July 26, 2021
(Final) greetings to y’all down in the Lower 48 from AK!
Joe, Lily, and I just finished saying our last goodbyes to all of your students who are now in the air on their way home to you. We cannot believe this trip has come to a close! It seems like the summer has flown by, and we’d love to stop time in order to stretch this trip out a bit longer. Because – let me tell ya – NLT 2A was made up of some of the greatest Moondancers ever!
Our final Moonup last night and our Banquet today were both wonderful opportunities to reflect on the love that NLT 2A cultivated for one another over the past three weeks. During Moonup last night, we spent the majority of our time doing the “Nug Toast,” as Joe briefly mentioned in his Sea Kayaking trip update. Each student had their turn in the “spotlight” and received encouragement and words of affirmation from their peers. Porter was praised for his intellect and drive; Claiborne was heralded as the “Relationship Master;” Edward, the king of stoke and enthusiasm; Mac, our future president; Sarah, honest and driven; Ava, the woman who will travel to outer space (or accomplish whatever else she puts her mind to); Anna Leah (AL), the spark of energy on our trip; Mary Catherine (MC), the heart of our group; Scarlet, the “funniest girl I’ve ever met” and future Moondance leader; and, Georgia, a young woman who represents EB at its finest.
During our Banquet today, us leaders distributed superlatives (on bright yellow paper plates, of course), which affirmed much of what was shared during the Nug Toast. We’ve seen your students shine so brightly over the past three weeks and we’re so grateful that you entrusted them to us this summer! It was easy to point out some of our favorite qualities in them, and some funny memories, too.
While we know you’re looking forward to your reunions, we’re sad they’re headed home to you! We wish we could keep soaking up this midnight sun forever.
All our best to you and much gratitude,
Mary, Lily, and Joe
July 25, 2021
Heyo from the Strangest City in America!
After a well-deserved “vacation” on the Matanuska River following our rigorous but successful backpacking section, the group resupplied in Anchorage after fifteen days of no new food purchases! The magic Alaskan bus picked us up from the NOVA Guides Chickaloon, Alaska rafting base, and took pit stops at Walmart and Costco to purchase the goods we would need for the final section of our trip, sea kayaking. Claiborne, Scarlet, and Edward were our shopping helpers, ensuring that we stayed on schedule and had fun while doing so. The drive to Whittier was an entertaining one, with both Cars and Cars II being played on the in-bus TVs for the group’s enjoyment. Edward told us early on in the trip that Cars was his favorite movie, and we were able to make it happen! After traveling through the longest reversible tunnel in North America, at two and a half miles long, we arrived to the shocking and wonderful news that it was not raining in Whittier, the rainiest town in America. After unloading the bus at the campground behind the infamous Whittier apartment building, we set up our tents and headed down to the Alaska Sea Kayakers building to begin our sea kayaking orientation. Victor, our kayaking guide, is a Whittier native who was born and raised in the town, traveled the world, and then settled back down in Whittier permanently, as he did not find another place that he enjoyed better- a fact that shocked the group in a humorous way. Following our orientation, we surprised the group with dinner out on the “town” at the Whittier Inn. After weeks in the backcountry and away from civilization, it sure was a nice interruption to be waited on and to order food inside! Much of the group indulged on large cheeseburgers, with Ava being bold and ordering a Bleu Cheeseburger- a decision that paid off in spades. With warm bellies and no dishes to clean, the group ventured off back to our camp and enjoyed a dry Moonup before hitting the hay for an early Wednesday morning.
We laughed the next morning in our shelter over bagels and bananas before packing our dry bags and loading the Alaska Sea Kayakers trailer with our bags and gear. Under Victor’s instruction, we loaded up the Lazy Otter Boat with our kayaks and gear and began the journey out to our drop-off location on the Prince William Sound. After landing on a remote beach, eating lunch, and packing our kayaks, the group hit the waters for a six-mile kayak to our camp for the next three nights. Mac and Anna Leah impressed everyone early on with their paddling abilities and the group enjoyed the amazing views of the sound often interrupted by the flying bald eagles. MC and Scarlet had the treat of seeing a black bear on land from their kayaks before it heard our group and scurried back into the woods- a sight only the two of them were able to witness! Sarah and Claiborne were the boat of jokesters, providing great laughs for everyone during a slightly rainy and longer kayaking day. After arriving at camp, we set up our tents on a densely wooded peninsula on the far side of an island- a campsite that looked incredibly similar to that of Tarzan or The Jungle Book- definitely a group favorite. After setting up our spacious bug net rain shelter, the leaders cooked the group a delicious dinner of pasta with red sauce, chicken, and spinach; Edward remarked on how his eyes had been opened to vegetables, mainly due to Lily’s persistence, and that they weren’t all that bad, especially in a good meal. With warm bellies and tired muscles, the group nodded off for a well-deserved sleep and sleep-in.
Thursday morning was a slow one, with both the leaders and students enjoying a later morning before an extravagant breakfast thanks to Lily’s ingenuity. The Davis Burrito is a breakfast Crunchwrap toasted on the Coleman griddle consisting of cinnamon and honey cooked apples, granola, sunbather, and blue berries-a warm and tasty way to start the day. Claiborne and Georgia each ate three and a half of these breakfast wraps, stating that they were by far their favorite breakfast of the trip. After taking a group pulse it was apparent that the optimized plan of fun was having an easy afternoon and getting out on the water at night for an evening paddle. This low-key afternoon was a great way to rest and explore our island, with a group walk down the rocky beach followed by some pleasant tent naps giving us a well-deserved reset after busy travel and kayaking days. Zatarain’s red beans and rice with chicken, zucchini, and squash were the hearty meal the group needed before venturing out for our night paddle with Victor. Joe took the students out for a two-hour paddle around Applegate Island, easily a top highlight of the entire three weeks. Anna Leah was the first to notice the basketball-sized jellyfish in the water, the beginning of an amazing streak of wildlife sightings on the Prince William Sound. Victor encouraged us to complete the second half of our paddle in silence, easily one of the most grounding and peaceful experiences anyone in the group had ever had. Porter told us that that two hours were two of the most enjoyable of his entire life, as he and MC shared a kayak and dove into each other’s life stories before enjoying the silence only interrupted by the waves and wildlife nearby. A few harbor seals made their presence felt as they surfaced near our kayaks, along with the bald eagles often flying by. After completing the circumference of Applegate Island, the group returned to camp to find that Lily and Mary had made a fresh blueberry cobbler as a warm dessert before we headed off to bed- a real surprise treat!
Another slow morning on Friday was interrupted by the tasty breakfast sandwiches on English muffins courtesy of Lily and Mary, much-needed fuel before our big day of kayaking. Victor led us on an 11-mile, 6-hour round trip kayaking tour where we ventured to “Mink Island” to enjoy the views and lunch. The group explored a destroyed fishing dock that was washed into the woods by a 1964 Tsunami before we had lunch on a rocky beach where hundreds of salmon could be spotted swimming upstream. Claiborne was able to capture some incredible footage on his GoPro of these fish swimming by his lens. Georgia and Ava led the group in song during our 5 and a half mile kayak back to camp, with purple starfish and more harbor seals visible during this section. Dinner was a much-needed, hearty meal of Mexican Crunchwraps with Chicken, beans, corn, tomatoes, salsa, and guacamole feeding the hungry group before a tender final Moonup in the backcountry and much-needed sleep. During this cooking, a black bear kept lingering onto the beach a few hundred yards down trying to meander into the campsite belonging to the other Moondance group. Fortunately, they were able to shoo it away and it did not bother us further into the night.
A final breakfast of Oatmeal and a morning full of packing and sweeping camp prepared the group for our Saturday afternoon charter pickup before we arrived back in Whittier to meet our travel bus. Obviously, we had to finish Cars II before we began our next movie, The Parent Trap. The two-hour ride back to Anchorage was a pretty one, with little rain and high spirits following the testing but enjoyable kayaking section Arrival at Ship’s Creek Campsite was kicked off with a burger, beans, and bratwurst barbecue, before enjoying our final and most meaningful Moonup yet- a three-hour ode to this trip of a lifetime with an unparalleled group of students. The depth of our “Nug Toasts” showed just how deep this group has become over the last three weeks and how hard it will be for everyone to say goodbye tomorrow. Fortunately, we still have a banquet lunch and a day in Anchorage to enjoy before having to say our difficult goodbyes. This trip has been unlike any other and this group has left an impact on each and every person both in and around it. We are so blessed to have spent this time with these unbelievable students and we are so excited to see where life takes them.
All the best, Joe, Mary and Lily
July 20, 2021
Hello, family and friends of Northern Lights 2A!
I’m writing to you as I’m looking out at the most picturesque summer scene. Let me paint it for you – imagine a small, grassy knoll with hemlock trees making up its border; Kings Mountain lording over the tallest treetops; and 12 people smiling, laughing, and playing backcountry cornhole while listening to Mumford & Sons on our small portable speaker. And, against all Alaskan odds, the sun is shining. Right now we’re out here in the 49th state experiencing something that’s pretty close to bliss.
I think Wendell Berry’s poem “The Peace of Wild Things” describes it pretty well. I’ll leave it for you to read here:
When despair for the world grows in meand I wake in the night at the least soundin fear of what my life and my children’s lives may be,I go and lie down where the wood drakerests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.I come into the peace of wild thingswho do not tax their lives with forethoughtof grief. I come into the presence of still water.And I feel above me the day-blind starswaiting with their light. For a timeI rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
I have the pleasure of writing this trip update for you after we’ve completed our backpacking and rafting sections of the Northern Lights trip. Edward, while preparing for our group dinner on Night 6 of backpacking, said: “This trip is exactly what I needed. My mind is so clear out here.” I thought his reflection perfectly summarized what we’ve all experienced over the past 10 days. We are resting in the grace of the wilderness and relishing a freedom that we don’t often find amidst the busy schedules of hurried life in our hometowns. Generally, we’re rushing to and from sports practice, school, or catching up on what we’ve missed on social media. Over the last 10 days, though, we’ve focused on one thing – propelling our bodies forward (via walking and rafting) to new goals and new heights.
On Day 1 of backpacking, our group hiked up a what we call Heartbreak Hill to reach our first campsite, The View. Our packs were heavy, but group morale was very high. Claiborne lifted everyone’s spirits higher when he had us laughing at Moonup about his “most embarrassing moment” involving an incredulous Jolly Rancher story. We went to sleep that first night excited for the backpacking journey that we had in store.
Day 2 of backpacking consisted of a long day of trekking – from The View to our second campsite, Hunter’s Camp. Georgia impressed everyone on the trail with her unbelievable recall of song lyrics, which had everyone singing along to Taylor Swift and Disney tunes along the trail. We got to camp and prepared a delicious dinner of red sauce pasta with chicken. Everyone remarked how wild it is that a simple backcountry meal can taste like a meal from a fancy restaurant when you’ve spent the day hiking.
Day 3 brought rain, and each student was an absolute champ while experiencing the freezing temps that an Alaska rainstorm ushers in. We made camp early on Night 3 so that we could get warm. After we were inside our tents, the legendary Joe Spear served up a dinner that everyone ate from the warmth of their sleeping bags. Our LODs (Leaders of the Day), Mary Catherine and Edward, led us in a quick Moonup and we slept soundly and warmly underneath the pleasant sound of rain falling on our tents. Who needs a sound machine when you’ve got authentic ambient noise like that?!
Scarlet and Mac were chosen as LODs for Day 4, one of our most difficult days of backpacking. We crossed Chitna Creek and hiked uphill for what seemed like an eternity, until we reached a pass that opened the Alaskan tundra to us. The views that we saw immediately made the hours of uphill terrain worth it. You’ll have to wait for the pictures and your students’ depiction of the mountains, streams, and valleys we beheld. But I will say this, it was truly heavenly.
After all that uphill hiking, we took a “zero day” on Day 5 to rest and recuperate. Mac and Porter became the Uno kings in their tent and had everyone playing the card game by the end of the day. Laughter was abundant on Day 5 and the rest day did us all good.
By Day 6, we were ready to push on. With Ava and Porter as our LODs, we hiked through Chitna Pass all the way down to Boulder Creek. Thinking we’d be hiking down a long section of scree, we were pleasantly surprised to find a game trail that took us from Chitna Pass down to the river bed. Continuing our lucky streak, the sun was shining as we stopped for lunch. We stripped off our gaiters, let our feet breathe, and sat down for a sunny lunch next to Boulder Creek. Tortillas, GORP, sunbutter, and jelly sandwiches never tasted so good. We proceeded to walk to our river bed campsite and played a game of “Hackattack” before dinner. After the New Orleans crew (Sarah, MC, and Joe) made us a delicious Jambalaya dinner, we Moon-ed Up for the first time with a moon in sight! (The “midnight sun” is ever so real.)
We woke up excited for Day 7 and another day of hiking along Boulder Creek. We walked the majority of the day until we came across the perfect campsite – a pre-established campsite directly in front of an alpine lake. What did we do immediately upon setting down our packs? Jump right on in, of course! The cool water was so refreshing and the views were surreal.
Day 8 meant our final day of backpacking and we hiked from Moondance Lake, as we named it, to the trailhead so that we could meet our outfitters for our pick-up. Before heading back to the outfitter’s HQ, we stopped at 99’er Diner for some celebratory ice cream. Everyone was so thrilled to eat an ice-cold ice cream cone after hiking under a blazing hot sun! Anna Leah was especially thrilled because a 46-year-old horse makes its permanent home the lawn outside the 99’er Diner. She loves animals, and I’m pretty sure she was more excited about the horse than the ice cream. Once we arrived back at HQ, the surprises kept coming. Joe, Lily, and I threw all the kids a piñata party in celebration of their accomplishing the hardest section of our trip! We feasted on “breakfast for dinner” – sprinkle pancakes, an all-you-can-eat cereal bar, and fresh fruit – and rejoiced over the candy spilling out of our unicorn piñata for dessert. All of the sweet tooths on our trip (especially Sarah, Anna Leah, and Joe) were elated.
Our epic whitewater rafting overnight trip followed the backpacking section, and we’re just returning from a day and a half on the Matanuska River with some seriously cool guides – Jake, Berr, and Peter.
Day 1 brought a rainstorm on the river, but clear skies came our way by the time dinner rolled around. Our guides prepared a delicious dinner of chicken enchilada casserole and, much to the students’ delight, brownies for dessert! After dinner, we opened up the Moondance Salon and Scarlet, Ava, and Sarah gave everyone fairy hair, French braids, and hair wraps – our guides included! The boys were even sporting some hilarious braids.
Day 2 of rafting provided us with the opportunity to see the Chugach Mountains by boat. While we didn’t spot the moose we were hoping to see, Mac and Georgia did learn to navigate a whitewater rafting boat when they took the oars. We spent the morning on the river and now we’re gearing up for our travel day to Whittier tomorrow.
We’ll spend the next section of our trip sea kayaking and we’re so excited! We can’t wait to update you again soon.
Until then, we’re sending all our love,
Mary, Joe, Lily, and the whole NLT 2A crew
PS – We wanted to leave you all with some shout-outs from your students. Hope you enjoy reading their messages to you!
Porter: Hey fam, I’m having a great time in Alaska and can’t wait to see you guys and the pups soon! Love, P
Sarah: Hey nedmund and mom!! Love and miss y’all I’m having so much fun tell Ruby I miss her. Love Sarah
Mac: Mom! Dad! Charlie! Miss y’all a bunch but I’m having the best time. Managed to wear the same shirt for over a week. Miss you too Cabell! Looking forward to seeing everybody again soon!
Georgia: hey mom and dad! Alaska is so sick- we’ve climbed so many mountains and glaciers and lived eight days in the Alaskan wilderness without getting attacked by a bear 🙂 can’t wait to see y’all again but kinda don’t want to leave here
Edward: Hey mom, dad, saundy and Willy hope Nash is great! I am having so much fun in Alaska and don’t want to leave in a week:( peace from the middle of nowhere
Claiborne: Hey Mom, Dad, and Alexander! Hope everyone is doing well back home! I’m having such a great time in Alaska and can’t wait to see y’all in a week!
Ava: Hey Mom and Dad!! I miss y’all so much and I am having the time of my life! I hope Leo and Rosie aren’t missing me too much 🙂 I love you guys, Say hi to cole and chad for me!
Anna Leah: Hey mom, dad, and Lauren! I’m having the time of my life and I don’t wanna come home but I stilll miss you guys! Also happy birthday Lou I love you so much and we will celebrate when I get home! Peace from Chickaloon<3
Mary Catherine: hey mom and dad miss y’all. Hope everything is good In Nola. I’m having such a good time in Alaska. Can’t wait t see you soon. Love y’all.
Scarlet: hey fam! Livin’ it up in Alaska! Trip leaders are amazing and everyone on the trip are so much fun! It has been fantastic! Excited to see y’all soon but not excited to leave. Love y’all tons and hope y’all have been staying safe 🙂
July 10, 2021
Greetings from the 49th State!
Life sure does move differently out here in Alaska, and the first four days of our trip have certainly proven that! An exciting evening at the airport greeting students with smiles and pizza kicked off our trip in the land where it is always light outside! On the bus, Scarlet shared that the only thing she was worried about on this trip was the possibility of not seeing any wildlife. Less than five minutes after sharing this concern, our bus pulled into our campsite for the night, and after we were stopped at the entrance, the group realized that a black bear was blocking the road! The safety of the bus made for this bear siting to be quite an entrance into our three weeks together in The Last Frontier. We then got to our camp and were treated to a show of the fearless campsite manager who shooed the baby black bear away, but not before it scrambled up and down the tree a few times. A light rainstorm during Moonup was a wet wave from the constantly fluctuating weather in this crazy state! At one point during our circle, Claiborne pointed to the other side and said “Oh, well, there’s a bear over there!” And sure enough, a black bear was perusing the grass 20 yards away from our campsite before continuing onto the other campsites. Ken, our fearless ranger, hopped back in his truck to go find and shoo another bear away.
We woke the kids up on day two with breakfast burritos! A bus ride through Anchorage gave way to the real beauty of Alaska as we headed Northwest towards our first destination off of the Glenn Highway. We arrived at the River Guides’ base and quickly set up camp before the imminent rain rolled in. Joe taught a tarp building lesson and constructed a shelter for our group to cook and eat under. We cooked chicken Alfredo pasta with roasted zucchini for our first camping meal! The sky cleared up for our second Moonup and we went to bed early for a much-needed rest.
Day Three started with light rain but high spirits under the tarp! DJ seamlessly cracked twenty-four eggs with zero yolk or whites spillage and Claiborne and Porter took off on cheffing up some tasty scrambled eggs. Ava handled cooking twenty-eight sausage patties for the group and we smiled around a warm and tasty breakfast before strapping into our mountaineering boots and fitting our micro-spikes, crampons, and helmets; necessary additions for our adventures out onto the 26.5 mile long Matanuska Glacier!
After walking across rock and ice we arrived at our climbing spot for the day, nestled in between two incredible faces of ice where our guides set up ropes for us to climb on. While DJ shared that he had previously been to Alaska on a helicopter fly-fishing trip, glacier climbing was new even for the world traveler! Sarah shot up the wall with a big smile before posing for some amazing photos with passing seagulls flying over her head- only in Alaska would a seagull fly over you on a glacier! Edward conquered his initial hesitancy of the heights and soared up the wall, with the rest of the group cheering him and his notoriously long legs all the way up the wall. Mac wasted no time taking off and quickly climbed all three climbs that were available, soaking in the exceptional views at the top each time he topped out. Porter and Joe raced up the face of the ice, with Porter edging out a tight victory after having perfected his technique. An early afternoon arrival back at camp allowed for the group to spend some time hanging out and playing games, with Hackeysack Hackattack and good conversation prevailing-Georgia was quickly identified as the fastest member of our group!!
Scarlett and Georgia then spearheaded dinner with a combination of ground beef, rice, guacamole, salsa, corn, and beans providing the toppings for our “Frito Pie” dinner- a fan favorite, and, according to Anna Leah, “The best camping meal I have ever had.” The leaders then surprised the group with some pudding, Oreos, and sour gummy worms as a “Worms with dirt” dessert. With full bellies and smiling faces, the group went to bed, utilizing the black Moondance face masks as eye covers for the light evenings!
Day Four granted us clear skies and excited students as we were traveling further onto the glacier than our previous day. The contrast of the blue sky combined with the clouds made the Chugach Mountain Range seem like the Himalayas. The group was blown away by the views that were formerly hidden and collectively agreed that we no longer felt as if we were on planet Earth. While walking towards the back of the line with one of the guides, they shared with the leaders how Moondance groups were far and away their favorite groups to take out onto the glacier, as we are always stoked, capable, and willing to venture out into the coolest and less-accessed parts of the glacier. It was so gratifying to hear them compliment just how great of a group we have and how obvious that is, after only having spent a day and a half with them.
We traversed a few miles back onto the glacier before finding an unreal blue-hole glacier pool that we then lowered down to, and ice-climbed back up. While at lunch, Georgia asked the question “Okay yall, besides right here, where is the coolest place you’ve ever eaten a sandwich??” Hearing the collective agreement on the true awe-inspiring nature of where we were and how lucky we were to be there was such a cool Moondance moment and signals how amazing this group is going to be over the next two and a half weeks. Georgia and Scarlett wasted no time rappelling down and immediately started whacking the ice with the sharp ice axes, while Joe hung on a nearby rope to take pictures. Even more amazing was how much the group rallied around Mary Catherine and Edward to try the most difficult and intimidating climbs, despite their having expressed their fear of heights! The group cheered while they ascended with big smiles and pro-technique. The guides’ reactions when they got to the top said it all, as they expressed how witnessing that progression of initial fear to extreme bliss was the reason they do what they do. A lovely dinner tonight of stir fry, with grilled teriyaki chicken, rice, kale, snapped peas, and carrots providing a necessary pocket of warmth before heading off to bed.
Tomorrow we enter the Talkeetna range for what is sure to be an amazing eight days of backpacking. This is one special group of leaders and we are so excited to see how they flourish!!
July 7, 2021
Hello Northern Lights 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 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