming, but BEAUTIFUL trek in, we scouted out a good campsite next to an old abandoned RV trailer in the valley along a river. Although we were hit by rain as soon as we started to set up camp, Annie and Courtney immediately set up a tarp cover for the kitchen and endured the wind and rain while they cooked us a warm and delicious veggie stir fry! Nothing tastes better than a warm meal in the rain (and late night Oreos), and the group went to bed feeling comforted and thankful.
The next day, we woke up and started along the ATV trail across rolling hills and beautiful mountain scenery. A cold, rainy morning fell away and the sun broke through after lunch. The sweet sweet sun was so welcomed!!!!! Spirits were HIGH and after a few legendary dance parties along the trail, we dropped down into our second night’s campsite. Chase and Dorothy made us some fajita bowls while the group basked in the sun and set up an 8 person long massage train. We shared a really special Moonup together in the moonlight led by McKee and Courtney (just kidding it’s always sunny) and tucked ourselves into bed!!!!
Day three had our biggest river crossing yet, but our group was READY for it! We had been practicing our technique at every little creek crossing along the way and felt fully prepared to tackle the roaring river! The water was coooold but we made it all in one piece and had a dance party on the other side of the river to warm back up! As we hiked up and out of the valley we had been in for a few days, we came across a family of Moose ahead on the mountain side. They were so beautiful and I think we can all agree that view took our breath away. The mountains continued to amaze us as we climbed higher and higher. Annie hopped in front and led the group for most of the day, and that was incredibly encouraging for all of us to keep pushing. We even ran into some talkin teena backcountry hens aka a brood of grouse and their babies!! We found camp along the gentle bluff next to the river and an old abandoned Army Jeep that Blake recognized as a WW2 Ambulance!
Day four started off with songs, dancing, and sunshine as we pushed for the tundra. About an hour before we stopped for lunch, our trip took a 180 as Molly took a tumble and messed up her ankle pretty bad. The group rushed into action, divided her entire pack up among them, and started planning an evacuation route. We were so proud of the determination of the group and the positive vibes that radiated from each person in a moment of adversity! We climbed down to the river, had the most beautifully challenging river crossing of our lives, and made our way across to an emergency landing strip. It was a long, tenacious push to the landing strip but the group CRUSHED it. It will surely be a day we will never forget. Once we got Molly on the plane we retired to our tents for some much needed rest.
On the fifth day, we rested and waited for the arrival of another leader via bush plane. It was quite an opportune day to rest since some of our group members began to feel sick. Reece made rounds with the med kit to make people as comfortable as possible in an uncomfortable situation. Most of the day was spent soaking up the sun or napping in tents. Berkeley stepped up in a major way walking around filling people’s Nalgenes, cooking ALL THREE meals, and generally just offering kind support and care for everyone. After an early dinner of hearty soup, we all went to bed in hopes of feeling rejuvenated in the morning and eager to meet the new leader coming in to help lead us back out the way we came.
Day six began with the roar of a plane engine! Mike the pilot delivered Abbey, our new leader and Northern Lights veteran! As the group met Abbey, Elizabeth and Dorothy got on the plane with Mike to be evacuated from the field as well. Sadly, they were both feeling too sick to continue, and after some tears and heartfelt words they left our crew to meet Molly and seek a higher level of medical care. Fortunately, it was a sunny, bluebird day! As the group finished packing we could feel the excitement and motivation the get back on the trail! The group made it abundantly clear, despite being sick, of its intention to get after it on the trail. Determined not to let the backcountry get the better of us we set out on a quest to return to the front country and be reunited with our friends. We crossed back over the river to get back onto the ATV trail and begin our backtrack. As leaders, we were so proud to see the motivation and comradery exhibited by your kids! We have never seen a group of students come together like this in order to accomplish a goal. Ben helped create the perfect pace everyone could stick to and we stuck together the whole way! For most groups, the goal might have been to get out simply to end the chaotic backpacking trip, but for our group, the motivation stemmed from the desire to make our family whole again. We fell asleep that night with a large sense of pride and accomplishment, ready to take on the next day.
Our seventh day of backpacking was quite a big one. The groups lofty ambitions had us aimed at the campsite from our first night. If we could get there then this night would be our last in the backcountry. With sausage, grits, and can-do fuel we set out for what would be our longest day yet. Mary Gray and McKee served as our LODs for the day. If not for them, I don’t think the group would have persevered and accomplished what they did. They kept the energy high and were ever attentive to everyone’s needs. There was never a lull or silence. The trek was filled with riddles, questions regarding everyone’s favorite foods, movies, etc. which kept our minds off the length of the hike but focused on getting to know each other that much more. Annie was not feeling her best but pushed herself to stay at the top of the pack! After a brief lunch, we got packs on backs and kept pushing. We got caught in a light rainstorm, but agreed it was refreshing given that we had been hiking in the sun for quite some time. We reached Hick’s Lake, and Reece made it clear we could stop here for the night, but the kids were determined to make it that first campsite, so on we went. After a small river crossing, we could see the green valley that we had on our minds all day. They did it, 8 miles! We all slept like rocks that night.
At last, day 8 arrived and the kids woke up stoked to take on this day, knowing that it meant they were days closer to seeing Molly, Liz, and Dorothy again! We had agreed at the Moonup the night before we would wake up early and get out early, and that’s exactly what this group achieved! We wanted to start the day off right, and how else better to do that then with pancakes! After a solid breakfast we began our hike out with one of the steepest climbs we’ve ever seen as Moondance leaders, we soared up to the plateau thanks to Trip cheering us all on as one of the LODs and kept cruising till lunch. We sat on our packs and enjoyed torts, chocolate granola, peanut butter, jelly, and all the bars we had left! It was the fuel we needed to push through the last few miles. Knowing how close we were served as the catalyst that got our energy up and pumped to keep trekking. After a steep descent, we wove our way through the muddy ATV trails, and AT LAST to the pickup spot. Trekking poles in the air and singing Sweet Caroline this group FREAKING DID IT, and we could not be any prouder. It gives us goosebumps thinking about. And it was each and every kid that made it possible. We were picked up, brought back to NOVA and celebrated this achievement with pizza, sour gummy worms, games, and an awesome / reflective Moonup where we answered the question “what the backpacking section taught us about ourselves.” Every answer was beyond heart felt, this group achieved so much in 8 days!
DAY NINE, HAPPY BIRTHDAY ANNIE! We made sure the morning started with a surprise blueberry muffin cake with chocolate funfetti icing, Reece’s honey and sriracha summer sausage! Annie is so loved in this group and we wanted her to make sure that came across! We sang happy birthday, and gave her a crown, sash, and birthday button to wear all day! When we got out of the backcountry, as you all heard from the office we had to take a trip to urgent care and had all the students see a doctor to ensure making safe healthy moves forward. They made the most out of being in a waiting room for part of the day, and the best part was watching them be reunited with Molly, Liz, and Dorothy!!! Seeing those three faces again was the medicine everyone needed, and we couldn’t wait to start fresh the next day with rafting! We all gave Annie a card from the group right before bed, and we believe this will be a unconventional birthday she will always remember!
The next day we got back on track and rafted the Matanuska River! What a relief it was to resume our regular schedule with such an exciting activity! We set out on Caribou Creek (the same creek we crossed a few days prior) and met the Matanuska downstream. Nothing but smiles could be seen as our rafts bobbed down the wild, silty river. Elizabeth got up on the very front of the raft and “rode the bull” down some big rapids. Our trip down the river had the group right back in the mood for adventure and ready to take on the rest of the trip!
As far as backpacking goes, 8 days is a long time and certainly something to be proud of no matter how smoothly the trip goes. Our 8 days were not smooth, yet your kids took them in stride despite the chaos and struggle. We know that this has been a crazy past few days, but we as a leader team couldn’t have asked for a better group to get through all of this with. These types of events inevitably bring people together, and this group was a family on day one, so now we are closer than ever! We thank you all for your patience and understanding and cannot wait to keep y’all updated for what’s to come for sea kayaking in Whittier!
June 16, 2019
We made it to Alaska!!!!! Even though we headed to our campsite from the airport around 9:30 PM, the sun was just as bright as it would be at noon. The midnight sun is something that we all had to adjust to, but now we absolutely love it. We believe it gives us the energy we need to conquer this trip! Within the first few hours of the trip, Reece and I could already tell this group was incredible. We are constantly blown away by the group’s ability to open up right away and start making connections. Our first few days were packed full of games and hard skills lessons as we prepared to leave for backpacking as our second activity.
Our first day on the Matanuska Glacier was absolutely unforgettable. Most of the group had never seen a glacier before, let alone walked across it. We used micro spike crampons to make our way across the rocky terminal moraine of the glacier, and finally hiked our way into the pure white glacier ice. At the top of the glacier, we were able to fill our nalgenes with fresh, cold water majestically flowing off the ice!! We made our way up and around to a spot where we could rappel off the side of the glacier. Elizabeth was the first one to jump up and rappel first and caused a wave of excitement in the rest of the group. We were also incredibly proud of Dorothy for conquering her fear of heights and absolutely crushing the rappel down. We were excited to see everyone get a little bit more comfortable out on the ice by the end of the day. We even saw Trip’s older sister on the glacier that day, guiding for another company!!!! It was such a special moment and we are lucky to have been able to find her out there. After an epic day on the glacier, we headed back to camp to learn some more backpacking skills. Annie, Courtney, and Trip made us an incredible pasta dish loaded with veggies and sausage, and we headed into Moonup with full belly’s and full hearts. Mary Gray and Trip (the Leaders of the Day: LODs) led an incredible Moonup that provoked us to live in the moment and appreciate the time we have with each other. We talked about how we felt like we had known each other for weeks, when in fact it had only been 48 hours!!
Our second day of Ice Climbing on the Matanuska was unbelievably epic. We hiked in our crampons over three miles back on to the glacier before settling at the very top. In front of us was a pool of the most beautiful bright blue water any of us have ever seen. With that pool and a flowing glacier river as our backdrop, we each rappelled down the vertical wall of ice and then climbed back up with ice axes and crampons. Berkeley could be heard from across the glacier as she laughed and entertained us the entire way down, and Annie, who went first, paved the way for an awesome climb. After a bit of hesitation at the beginning of the rappel, Blake made his way down the side of the ice and killed it on the way back with a full smile. It was so encouraging to see someone conquer their nerves and push themselves! It definitely inspired the group. McKee also conquered a bit of fear coming off the ledge and proved to be swift and strong on the way back up!! It was an unforgettable experience and we are so lucky to have had the chance to climb at that spot. Ben, Mary Gray, Sarah, and Elizabeth cooked us a delicious coconut curry pasta for dinner tonight after a long day, and Chase and Courtney led us through a Moonup focused on spirit animals and connecting with the wilderness around us. Which reminds me that we saw a moose across the river from us yesterday! She was so beautiful and majestic. We hear her name is Anita!
In just three days, we feel like a tightly bound group, and Reece and I feel so lucky to be able to venture into the Talkeetnas tomorrow and spend some more time together in this special place! We won’t be able to check back in for the next 10 days but know that we are safe and HAPPY to be here in beautiful Alaska!!!! We love you!
Molly and Reece
June 13, 2019
Hi Northern Lights Families,
Moondance HQ here to say all leaders and students have safely arrived in Alaska and the trip is on its way.
Stay tuned for more updates to come!