These letters and essays were written by past Moondance participants and/ or their parents.
Hi Moondance Central,
My daughter Katie McShan returned from Costa Rica with many, many exciting stories and an attitude of Pura Vida. For Katie, a Moondance adventure is like positive electricity- she returns concerned only with real things and experiences, and she seems to embrace herself, faults and all, in a new and confident way. Katie’s two Moondance Adventures have been life-enriching events through which she has broadened her perspective of what “really living” means.
This particular trip worked well for so many reasons. It combined the excitement of an out of the routine setting with a somewhat structured schedule, allowing time for fun and learning. The pace was perfect, because every sublime and subtle moment could be savored; the setting was perfect because it offered a simple and unprocessed environment in contrast to the technology overload of our society. I love how Moondance begins with a diverse group of teens who, in such a short time, become a bonded team with a sense of duty, obligation, and promise. Most importantly, Katie returned with a newly acquired knowledge and consciousness about sustainable tourism; she now views our earth with respect and a sense of duty to conserve.
So, basically, I just want to say that Katie has once again returned MOONSTRUCK- she’s crazed, lunatic,
insane and dreamy about getting to know the world around her. Thank you to all who have helped reignite her sense of possibility.
Mission accomplished . . . Thanks again,
I wanted to thank you for all of your help in planning my Moondance trip, and for the incredible experience I had. Ever since I started looking into going on a trip, I was a little nervous about my lack of knowledge regarding all of the activities, and my lack of experience with it all. I really appreciate all of your interest in me, and all of your help in planning my trip.
I’m sure that you hear this all of the time, but I just want you to know that my Moondance trip was the most incredible experience that I have ever had. I was amazed at the beauty of everything that I saw, and can honestly say that I have developed an awesome appreciation and love for the “great outdoors.” I learned so much from both of my Moondance leaders.
I feel like I worked so hard, and really challenged myself, and although I struggled at times, I feel like that made the feeling of accomplishment even greater. I am so glad that I had the opportunity to try all of the things that we did, and I am so glad that I did try them… I did so many things that I never would have thought I could do! I loved getting to experience so much, and being able to push myself so hard to do it all. I feel like I have gained a much stronger sense of confidence and trust in myself, and I have learned how important it is to try new things, and as Austin Tyler says, “Get Involved!”
I can’t wait to look into my options for next year!
Laura Boorman, Charlotte, NC
About three days ago, I returned from my Moondance trip to Alaska led by Beanie and Clay. There is no way to thank you for the program you have put together that gave me such a life-changing experience. I wish I could describe every moment that made my trip unforgettable, but that would take days, so I have decided to write you this brief letter in an attempt to show my appreciation.
I have gone to camp every summer since I can remember with the same friends since I was 10. I have gone to the same school since kindergarten with the same friends since I was 6. When I decided to go on this trip, it was probably the biggest risk I have ever taken in my life. I had no idea what to expect, or even if I was capable of making new friends and being in such a new environment. I had never flown alone, never been so far from home without my parents, and never thought I would leave camp by choice. Well, there I was on the first day, in the Anchorage airport. I was gathered up with my group and within the first three days, they were my best friends. I knew I had made the right choice to come when I broke out of my shell, something I was so skeptical and nervous about.
Beanie and Clay were the perfect leaders. They bridged the gap between friend and role model. Whether they were leading us on the trail or playing games with us, every student in the group felt completely comfortable and safe with them. I couldn’t have asked for a better group either. Everyone helped each other climb mountains, paddle harder, and laugh more. I have never been with such a positive or encouraging group of young people. We all came out with more confidence, pride, and a love of life.
I have been in contact with everyone from my trip, and I know it has been hard for us all to go back into the real world. Taking showers, shaving, watching TV, and sleeping in a bed has become strangely unappealing.
There is a quote that I found that has truly helped me with my transition to home: “No one lives on the top of the mountain. It’s fine to go there occasionally —for inspiration, for new perspectives. But you have to come down. Life is lived in the valleys. That’s where the farms and gardens and orchards are, and where the plowing and the work is done. That’s where you apply the visions you may have glimpsed from the peaks.” Although I miss the simplicity of backcountry Alaska and my friends and leaders dearly, I know that I can take everything I learned there and apply it to my life, living every day to the fullest and appreciating all of the small things. I couldn’t be more grateful for these life-changing lessons.
When I was first reunited with my dad, he asked me if I would be crying the rest of the week because I missed it so much. My response was, “I can’t cry because I’m more happy about the experience that I had than I am sad about leaving.” Thank you for the experience, I learned so much about myself.
Thank you and the other leaders for the wonderful experiences that our three sons had with Moondance this summer. You truly have a unique excellent company. I very much appreciate and thank you for your personal hands-on attention to detail and warm friendly personality. Moondance provided each of our three different sons with a unique memorable experience that was individual and personal to them. The friends, experiences, and feelings of accomplishment will last much longer than the quick summer experience.
Hayes, I really want you to know how great it is as a parent to see the expressions and feelings of accomplishment that our sons had when they came home from their Moondance experience. They are proud of their group and what they learned. I feel they had a learning experience, not just a summer camp experience. Jack, Bill and Rob all had a “Full Moon Experience” that they will remember forever.
The single most impressive aspect of what Moondance has done for Madeline has more to do with how she was able to adapt herself, even more than the pride she felt in “pushing” herself. The multi-faceted challenges were unnerving before, exhilarating during and addictive afterwards….But it is the way she learned, in only a day or two, to find characteristics in her new friends that she could admire and even emulate. These “strangers” saw nothing but positives in one another and each and every member of her group contributed to their character growth. It’s almost universal that teens want nothing more than to fit into a mold set by their peers. For three weeks this was totally abandoned and they relished their differences. What you have given Madeline is beyond words. You have allowed her one of the (truly) most life altering experiences she’ll ever have. She is not “like everyone else” now. She is proud of herself.
Holly Sturm -
For three consecutive nights following Molly’s return from the Moondance Leadership Course, we were treated to a demonstration of her most excellent ice axe skills. These demonstrations took place following dinner with Molly using an old yardstick she had fashioned into an ice axe with…what else but duct tape! While Molly never got to self-arrest during her ascent of Rainier, she assured us if it had been necessary she would have been awesome at it. She flung herself to the tile floor, dug in with all appropriate body parts while shouting the necessary commands. Mind you, she did this willingly night after night with no provocation or request from family members (Imagine that!) And as a matter of fact, when her great aunt visited several weeks later and was looking at Molly’s pictures from the trip, Molly once again pulled the makeshift axe from the broom closet and began a demonstration.
Self-arresting seems to be the buzz word for the confidence and passion Molly returned home with. Her friends are “bemused” by her need for outdoor adventure with lots of people she doesn’t know. They don’t understand. Molly, in turn, can’t wait to do something equally challenging next summer. Her friends are grossed out by the thought of no shower for 12 days. They don’t understand. Molly, on the other hand, knows that lack of showers is yet one more opportunity to rise to the challenge at hand.
Molly tells us how she ran into one of the mountain guides from “snow school” at the top of Rainier. He remarked to Molly that he was very surprised to see her at the summit. This made Molly’s accomplishment even more important to her. Molly tells how she was sure the first day that there was one group member who would never fit in. This person dressed differently; he didn’t seem to have anything in common with most of the group. And yet, at the last Moon Up, group members spoke of how they had learned not to judge each other by looks and cried knowing they were not going to be together again. And each of them left with some part of the others with them. It was always the most unlikely person who would stop to give you a hand, help you over a rough spot, encourage you when you felt you couldn’t go on, challenge you to push yourself, personally and socially. Step out of the body you occupy for forty nine weeks out of the year…and step back in after three weeks knowing you have changed in ways that would not have been possible without the presence of all the others in your group.
14,411 feet — that’s not climbing. It’s soaring. It’s what Moondance teaches.
By Marty Weaver, mother of Molly and Cassie, Grosse Pointe Farms, MI
I am writing you, on my own will, to possibly alleviate you from your busy schedule and business e-mails to tell you about my life changing experience I had this summer. I just recently returned from the Northern Lights 2 trip in Alaska led by Jack and Molly. I came into Moondance having only heard of amazing experiences but now I can say I had the time of my life.
Everything was perfect on my trip. Having come back from Alaska, I can say that I have come to peace with life. With leaving for college in less than two weeks, I can say I am finally ready to leave and be on my own. The lessons I learned extended much further than just backcountry skills. Living simply, I would have to say, was one of the most rewarding things I learned and could have ever experienced. And being in such a gorgeous place like Alaska made everything that much more special. Both Jack and Molly should be commended greatly for what they do. They are both amazing people. The love for what they were doing showed in every aspect of our trip. Most of all their passion for the outdoors and working with us kids absolutely made the trip. Over time they became not only our leaders and teachers, but great friends and just “one of us.”
The friendships I came home with were life lasting. Spending 21 days, 24 hours a day with a group made our connection so much closer and we truly got to know each other very well. When I got home my mom asked me, “Aren’t you glad to be home?” I honestly told her I was not. The people I met were wonderful and we all were saying how we wish we could spend more time with each other. I have been keeping up with everyone so far and miss all of them and the times we shared together greatly. I came away from Alaska and my Moondance experience with not only a backpack full of dirty clothes, but life-lasting friendships, life lessons, and an experience filled with unforgettable moments. Whether it was summiting a mountain, paddling 15 miles, dancing to Paul Simon in a parking lot, or just hanging out and sharing the good times with one another while looking out to the sight of calving glaciers, our group and times we spent together were amazing, filled with smiles and many laughs.
Hopefully one day I will be able to share, with a group of my own, what Jack and Molly shared with my group and me. I could not have seen my last summer before college being spent any other way. I want to thank you, Hayes and all of Moondance, for all you do to keep this program available for students because it changes lives. The wilderness truly is the greatest classroom there is.
Sincerely, John Robert Plyler – Charlotte, NC
“Live in the moment”
Weeks after returning from Alaska with a feeling of rebirth, I reflected by composing a poem on my experience and focused once again on what “living in the moment” was all about.
“Where do you live?” the curious man asks.
I live where the stones skip,
And the tide is aroused.
I live on the land,
Neighbor to the mountains. The curious man laughs,
“Where do you live?” he repeats.
I live in the moment.
Leaving the Comfort Zone
Elizabeth Moran, Rocky Mountain Way
Before I left on my Moondance trip I was more nervous than I have ever been. I was about to go out into the wilderness and attempt things I never thought would be possible. On top of that, I was going to do this with people I had never met and I had never even been out in the wilderness overnight before! I wondered what the people were going to be like and what the trip was going to entail. I distinctly remember the anxiety I had of getting on an airplane alone, not knowing what I was about to do or whom I was going to meet. Needless to say, in the wake of uncertainty, I was anxious. But there was a good reason for my anxiety: I was about to leave my “comfort zone”.
To me, leaving the comfort zone meant getting away from all that I normally did; exploring the unfamiliar. It was about meeting total strangers, climbing a mountain for the first time in my life, not taking a shower for a few days and wearing the same outfit more than one day in a row! It was getting away from civilization regardless of how uncomfortable I initially may feel and making the most of my natural environment. It meant leaving the familiar behind, and confronting the fear of the unknown so that I could explore, discover new things, and be adventurous.
When I arrived at my first trailhead just below the Colorado Rockies, the reality sank in: I was out of my comfort zone. I was in the midst of a lot of newness and “firsts” new faces, new scenery, and new activities. I was away from the routine of my everyday life. I no longer had all the luxuries I was used to: no clean clothes, no TV, the phone, my friends, and most of all no showers! I wondered what we were going to do, if I was going to enjoy it, and if I was going to succeed.
In those all-too-short two weeks, my group and I did succeed. We learned so much from each other and accomplished so much more than I ever had anticipated. Throughout my fifteen days, my group and our instructors shared dazzling sunrises, hiked deep into the stunning wilderness, and stood below gorgeous waterfalls. All the while, we learned and laughed and made life-long memories. All the anxieties I had before I started my Moondance course were immediately forgotten. Though I was officially out of my day-to-day “comfort zone,” I was more than comfortable in my new surroundings.
And now, as I prepare for the Moondance Leadership course I am taking this summer, I have an entirely new perspective on leaving my comfort zone, even though it is much larger than it was before my first Moondance trip. I have more confidence in myself and in my abilities to accomplish whatever I want. I have a new appreciation for the environment and I realize how fortunate I am to have all the luxuries of our modern day life. Of course, I still wonder about who will be in my group and what the trip will entail. I still wonder about where we will travel and who my instructors will be. However, regardless of whom I am with or where we go, I know that I can meet the challenge. My previous Moondance experience taught me this and more.
Greeting the Sunshine
Ran hour of climbing and panting, it gets light enough to see how much further we have to climb. “Not far at all,” I say to myself excitedly, picking up the pace in anticipation of reaching the top… We are finally there, and all at once we are chattering and gabbing and smiling and looking.
Suddenly, a silence fills the crisp air as the sun creeps up over the rugged mountains before us.
The Beauty of Simplicity
I can honestly say I had never felt so alive. Every morning in the backcountry we woke up when the sun rose, scarfed some oatmeal, and started to walk. At night we would stop walking when the sun began to set, and fall asleep when we got tired. The next morning the cycle continued through everything Mother Nature could throw at us. The concept of such a daily routine, such a schedule to follow each day, to me at least, is incredibly powerful. Life during those times, people have turned on their shower and thought to themselves, “Thank God for running water.” That trip made me see these small, but remarkably important aspects of our daily lives so much more clear.
At the end of the trip as I sat in a plane waiting to take off out of Colorado Springs, leaving the eleven most awesome people I had ever known, I was suddenly overcome with utter sadness. I wasn’t sad because I would never see any of those people again, but because I was going to miss the companionship our group possessed; waiting for June 15 is progressively driving me ballistic. What I am most excited for, however, is that every morning I will wake up with the sun, and walk or climb. My only commitment for those three weeks will be to eat, sleep, walk, and climb. Ultimate simplicity, once more. Absolute perfection.