July 4, 2018
Tyler and I waved our final goodbyes to everyone in the security line in the CDG airport this morning, sad to see everyone off but so grateful for our time together. That feeling has been the theme of our last few days on our journey through Europe – gratitude. We are all so thankful for this adventure and the ability to experience it with a group of new lifelong friends.
Our last night in Lourdes was a unique way to end our time in the mountains. When we learned there was a summer festival in town, we chose to forgo our dinner plans and head to the fair! We ate hamburgers and churros as we walked around the various carnival games. Our Pyrenees guide Sacha brought his daughter to meet us all. Everyone cheered for her and Adrian as they tried their hardest to win all kinds of prizes by throwing rings and dropping coins. Emma managed to beat the odds and won herself a stuffed animal in the claw game. We walked away from the distractions and found a perfect space under a tree in a park to conduct Moonup, where and LODs Lillian and Jack prompted us to talk about our biggest fears. It was important to our group to have a small ceremony in which we gave Sacha a meaningful present to express our gratitude for his guidance and the impact he made in only a few days. The ceremony was closed with a “passing of the pulse” and a howl at the moon that exceeded the noise of any carnival.
This Moonup would be the last for not only Sacha, but for one of our family members as well. Adrian had to head home a few days early, and we got him to the airport just as we reached Paris. We made sure to express how much he shaped our group and that truly we couldn’t imagine the trip without him. Walking the streets of Paris later that day, we missed him and his knowledge of history and politics. It wasn’t the same without our historical “podcast episodes!”
After a train day full of reflection and reading (especially for Jack, who managed to read an entire book in less than the length of the ride), we checked into our hotel in the southern part of Paris and set out to explore. Somehow our walking days around the city rivaled our hiking time on the trail, although Claire mentioned how nice it was to be on flat ground rather than the dramatic inclines and declines that we are used to. Lily put some real mileage on those yellow crocs of hers! There is so much to take in here. We marveled at the architecture, the people, and the gorgeous day. Don’t worry readers, you’ll be able to see plenty of pictures soon! Lead by Tyler, the entire group strolled through the cobblestone streets of the Latin Quarter to get to Notre Dame. Seeing this monument was the first time it clicked for most of us that we are actually here in Paris. We strolled along the Seine just as the sky started to turn pink, and we all felt so grateful to be here. Walking through the manicured Jardin du Luxembourg, by the historic landmarks at Les Invalides, and past plenty of Parisian puppies, we took it all in as we made our way to the Eiffel Tower.
That night, John and Warren (the LOD dream team) lead our most spectacular Moonup yet in the grass just at the base of the famous tower itself. The boys asked us some thought-provoking questions and prompted everyone to tell their favorite stories about the person to their left. This question made us realized how much we had gotten to know each other and how we have been able to witness so many amazing moments of growth in each others’ lives. Just when we began sharing our “WOW moments,” the Eiffel Tower started to twinkle and we all cheered. We voiced an audible “wow” and all of our answers immediately changed to the present moment.
We got some well-deserved rest in the morning and hit the city after breakfast. Jack and Griffin hoped to see the Arc du Triumph, so we navigated the metro to get across the Seine. The Arc was spectacular to see in person, and we walked around it to take in the sheer size. A stroll down the Avenue de Champs-Élysées put all of our girls in the shopping mood for the afternoon. The group chose to first spend time in the beautiful Musee d’Orsay, the light-filled impressionist museum on the banks of the river. No one enjoyed it more than Julia, who lit up when she got the chance to see some of her favorite paintings in person. She later reveled in about her experience in front of Monet’s Haystacks at Moonup.
Jack, John, Griffin, and Warren went to watch some of the World Cup soccer games, and the ladies hit the stores. Emma, Lily, and Ellie walked out with unique purses, Julia got some calligraphy supplies, and Gray learned she can rock a pageboy hat. Everyone joined in on the fun when we found a thrift store on the walk back to our hotel. Lillian had the idea to get something fun for our final banquet that night, and most others followed suit. Claire came prepared with a beautiful blue sundress and the boys brought out some khakis. When you get this crowd a shower and some clean clothes, we clean up well!
We had a special guest join our final banquet dinner – none other than Hayes Hitchens himself! This VIP addition to our table gave us the chance to hear about other Moondance trips, yas Hayes was conducting a whirlwind tour of Europe to visit and check in with as many groups as he could. Our delicious pasta dinner was amplified by our conversations, both meaningful and goofy. We concluded the experience with an unexpected treat in the form of artisanal ice cream. With sticky fingers, we walked to find another very Parisian Moonup location, this time right in front of the Notre Dame cathedral. Although surrounded by distracting sights, we listened intently to each participant. Ellie and Emma lead the last of these treasured ceremonies, and we spoke about what we have learned about ourselves here and what we hope to bring back from this experience.
As the tears started to fall in sadness for the ending of this incredible experience, we understood just how much for which we are thankful. We are so fortunate to have been able to spend twenty-three of the most meaningful, most unrepeatable, most fun, most challenging, and most life-changing days together. We are thankful for every blister and every uphill because it gave us the opportunity to lift one another up. We are grateful to all of the times we laughed so hard that we couldn’t breathe. We are happy to have shared this with a group of strangers who have become family. Tyler and I consider ourselves undeniably lucky to experience this with each and every student on the trip.
Our final note of gratitude is to all of you who care so deeply about these students and their journey. From providing the opportunity to attend this adventure to following along with our path as we wind our way through this continent, we thank you all for your support and encouragement. We are grateful to all of you for sharing this experience with us! Although we may be flying in to different airports today, there is an undeniable feeling of family that will always remain.
With much love,
Nancy and Tyler
July 1, 2018
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully you leave something good behind.” -Anthony Bourdain
Ellie read this quote over the sound of rain pattering on the skylights of our refugio bunk room in the four-building town of Bujaruelo, Spain. Her words were received by our family of sleepy students sitting circled on the floor for our third Moonup in the Pyrenees backpacking section. We had just completed the arguably most challenging day of hiking so far and relished in the opportunity of hot showers and a home-cooked Spanish dinner. An early bedtime and an especially restful sleep recharged us for the next day so we could lace up our hiking boots again.
This particular quote set the tone for this current section of the trip – being open. Open to new experiences, both cultural and adventurous, that are beyond the scope of our daily lives. Open to the new depths of friendship that we are each experiencing with every member of our group. Open to feedback from our peers, the challenge of asking for help when we need it, and to new ways of thinking and viewing the world. Most importantly, we want to be open to allowing this experience to change us.
Our Pyrenean journey began with a travel day to Lourdes, France. We walked around the sacred city and concluded the day with a pizza dinner and unexpected live music. We sang along to Wonderwall, Piano Man, and David Bowie while we filled our bellies with comfort food. Our hotel happened to be right across the street, so we opened the window and continued to listen to the recognizable tunes. When Sweet Home Alabama was sung in a thick French accent, Ellie, Julia, and Claire (our Alabama girls) leaned out of the windows and sang along.
The next morning, we met our guide Sacha and drove to the mountains. Our first hike in the Pyrenees could not have been more scenic. We hiked into the Cirque du Troumouse and were humbled by the size of the stone walls that surrounded us. At our lunch break, Warren and John were the first ones to jump into the freezing cold alpine lake. Julia and others took a nap on the grass while Adrian discussed Westworld theories. That night, conversations shifted to weightier topics in the most unique Moonup environment yet. As we sat on the wooden floor of an intricately painted yurt, LODs Emma and Claire asked us to share stories of the best decision we’ve made in our lives. It was meaningful to hear that joining the Moondance family was an answer for more than one person.
Day two started at a restful pace. We ate lunch by a pristine glacial lake and every single person jumped into the frigid water. Somehow Jack was able to tolerate the temperature for long enough to swim around. Many members of our group took complete advantage of each opportunity to jump in the various bodies of water that Sacha showed us, no matter the temperature. Griffin and Warren ended the Pyrenees section having jumped in each lake and dunking in each river available, even at 7:30am for an immediate wake up. Lillian declared our second to last day of trekking her “paradise” after we got the chance to jump off of a low bridge into a deep pool of the river. Julia, Emma, and Ellie all held hands and jumped off together. The water was clear and crisp, and we all loved the escape from the heat.
The days on the trail were long and full of challenge, but our positive attitude and fearless LODs in the front kept us moving. Gray started this trip stating that she couldn’t do the uphills, yet she lead the pack on multiple days and powered through her initial trepidation. Ellie declared that she never would have thought her body was capable of doing these large hiking days, but she proved otherwise when she set our pace for the entirety of day four, in which we hiked up and over a pass that took us from France into Spain. Members of our group even opted for additional challenge when they woke up before sunrise one morning to summit a peak called Le Petit Pimené near our isolated mountain refuge. It was the first summit ever for most participants, and they hiked down to a well-deserved breakfast with huge smiles across their sweaty faces. Lily also experienced a first when we had the chance to ski in our hiking boots down snowy patches of high mountain passes. She ended the stretch laughing, saying she wants to try it in the future with actual skis! Everyone tried one section of snow sitting on our snow pants, essentially sledding down the mountain with our packs on. Now that we’ve returned to Lourdes and have been greeted by the heat of summer, it is hard to believe we were skiing only a few days ago.
Our circle of friends also opened up to include new members. Our guide Sacha joined every Moonup and inspired all of us with stories from his life. Sacha also began each day with a short yoga practice that everyone joined at least once. Some of us are more flexible than others, and we all looked to Lily when the poses increased in difficulty. Serendipitously, we bumped into a previous Moondance leader who we of course invited to Moonup. There were a few more additions to our group lessons and conversations, including the donkeys and horses that roamed freely around our mountain refuge in Espugettes. A few sheep seemed intrigued by the boys’ packs at a lunch stop in the Cirque du Gavarnie, but Nancy and Tyler were able to herd them elsewhere.
Our openness to experience has allowed for deeper communication and positive group dynamics. John breathlessly exclaimed at dinner one night that in “real life” it’s rare to laugh this hard, but on this trip he has at least twice daily fits of laughter that almost make him sick. One of those episodes was shared by everyone at the dinner table in Torla when we discovered Adrian’s unlikely avian doppelgänger. For all of our hilarious moments, there have also been conversations with true depth and feeling. Our Moonups continue to have great meaning and our trail talks are varied.
This section of our trip has impacted all of us, especially because of our openness to the experience. We have become even more of a family here in the shadows of these dramatic mountains. We are heading into our last few days of this adventure with sore legs and open hearts.
Missing you all!
Nancy and Tyler
June 23, 2018
After a few days sea kayaking off of the Costa Brava, we are now a little blonder, a little tanner, and ready to get back to the mountains with stronger arms.
Our day of train travel through France to northern Spain went off without a hitch, thanks in large part to LODs Lillian and Warren. They made sure to keep our group of students together and alert so that we did not miss any of our three connections. We watched the terrain shift from mountainous French countryside to flat Mediterranean expanses while sitting in the train playing hearts and monopoly deal, snoozing, and catching up on reading and journals.
After much ground covered, we finally reached the beach in beautiful L’Escala! We moved into our three bungalows which would become our homes for the next few days, and walked the 10 short minutes to the beach to get our first glance of the Mediterranean Sea. Gray was the first one in the water, dipping her hair in the ocean and splashing the group on shore. Meanwhile, Lillian, Lily, Warren, and Jack did some grocery shopping with Tyler to start preparations for our taco feast for dinner. We gathered all of the tables and chairs off of each porch to create one long table for fourteen. Sitting around the dinner table and talking and laughing, it is easy to notice a change in the pace of our group here. The salty air, sunny days, and Spanish influence have relaxed everyone.
The next morning, we woke up and prepared a breakfast buffet that could rival any restaurant. Fresh pineapple, watermelon, pears, and bananas rounded out our meal of scrambled eggs and cheese. Our LODs Griffin and Julia set a positive tone for the day in our morning huddle with the quote “there are always flowers for those who choose to see them,” and we set off to meet our sea kayaking outfitters at the beach. We were given PFDs, paddles, and skirts to go with our kayaks. These yellow sea kayaks served as our primary mode of transportation for our time in Spain. Emma and Ellie, Lily and Lillian, and Gray and Claire worked on their synchronization in double kayaks. We navigated in and out of rugged, rocky coastline and practiced the Eskimo rescue roll maneuver in the water. Our guide lead us through small caves where the water was so clear, Tyler was able to spot Julia’s lost sunglasses easily and retrieve them. Lillian captured an incredible picture of a jellyfish with her waterproof camera, while leaders were able to get shots of the entire group along the cliff walls. We ate our sandwiches on a secluded stone beach and swam and laid down to rest, which became a beach nap for Emma, Gray, Julia, and Nancy. Tyler fell asleep with one hand on his chest, making him the target of breathless laughter later in the day when he showed us the clear tan line.
Our dinner on the second night was the product of some friendly competition. We had our own “Iron Chef: battle of the bungalows” and each house cooked a pasta dish. While Lillian, Gray, and Lily’s chicken pesto pasta won awards for presentation and originality in recipe, ultimately Emma, Julia, Ellie, and other’s pasta with meat sauce was crowned the winner. We have all loved the chance to cook during this section of the trip, but we’ll also be excited to get back to traditional French foods on the Pyrenees section!
Our second day of paddling was more challenging than the first, but luckily our LODs Ellie and Jack kept everyone motivated and having fun. We drove out to a protected area with more coves and rock formations that made each viewpoint completely unique. Our guide Guifre found a sea urchin that Emma and others were daring enough to hold. Stopping at another secluded pebble beach that could only be accessed by the water, we ate our lunch and Ellie and Jack used goggles to snorkel around. Our beach naps served us well for the next section, in which we paddled out towards an island away from the shore. When the swells got larger out in the more open water, John, Warren, and Griffin gave some hard paddle strokes and were able to surf some waves. When we started to lose steam on our paddle back, Emma and Ellie sang some “Eye of the Tiger” and the rest of the crowd joined in on a chorus of Hall and Oates’s “Rich Girl” to get us to the finish line. Claire got a tow from the boat driver, and we all loved seeing her put her paddle in the air with both arms raised and a huge smile across her face when she spotted land.
After another big day of paddling, the boys went grocery shopping and made some leftovers and hamburgers for dinner. We listened to the conversations, the “wow birds,” and the nearby dance music while we ate our last dinner here in the campground. There was music and liveliness in the otherwise sleepy town because of a summer festival. Adrian busted out some dance moves that were quickly emulated by the entire group. Griffin and John danced to Latin pop music down the sidewalk going to Moonup while everyone laughed and joined in. Our last Moonup on the Spanish coast was peppered by fireworks and distractions. Regardless, it was a special circle in which we were able to talk about a moment in our lives that made us most proud. I think completing sections of this trip will be on that list in the future.
As we start to gain elevation and head back to the mountains, we are grateful for our time by the sea. Tyler’s sunburn will fade and we’ll eventually get all the sand out of our chacos, but we won’t soon forget how much fun we had on the clear aqua waters of Spain!
Off to France! Missing you all!
Nancy and Tyler
June 20, 2018
Bonjour les familles!
Hello from Chamonix, one of the many quaint villages in this scenic part of the world that we’ve been able to visit. Right now everyone is showered and resting from the last few days, already reminiscing on our time hiking the Tour du Mont Blanc.
This group of individual students quickly became a group of friends. As soon as we stepped off of the plane in the Geneva airport, there was already uncontrollable laughter and tangible excitement about our upcoming adventure. We kept our energy and enthusiasm high no matter the length of the travel day. John started word games in our van ride to Chamonix that were so fun to play, even our driver joined in. After our arrival to our hotel, we found a field nearby and played around because the weather was too beautiful not to! Lillian, Griffin, John, and Tyler made an unstoppable ultimate frisbee team, and Gray and Lily impressed everyone with their backflips and tumbling. We finally wound down after our first of many home-cooked French meals and began Moonup, our gathering to discuss and debrief at the end of every day. This particular Moonup spurred conversations about the aspects of this trip that would make us both nervous and excited, and we all left the circle inspired and with a new gift or two from Moondance!
Waking up in France to Nutella and fresh bread, we knew we were in for a fantastic first full day in country. At the suggestion of a local guide, we did a small day hike to a stunning waterfall. We were all so happy to stand in the mist, but none more than Claire, who happens to exceptionally love waterfalls! What a great way to stretch our legs and get ready for our future hiking days. It was easy to see friends being made, group inside jokes already being formed, and demonstrations of good expedition behavior. This “EB,” or the ability to put the entirety of the group before oneself, has only grown and has carried us happily through our following days of trekking. All of our Leaders of the Day focused on our group’s wellbeing during the long hikes, notably Julia and Jack who consistently checked in with and encouraged everyone on the longest mileage day of the tour.
On our third day in Europe, we packed everything up, said “á bientôt” to our hosts at our hotel, and hit the road to get started on the famous TMB. Jack especially paid close attention to the lesson about packing essentials, and was able to consolidate everything he needed into only a day pack. After a short drive through a tunnel under Mont Blanc itself, we began our day in Italy. We started with a steep ascent that our guide Philippe and our Leaders of the Day, Adrian and Lily, motivated us to keep climbing. Our slow and steady pace paid off and we had lunch in a saddle with the best view of the Italian village below and huge peaks to our right. Warren, Ellie, and others demonstrated their skiing skills when we hiked up to patches of snow and were able to slide down on our feet (and maybe more than a few times on our pants). We ate breakfast in France, lunch in Italy, and dinner in our charming chalet-style hotel in Switzerland. What a day!
The Tour du Mont Blanc continued to challenge us physically but constantly reward us with views and conversations we will never forget. Everyone found their hiking pace and we all got to know each other so much better while we talked on the trail. Emma, Ellie, Lily, John, and Julia sang some Dixie Chicks and oldies hits at the front of the line, while Adrian and Tyler discussed politics and history behind them. While covering many miles, up switchbacks in forests and exposed mountain terrain, through rivers and snowfields, and down into charming towns, the chatting and games never stopped. At the end of every day, we walked around the Swiss and French towns and relaxed. On our second night on the TMB, we stayed in Champex-Lac near a lake and were able to soak our feet in the chilly water while we ate snacks and talked about the day. The hotel there had a piano in the lobby, so Gray played Coldplay and Adele while the rest of the group sang along. Lily lead us in some yoga-inspired stretching on the lawn while Emma and Ellie journaled and the rest of our group played hackysack. This became our nightly post-hike routine.
We had lost sight of Mont Blanc itself for the first few days when hiking on the Italian and Swiss sides of the tour. When we eventually crested a snow-covered mountain and the famous peak became visible again, we knew that saddle was the perfect place to eat lunch. Baguette sandwiches with salami and grey poupon were our reward for the day’s trek. The view was so astounding that we didn’t want to leave. All of the girls braided yellow flowers into each other’s hair, and we took pictures and broke out the games. There are not many people that can say they have played hackysack on a mountain on the border between France and Switzerland, but our group can!
By the time we arrived back in Chamonix after our trekking section was over, we felt like we knew the town and were coming home. Our time on the Tour du Mont Blanc has been more memorable than we could have ever hoped, and we are happy to rest our legs and spend some time by the sea!
Nancy and Tyler
Until our next update, here are a few shoutouts from our crew:
Happy Father’s Day to all!!
Jack – Mom and Dad, having a great time over here! Hope everything is well. See you soon. Love Jack, pop pop.
Ellie – Hey fam and Trey! Having so much fun, can’t wait to tell y’all about it. Love and miss you! See you soon! :)))
Lily – Hi guys! I hope you’re having a good time back home, I’m having so much fun here in the Alps. Happy belated birthday Mama, love you! PS- happy Father’s Day David!
Emma – Hey doodlebobs! Miss you guys, see you soon! Love you! PS – Fergie and Flip, I love you and miss you most!
Julia – Hey mom and dad! Having so much fun! It’s really awesome and tell Finn hello!
Claire – Hey fam! It’s beautiful here, miss y’all!
Gray – Hey boss woman and dad, Minnie, and Georgie! I’m in freakin France!! I miss y’all and can’t wait to hear about Africa!
Griffin – Hey mom and dad! Trip is fun, food is good, people are great, views are amazing. Having fun, love you.
John – Bonjourno Wendy and the fam! I hope you all are having a summer that is better than any other. Can’t wait to see you in Sweden, and as the Swedish say, arrivederci.
Warren – Hey mom and dad, I’m alive.
Adrian – Hi! I’m having fun
Lillian – Hey guys! Hope you’re doing well! It’s amazing, wish you could be here with me! Love and miss y’all, see you soon!
June 13, 2018
Hello Chamonix Families!
Tyler and Nancy, our fearless Chamonix leaders, just notified us that everyone has arrived safely and the whole group is now playing frisbee in a park in Chamonix. Life is good! We can’t wait to hear from them soon.