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Mystery Trip 1 • July 6-July 26, 2021

Aloha Means Goodbye

July 26, 2021

Hawaii may be known as “The Aloha State”, but their license plate features a rainbow. Over the last few days, we’ve seen more rainbows than we can count; we’ve even seen a few double rainbows! As cheesy as it may sound, our adventure reflects a rainbow all too well. We started in one distant land and layered one adventure on top of another until we reached our pot of gold in Hawaii. Though the two destinations offered wildly different experiences, our relationships and memories bridge the two non-continental states together seamlessly in our minds. However, before we dive any further into our farewell, we want to share a few happenings from our last days in Hawaii!


Before the beloved roosters crowed, we popped out of our tents and made our way to Hanalei for a sea kayaking tour of the Na’Pali Coast! Our guides informed us they had heard many tales of the mystery trip from other Moondance groups earlier in the summer and were excited to see if we lived up to the hype… of course, we did! We kayaked faster than any other crew of the summer! No thanks to Gabe and me who were the first to flip our kayak upon hitting the waves. But fear not! Sam and Palmer found themselves in the water shortly after along with Brooks and Jack. Luckily, the water was warm and the view was beautiful, so each tip was accompanied by laughter and graceful re-entries. Halfway through our 17-mile journey, Jackson and William were proud of themselves for being the only kayak without a guide to stay upright the whole time. Well, I’m sure you know what happened shortly after… the duo flipped three times within five minutes! They couldn’t stop laughing at their misfortune and neither could the rest of us. While we weren’t upside down in the water, we explored several sea caves along the coast! One of the caves was no longer a real cave due to the roof collapsing in on itself after receiving beating after beating from large winter swells. The old roof now sticks out of the ocean inside the cave and Sam, Palmer, Catherine, and Gabe all climbed atop the outcropping for a photoshoot. Why? Because Mary J Blige once filmed a music video in that exact location! We then continued towards the Na’pali State Park beachfront where we enjoyed lunch and a nap in the sand! Refreshed from a little rest, Ellison rallied the troops to get excited for the last 5-mile push. This girl was made for sea kayaking; she was all smiles the whole time and decided it was her favorite activity within the first ten minutes. When we finished, we looked back along the coastline and realized how lucky we were to see what we saw through our own willpower and strength. Many people view the Na’Pali coast by motorboat (the only other option), but we took the road less traveled and crushed it! We rewarded ourselves with tacos from a local spot on our drive home.


The next morning, everyone woke up in anticipation of what the day might bring. The students had plenty of guesses as to where we were headed, but no one guessed scuba diving! As we pulled into the harbor, Palmer saw the advanced crew’s diving instructor preparing one of the boats and screamed, “JORDAN!!! OH MY GOSH WE’RE SCUBA DIVING!!!” so loud that even Jordan heard from outside the van. The whole gang quickly threw on their wetsuits and jumped on their boats for two dives in the open ocean! For the beginning open water divers, these were their first dives as certified divers! The ocean must have known because Folger, Ellison, Sam, and Jack saw two octopi! Meanwhile, Harrison, Palmer, Brooks, Catherine, and Gabe all started their dive Navy SEAL style. In other words, they swam from one boat to another, threw on their gear, and then performed a new skill called a “Drift Dive”. In a drift dive, the divers descend, follow the current, and then send a buoy up to the surface when they’re done to signal the boat as to where the crew will ascend. It was quite the experience! Cat, William, Jackson, and May dove with an incredibly intelligent divemaster who knew all about the native Hawaiian fish. They also swam up close and personal with sea turtles! The dives were the perfect way to end everyone’s scuba experience and tired everyone out. Therefore, we all said our thank you and goodbyes to our guides, loaded in the van, and made our way back to our campsite at Anini Beach.


Though everyone planned to take a short nap upon arriving at the campsite, this group simply can’t stay out of the ocean. Within minutes, Folger encouraged almost everyone to splash in the ocean for a while. Who needs a nap when your time in Hawaii is limited?! Our LODs, Catherine, and Harrison, then got everyone up and moving to prepare for banquet. Floral shirts and Alaskan socks were the attire of choice for the evening. With high energy and loud music, we made our way to Hanalei for our last official dinner together. Jack couldn’t get enough of the fish while Cat and Sam entertained their end of the table with countless stories. With full bellies and joyful spirits, we then jumped back in the van. But not for too long… we had to wait in line to cross the Hanalei bridge, so Palmer, William, and Harrison led the charge on a quick roadside dance party; just the type of energy we needed heading into our final Moonup led by Catherine and Harrison. Our final Moonup was a long, reflective journey. However, I think everyone would agree that the most treasured aspect of the nightly ritual was the addition of individual nut jugs. For two minutes, the group threw nugs into an individual’s nug jug to affirm them for all they did and all that they are before heading home. Hearing what each student had to say about each other was incredibly powerful. May was continuously bugged for her compassionate, servant-hearted nature; traits all of us wish to embody more in our lives at home. We then ended our Moonup with sparklers on the beach, a group hug, and cookies galore!


While we may have shared our last Moonup together, we still had a full day before heading to the airport. While we planned to go surfing, Hawaii had a different plan. A flat tire kept us from making it our surf lessons, but it didn’t dampen our fun. Catherine, Sam, Harrison, and William dove into an intense game of Spades on the side of the road while we fixed the flat. Continuing her winning streak from Hacky Sack, Catherine and Harrison won the game by a close margin. Meanwhile, Palmer kept the rest of the group entertained by asking silly questions. When the van was back up and running, we treated everyone to another burrito or Acai bowl lunch! The food energized us enough to hike down a trail to a somewhat secluded beach near Poipu for a last dip in the ocean before showering and heading to the airport.


Three weeks with this crew flew by faster than we could have imagined. Day after day, each student woke up ready to take on the day’s mystery and embrace the unknown. Gabe and I, along with every outfitter we worked with, were continuously blown away by the group’s radiant energy and strong leadership. This is a special bunch of people, and we’re sad to see them go; however, we’re pumped to see all that they accomplish in their senior year of high school or freshman year of college! We have no doubt Brooks, May, Harrison, Sam, Folger, Ellison, Cat, Jackson, Catherine, Palmer, Jack, and William, will do great things, but more importantly, will be known as good-natured humans wherever they go.


Aloha and Mahalo!

Gabe and Maddie

SCUBA Swimmin'

July 23, 2021

Aloha mainlanders!

We were grateful to wake up to a Hawaiian sunrise on our first morning! It was only fitting that we celebrated our first sunrise in weeks with fresh pineapple, mango, strawberries, blueberries, raspberries, granola, and yogurt. The island life felt all too real and all too welcoming. In other words, we were far from upset about our situation. The island lifestyle then beckoned us towards our first activity: scuba diving!

Our advanced divers, Catherine, Brooks, Palmer, Harrison, and Gabe started the day in the ocean. They dove in headfirst and came back with stories of fish and sea turtles galore. While the rest of us were eager to see the aquatic life below, we recognized the importance of learning all the tips and tricks of the trade. With our trusty instructors, we dove into the pool and soaked up all the basics of scuba diving: setting up the gear, breathing through a regulator, balancing weight underwater, clearing a water-filled mask, etc. Sam took to each skill with ease and was eager to play underwater games while he waited for his turn to get checked off. By the end of the afternoon, everyone felt more confident about scuba diving in the ocean and was eager to see what tomorrow had to offer (yes, the students asked the instructors the schedule… so they all knew the next day’s activity. Mystery solved.) After scuba diving, we headed back to our campsite where everyone jumped in the ocean while Sam and Maddie went grocery shopping. Though chickens run around our campsite like they own the place, there was no chicken to be found in the local grocery stores. Oh, the irony. So, Sam, Catherine, William, and Folger decided to make jerky seasoned beef bowls for dinner. They were outstanding. Several noted that they would order it from a restaurant if it was on the menu. Then came the lemon and chocolate pie! Dessert and Hawaii just seem to go together…

After another Moonup in the dark (we simply can’t get over the fact that the sun truly sets here), we awoke the next morning ready for scuba round two. The beginning open water crew took to the ocean for the first time! While there were a few nerves before entering the water, Jackson and Cat emerged raging about their amazing experience. If they could fill their tanks with enough oxygen to last a lifetime underwater, they just might do it. Between dives, the instructors offered us Oreos, Hawaiian juice, chips, and granola bars which we scarfed down. The fuel was necessary for our next dive. Though it wasn’t much deeper than the first, there were more skills to check off and more coral reefs to explore. Ellie surfaced after her second dive with a huge grin on her face and said, “That was actually so cool!” Everyone agreed that their second dive was the best and offered great views of sea turtles and fish alike. Meanwhile, the advanced crew went on a boat dive! While under the sea, the advanced divers came up with a secret sign language in order to communicate with each other. They translated their hand signs for everyone when they returned from their journey, and we couldn’t stop laughing. Sea turtles also flooded their vision as they dove to 90 feet! How crazy is that! Palmer also had the opportunity to practice her fish identification on the dive! You should ask her about it if you get the chance. Following right along on the crazy train, the whole crew rejoined and headed to the Queen’s Baths trailhead to explore the coast. The natural pools (baths) fill with ocean water at high tide and allow for safe swimming along an active shoreline. William and Catherine were fearless and jumped into a bath from the rocks above. Everyone soon followed suit and enjoyed the thrill of jumping in still water while watching the waves crash on the other side of the rock wall. Though jumping in the water exhilarated Jack, he quickly took to practicing his photography skills. The surrounding area was stunning, so I can’t blame him. More so, the guy has an artistic eye! It’s pretty neat watching someone use their passion to bring a place to life.

Once our scuba and ocean bath adventure, we headed back to our campsite to clean off before dinner. Ellison, Cat, Jackson, and Harrison crafted a Caprese pasta complete with mozzarella balls, pesto, cherry tomatoes, and onion. The refreshing meal left us ready to dive into a deep Moonup question: what was the hardest moment of your life? While answers varied across the board, the sincerity and vulnerability shared amongst everyone were truly beautiful. Authentic moments seem to disappear by the minute in modern society, and our hour sitting in a circle together near the ocean reaffirmed to us that human connection is irreplaceable.

Our last day of scuba landed us all on the shore at the same location! We were excited to give each other high-fives and celebratory shouts before entering the water. The advanced crew finished all of their skills check-offs after the first dive! Over the course of three days, they learned how to dive up to 100 ft and identify fish among other little things. The beginner divers were all impressed by the advanced scuba abilities and channeled their knowledge while completing the tasks in the last two dives. Though she was terrified at the beginning, Folger removed her mask underwater and put it back on all with apparent ease! We were all so proud of her for overcoming her fear of getting water up her nose. Upon completion of the compass navigation on the surface and underwater, the beginner group received their official PADI certification! It was a rather exciting moment. Jackson was stoked about receiving his certification and mentioned that he would love to scuba with his dad one day.

A long, rewarding day at scuba meant it was time for Acai bowls and burritos. Ellison was in heaven with all of the fruit and topping choices, while Brooks enjoyed a heavenly chicken burrito. Fueled for our next adventure, we jumped back in the van and headed to a secluded beach. Jordan, the advanced crew’s instructor, told us about this specific beach and we owe him everything! Vines and trees covered the top part of the trail until it dumped us out at a secluded beach with about 5 other visitors. All the beaches we’d driven by up to his point were fairly packed, so this was a treat. We quickly realized we should ask locals for every tip in the book. Waves crashed one after another in clear water, so we all ran into the water without hesitation. The waves turned out to be perfect for body surfing, so we all raced to make it the furthest wave after wave. William, Jackson, and Catherine were quite the surfers. At one point, the whole crew linked arms and tried to withstand crashing waves without breaking apart. As you might imagine, the wall broke quite often…

The saltwater made us crave the feeling of clean, freshwater. Lucky for us, there was a body of freshwater leading to the ocean right behind us! One by one, people started migrating towards the freshwater. Gabe, Harrison, Cat, Sam, and Jackson all made efforts to climb a tilted coconut tree in order to grab a coconut to drink out of. With graceful movements, Cat made it to the top and threw down a few coconuts for the group. William and Palmer drank the coconut water with a smile on their face. Palmer took it next level and ate some of the coconut meat as well! Though she claims the coconut was delicious, she had quite the meal to prepare upon returning to camp. Palmer, May, Brooks, and Jackson cooked up Hawaiian BBQ chicken tacos with mango coleslaw. Cat couldn’t get over how good the meal was and neither could the rest of us. The fresh mango was the ultimate treat and sweetened up our thoughts in order to answer the night’s Moonup question: “What is your happiest memory?”

The next morning allowed for a slow, late wake-up. Cat, Folger, and Catherine woke up and dove into the ocean in front of our campsite for a refreshing early morning swim. Meanwhile, Sam cooked eggs benedict for everyone. Yes, you read that correctly. We ate eggs benedict off of a camp stove and it was amazing. We then geared up for our first day of surfing! On the water, May took to the sport naturally. She loved surfing so much that she said she might just have to take trips to Florida in order to get her surfing fix back home. Sam, Folger, Cat, Catherine, William, and Palmer also caught quite a few waves throughout the afternoon. Little did we know, surfing builds up quite the appetite, so Gabe stopped in the local Safeway to grab surprise ice cream and veggies for when we got back to camp. The ice cream and veggie treats served as a nice appetizer to our stovetop pizza dinner! May, Ellison, and Palmer volunteered to cook for everyone! Let me just say, our gourmet front country pizzas were something special. Onion, peppers, tomato, spinach, and pepperoni topped pre-made pizza dough! Once our creative juices were flowing at dinner, we figured we’d keep them going at Moonup. Jack and Cat, our LODs for the day, asked us, “If you could create a Moondance trip, where would you go, what two activities would you highlight, and who would you want your leaders to be?” Several students have read or are reading Greenlights, Matthew McConaughey’s memoir, which inspired many answers. Harry Potter characters, rap artists, and other famous actresses also made the leader list. Though the fun question energized the group, we quickly simmered down knowing that tomorrow we have an early morning and big day; we’re going sea kayaking! We can’t wait to share all of our stories in the next update!

Sea you later!
Gabe and Maddie

From the 49th to the 50th - Aloha!

July 19, 2021

An Alaskan Aloha to all our family and friends!

The front country (also known as the fun country) treated us well over the past couple of days. Sam woke everyone up with fresh French toast that tasted like heaven. The guy is quite the chef and constantly impresses us with his confidence and desire to help out in the kitchen. Our full bellies fueled us for our mini town day. Fireweed Ice Cream, an Alaskan recipe, filled the stomachs of those daring enough to try while others indulged in freshly baked cookies. All in all, we counted the morning a success and headed towards the grocery store. Ellison and Brooks were the LOD’s for the day and did the shopping for the group. Both were natural, quick shoppers with inclinations to throw in a few extra treats: a trait the rest of the group highly appreciated.

After a while, the backcountry was calling to us once again. We all hopped back in the van and made our way to Denali National Park! First stop – the visitor center parking lot! We filled our bellies with sandwiches and played a round of three hack whack until it landed on the top of a neighboring RV. Harrison had the idea to leave a note on their windshield asking if they could get it down when they returned. Luckily, it worked! They returned our treasured hacky and wrote a note back thanking us for not trying to get it ourselves. Palmer and Cat then asked the rangers where we would see the most wildlife and quickly instructed the rest of the group to head to the Savage River Loop. On our drive to the trailhead, we saw a moose and a Caribou! Sam practically jumped out of his seat. Meanwhile, Brooks yelled “Bear!” when there was no real bear and got a good chuckle out of his prank. A giant porcupine surprised us at the start of the trail which was rather confusing at first; we weren’t aware we were in the land of porcupines! Though we didn’t see any Dall Sheep up in the mountains, Cat trekked to the top of a rocky trail proving she was the closest we would see to a wild sheep. Great conversations rumbled along the rest of the trail as we admired the bustling river and baby ptarmigan. Our spontaneous day was topped off with our favorite meal yet – greek bowls! Zesty Italian marinated chicken sat atop couscous, hummus, and May’s mom’s signature cucumber, tomato, red onion, oil, and lemon juice salad. My goodness, it was a treat!

The next morning we woke early to Jack stirring up some hash browns, eggs, and bacon to fill our breakfast burritos. The perfectly filling meal prepared us for white water rafting quite well. Upon arrival at the outfitter, we threw on dry suits that made everyone look like characters from “Among Us” (a game all the teens play these days…). We got a good laugh at our wardrobe before jumping in the rafts. With the girls in one raft and the boys in the other, the competition rose to win the race down the river. Well, at least for the girls (who won, of course). Turns out the boys didn’t know they were in a race when we reached the take-out… More importantly, everyone braved the 30-degree water and willingly jumped in when the raft guides said “swim”. Ellison jumped right in, while Harrison and Sam performed a trust activity that ended with them both submerged. The girls and Sam, Jackson, William, and Jack all braved the bull (where you sit on the front of the boat with your feet dangling over the edge) while riding through rapids. However, the MVP of the day must go to one of our LODs, May. She jumped up to help whenever the raft guides asked for assistance and never failed to encourage the boat when the nerves kicked in. Gooey grilled cheeses, crafted by Catherine and Palmer, warmed us up once we were back at camp. We then sat next to the river for our last Moonup at our beloved campground we’d grown to call home.

“Wake up! It’s time to drive back to Anchorage!” At least that’s what we told the students… in reality, we jumped in the van and headed to our last Alaskan activity: zip lining! Folger and Jackson, our LODs for the day, successfully kept the activity a secret and even played, “Just hold on I’m coming home” when we got in the car to stir confusion. The zips were a big hit amongst the group. Sam was easily the most daring, Harrison tried to hold a yoga pose down a whole line, and Palmer did a cannonball.

Wind freshly in our hair, it was finally time to head towards Anchorage. Teriyaki stir fry and s’mores helped us savor our last night in Alaska along with a hilarious Moonup. Jackson told us all about his ideal restaurant plan for “Paul’s” and William simply couldn’t stop chuckling. The laughter carried us through the night into our early morning flight to Hawaii! Despite the early hour, everyone woke up with energy and excitement. Our LODs for the day, Cat and Jack, were incredibly helpful in the airport and supportive to everyone who needed assistance. The airport day flew by, and before we knew it we were staring into Hawaiian waves in awe. The waves were such a big hit that as soon as we pulled into our campsite everyone asked if they could take a quick swim in the ocean. Of course, the answer was “yes”. Live in the moment. Harrison walked out of the water stating he hadn’t felt so happy in a while. Overall, we are all incredibly grateful to have flown from one exotic state to another. Our first Moonup on the beach started with an ice cream sandwich surprise, and if that’s any indication of how the next week is going to go, we are in for a real treat!

Catch y’all on the flip side!

Gabe and Maddie

The Sky is the Limit in Alaska!

July 16, 2021

Greetings lower 48ers!

Since we last wrote, we’ve had quite an adventure! Gabe and I are continually impressed by everyone’s positivity and energy. And did I mention their backcountry skills?! Me oh my. Over the past few days, Ellison and Harrison embarked on their FIRST backpacking expedition. Huge shoutout to them for accomplishing such a feat in Alaska, of all places.

Now on to the nitty-gritty. We left off with Sam’s shaving story; however, we want to pick up right before that moment for there was an important memory we don’t want to forget. After meeting our Alaska Nature backpacking guides, Mo and Frannie, we performed skits in pairs to teach each other about LNT. Harrison and Palmer kicked off the show with a hilarious skit on how to plan ahead and prepare. They acted out several scenarios that should never take place in the backcountry and then simultaneously yelled, “don’t be that guy!”. By the end, we were all laughing and saying the phrase with them.

Okay, fast forward to the next morning. Gabe taught the crew how to pack a pack and then we were on our way! When we arrived at the trailhead, we hooped and hollered in the parking lot long enough to make the other visitors question what in the world we were up to. It was a good thing we started with loads of energy because the hike was no joke. We trekked 7 miles up to the Kesugi Ridgeline in hopes of a clear view of Denali. Along the way, we saw marmots and ptarmigans (affectionately known as ground chickens) and taste-tested wild cucumbers and blueberries. Snacking on the natural foods must have beckoned the skies to part because once we reached the Ridgeline we saw Denali in all its glory. Jack’s jaw immediately dropped as he noted that the mountain was the largest he’d ever seen. We all agreed and kept trekking with a renewed energy to our first campsite. Tents and tarps went up in a hurry once we arrived at the campsite due to seemingly stormy skies. We thought rain was coming our way, but alas, it was hail…. But nothing can keep us down! We made a makeshift tarp to cook William’s favorite backcountry meal (pad thai) just in time for it to stop. However, the tarp’s glory days didn’t end there! Rain sprinkled our heads at the start of Moonup, so we all grabbed an edge of the tarp, ran under, and tucked it under our bums like kindergarteners! We pulled off a successful parachute! Despite our excitement for accomplishing such a feat, we decided Moonup in a comfortable circle was probably our better bet.

The next day we enjoyed a slow morning before taking off on a way-finding adventure. Nestled in a little valley, we looked up the closest mountain peak, pointed, and decided to conquer. So off we went. Jackson and Folger led the way up and down the mountain. If it wasn’t so rocky, Jackson would have joyfully frolicked through the fields for hours if we let him. The hike up exercised our brains – we had to determine the safest, most efficient path up the mountain as it was all unmarked. Once at the top, we celebrated with a surprise Stroop waffle! Better yet, we quickly took to sledding down a nearby snow patch. Sam wasted no time teaching us how to belly slide like penguins. Ellison quickly picked up on the new move and ran up and down the snow over and over despite the cold.

Though we loved our beloved campsite, we packed our bags and hit the trail the next morning for a 5-mile hike. Blue skies and unbeatable views of Denali kept morale high as we dove into meaningful trail conversations. With each step, we kept in mind a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that Cat shared with us days before: “Great minds discuss ideas; average minds discuss events; small minds discuss people.” It doesn’t get much better than breathing in mountain air and discussing big ideas. Well, there was one other significant moment that capped off the day… we jumped in an alpine lake! Palmer was the most daring and took a few strokes further out into the water. Maddie tried to keep up and achieved an admirable second furthest into the lake. Meanwhile, Jackson and Jack overcame their fear of cold water and ran straight into the water after a bit of cheering. They may have shivered a bit, but they didn’t regret it one bit. Back at camp, we made lentil curry for dinner! Several people stated it was their first time eating lentils!

We woke to rain the next morning which encouraged us all to sleep in a little later since we were planning on enjoying another base camp day. When the sun finally decided to shine through, we cooked up some oatmeal. Folger took a bite, smiled, and exclaimed she found her new favorite food! Oh, the little things in life. We then played a group game of three hack whack (a competitive hackysack game). While we were all hoopin and hollerin, we couldn’t help but groan when Catherine won AGAIN. She can’t be beaten. When the rest of us couldn’t see victory in our near future, we decided to split into two teams and play capture the flag. Take a second to picture a rocky hill with plenty of boulders and bushes to hide behind… then combine that image with the Hunger Games… the result is probably similar to our game setting. Each team put up quite the fight; however, Harrison and Jackson simply couldn’t be stopped. They brought their team to victory as they tossed the crazy creek over the line! Team Moose forever! May, Sam, Palmer, and Jack also put in good work to help bring the team to victory. After a tiring game, we all decided it was time for pita pizzas! Palmer toasted the pita, Backcountry Brooks sauced the pita, and Ellison griddled the cheese before throwing it on the pita. T’was quite the assembly line. Full bellies inspired Cat, Harrison, May, Palmer, and Gabe to trek up to a nearby mountain while the rest of the crew played cards and hacky sack at camp. Folger and Catherine engaged in a 1 v 1 three hack whack battle for about 25 minutes until a champion was crowned. And yes, Catherine won… she may need to start a club in college. Our day of adventures ended with pesto pasta and a thoughtful moon up. Frannie (our ANG guide) shared that she was impressed at how reflective, vulnerable, and thoughtful everyone was each night. Hearing an “outsider” share their view of Moonup was a sweet reminder to us all how special our time together each night truly is.

William and Palmer, our LODs for the next day, kicked us off with an inspirational quote about powering through difficulties to start our last trek down the mountain. Though we were sad to say goodbye to the backcountry, we were grateful for one last hike. So, we threw on our packs, put one foot in front of the other, and discussed ideas. We also took a good amount of time to think quietly to ourselves while hiking. It was a peaceful experience that allowed us to reflect on our time thus far. The reflection time was helpful in answering the Moonup question later that evening: “What was one thing you learned while in the backcountry you want to remember?” Answers ranged from the joy of simplicity to the ability to be self-sufficient to the beauty of the natural world. Brooks summed all of our experiences up well by discussing how beautiful and challenging Alaska wilderness can be. But I’m jumping ahead here… before we made it to Moonup, we said goodbye to our guides and thanked them for a wonderful time on the trail. We then drove towards Denali National Park to set up camp at our new campground on the river! There’s nothing quite like going to bed to the sound of rushing water. Before we indulged in showers, we decided to splurge on a meal at a local restaurant where the Into the Wild movie bus lives. Though it wasn’t the real deal, we all got a kick out of exploring the cultural relic before eating burgers.

Looking back, Alaska has been all too good to us. We’re excited to see what the next three days have in store before we make our way to Hawaii. Cross your fingers we see some more wildlife!

With Joy,

Gabe and Maddie


Palmer: GREETINGS LOVED ONES! I am having the best time ever. I loved being in the backcountry and today we saw a wild porcupine. Alaska is the BEST. I love y’all! Farewell!

Ellie: Hi Again! We made it out of the backcountry and are now on the river! Hope you guys are enjoying your time in Colorado. See you soon! (:

Folger: Hey hey fam! Miss y’all so much. I’m thinking of y’all! Next update in Hawaii!

Harrison: Waddup! Thou hast surviveth the backcountry and shall be onto Hawaii soon. Anyways, miss y’all and señor but Alaska is really, really cool. The backcountry was definitely one of the coolest things ever. Adios.

May: Hello! I hope you all are having a great time in California! Last night I almost stepped on a ptarmigan while walking to the hole in the woods at 3 am. I am loving Alaska!

Cat: Hello hillbillies, I have gotten so many mosquito bites that it feels like I’m 9 years old again. However, that doesn’t even matter because I’m livin large and laughin hard. Soak in the Texas sun for me and tell Brandon I love him. Tootaloo!

Brooks: Hey Mom and Dad, I miss y’all and the pups so much. This trip is incredible and an absolute blast! I look forward for the second half of the trip but cannot wait to see you soon.

Jack: Hey guys, I’m having fun so far in Alaska. We’re going to Hawaii soon and I can’t wait. This trip is my best so far!

Jackson: Hey Ellie! I hope you’ve been going on tons of walks. I miss you a lot and can’t wait to squish your face. Bring me a cool toy when I walk through the door next week. Claire, mom, and dad I miss you too.

Sam: I’m having a great time. Thank you so much for letting me go on this trip. We go rafting tomorrow and leave for Hawaii soon. I hope y’all had fun at Ono. Love you all. ~your favorite son/brother

Catherine: Hi Mom and Dad! I love you so much! I’m having the time of my life! The trip is going by so fast! We went into town and to Denali National Park today and leave for Hawaii soon! I love and miss you so much! You’re the best ever!

William: Hey Mama, I love you and miss you. We need to come back to Alaska as a family!

Ice Climbing, Dog Sledding, and MYSTERY!

July 10, 2021

Abracadabra! We’re in ALASKA!


After a mind-bending reveal, our mysterious crew boarded a flight to Alaska still in disbelief of our good fortune. And to continue the good fortune, our flight attendant was a Moondance mom! Needless to say, she made sure we had all the snacks and drinks on our long flight to the last frontier. Upon arrival, Alaska put on a show! Mini fireworks shot into the sky as we drove to our campground where there was a BEAR! A tiny lil black bear named “Lil Smokey”. We saw him a few times throughout our stay at the campground which made us feel like true Alaskans. We then made our way to bed in the daylight (the first of many confusing nights) and dreamt of what might be down the road on our mysterious adventure.

When we awoke the next morning (was it really morning? the lack of a setting sun truly makes time a mystery…), Palmer, Harrison, Catherine, and William cooked up some delicious breakfast burritos to fuel us for our first adventure: GLACIER TREKKING. Y’all, we’ve never been more stoked than when we laid eyes on the glorious Matanuska Glacier. But before we could conquer the ice, we brought out the spike ball for some fierce competition. Ellison and Jack stole the show with their skilled (and lucky) spikes. Once we’d broken the ice over spike ball, we broke the glacial ice with our boots! The contrast between the white ice, gray moraine (rock), and green mountains makes trekking on the glacier a jaw-dropping experience. More importantly, we found and drank from the fountain of youth! A sip of the cold, refreshing water brought out the childlike wonder in us all. Especially Harrison! The water energized us enough to go for a short hike from our campground in order to enjoy Moonup in the woods with a view of Lionshead Rock. While in Moonup, Jack introduced a new member to the group: Moony! Moony is a 15-pound glacial rock that is now our mascot. We’re scheming on how to get Moony into Hawaii… we’re not sure he’ll survive the weight test.

When we left the glacier, everyone was eager to see more and bummed they didn’t get to ice climb… but little did they know it was on the itinerary for tomorrow! Mysteries are truly the most fun! With the sun still shining, we woke early the next day and ate blueberry pancakes with bacon thanks to Sam and Gabe. After just two meals, Sam became our official head chef; the man is confident and competent in the kitchen! Cat also chimed in with the genius idea of adding m&ms to some pancakes. Nothing quite like dessert for breakfast when you’re in the Alaskan wilderness! With full bellies, we headed back to Mama Matanuska (as we so lovingly call her) for a full day of ice climbing. Sam and Jackson took to the sport like naturals and quickly advanced to the more difficult climbs. May approached the climbs with thoughtful grace and swung each ice ax with precision. Meanwhile, Cat struck pose after pose on the ice between climbs which kept the group giggling. When we wrapped up our time on the glacier, we indulged in some ice cream from a local restaurant before throwing a dance party in the campground parking lot. Anyone that drove by was sure to think we were a bunch of crazies… and that’s exactly how we like it.

The next day we woke to a seemingly mundane day. Gabe and I told the students we were simply driving to a new destination to prep for backpacking. BUT ALAS, the mystery never ends! On the way, we stopped at a dog mushing kennel! With “Who Let the Dogs Out” blasting, we rolled up to Dallas Seavey’s famous kennel (he’s won 5 Iditarod races! Tied for the most wins ever!) for an afternoon of dry land dog mushing and puppy playdates. Jackson and Harrison were dog whisperers and had puppies crawling all over them from the moment we walked in. Jack also made friends with a little puppy who may or may not have been his soul mate. Meanwhile, Brooks was grinning from ear to ear while steering the dog mushing cart pulled by his newest four-legged friends. Goodbyes came all too quickly as we pulled away from the pups and headed towards our backpacking section. However, the group is stoked to spend some time in the Denali State Park backcountry. Especially since we’ll have Folger and William leading the way as our LOD’s! They were both chosen for their enthusiasm, positivity, and organization: all necessary skills for the backcountry. To prepare for backpacking, Sam did as all men do and shaved his face in the car mirror. We all got a good laugh out of the effort especially since there was a bathroom with a mirror close by (something he didn’t realize until after he was done…).

Our group bonded faster than we could have hoped, and we can’t wait to see the silliness that comes out of six days in the backcountry. Check back soon for all the stories!

Ta ta for now!

Gabe and Maddie


Shoutouts from the mysterious crew:

Jackson: Hey family, thanks for sending me on this amazing trip. I’ve been having a great time. Can’t wait to come home to a brand lift kit and a beautiful Bernese Mountain dog puppy. Love you all and can’t wait to tell you all about my trip.

May: Hello from Alaska! I am having an amazing time exploring the back country again. I cannot wait for the new surprises that await each day! Lots of love

Jack: Hey guys I’m having a lot of fun so far. It was super cool to meet real sled dogs and race with them. We’re about to go in the backcountry now for 6 days then continue our journey to Hawaii!

Palmer: Hey everyone! I am having the best time in Alaska. The mystery is AWESOME!! LOVE Y’ALL

Catherine: Hi Mom and Dad!! I’m having the absolute best time!!! I love Alaska and my group, and I’m super excited to go to Hawaii too! I love you so much! Thank you so much for sending me on this awesome adventure!

Cat: mom dad and Jax, I am loving all the adventures here in Alaska and learning spectacular things every day. I want you all to rest assured that I am still alive and learning to tolerate cold weather with my cozy seven layers. I love and miss you. Brandon, I am conquering Alaska for you and sending the wind your way. I love you bonk!

Brooks: dear mom and dad, Alaska is so cool! We went dog sledding today which really made me miss the pups! Please make sure Maxy is getting lots of love and treats! I love you all.

William: hey mom and dad I’m having a great time! Thank you so much for sending me on this trip, have fun in napa! I am the LOD for the first day of backcountry and I am so excited. Hey Juno, Jenny, and Linus!

Folger: hey mom dad and Spencer miss y’all lots. I’m having so much fun I’m the LOD for the first day of backcountry too. I hope y’all are having fun in AB with the Bordens and Glovers! Miss you coco and Lillie!

Sam: hi mom lila jojo rose and Cameron I’m having an awesome time! Thank you so much for giving me this unbelievable opportunity. Hope you are having fun, love all

Ellison: hi everyone miss you guys so much we are about to go backpacking for 6 days 🙂 wish us luck! Can’t wait to hug you soon

Harrison: hey yall! Love and miss every single one of you. Alaska has been amazing and I can’t wait for Hawaii. We’re leaving to go backpacking for 6 days today, which I’m very hype for :). I absolutely love it here – thank you parents forever doing this for me!

Safe Arrival in Anchorage!

July 7, 2021

Hello Mystery Trip Families!

The whole group arrived safely in Anchorage last night, and they are off on their adventure! We have heard from our leaders that the trip is off to a great start, and we cannot wait to hear more stories from their mysterious adventure.

Please remember our leaders and students will be unplugged during their trips but we will be posting up to three trip updates throughout the next couple of weeks! This will allow you to follow along with the trip and the students will also give a special shout out mid-way through! You can also follow us on Instagram, @moondanceadventures, to see more of what we are up to this summer!

– Moondance HQ


  • Brooks
  • Cat
  • Catherine
  • Ellison
  • Folger
  • Harrison
  • Jack
  • Jackson
  • May
  • Palmer
  • Sam
  • William