July 3, 2019
Yosemite Rascals here as we finish up a remarkable adventure. Never did we imagine that a group of individuals could come together and drive 2,600 miles around California, windows down, feet blistered. Our full hearts are thankful for all the successes and failures that have put us here to celebrate life the past three weeks. We’ve sang too loud, danced too big, and talked too late. No amount of time would be enough; our group continued to grow and become closer up to the last minutes. Thank you, parents and friends who brought us all here to explore ourselves and California’s beauty.
We explored the wild seashore of Point Reyes and climbed our way down to the beach. Some swam, two flew a Buzz Lightyear kite, others climbed over the rocks to the point for sunset. We had a large drive ahead of us, but when sunset presents you with such beauty you have to wait it out. Early evening we drove over the Golden Gate Bridge with Adele in our voices. Our group finished up the trip how we started: eating late into the evening. In the darkness we split into two and competed in the coveted Iron Chef Competition. Annie’s team embraced Asian themed dishes and her knowledge of Chinese and interest in the eastern Continent was well shown. William’s service and attention to our water needs certainly added to their team’s food experience. On the flip side of the spatula, Oscar’s passing and insistence to include bean sprouts as a garnish on the coconut curry and rice moved them up on the scoreboard. Cecile’s camp Bakliva was indulgently creative. By narrow margins, Group Two took home the trophy. The gang rested full.
The next morning came quicker than expected per usual, but the day waits for no one. We bumped around quickly to tidy up camp then hopped in Maxi for a ‘gas’ day. We started our day with some morning thrift shopping to get some fresh swag for our banquet dinner. Liz’s finds at the store definitely took the cake for the day. With two great grabs in the sweater game, she dressed to impress for banquet dinner. By lunch we were en route to the coast for a day on the water. It was a day to remember for us on the waves. This day was fueled with all the energy, love, and joy 20 days galavanting around the wilderness of Golden State together can create. Companionship and Community are things essential to the core of what it means to be human, things important to us all. And for the last three weeks us 12 rascals, who met at an airport in San Francisco, set about making our own little community. With one last day under the sun all together crushin’ it, we left camp screaming our songs at the top of our lungs, happy for the beautiful present moment to celebrate what we had become.
And Oh the waves, they were crashing in numbers, big as we’d seen. Cyrus led the charge riding several sweet sets out the back. He was paddling with purpose on the Pacific and just having a ton of fun cruising through the water. Everyone was hyped up to get after it. We surfed and paddled until we couldn’t manage any longer. With sand in our bums and salt in our hair, we scooted on back to camp for a few chores and to get ready for diner, showers ’n all. After a delicious Mexican feast in town, filled with great conversations and some interesting riddles, the group heading back to camp for our final Moonup together as a family.
Our LOD’s Ella and Cece led the group through an emotional, bittersweet circle of affirmation and gratitude towards each other. We questioned and expressed to each other the things we learned and will take away, as well as the inspiring and great qualities we’ve grown to love from each person. Cat, for example, watered every eye in the circle when she expressed her love for Cecile’s personal strength and beauty. This kind of support and compassion for each other is at the heart of what made this band of rascals such a treasure to be a part of. We embraced ourselves! We loved ourselves! We allowed each other to come into full bloom! It has given us more joy than any one person deserves, filled our lungs with laughter, and our eyes with tears. These 9 incredible adults have warmed our hearts and breathed energy into our lives. For this we are indefinitely grateful and so proud to call friends. We love each and every one of them. All good things must come to an end, but endings usual lead to beautiful beginnings. The call of Life has beckoned each back home to the hustle and bustle of life, but we head back a little stronger, a little, wiser, a little more independent, and with a lot more love. For now, take care Sunwalkers, and never stop being weird. Yosemite Rascals out.
Joanie + Casey
July 1, 2019
“The sun shines not on us but in us. The rivers flow not past, but through us. Thrilling, tingling, vibrating every fiber and cell of the substance of our bodies, making them glide and sing. The trees wave and the flowers bloom in our bodies as well as our souls, and every bird song, wind song, and tremendous storm song of the rocks in the heart of the mountains is our song, our very own, and sings our love.”
― John Muir
Yosemite rascals here after finishing up two beautiful days on the majestic American River. After a tremendous season of snowfall, the river was running in spectacular fashion for us as we navigated our way through bends and breaks. After our challenging, cold nights and days on Mt. Shasta, the American River was just the breath of fresh and warm air we needed to recover and enjoy the back end of our trip. Although we’ve had a wonderful time these last two days, we write to y’all with heavy hearts knowing we only have a few more days together with our family away from home.
Our first day on the river started around lunch, which allowed us to have a breakfast bonanza. The family pulled out all the fixings which included but was not limited to: M&M pancakes, sautee’d sweet potatoes, brown sugar oatmeal with dried fruits, English muffins with egg n’ cheese, and Nutella or peanut butter on whatever we could imagine. Cat led the charge on the pancakes, cranking them out at a blistering pace, chocked full of M&M’s. Everyone had multiple pancakes to supplement their breakfasts. Needless to say, it was an incredibly delicious meal which left us bursting at the seams as we set out to meet our guides and work our way down the river.
We split up into three boats, with the fellas boat taking up the rear. With only four of us on the trip, this was a chance for us to finally have our own little place to bond as guys, a novelty we rejoiced in. The laughter began right away as Cyrus slyly pushed both Oscar and Will into the calm and deep part of the river to their shock. The gauntlet had been thrown down and the shenanigans were in full effect any time the guides told us we were in a calm stretch. After the first rapid, Will jumped onto the front of the raft to ‘ride the bull’ for the next round of whitewater. Riding the bull turns the raft into a mini rollercoaster as we bombard ‘bull first’ into the waters for a big splash. Will was hooked from then on, demanding a Bull session any chance he could get.
Meanwhile, on the other raft, Cece was quickly and curiously getting to know our guides. Cece has never known a stranger for long because they become her friend before they know it. Even though one of our guides was a bit shy, Cece was fast to be warm and inclusive as always. We broke for lunch midway through our raft on a warm, rocky bend in the river. After some delicious sandwiches, we all went for an eddy swim. An eddy is a calm part of the river where the current slows to a halt or swirls along the banks. Annie, who is always the first to jump at the opportunity to swim, started us off by being first to jump into the current and float into the eddy. The day came to a close as we were towed through the reservoir to our take out point. Being the fun-loving crew we are, our favorite way of passing time was kicked into gear by the one and only queen of singing herself, Cecile. It was Riff-Off time! Essentially each raft sings part of a song and the next uses a similar word to start a new part of a song. The whole boat ride back passerbys were serenaded with pop hits by Cecile and the rascals. After a long day on the river, we retreated to camp for some delicious diner provided by our guides. As the sun set, we laughed and joked around doing some handstands around camp. To all our surprise, Liz crushed some tumbling techniques for the group, sharing a big part of her life back home with us, and wowing everyone at the same time. We rested well that night, with full bellies and hearts.
Day two started with a luxurious breakfast of potatoes, bacon, cheesy eggs, and most importantly coffee. We felt like royalty with the guides cooking for us, after having cooked all our meals ourselves in cook crews. The rapids began in earnest on day 2 with several in quick succession to test if we were river worthy. Turns out we were. Lots of laughter, hooting and hollering, and splashing was had on day 2. On the smooth stretches, Oscar was in the water practically more than in the rafts. He would jump from raft to raft, most of the time just cannonballing into the water for the fun of it. Oscar’s enthusiasm for enjoying the present is contagious and tends to rub off on the rest of us for the better. After lunch Ella continuously entertained us with childhood stories. The crowd favorite was the one of her preschool husband, whom she married at recess. Exciting and hilarious times happening back then for the preschooler crowd. We wrapped up our rafting experience that afternoon, saying bye to our guides, whom became part of our Moondance family over the past two days.
Back in our trusty van, Maxi, we are heading to Point Reyes seashore. We’re happy, sad, energetic, and emotional. It’s hard to believe this is the last road trip we’ll have together in California. There’s a lot of Rihanna and Blink 182 on queue and many beautiful landscapes to cruise through. For now, we sign off. Back to the coast we go!
Joanie + Casey
June 28, 2019
“I held my commanding foothold in the sky for two hours, gazing on the glorious landscapes spread manlike around the immense horizon, and tracing the outlines of the ancient lava-streams extending far into the surrounding plains, and the pathways of vanished glaciers of which Shasta had been the center.” -John Muir in A Perilous Night on Mount Shasta
Greeting family and friends! We write to you from the Cascades, a vast mountain range stretching from British Colombia to Northern California. With volcanoes sporadically located throughout, it is no surprise this area of the world is known as the Ring of Fire. Shasta, one of the tallest volcanoes, is a stand alone mountain jutting out of the dry California landscape. Driving along I-5 you can see the mountain over 100 miles away, its stark ridges and frosty tips standing out from the distant clouds. At its first sight our group hooped and hollered, fists in the air, ready to tackle her technical routes. The mountain continued to get bigger and bigger and our palms sweatier, eyes wider. Lake Siskiyou sits at her base and we dipped into the water staring at the large peak towering above us.
That next day was a leisure day. We organized all our gear, did laundry, and soaked up the magical town of Shasta. Shasta is known for its spirituality and mysticism. The streets are lined with crystal shops, loose leaf tea houses, and incense burners. The air is charged with magic blowing from the heart of the mountain. Everyone popped in and out of stores along the main drag, showing off crystals and other nicknacks to our friends passing by. In the afternoon we met up at our gear outfitters to pick up all the necessary equipment needed for the technical climb. Shasta is no walk in the park; we picked up ice axes, crampons, harnesses, helmets, and mountaineering boots. There was an air of calm seriousness as we walked out gear in hand, as we now understood the intensity of the next three days. Back at camp, we packed and awaited a new member of the family who would join us for this next chapter, Harrison. Harrison is a dear friend who works on the admin team in the office. She has a sunflower personality and the perfect person to help our team up the mountain. Our group welcomed her with open arms and hearts; plus, a delicious home cooked meal of green curry. Liz took head chef role for the dinner and made an abundance of veggies, chicken and rice soaked in coconut milk and green curry paste. Her patience with the ingredients resulted in a delectable meal with new spices for our back country taste buds. In true Shasta form, Cecile bought a book on the basics of meditation. To wrap up moon up she read a few passages and we chatted about how they resonated with us and pertained to the challenge ahead. In our tents we coveted the warm temperatures knowing the snow in our future.
It was time! We rose early that next morning to head into the town of Shasta to meet our trusty guides for the next three days. Four new friends were going to lead us up Shasta and introduce us to the sport of mountaineering. They thoroughly went through our packing list to ensure we were well outfitted for the weather ahead. The snow pack on Shasta this year was a record high. Snow remained on the base of the mountain where it usually is rocky terrain by early June. The nervous excitement in the van on the way to the trailhead was quickly overturned by Cat who put together a playlist of songs that got the group hyped up beyond belief. We rolled up to the trailhead singing at the top of our lungs and dancing in our seats. Cat always knows how to get the group in a good mood, ready to tackle any challenge. Packs on our backs and smiles on our faces we put one foot in front of the other and started up Mount Shasta. We quickly learned the correct technique to hiking on snow, ensuring not to slip or slide. Low Camp, better known as Horsecamp, was our first stop up the mountain. A small cabin and drop toilet made it a comfortable camp for our first evening. There was even a water spigot that collects clean water from the mountain; the most delicious water we’ve had all trip. At Horsecamp, our guides taught us how to set up our tents in the snow. Unlike standard camping, you have to burry the ropes into the snow to hold down the tent in the high winds. Camping on snow gave us a chance to reiterate our Leave No Trace philosophy of camping and hiking on durable surfaces. Snow is a very durable surface as our presence does not alter or affect the environment. Annie became the queen of snow camping and took extra time to create a flat surface for their tent and carefully bury the guy lines. Annie’s leadership throughout the trip has increased every day during each activity. We got to camp in the early afternoon, which allowed everyone to take some time to read, goof off, and play games. Oscar and William volunteered to build the first snow kitchen. This is no easy task. With shovels and ice picks they carved out an area in the snow to cook dinner. They built benches, a large island table, and a few cubbies inside the snow wall to hold our dinner ingredients. Are you familiar with the ice hotel in Sweden? Yes, it was exactly like that. Will, Oscar, and Cyrus never stop laughing, even when they are cranking out some hard work. For example, later that day in their tent, Will made Oscar laugh so hard he spit all of his toothpaste out and spilled his water inside which was followed be an eruption of deep laughter by the three, despite it being exceptionally cold outside. The three of them are so funny together it brings smiles to all of our faces. For dinner that night we had a Friendsgiving: instant mashed potatoes, stuffing, gravy, etc. Our professional guides joined us for Moonup and briefed us on the next day. A few of us ran up the mountain to catch the last bit of the sunset across the Trinity Mountains in the distance. The scene was stunning. A purple haze blanketed the mountains and competed against the warm light that lingered in the valley from the sun. What a way to end our first day on the mystical Mount Shasta.
Day 2 on Shasta started early as we wanted to hike on hard snow before the sun softened up the surface. Many of us started to feel the altitude as the air became thinner and our breathes heavier. The key to altitude hiking is to breathe deep and walk slowly. In our typical family fashion, conversations on the trail ranged from our favorite Skittle color to role models in our lives. Time passed quickly and soon we were at High Camp. Snow flew in every direction as tent sites were dug and wind walls were built. This high, weather can change rapidly and you must be prepared for everything. Cece and Cecile were on snow kitchen duty today. Cece used her architect and interior design mind to scope out where each section would be located. Snow flying once again, a half circle of benches with backs and a heart shaped table was built. On tonight’s menu was our favorite, back country Pad Thai. Cooking on snow proved to be quite the challenge – boiling water overflowed and melted our sound structure. We learned the value of water in high altitude as we had to melt snow for all drinking purposes. Our 6 p.m. bedtime was strictly enforced by the guides, as we aimed to wake up early for summit day. Before bed, our LOD Harrison went to each tent to do a tarot card reading. With the spirit of Shasta in our hearts, we slept soundly on our snow beds.
Summit day! The day we’ve been working towards was finally here. Darkness wrapped around the mountain like a scarf. The moon barely breached over the rocks and the stars acted as guide lights to the summit. In absolute quiet we geared up: helmets, harnesses, ice axes, and crampons. Our headlamps led us up the mountain in a single file line. The techniques we learned in snow school came into play as we scaled up the face. One of our strongest hikers, Ella, started to feel the effects of the altitude. The thin air is hard to train for; you never know how your body is going to respond. Ella was in tune with her body and realized that she did not feel comfortable continuing on. This is an important lesson in mountaineering: understanding how your body is feeling and informing those around you. Ella’s leadership and responsibility was truly respectable. She descended back to High Camp with Casey to sleep and get back to neutral. As we continued to get higher and higher, others felt the altitude as well and turned around with a guide. Many of us remained and began the steepest part of the climb. We used our ice axes as a third leg to stabilize our bodies up the snowy switch backs. The sun peaked over the mountains, but we were quickly swallowed by clouds. It was disorienting climbing in pure whiteness, but we followed our guides, roped together, one foot in front of the other. The Thumb is around 13,000 feet in elevation and is the top ridge line before the summit. We made it to this point with full hearts and cold extremities. Delving into granola bars, we embraced the blue sky that graced us for a few minutes. The guides conversed and informed us that this would be the apex of our climb. The weather on the summit was too windy and cold to continue on. It was sad news, but we all know Mother Nature rules over all else in these environments. When mountaineering, you must respect the mountain first and foremost. A well deserved photoshoot accompanied by blue skies and draw dropping views made us feel accomplished more than ever. The climb down was bitterly cold, but the clouds remained at bay giving us sweeping views of the Cascades. Back at High Camp we were welcomed with open arms by those that had to turn back early. We packed up camp, continued our descent to the van and exhaustedly dropped our packs to dig into the UHaul food pantry. The trek was wrapped up with our guides by each talking about a rose, bud and thorn. Rose being something we enjoyed, bud is something we are looking forward to, and thorn is something that was less desirable. Cyrus’s bud was exceptionally notable: he can’t wait to come back to Mount Shasta, get to the summit and ski down. We saw a few skiers as we ascended, and this sparked a fire in Cyrus’s mind. The car ride back to the campsite was dead quiet with everyone napping on each other’s shoulders. At camp, we cleaned our bodies and our clothes. Freshly showered we drove into Shasta for a big, delicious, well deserved Mexican feast. The table was covered with guacamole, enchiladas, quesadillas, burritos and everything in between. What a way to end a cold three day trek up one of the most respectable 14,000 foot mountains.
We are now driving to the American River to spend two days rafting in the California sun. It’s hard to believe our trip has only five days remaining. In true Moondance fashion we want to ‘live in the moment’ and embrace every minute left together. For now we sign off, unplug and continue to bathe in the nature of this big, beautiful world.
Joanie + Casey
June 24, 2019
“Keep close to Nature’s heart..and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” -John Muir
Yosemite rascals here, feeling a renewed sense of spirit and kinship as we’ve emerged from the gorgeous backcountry wilderness of the park. Muir says it best, there truly is nothing quite as refreshing for the soul as time spent in the stillness and tranquility of the wild with those you adore. It has been six unforgettable days of starry skies and sunshiny afternoons here in the Yosemite woods. With sweaty brows and smiling faces we have grown together through the challenges and learned to exist with only the essentials on our backs and the company of our family. We’ve grown a little wiser and a little stronger, but a heck of a lot closer and more confident with ourselves.
The start to our backcountry adventure set the tone for the rest of the trip as we trekked our shortest day gazing over the ridge line to the west at a picturesque Yosemite sunset. It was a bit of a shock to the system for the group as we lugged heavy packs up a steep mountainside. Everyone quickly adjusted as they got their legs underneath them and Cyrus, our Leader of the Day, pushed and supported the group. As the sun finished setting, we all took the time to stop and enjoy the memorable scene, delighting in the fact that we had 5 more days of this beauty. Packs back on, and headlamps out, we finished off the hike under the light of a bright, nearly full moon. As we approached the area we aimed to camp, Cyrus showed for the first of many times his knack for finding a prime camping spot. He jumped up on a boulder, peaked around, and sure enough there lay an ideal little plateau of granite for the group to pass the first of many evenings. Cyrus, King of the Campsites, he became. We chowed down on pasta and Prego to wind down our day, enjoyed our first backcountry Moonup, then retreated to our sleeping bags for some shut eye.
As we awoke the next morning in our wonderful little dwelling, we took the time to relax, read, converse, soak up some Vitamin D, and dine on breakfast. We even broke out the chess board for a few fun matches. A relaxing morning allowed us time to rest, slowdown and enjoy the wilderness. Self-care is something we’ve talked about regularly, not just concerning this trip but in the grander scheme of life. Understanding what your body and mind needs to keep yourselves happy and healthy is essential, and something this group has done a wonderful job being cognizant of. Liz read some of her thoughtful writing with the group at camp. Her ability to be comfortable and open with her thoughts and vulnerable with the group has inspired others to journal and share their emotions as well; something that has brought us all closer and more in touch with ourselves. With the sun beaming down on an extra hot California day, we made the ‘Davis’ (a back country delicacy consisting of sautéed cinnamon and apples, granola, pineapple, and optional peanut butter or Nutella, all wrapped in a tortilla and toasted to perfection) for lunch while things cooled off before setting out to conquer the next stretch of trail.
We didn’t even make it a quarter mile before Yosemite started to reveal more of her beauty to us. A stunning waterfall stretched down below on a hundred-foot granite cliff face. This surprise bringing smiles to our faces and stopping us in our tracks. We enjoyed the moment then pushed on as the sky began to darken around us. We talked about weather protocol and the climate of the mountains as we prepared to hike in a rainstorm, that luckily for us, never actually came. A 10-minute drizzle is all that came to fruition, but the moment served as a great lesson to the group for how quickly the weather changes in the mountains and how to stay prepared. An ideal situation for us as leaders to impart some knowledge.
Day 2 was also a day marked by great leadership. Oscar and Cat were our nominated LODs, and they took the role and ran with it. As we got deeper into the woods, the brush got thicker, the trail less travelled, and a keener eye was needed to navigate the group. These two rose to the occasion. Moondance, at its core, is about the group gaining a sense independence and taking ownership of their trip, and this was the first big day we as leaders got to witness the group doing this. Oscar and Cat constantly communicated with poise and open minds, as they tackled the logistics of water sources and navigating at each trail junction and fork in the road. They communicated well not only with each other, but also weighed options and ideas with the group in an organized manner. We had completely let go of the wheel, trusting these young intelligent folks to grasp our lessons and roll with it, and that they did! It was a joy to see them teeming with confidence each time a decision was made and progress was accomplished. One of the underlying themes of our trip has been to enjoy the present, love the beauty around you, and enjoy what life is giving you. Cat summed it up beautifully by constantly reminding everyone to “Stop, don’t forget to take your eyes off your feet, and look up, around and behind you.” After several river crossings and deep trail conversations, we arrived near a campable area. The King of Camping, Cyrus, was present as ever, finding us another stretch of flat, comfy ground strewn among the trees for camp. With a little more organization than the night before, we set up camp, and prepped the crowd favorite backcountry meal, Pad Thai. The cook crew served up a memorable meal with some great conversation to pass the time in the kitchen. Despite only being the second night, and many people’s first-time backpacking, everyone seemed at home and happy to be out in the woods. It was a testament to how close they had already grown as a group. Everyone had begun to find their stride, and things just seemed to be going better and better. Having fun is key in the backcountry, and that is certainly something this group is very talented at.
The following day our trail departed from the throngs of trees into wide, wet meadows. Cecile’s friendliness on the trail made us many new friends. She never passes someone without saying hello. She also sparked conversations ranging from our favorite candy bars to odd childhood memories. Bella showed her ability to face adversity with a smile on her face as she fought through a bit of a hurt ankle. The group continued to be supportive of each other in these hard times with compassion and love. Yosemite blessed us with a sunny, blue skied day and plenty of wildlife in the meadow. Snakes, frogs, and other marshy reptiles sprang around us as we sloshed through the overflown trail. At camp, everyone took a well-deserved dip in the cold, snow melt-fueled river. Casey-dillas was on the menu for the evening and with filled bellies, everyone slept on a tarp underneath the velvety sky.
Day 4 presented both the most beautiful views and greatest physical challenge of our backpacking section. After 3 days of hiking along Alder Creek, we would finally reach the towering precipice of the valley walls. This meant rising to great heights, but the group’s will was strong and the desire to push themselves was there. Upon meeting with the group, Ella and Annie, our LODs, discussed adding extra mileage to an already daunting 12-mile day in order to see more of the valley from spectacular vantage points. Annie had planted the seed of pushing and challenging ourselves even more throughout the hiking trip, and her confidence and belief in the group was infectious. To our surprise, the group agreed without hesitation, and the day’s challenge had been set. After huddling up close for a little pump-up roar, we set out with blistering pace to gain the elevation we needed to reach the cliffs edge. After a few miles uphill we had reached Taft Point above the most beautiful Valley in the world; it took our breath away. Never have we seen something of this scale so awe inspiring and gorgeous in our lives. With over 2500-feet of elevation on three sides, the jutting point was worth every drop of sweat to reach it. It’s quite hard to put into words the feeling upon seeing the valley from a bird’s eye view. Pictures hardly do it any justice. To our delight, we were just getting started, for after some time reflecting at Taft Point we pushed on to link up Sentinel Dome and Glacier Point as well, both equally as stunning and magical in their own right. We broke for lunch at Sentinel Dome and all looked around with smiles and full hearts, for this is why we had all come, and why we were together. Despite all the hard work to get to this point, and the other 8 to 9 miles waiting ahead of us, we were all laughs and fun. Ella, the most spontaneous and arguable joyful of the group, played a big part in this. No matter how hard or tired we began to become, her ability to laugh and stay lighthearted at the trouble and enjoy the moment eased our weary bones and carried the group through the day with high spirits even when energies began to dwindle. Our eyes had seen so much beauty from such great heights, but what goes up must come down, and so began our decent towards the next camp far on the east side of the Valley. The most difficult part of the day after all for us was not the beginning of the day but the end.
After dropping several hundred feet of elevation over a mile or two, we reach a lower point at Illiloutte Falls, broke for a water break, then realized it was time to climb again. After 10 plus miles of hiking the group gritted their teeth and began to climb up elevation in order to reach camp several miles ahead. This is the point where energy became the lowest, our will was tested, and the desire to soldier on was questioned. Life is made up of moments where we decide to quit or finish what we start. And this was one of those moments. This was our proudest moment thus far. For it’s not just a moment but a mindset. A mindset to set goals for ourselves, to reach outside our comfort zone and grow. It’s a mindset that carries over far beyond the microcosm of their Moondance trip but into the challenges that face them down the road as they journey through their young adult lives. This was the point where the kids we’d meet a week or so before stood before us as strong adults prepared to give what it takes to accomplish the things they want to do in this world. Adults we are incredibly proud to call our friends. The group finished the day right as darkness fell. The group got ready for bed faster than any other day on the trip. We were all sound asleep before you could blink. The day had taken it’s told but we had taken the prize.
The next day we arose in the morning, ate a lite breakfast of bars, and took to the trail. It was a short day to make it down into the Valley. The group quickly learned that downhill can be as challenging as uphill. The prior day had beaten us up pretty well since we’d pushed ourselves so hard. That didn’t stop us from finishing strong. CeCe, whose feet were definitely a bit blistered, encapsulated the group mentality. She was smiling ear to ear, brimming with positivity, not a complaint in the world. She is one tough cookie. Three hours later, thighs burning, we had made it at last! We completed all our mileage, and to celebrate we set up camp in a hurry and scooted down to the creek for some swimming and Vitamin D. Later that night we retraced our path on the map and looked at each other with pride, realizing we were all stronger than we thought after all. Plus, our calves looked great. That night at Moonup, Will proposed a sunrise hike as a cherry on top. One last sunrise in the park for the group. At first people were hesitant, but he insisted that we’ve got to take advantage of these experiences and the time we have in life to enjoy the world’s beauty. One last walk in the Yosemite woods to see a pretty sunrise, and then we were off to the North.
It’s now the eve of our next great expedition, Mt. Shasta. The group rested well for a day and visited the quaint mountain town of Shasta. But we are ready to again have dirt under our nails and wind in our hair. So as James Brown says, here we go to “shoot our shot”. Until next time, keep on keeping on folks!
Joan + Casey
June 16, 2019
“Never before had I seen so glorious a landscape, so boldness an affluence of sublime mountain beauty. The most extravagant description I might give of this view to anyone who has not seen similar landscapes with his own eyes would not so much as hint its grandeur and the spiritual glow that covered it. I shouted and gesticulated in a wild burst of ecstasy.”
– John Muir ‘On the Brink of Yosemite Falls’
Four days. That’s it. And the family has formed. Greetings from the Yosemite rascals after another magical day in the most beautiful valley in the world. It’s been the longest and most joyful four days over here in California. It might be something in the water, but our hearts tell us it’s just the incredibly authentic, energetic, and loving group of newly found friends that has made for the beginnings of the trip of a lifetime.
It all started at 8:20 AM in San Francisco International Airport with the arrival of the contagiously friendly Cat. Being first of all of the California crew, she walked up with a big grin on her face and set the tone for the rest of the day with open arms for everyone arriving. As we all finally arrived, conversation was flowing, and something just felt all too right about the group. After quickly jumping in Maxi (our home on four wheels) we were off to Half Moon Bay for the first of many wonderful evenings. It was evident early on that everyone in the group had come to find joy and adventure here in California, along with new friends. The Pacific may be chilly, but we revel in the rush the cold water brings us. Annie, without a moment’s hesitation, jumped right in and convinced the group to charge into the ocean as we began the first dip of our daily ritual. You see, we’ve decided not to let our days go by without a jump into the beautiful lakes, creeks, and streams around us here in California. It makes us feel alive! So, each day we go out of our way to celebrate by finding water to jump in. We haven’t missed a day yet and you can bet we don’t plan on it anytime soon.
Our first day in Northern California started early as we road tripped up the infamous Hwy 1 from Half Moon Bay to Pacifica. Pacifica is the Mecca for surfers, both beginners and advanced. We sat on the beach watching surfers flawlessly ride the waves; by far the best entertainment and our ’TV’ for the day. Our guides David, Tim, and Omer welcomed us with zinc covered faces and laid-back Cali accents. Not only did they teach us how to pop up on a surfboard, but they also taught us the essential surf lingo and hand gestures to truly look the part. After practicing our technique on the sand, our overzealous confident group ran into the water ready to catch some gnarly waves. We soon learned that popping up on a surfboard on the beach is quite different from the unpredictable ocean waves. Everyone tumbled into the white caps with big, salty smiles. With the help of our trusty guides, everyone was able to catch a few waves. One fish in particular, Liz, may have found a new found love for the water, as she was the first one in and the last one out. She is someone who is ready to tackle every activity and challenge herself starting day 1. After a Mediterranean pita feast, our family hit the road heading directly east towards Yosemite. Bellies were full, spirits were high, and singing voices were bellowing. We hit an unexpected 2-hour traffic delay, which only brought our group closer under the harmonious voices of ABBA, Ke$ha, and Whitney Houston. We have quite an array of voice ranges, dance moves, and music tastes. Arriving into our campground a little later than expected, we discovered a grill and unanimously decided to authentically grill up veggies and skirt steak to make top notch fajitas. Tired, full, and ready for the adventures ahead, we pitched our tents and slept soundly dreaming of Yosemite Valley.
It’s here. Finally, the day we’ve all been dreaming of. Our team ran and piled into the car, fighting for window seats anxiously awaiting the drive into Yosemite. Energy was quickly diminished as we started the long hour and a half drive to Half Dome Village. Some napped, some chatted, and others took in the sights of the Sierras as we winded our way through the mountains towards one of the most famous natural wonders. We were children on Christmas morning driving through Tunnel Road watching the light at the end get bigger and bigger, awaiting the picture-perfect scene we’ve seen on TV and magazines a thousand times. It did not disappoint. In fact, it was far better than any of us could ever imagine. The morning sun lit up El Capitan to our left and Half Dome in all its grandeur was standing far in the distance on our right. We screamed, we laughed, some even cried. We took our time driving in to soak up all the beauty and awe-inspiring scenes. As we drove past El Capitan, we all relived Alex Honnold’s infamous free solo accent up the sheer granite face. The documentary was beautifully filmed, but there is no way to understand the scale of his endeavor unless you see the route in person. The sun reflects off the rock in such a way that the glare shows off its slick, smooth surface. Inspired, we were ready to rock climb. Our introduction to rock climbing started at the basics: knots, safety, geological history. There are only 12 rock climbing guides in Yosemite, and we were lucky enough to reserve two of them over the next two days. We started off with a rappel down a rock face to understand the gear and learn to trust the ropes and our weight against the granite. Bella had trouble at first and successfully rappelled down with the support of our group. After this difficult rappel, Bella was the first to volunteer to tackle the hardest of three rock climbing routes that were set up by our guides. Her drive inspired all of us to climb hard.
The sun beat down on us as we squeezed our hands and feet into tight cracks and shimmed our bodies up the pitches. Sweaty and tired, we all agreed that it was time for our daily swim. Water in Yosemite is endless, especially after a snowy winter and rainy. Just beyond the climbing routes, Slab City, was a flooded valley with rock jutting up from all directions. It was cold, refreshing, and absolutely beautiful. During the swim, we seamlessly transitioned into a Riff Off. Yes, what’s a Riff Off? A Riff Off is when two groups form, and each sing a part of a song. The last word of one group’s song then must be the first word of the other group’s song. Cecile truly led this spontaneous activity and both groups were singing at the top of their lungs while splashing water at one another. She won the friendly competition for her group by bringing it back to ABBA basics: Dancing Queen, a crowd favorite. It was a long hard day of climbing and singing, so the drive back to camp was quiet as everyone soaked up the scenes of the valley on the way out. The day was far from over – William was ready to take on the title of Grill Master and cooked us all well-deserved, drool worthy burgers. Spatula in hand, he told stories of home using his grill tool as a prop sparking laughs all around. Another late night closed a great day. As one of the Leaders of the Day, Cece directed Moonup and asked questions that opened up our group to share more vulnerable thoughts, concerns, and dew drops of wisdom that make up our lives at home.
Eager to get in the park the next morning, we woke early and met our guides for another long day of rock climbing. The group warmed up with some bouldering and practiced the techniques we had learned the previous day. Four routes of ranging difficulty and length were set up along cracks in the granite face. The day was hot and sunny, which only added to the drama as we meticulously led our bodies up the wall. Ella was one of the first volunteers in the morning to tackle the hard crack. She spent over 30 minutes going up, down, and all around searching for impurities in the granite that would propel her body up. She took her time, thought methodically about her moves and eventually made it to the top about 100 feet above the floor. I’ve truly never seen a smile so big as when her feet touched the floor. Cyrus especially thrived today; he was an active belayer, calling out to his friends which routes to take and which footholds to trust. While climbing, he never forgot to take his time at the top and enjoy his hard-earned view of the endless valley. One of our guides, Kyle, noted that he had never seen such success by a group on one of the more difficult routes. This route was a long crack that lead up a slippery, sheer granite face. The only way to get up was to squeeze your feet into the crack and use your weight to counterbalance and slowly push up.
Our hands were mangled and dirty; faces sweaty and happy. No one questioned our next activity as we knew our daily swim was in order. We went back to the same meadow to cool off and indulge in more singing. Oscar is especially fun to watch during these times as he doesn’t always know all the words, but he passionately dances and takes his best guess regardless. When the right words do flood his brain, he belts out louder than anyone else. On the way out of Yosemite Valley, we stopped at El Capitan. It was a quick 20-minute hike to the rock face. As we got closer, we noticed two sets of climbing teams taking on the wall. Seeing tiny people on the 3,000 ft wall truly put in perspective the immense endeavor El Capitan truly is. We put our new climbing skills to work a few feet up the wall so that we all can say we’ve ‘free solo’ El Cap. Back at camp, a free afternoon was spent swimming, meditating, and getting ready for the next 6 days of backpacking.
Challenges only make groups closer, and with this group its incredible to think we’ve yet to face our toughest challenges yet. As we grow together each day, we learn more about each other and our bonds grow deeper. The next week will be spent with sweat on our brows and dirt in our nails as we trek across Yosemite National Park and end our breathtaking backpacking section in the Valley once more. The nights will be spent under the shine of California stars with laughter and love in our hearts. So, for now we bid you all ado, for the wilderness awaits us.
Joanie and Casey
June 12, 2019
Hello Yosemite Families!
We heard from Joanie and Casey that all students have arrived safely in San Francisco! They are headed to their first night’s campsite and can’t wait for the trip to begin!