July 6, 2021
Hello from the San Francisco airport, where we’ve just said our final farewells! It’s been hard to say goodbye to this group, especially after the last few magical days we had in Point Reyes, a national seashore of pristine beaches and cliff sides. We spent the Fourth of July doing (one of) the most American thing you could do — enjoying PB and Js in a national park decked out in red, white, and blue baggie shorts and socks. Despite the colder temperatures, Mercer and Beckett raced into the waves, making the rest of us on shore laugh at their antics in the surf. That evening, Lucy M, Mercer, and Beckett started up a charcoal fire at the campsite like pro Eagle Scouts, and Janie and Elena grilled out enough burgers and hot dogs to feed an army of hungry hikers. Meanwhile, Belin, Lucy B and I made a scrumptious bean dip that we proceeded to eat almost entirely by ourselves as we played games and shared stories at the picnic table. It was a Fourth of July that we won’t be forgetting soon.
The next morning, before we left Point Reyes, we stopped by the historic lighthouse, passing by ranches that have dotted the northern Californian hillside since the 1850s. Lucky for us, the park rangers told us that it was an incredibly rare and special day to be whale watching. A massive pod of humpback whales were swimming right below us, feasting on anchovies. We spent several awe-inspiring moments watching them spray, lunge feed, and breach, which is when whales leap out of the water and land their entire body on the water’s surface. I’ve never witnessed such a spectacular wildlife sighting.
For our last evening, we feasted on burgers, BBQ, salad, and apple pie at a restaurant outside of the Portola Redwoods state park. It was a bit of a culture shock to reintegrate into the “civilized world”! We wrapped up our last night sharing what we appreciated much in each person and how we had surprised ourselves on this trip. We were thrilled to hear that our kids feel like they’ve become more confident, positive, and introspective on this trip, and we hope that they can bring those versions of themselves to their lives at home and school. Max and I are so proud of this group — in the span of just three weeks, they’ve been navigators, climbers, surfers, backpackers, rafters, and mountaineers; more importantly, they have been positive cheerleaders, critical thinkers, fearless leaders, and hard-working team members. As leaders, we couldn’t have asked for anything better.
Airport day was full of hugs and emotional goodbyes. Max and I were lucky enough to say hello to some of our kids’ real parents (Dad Max no longer!). We will miss our kiddos dearly and think of them often, especially when the clock strikes seven and it’s time to cook up some Darryl’s Rice.
Keely and Max
July 4, 2021
Hello one final time from the YOS 3 crew!
We have just wrapped up our two days rafting on the middle fork of the American River, and boy were they amazing!!
After a few great days on Mount Shasta, the gang moved southbound to the American, which is located roughly 45 minutes east of Sacramento. Though our travel day did not consist of In-N-Out this time around, we made it to our campsite on the southern fork of the river and had a full taco spread, which was excellent (aren’t we grateful for front country meals?). The two Lucy’s and Janie made a delectable guacamole that paired nicely with Belin’s diced veggies and Beckett & Mercer’s sizzlin’ ground beef. After this delicious meal, Keely led the group in a leadership styles activity. This pinpointed each student’s strengths and characteristics as a leader, placing them in four different quadrants: the driver, the architect analyst, the relationship master, and the spontaneous motivator. As Yosemite falls into the leadership category of trips, it was a nice way to reflect on our experiences over the last few weeks.
Our group woke up bright and early the next morning ready to hit the river, but before getting into the van, we made some Nutella and banana crrrrepes to boost our spirits (and sugar levels)! In the town of Foresthill, we met our guides from All Outdoors, dropped our clothing, sleeping bags and pads, and journals/books into the waterproof dry bags, and went down to the river. On Max’s boat (with rafting guide Steve) we had Elena, Mercer, and Belin, while Keely and guide Helen’s boat had Lucy M, Lucy B, Janie, and Beckett. Perhaps the most excited for the rafting section, Beckett quickly assumed the front of the boat, ready to face the cold whitewater splashes with courage!
As soon as we dropped into the water, we were greeted with class III rapids almost immediately! The guides then took us off the water to inspect the first big class IV rapid of the trip: tunnel chute! This rapid was not to be taken lightly, and our guides gave us very intricate instructions on how to *not* fall off the raft! Shortly afterwards, both groups went down, and most of us held on for dear life (at least Elena and I did)! The rapid concluded with a float inside of a tunnel (hence the name) before coming out on the other side. There were numerous other class III/IV rapids throughout our first day, but the tunnel chute was probably the most intense and exciting one of the entire trip! Thankfully, we all made it down in one piece. At one point, we stopped on the side of the river for a short hike, following a windy creek that led to a super cool cavern/waterfall!
Later in the afternoon, our guides pumped up an inflatable kayak, which Beckett and Mercer hopped into once we ate lunch. After some hectic rapids that required paddling precision and holding on tightly to the rafts, it was a pleasantly slower afternoon where everyone was able to swim, float, and enjoy the beautiful canyon scenery that the American River has to offer. After arriving at our campsite just off of the river, many of us took a much needed nap while Lucy B and Elena journaled away in the shade. While we were enjoying our time out of the heat, someone pointed out that an otter was swimming up and down the opposite side of the river! More wildlife, yay! Later on, our raft guides cooked enough delicious pasta to feed an army, which was a special treat—I think most of us forgot what it feels like to have food made for you! After dinner and dessert, we had a nice moon up prepared by the two Lucy’s (our LODs) and an excellent array of stars in the skies above us.
Before starting our second day, we slept in a bit and then feasted on some croissants, eggs, sausage, avocados, fresh fruit, and more—we sure did love our raft guides’ cooking! Beckett and Elena got into the inflatable kayak while the rest of us hopped into rafts, and it was a quieter morning until we reached our second lunch spot which had an awesome hike/rock scramble up to another waterfall. In the waterfall, everyone enjoyed a refreshing jump into the pool underneath! Once we got down and ate some burritos for lunch, our guides prepped us for what was in store for the future: a class VI waterfall that was too dangerous to raft through, and a series of class III/IV rapids that required close attention for it to go smoothly. We hiked around the class VI and watched the guides drop the rafts and fetch them on the other side, which was really cool (shoutout to Belin’s GoPro for capturing it all on video)! We had such an incredible time going through back-to-back-to-back-to-back rapids throughout the afternoon, and the guides finished the trip off by letting us jump out and let the current take us down the river. Thanks All Outdoors!!
Once our whitewater rafting excursion came to a conclusion, we packed our bags and headed to Point Reyes National Seashore for our final leg of the trip. There, we will enjoy the pristine California beaches with some hikes, hopefully see some more wildlife, and celebrate the 4th of July with a classic grill-out at the campsite!
It’s hard to believe the trip is coming to a close, but this group of young adults has helped create an unforgettable experience. Keely and I are so grateful to have gotten to know these incredible kids, and needless to say it will be difficult to part on airport day!
All the best,
Max and Keely
July 2, 2021
Hello from the mystical mountain town of Shasta!
After our backpacking section, we drove northward past Sacramento and hundreds of almond and olive tree groves. We tricked our group that we’d be stopping in a parking lot to have PB and J’s, our trip equivalent of Survivor’s rice rations, only to pull into the In ‘n Out at the last second. Max and I felt like quite the cool parents as our kiddos bounced in their seats with excitement, visibly elated. Everyone enjoyed the best of California’s American fare— even Mercer, who ordered his burger protein style expecting more meat and receiving instead a bun-less burger wrapped in lettuce. Afterwards, LODs Beckett, Elena, and snack connoisseur Lucy B helped us leaders pick out and buy 360 protein bars for our impending summit bid. (Believe it or not, the recommended protein bar intake was 20 bars per person given the high altitude and caloric burn.) I doubt anyone has ever purchased more Cliff bars at one time from Costco. We arrived at our campsite by the beautiful Lake Siskiyou in time to make the most peanut butter-y pad Thai noodles and get a solid night’s rest.
The next morning, we rented our mountaineering gear and met our fearless Shasta mountain guides— Trevor, Char(lotte), Brandon, and John Michael, former Moondance leader— who helped us pack our bags for the expedition. They also introduced many of us to the WAG bag. On this adventure we would be packing everything out, and I mean everything. Luckily, the kids had been backpacking for the past week, so nothing phased them anymore.
After our bags were packed, we drove to the trailhead on the most gnarly dirt road, which the kids treated like a rollercoaster ride as trusty Truman pretended to be a Jeep for the day. Our hiking intense, especially in the hardcore mountaineering boots that we’d switched into, but the view of Mount Shasta looming above us was exciting enough to push us forward. Beckett especially was full of energy and excitement. We filled up our water with the most refreshing glacial water from a crystalline stream, which is said to have healing powers. In fact, our guides were telling us how Shasta is the source of many Native and non-Native legends, some of which still bring people to the area today. For example, some people believe that a technologically advanced society of people from the lost continent of Lemuria live inside the mountain, while others come here to charge their chakras and crystals in one of the (supposedly) strongest energy vortexes in the world. While our group wasn’t on Shasta to explore its metaphysical properties, we did feel quite the spiritual rejuvenation as the sun set on the pine forest below basecamp in an array of hazy purples and oranges. We enjoyed a delicious dinner of quesadilla pita-gyros and shared with one another what we love most about being outdoors, thanks to LODs Janie and Lucy B’s thought-provoking Moon-up question. What the students shared resonated deeply with me, Max, and the other guides and reminded us why we were on this spectacular mountain in the first place— to full send, to find internal peace, to drain ourselves of what society tells us is necessary and find that we have only kept what is essential to our humanness (thanks to Lucy M for that last insightful comment).
The next morning, we would full send for our summit bid at Shasta, starting with another three— I mean, seven— AM wake-up call. We started our trek under the stars and enjoyed a peaceful ascent as the sky lightened in myriad shades of red. Finally, we stopped at a wind bunker in the rocks and enjoyed our first of many energy bars as the flaming red sun rose above the mountains below us. For many of us, it was the mystical moment we could only dream of on this most mystical of mountains. Even with a few blisters, Elena’s persevered on like a true champion, using humor instead of complaining! Our group continued its push up the mountain, ascending thousands of feet in just a few hours. After reaching an impressive 12 thousand feet, Elena, Lucy B, myself, and Char headed back towards camp, while the others continued onwards. Max and our intrepid ladies Belin, Lucy M, and Janie were the last on the mountain, making it up to 13 thousand feet before being turned back because of the fierce winds. However, they made the most of their descent by parkouring all the way down. John Michael said it was the highlight of his trip to witness their relentless optimism as they cruised down the mountain, laughing and landing 360s on the soft sandy scree.
Despite the not summitting, our group had learned that the true goal was not the summit, but the joy of climbing towards it! It was inspiring for us leaders to see some of them abandon their “all or nothing” mindset for a greater appreciation of the journey and the small moments that make the present the most precious thing we can possess. Everyone was proud of their efforts and spent the rest of the afternoon napping under the trees. Lucy B was an absolute star for being on cook crew twice to finish the evening with one of the best veggie medleys yet.
Unfortunately, one of the downsides of our Shasta trip was a wildfire on the other side of the mountain. It did not pose any immediate danger to us, but it sparked really meaningful and enlightening conversations.
Our last day in Shasta, we bid goodbye to our guides, who were especially grateful to have been with our enthusiastic, bright-eyed teenagers. They thanked us for opening their eyes again to the beauty of the places they sometimes take for granted. We celebrated our Shasta success with homemade maple-glazed donuts and a local lunch stop, then enjoyed a relaxing afternoon swimming in a gorgeous alpine lake surrounded by white bluffs and pines.
Today, we hit the road again, this time heading south to the American River. The next time you hear from us, we will have rafted the white waters of the Middle Fork and be nearing the end of our time together. Until then,Adventurously yours,Keely and Max
P.s. A surprise for you all- shoutouts!
Elena- Hello all family and friends reading, I’m having so much fun, and I think I got the largest blister in history from hiking! Miss you all and shoutout TRGP!
Belin- Hi mom and dad! I am having fun and meeting lots of cool people! I even saw a bear! Love you!
Beckett- Wanna holla at my boy Whit for holding the fort down back at home.
Lucy M- Hi Mom and Dad! I’m having so much fun and I can’t wait to see everyone. Say hi to the dogs for me!
Mercer- Hello family, I hope you are having fun. Love, Mercer
Janie- Hi momma + daddy, apparently I have a southern accent but I don’t hear it, I’m having so much fun here. See you soon. Love, Janie
Lucy B- Hey Mom + Dad! I’m having the best time in California, I can’t wait to tell y’all about it. Say hi to Stella and Gus for me!
June 28, 2021
Hello from out west!
Our first day of backpacking was full of firsts for the group, but like the champions they are, it was a successful first day on the road! We left Truman (our van) behind and with heavy packs started our hike, which was hot and steep— a perfect introduction to the joys of backpacking. Our team has been incredible so far overcoming adversity and turning it into a source of humor, and this hike was no exception.
Quite a few alter egos emerged (Babushka ie Belin, Biscuit Eater ie Janie, Resnoff ie Mercer) while scrambling over an obstacle course of fallen redwoods all while ascending 2000 feet in elevation. Everyone did a fantastic job navigating for the first time with maps, purifying their water (no Giardia for us!) and, after we found a campsite, throwing themselves into the tasks of camp life, like gathering water and setting up the Whisperlite stoves.
Our first dinner in the backcountry, veggie chicken curry with naan, was a controversial one with all the spice but delicious, nonetheless. While answering one of the best Moonup questions yet, thanks to LODs Belin and Mercer— what brings you the most joy?— we heard a few noises and, not wanting to take any chances with mountain lions, made ourselves as loud and ferocious as possible. While we did not see anything in the woods, we continued to scare off every possible field mouse with loud screams and threats that we ate mountain lion for breakfast.
The next day we hiked hard and fast to an alpine campsite found by our tireless LODs Lucy M and Elena, who scouted while the others rested. We got into camp early enough for lounging and conversation, and all too comfortable in our success, we thought we’d keep the night even simpler with some Spanish rice and beans.
Tragically, the Rice A Roni was not very back country friendly and proceeded to burn, all while refusing to cook. Soon enough we had a pot of burnt, uncooked, waterlogged rice that smelled like an ashtray. After a couple sevens (i.e. undetermined period of time) spent trying to salvage the rice, we finally abandoned the project and put together a meal of every vegetable, legume, and canned food that could possibly taste good together. Thanks to Lowry’s seasoned salt—and the best spice of all, hunger— the dinner was a hit.
While this night could have been a hangry disaster, cleaning out the burnt pot became one of the highlights of the trip as we doubled over laughing, deciding who would have to carry out the unsavory bag of rice for the entirety of the trip. Because Mercer was the poor soul holding the pot when the rice went awry, he turned the bad situation around by switching into his country alter ego and joking that he’d cooked the rice “Darryl style.” Darryl’s Rice became a bit of legend, and Mercer embodied the persona of Darryl so seamlessly through the rest of the backpacking section that we’ve had trouble calling him anything else. (The bag of rice was finally disposed of six days later, duck taped with the precautions one would take with nuclear waste).
Day 3 required that we redeem ourselves in the kitchen, so we started off the day with “the Davis”— warm peanut butter, granola, and cinnamon apples on a toasted tortilla— and stopped in a picturesque meadow for a lunch of pita pizzas. As if to make up for the night before, we arrived to a camp by the most pristine creek where, after a few days of sweating and dust that streaked our faces like coal miners, we could jump in the fresh creek water and wring out our clothes. Beckett, whose trail name is Gator for his love of the water and Floridian roots, was living up to his name while others basked on the rocks like sunbathing lizards.
Day 4 was our big day that would prove to challenge all of us physically and mentally. We woke up at 3am to start hiking in the dark to reach Taft’s Point where we would not only see the valley for the first time, but watch the sun rise over it. Trudging in the dark with our headlamps, we were quiet in our determination. Elena pushed herself to her limits and absolutely crushed the hike. We were quiet in total awe as we crested the rocky point and watched as the sun illuminated the sheer granite face of El Cap, to the left of us, and Yosemite Falls, to the right. Below Taft Point, the birthplace of American base jumping, the waking valley was lush and full of rivers, meadows, and the barely visible lights of early morning cars. It was truly as the age-old song says- “for purple mountain majesties”- and so much more beautiful for our having struggled to behold it.
Afterwards, we had oatmeal with perhaps the best breakfast view that’s ever existed from the top of a nearby waterfall. The students kept commenting on how unreal it all was, like a backdrop they’d only seen on computer screens or advertisements.
The rest of the day was full of views of the valley, including the otherworldly sheer face and curved walls of Half Dome. However, the stunning panoramic views came with a steep price— 4,000 feet of net elevation change, that is, over 14 miles of intense switchbacks. We got a nice respite by the Illilouette Falls, where Beckett/Gator found a nice place to rest his toes. By the time we stumbled into the backpacker’s camp, nestled in the valley below Half Dome’s shadow, the dogs (ie our toes) were barking and begging to be set loose. We had perhaps the smoothest dinner yet with Janie’s delicious Mac and cheese and an early bedtime, made even better by the surprise announcement that the next day would be a rest day.
After a tough day of hiking, everyone was grateful to sleep in a bit, have Max’s special m&m pancakes for breakfast, and spend a lazy afternoon by the river swimming, reading, and talking. It was exactly what we needed to bond and get closer as a group and recharge before climbing.
The next morning, while Max went to retrieve Truman the van, the rest of the group and our undaunted LODs, Lucy B and Mercer, stepped up to get us back into the front country using their impressively honed map reading skills. It was a hot day, and Mist Trail, aptly named, took us down the sides of Nevada and Vernal Falls with steep switchbacks and jaw dropping views of rainbow pools and waterfalls taller than any I’ve ever seen.
On the way down, we got lots of looks from day hikers and tourists who sometimes pointed us out to one another, saying things like “now those are some REAL hikers!” We had a joyful reunion with Max, Truman, and our duffels in the valley, and we treated ourselves to some well-deserved burgers and sodas at the local restaurant.
The only thing that was amiss was that we had yet to see a bear, but this was remedied not two minutes before we left the valley in our van. A small brown (black) bear was sniffing its away along the river directly across from us, so close and relaxed we could observe its every leisurely step and munch on the tree leaves. It was the perfect send off from the most beautiful place in the world.
After leaving the valley, we returned to the Sierras for our second and last rock-climbing section of the trip, this time on even more difficult mountain faces. Janie was the pro who made every ascent look easier than it was, and Belin, Lucy B, and Lucy M showed how quickly they had improved their skills within just one lesson by getting to the top of a gnarly run that even the instructor called “thought-provoking and deceivingly challenging.” After a full day of climbing, we were exhausted, but not too exhausted for Belin, Lucy M, and Janie to whip up the yummiest spaghetti and homemade garlic bread.
Today, we drive across Northern California for the town of Shasta, where we will spend the next three days at Mountain School attempting our summit bid for Mount Shasta, an ice-topped volcano and the second-highest peak in the Cascades. The next time you’ll hear from us, we’ll be bonafide mountaineers. Wish us luck!
Keely and Max
June 20, 2021
Hello from Yosemite! It is hard to believe we’ve been able to fit so much in these past four days in gorgeous northern California. Truly, it would not have been possible (or as enjoyable) without this group of stellar students. Picking up all the kids (as we call them, despite their being rather mature) from the airport in San Francisco, it became immediately apparent that we had a dynamic and cohesive group; those awkward moments of feeling one another out on a trip with strangers hardly existed with this crew. After driving to our first campsite of towering redwoods, we had some delicious pizza from the local food stop and pitched our brand-new tents for the first time; Lucy M, a Moondance veteran, showed off her backcountry skills by putting the tent together better than me (Keely) and Max and teaching us a thing or two. Since the students are unplugging on this trip, watches included, Max has decided that anytime anyone asks him a question about time or distance, he will simply reply “seven” with no units, so it has since become our only quantity of time and measurement on this trip.The next morning, we set off like a herd of turtles to Pacifica Beach, where our floppy-haired surf instructors James, Russ, and Allen got us into wetsuits suitable for Mission Impossible and taught us how to surf on land, using lingo like ‘surface area’ that tested our geometry and physics knowledge. Despite most of our failed first attempts at riding the waves, Janie sailed off almost immediately, making it look way too easy. Lucy M and Belin were not far behind and “ripping the gnar” all the way to the sand. Lucy B outshone all of us with her stylish wetsuit cap that covered her entire head. Beckett was intent on pursuing the biggest waves and the biggest ones only, while Mercer won the award for most entertaining falls. After sandwiches on the beach, where we witnessed a dog walk straight into a Taco Bell by itself (to get a burrito, we presumed), we took a small walk on the Devil’s Slide cliff side trail to see a World War II bunker (thanks to Beckett for his mini history lectures) and the 86-year-old trail docent who proudly claimed to be “retired but not expired.” Later that night, after a much-deserved rest and enchiladas, our first Leaders of the Day (LODs) Lucy M and Mercer opened our Moon-up with a Bigfoot sighting (allegedly). We are still on the look-out.The next day commenced our second surfing lesson. We improved significantly on our flip ups, learned surf etiquette, and said goodbye to our rad instructors to head into southern Yosemite. Alas, our four-hour road trip became seven due to traffic (not due to Max’s commitment to the number seven, he promises). The kids made the most of it by singing along to Taylor Swift, broadening their music horizons with Max’s Nigerian jazz playlists, playing 20 questions, and enjoying a few grocery store trips to search for the elusive jackfruit. We came out with a monster box of goldfish somehow instead. Belin continued to keep us on our toes with her unexpected and impressive accents and Weird Al Yankovic song recommendations. Despite our late-night arrival to Yosemite, the group kicked into gear with their newly acquired knowledge of Expedition Behavior, and our intrepid cook crew Belin, Elena, and Janie whipped up some delicious BBQ sandwiches in no time. Thanks to Mercer, our human garbage disposal, we have had very few food scraps to throw out— how sustainable of him! Our second LODs of the trip, Janie and Beckett, had us thinking existentially with their question of the night: if you could live only 80 years or 5,000, which would you choose?This morning we woke up to an intense heat wave, but our crew has yet to complain about anything, only communicate their needs. Luckily, there was a pleasant breeze and shade in the Sierra Mountains, where we started our first day of rock climbing with experienced leaders Tobias and Kevin, who has climbed El Cap no less than six times. Lucy M and Mercer, those brave mountain goats, scurried up the granite face so fast that we hardly had time to cheer them on, but they went twice to give us another chance. Janie showed off her rock-climbing prowess, earning a compliment on her belaying skills from the illustrious Kevin. Lucy B, a dancer by trade, made her way delicately up the mountain, making us all wish we were as flexible and graceful on the rock. Both Belin and Elena showed some serious endurance and grit by ascending the harder of the two ropes and hanging on to make challenging moves. For having so many beginner climbers in the group, the kids absolutely killed it.After the heat wave reached a high of 108 degrees, we rejuvenated ourselves with Gatorades and a jump into a gorgeous river in THE Yosemite Park. Money could not buy that first dunk into the cool crystal blue water and the ensuing laughter of the Croc Gang as their feet persistently floated to the surface (sponsor us, Crocs!). We finished our last night in the front country with decked-out burgers and salad served in exclusively country accents and a lesson on how to pack our backpacks. LODs Lucy B and Elena did an amazing job planning our busy morning tomorrow and delegating tasks to smoothly move out of camp and into the backcountry; it is exciting to see how this group is already taking so much responsibility and ownership of their trip.The next time you’ll hear from us, we’ll have seen the sun rise on El Cap and jumped into many more pristine creeks and lakes. Until then, adventurously yours,Keely and Max