July 4, 2018
This is a hard update to write as we just bid our ChamFam goodbye at the airport. The past two days in Paris was the perfect ending to a magical trip. No combination of words could do our group justice. The friendships we made and experiences we shared will never be lost. We extend a thanks to each and every parent for raising such intelligent and whole-hearted individuals.
Our time in Paris kicked off in the afternoon after navigating vans, trains, and Parisian public transportation. On the train, Tyler shared a chapter from his book by the hysterical David Sedaris about Americans riding the metro in Paris. This produced a cacophony of laughter while teaching valuable lessons on volume control, ironic! The stark difference between the rural Refugios in Mont Blanc and the Paris city streets hit us hard with a wall of humid air. After a few wrong turns we navigated the public transportation and made it to our hostel – Oops! No, that’s not us making a mistake, our hostel’s name was truly named ‘Oops.’ We quickly threw our bags into rooms so that we could hit the ground running. Parker and Spence rounded up the troops as they were determined to go to the Louvre. The notorious museum was closed the following day, and both boys had dreamed of seeing the Mona Lisa along with many other inspiring and historical art pieces. Without their determination, we may not have made it in time. Our kids milked every second in the glass pyramid as security pushed them out at closing time. The next stop was the Notre Dame. In typical MC fashion, she immediately suggested we walk to the cathedral down along the river instead of the noisy sidewalk. She always finds a way to enhance experiences for the entire group. The early evening light hit the Notre Dame so perfectly we were once again, inside a post card. Max’s gelato senses were tingling and he sniffed out a great stand that satisfied everyone’s craving and cooled us down after a hot afternoon. A few blocks away we stumbled upon the Shakespeare & Co. bookstore. We soaked up the literary magic as we pursued the shelves and threw suggestions of our favorite books to each other. McKee found himself lost in the corner reading 101 Bands to Listen to Before You Die. This came as no surprise as we call him a walking encyclopedia of music and cinematography. As the sun lowly set, we went to a local Monoprix grocery store to grab all the ingredients for a true Parisian picnic-feast. Outside the Jardin de Luxembourg we spread out fresh baguettes, three cheeses, jam, cured meats, veggies, hummus, fruits, and everything in between. Grace took it upon herself to finish two entire bags of beats and Bo spear headed our entertainment with his trumpet noises and beat boxing skills. His talents could have earned him many a spare Euros from the strangers walking by. A night we’ll truly all remember.
The next morning started off like any other – bread, jam, coffee. Bread has become our religion that we practice at least three times a day; in gluten we trust. About a 30 minute walk from our hostel is a neighborhood named the Latin Quarter with offbeat vintage shops and thrift stores lining up the streets. At a store named Kilo, everyone put their thrift hats on and perused the shelves of funky patterns and bright colors. Kate had a knack for this and bought a pair of chunky sunglasses, a German t-shirt and a bright pair of flowy shorts. With our shopping needs satisfied, we continued straight to the famous Ladurée for macaroons. Alice dove straight in and got a box filled with a variety of different flavors. It’s a mystery to us all how she didn’t eat every cookie in one sitting. Vanilla, Carmel, rose and pistachio were some crowd favorites. After another garden picnic lunch of sandwiches, fruit and sparkling water we topped it off with the highly recommended Best Cup of Coffee in Paris – Café Coutume. In usual Harrison form, he jumped at the bit to try many different variations and flavors. His latte was beautifully decorated with a foam flower and envied by everyone. All of a sudden, a ring on the international phone echoed through the cafe. It was no man other than the Man, the Myth, the Legend: Hayes Hitchens. He had just arrived in Paris and wanted to rendezvous under the Eiffel Tower to meet everyone. He immediately recognized LG, her previous trips on PNW and Dolomites, and recounted when he went to the Hoodis house in Dallas to spread the word of Moondance years ago. We chatted for an hour as the sun started to set about what Moondance means to us and why we keep coming back year after year. It always comes down to the people we meet and experiences we share.
Adrenaline pumping and excitement in our veins, we bid Hayes farewell and kicked off our banquet dinner at a classic, quaint French restaurant 10 minutes from the Eiffel Tower. Escargot, crepes, and cheese plates covered the table. Our laughter became the playlist of the restaurant as we reminisced about the trip and the goofy silly things we said and did. The evening was hardly coming to a close. Darkness swept the city and we went back to the Eiffel Tower to sit front row on the grass as it twinkled and lit up the sky. The sheer size of the monument had us speechless for quite some time. Lillian embraced the city and bought a red rose from a street vendor for the group. We saw a proposal, met a NC Congressman, and ate our all time favorite gelato all in the span of an hour. The last Moonup was one for the books of Moondance history as it lasted about 2 and a half hours. There’s no doubt about it – this group is one of a kind. The easy going flow of our conversations and strong bonds we created as we bounced between four countries will be a time in our lives we’ll never forget. We will miss everyone and are excited to see the incredible things to be achieved in the upcoming year.
Joanie Davis & Tyler Gabrielson
July 1, 2018
“Nous sommes très fatigues.”
We have just completed five days on the northern part of the Tour du Mont Blanc. It exceeded just about every expectation that we held. The journey began waking up at the crack of dawn to yet another European beige breakfast- something that we have now come to truly love. Our shuttle to the trail head took us quite literally through the heart of Mont Blanc. A 12 kilometer tunnel underneath the legendary mountain was an engineering feat that stirred our minds early in the morning. Our guide, Xavier, a local to the mountains of the region, would take us through the peaks, passes and fits of laughter that ensued for the next five days on the trail. Luckily we had our hiking legs underneath us, and the first three hours of mostly uphill were no strain upon us. Instead, we could conversation freely with little shortage of breath. Further proof of this groups well oiled hiking ability was in reaching the first pass, which was also the boarder of Italy and Switzerland. Xavier asked “Would you like to take another summit, it is only a few more minutes but the views are WOW”. The group unanimously agreed to push themselves and do what no other group under Xavier’s guide has done. The climb proved well worth it. Before, at the pass, the lunatics were speculating, as they remained fairly similar to the landscape we saw in the Pyrenees. Atop this additional climb, it revealed to us a 360 vista so sweeping, massive, soul shaking, that I cannot do it justice in words. It was expressed best in the watery eyes of the kids and leaders on the peak. Walking behind LG we overheard her say “This is honestly the best day I’ve ever had I’m the entire world.” Pretty magical words to hear from a student. Our hard work and efforts were rewarded in full- these were truly the Alps.
The rest of the day was spent in a stupor until we arrived at our Refugio for the evening. Hiking here on the Tour Du Mont Blanc requires covering many kilometers and elevation during the day, but once you are at your lodging, the day is over. A room with 14 beds for all of our students and leaders provided even more bonding and silliness, the perfect cap for a perfect day on the trail.
The following day hiking took us from La Fouly, a quaint Alps town, to A little past Champex, a slightly bigger village with a ski hill and a beautiful town lake. With little elevation gain, we were able to keep a brisk pace while trapping through forest and pastures of the happiest cows you have ever seen. The scenery differed in that we were no longer trekking above tree line. Before we knew it, we had arrived at the lake, where Harrison, as was tradition, was the first to jump into the waters. Mr. and Mrs. M., it is possible your son is part fish. He has not seen a body of water without asking his leaders if he could swim in it, and always the first in. Past Champex, hiked wooded glades that were bursting with chlorophyll. Our eyes heave not seen such lush greenery yet in Europe. Grace immediately bonded with the pet goats on the land and hand-fed them grass through the fence. While Grace was conversing with goats, a few others were bouncing on a trampoline with the picturesque mountain background. After arriving at the second Refugio, we were delighted to have our first taste of fondue of the trip. Moonup occurred in what could’ve been a postcard from Switzerland, and sounds of goat bells and the rustle of the field in front of us were the soundtrack to an unforgettable refuge.
Middle of the Tour. Our feet our admittedly quite stinky, our knees slightly battered, but our energy has never been stronger. The group worked together days before to throw Spence off on which day it was. Lilian went so far to change the date on the LOD watch so that Spence was completely clueless. We surprised him at breakfast with a decorated table, balloons and a Swiss chocolate treats. The day was, like the first, mostly uphill for the beginning half. The climb truly did not seem to end, so singing somewhat deliriously on the trail was the only option. As LOD, Kate led a strong group up the last push by counting down the switchbacks to our long awaited lunch. At the top we had our first taste of Ovalmaline; this will be a day Max never forgets as this delectable treat may be his long lost love. His eyes widened, mouth dropped, and clouds parted as the Ovalmaltine Swiss Gods blessed our group. this new found energy fueled our push to Trient. This mountain town is so isolated and walled off by the surrounding mountains that it is completely inaccessible for three months of the winter. They close the pass, and those citizens that remain in the village hopefully remembered to stock up on TP. MC joined in on the Euchre fun and as the newbie on the table destroyed the veterans in an easy swoosh. A beautiful end to Spence’s birthday involved the entire hostel singing Happy Birthday alongside a chocolate cake and carrot cake and a new Chamonix vintage poster. This was certainty a day for the books.
Our last day in Switzerland started off very difficult. We worked off the two nights of cheese fondue with a breakfast of bread and sliced cheese and 20 switchbacks uphill. We scurried up to the pass, craving to get our first glimpse of Mont Blanc. Since the first cloudy day in Chamonix, Parker and McKee were itching to see the famous mountain. Our guide Xavier counted down the last few seconds as we came across the pass and Parker sprinted up to get the first view. There she was – peak high in the blue sky with glaciers plastered alongside the ridges. We decided to get a better view and Lilian led us up to a higher summit where we ate lunch in the border of France and Switzerland. Bo and Harrison, as always, were high energy and eager to ‘make business agreements’ as they shook hands from different countries. Back in France we hiked down one of the most famous ski mountains in the world. Some chair lifts were working in the distance and over a dozen paragliders sprinkled the sky. We hiked down to hike straight back up again to a different summit where we walked along a ridge with even more spectacular views than before. Our guide estimated it would take us about an hour but our advanced group of professional hikers did it in under 30 minutes. After a few more hours of hiking, the hot, sweaty family rolled into our final Refugio with celebratory ice creams in hand.
It was a bitter sweet last day – sad to leave the TMB trail, but excited and happy to explore the town of Chamonix. We got up early in the morning so that we could get into Cham by lunchtime. The typical Yogi group did sun salutations for 30 minutes before breakfast. One of the largest races (45K and 90K) was being held in Chamonix, so we diverted our path through the forest to avoid being swept up by crazy long distance runners. Back in town Alice never ceased to stop as she led a group of gals through the stores buying souvenirs for loved ones and mementos to keep for years to come. These activities were sandwiched between two amazing meals where many claimed to have the best cheeseburger and/or hot dog of their lives. Off to bed early as we leave for Paris tomorrow morning. Time to momentarily retire our hiking boots and mountain howls for the big city!
June 26, 2018
Quick update for the parental units of Chamonix 1B! We are three short hours away from reaching Chamonix, the journey of our adventure here in Europe. Since our last update, we spent two full days on the coast of Spain, bathing in the Mediterranean Sea and exploring the rugged coastline.
When we arrived in L’Escala, we were surprised to find a celebration in the town, the likes of which you would not believe. It coincidently happened to be the celebration of San Juan, a holiday that locals thoroughly enjoy and that includes many fireworks! The spectacle was unlike anything we have witnessed before. After a quick meal and our nightly Moonup, we were tired enough to our sleep the firework noise right outside our bungalows!
The next morning we ventured to the beach, a quick 10-minute walk from our bungalows, to get many of our first glimpses of the Mediterranean. Sea kayaking this day took us along a well weathered carbonate shore. Tiny inlets, tunnels, and caves in the coast, made our sea kayaking memorable. The weather was perfect, the swells were calm, and had about as relaxing yet engaging paddle that we could ask for. Parker involuntarily showed us all how to do a wet exit from the kayak while his good buddy McKee helped him up and added comedic flare. After kayaking, the group remained at the beach to swim and soak. We cooked our first meal of the trip, thanks to Lillian, Bo and Lily Grace. These fine chefs whipped up a big bowl of spaghetti Bolognese, fresh salad, and we topped it off with some local gelato.
The next day of sea kayaking took us to a remote shore, 45 minutes south of our town of L’Escala. Here, the coastline was much different, granite cliffs meeting the sea instead of limestone. When we thought it couldn’t feel more Mediterranean, it managed to one-up itself. When we thought the weather couldn’t be more agreeable, the swells were even smaller and the sun just a bit more forgiving. Our second day sea kayaking did not disappoint. MC and Alice also learned from our guides how to roll their kayaks and self-rescue in the unlikely event they flip. We started to worry that the sun was getting to Kate because she truly did not once stop smiling. Not once.
What came next was the highlight of the trip for many. I’m talking about a little something called IRON CHEF!!! Teams were divided into two, set off with the task of providing dinner and entertainment to our panel of judges and leaders, Joanie and Tyler. With their allotted Euros, these Moondancers descended upon the Supermercat with a fervor and competitive spirit similar to Lance Armstrong in the final leg of the ‘03 Tour de France. Any group of Moondance students can go hiking on day one or two of a trip, but the Iron Chef challenge is a rarity that really is best executed when the group has already gelled and learned how to collaborate, formulate a plan, and listen respectfully to one another. Needless to say, this is a special group, with leadership and teamwork that almost never becomes so finely tuned.
Group A concocted a Mediterranean palate warmer, a Pad Thai, and a peach ice cream waffle. Their entertainment they provided was Charlotte’s finest Bo Schneider doing his legendary standup routine about his dogs. Harrison set Group B’s atmosphere by adding candles along the picnic tables. This group crafted a nacho dish. Oftentimes, nachos are merely a warm up, something that can be dismissed as elementary, simple, dare I say, easy to make. These were anything but that. Their entertainment fit with the theme, a rousing rendition of “Feliz Navidad” by the whole group. It is in these weird moments, ones that you truly needed to be there to observe, that Moondance embodies. Climbing mountains is certainly grand, but in these simple joys along the way, we discover that it is the group, not the destination, that makes the trip.
Our time in Costa Brava was short, but sweet. A sad departure this morning as our bus rolled away from the warm waters to head back into the mountains. Back on the trains, colored pencils, card games and a French version of Daddy’s Home Two occupied us as we cruised through the vast landscape. Spence, Max, and Grace were introduced to Uker, the Midwest’s finest card game. A tough match, but the games continue as Max tries to hold on to his winning record. That’s all for now folks! Next stop, the site of the first 1924 Winter Olympics and one of the most iconic mountains on earth, Chamonix.
Hey Mom, Dad, and Will- hope all is well in Atlanta. Trekking in the Pyrenees was amazing, and I can’t wait to share all of my pictures and stories. We just finished the kayaking portion of the trip (the Mediterranean water was unreal) and are in Chamonix; Mom you would love it here. Got some good gifts for everyone. Love you
Hey fam! I started the day in Spain, moved to France, then to Switzerland, and finally to Chamonix! Tomorrow I will eat breakfast in France, lunch in Italy, and dinner in Switzerland. I guess I am experienced enough to be in the amazing race now! I miss you guys so so much! Love y’all!
Hi Mom and Dad!!! I’m having so much fun, yesterday when we were kayaking I got to hold a sea urchin! Love you guys like crazy and I’ll see you soon (give Marg and Izzy a hug and kiss for me!!!)
Hi fam! I am having the very best time. I have seen the most beautiful views with the most amazing people. We have hiked through the Pyrenees, kayaked, and we are about to backpack mount blanc. Sups cool! Love y’all and miss maisie!
What’s up Squuuaaaadddd!!!!!!!????? We just finished kayaking in the Mediterranean, and it was absolutely beautiful! The water is just so crystal clear, Emma and Coleman would love it-there are so many minnows and hermit crabs. Words cannot describe the beauty of the Pyrenees, and I will never forget everything I learned along the way. This group is so full of positive, energetic, and just super cool people. I couldn’t ask for a better Moondance family! I miss y’all and love you so much! 🙂
Hello parents. I’ve made friends who live in both Birmingham and Morehead which is pretty cool. Mckee is in Reed’s grade at mountain brook. I’ve already hiked the Pyrenees and kayaked in the Mediterranean. I’m leaving for the Alps tomorrow which is pretty exciting. Love y’all.
Whatsup mom and dad. The first two weeks have been incredible and it’s crazy to think that just one week remains. The trip continues to exceed my expectations and I’m looking forward to the final 7 days in Europe. Coming home will be bittersweet (more bitter than sweet). Love both of y’all.
mom and dad- the trip has been unbelievable. The group is the best I could have asked for. A ridiculously fun bunch of people. We are about to start our hiking on the tour du Mont Blanc. We just completed our kayaking portion, which exceeded my expectations. The Pyrenees was the coolest thing I have ever seen, and I have only heard that the tour du Mont Blanc is cooler, so I’ll have to see. I look forward to telling y’all all about it. Love you both and see you in a week.
Hey fam! I am having so much fun on this trip, we just got finished kayaking in Costa Brava which was amazing. The Pyrenees were so cool. I’m not ready to come home if I even do but love and miss y’all! P.S. Please feed my fish
What’s up y’all? I’ve been hanging with the absolute best group out here in France, Spain, and Switzerland. I can’t wait to see you guys but I’m the meantime I’m pretty happy here. This trip has been absolutely insane and I’m debating on coming home or not. Hopefully this last week won’t fly by like the other 2, which were completely unreal. Love you guys, can’t wait to see you soon!
Hey parents! Miss you guys, but it’s pretty great here hahaha! Hope Father’s Day was great papa and Happy happy happy birthday Muda!!! <3
HEY FAMILY, this trip and all the things we have done are absolutely amazing. I can’t wait to show you everything we’ve accomplished. Costa Brava and the Pyrenees were insanely gorgeous, and I have no doubt the Tour will be anything short of beautiful. ALSO, BIG HAPPY BIRTHDAY TO DAD I LOVE YOU. HAPPY ANNIVERSARY MOM AND DAD! love u all
June 23, 2018
It’s been quite the adventure so far. We’ve traveled through three different countries; taken planes, trains and automobiles; and hiked all day every day.
After three full travel days spent in a jet-lagged haze, exploring the city of Geneva for a night, and playing various card games as our train sped through the European landscape, we finally arrived in Lourdes, where we packed and prepared for the upcoming week in the mountains. Early the first morning we met our guide Sacha. No combination of words would do Sacha justice. He not only taught us about the Pyrenees and the respective flora and fauna, but he assisted us in our immersion into the French lifestyle. After our first lunch we practiced “French meditation”, or in American English, we napped. Later, we ate a local Pyrenean dish we found on the trail: large ants. We’ll forever have an image of Sacha digging his hand in an ant hill burned in our minds. Lillian was the first to volunteer to try this local specialty. The day was highlighted and epitomized by our final surprise of the hike, diving into an alpine lake. Parker led the first of many swims and immediately dunked in the freezing snow run off. Many followed his example and took a dip before finishing off the hike. What a first day.
We started off the second day with early yoga sun salutations led by Sacha. We finally felt ingrained in the French lifestyle. After a typical beige breakfast of bread and jam we headed further into the mountains. The sun was shining, sky blue and peaks dusted with snow left over from the long winter. Clouds were hanging low in the valley shadowing the tiny Pyrenean towns. We finished our morning hike at a large reservoir where Sacha immediately dived in screaming “I am a fish!” Bellying over in laughter we knew Sacha was a keeper. Due to the big winter, we were unable to do one of the passes, so we took two busses to Gavarnie where we then hiked directly uphill for hours above the tree line to Refugio Espugettes. At the top, we were surrounded by clouds and had no idea we were below towering peaks until the following morning.
The third morning began with the most staggering views of the Pyrenees thus far. Little to our knowledge due to the weather the day before, our Refugio was on the edge of the world with the sharp peaks and rolling hills painted in front of us. Sheep and donkeys were in our backyard, their bells ringing as they moved across the landscape. For many of us, these bell sounds have become the sounds of the Pyrenees. We hiked in the midst of the herding season as sheep are moved to new pastures for the summer. One sheep in particular, Earl, became a good friend on the trail. We trekked through today’s cirque watching the local Izard migrate in the distance. You know it’s a good sign when even the guide is speechless at the quality of wildlife sightings in one day. We silently walked for a section of the trail absorbing the magic of the mountains. After another “French Meditation,” we continued to Gavarnie, which is the quintessential Pyrenean town; the waterfall perfectly set in the distance. The group took a much needed shower before indulging in a special treat – dinner at a restaurant! The World Cup game between Switzerland and Brazil was on in the background and Harrison proudly (and emotionally) cheered for the Swiss underdog. Moonup that night was held in a quaint shelter by the river where we later discovered was where they washed the horses; oops.
Another day began with yoga sun salutations. Today would be a hard day as we planned to hike over the pass and across the border into Spain. For two days we would hike on El Camino de Santiago trail, a famous month long pilgrimage that many people from all over the world come to trek. A few minutes into our hike we stopped at a small cemetery and church where Sacha gave us a lesson on the local Catholicism. Mary Claire’s excitement skyrocketed as the church tied into one of her favorite books, The DaVinci Code. The next hour directly uphill was led in silence as Sacha wanted us to soak up the morning aura of the forest. This first uphill push led us to the top of tree line, Gavarnie and the river in the distance below. Traversing across the mountains we stumbled upon 5 horses grazing on the picturesque landscape. Spence learned from Sacha how to scratch their ears and head; soon there were 3 horses surrounding him fighting over his attention. The pass towered over us in the distance, taunting us with a steep uphill ahead. We slowly conquered the elevation with numerous switchbacks and cheers from our new family. Those in front let our some proud screams on the last steps, and Bo immediately went back down to help those taking a bit more time in the back. Fifteen minutes later on a flat trail topped with some snow we were officially in Spain! ¡Bienvenido! We began our time in Spain by throwing on all our rain gear and sliding down the snow piles; a highlight for every person on the trip thus far. This was a highlight for Alice, who mentioned the “butt sledding” as her favorite memory of hiking thus far. A few hours of downhill trekking led us to our new hostel. As tradition has it, the only way to celebrate a long day was a swim in the freezing cold river. Max braved this swim, despite having once proclaimed “my body does not retain heat”. Spain welcomed us with open arms and a delicious four course dinner.
That next morning spirits were high with a beautiful buffet set out in front of us. Today would be a relaxing hike to Torla, a classic, old-world Spanish village. We trekked along the river floor and through the forest as we chatted about everything from music & literature to knock knock jokes. It was a hot sunny day, so it was only natural that we’d jump into some body of water. About an hour from the village we stumbled upon a low bridge and deep lagoon. LG (Lily Grace) seized this moment to jump off the largest feature, prompting the rest of the girls to step out of their comfort zones and follow suit.
The following day was perhaps the most intense hiking of the trip yet. Luckily we already had our ”hiking legs” underneath us for this 10 mile day. The hiking here took place in the Pyrenean National Park along a classic Spanish trail “Great Walk 11”. Beginning and ending the day were two straight uphill sections. Grace led the group, in front of our leaders and beside our trusty mountain guide. Our eyes may have deceived us, but I could swear she was part mountain goat for that final climb to our Refugio.
The penultimate day of trekking was a day of downhills and flatness. For a brief moment on the trail we were faced with some storm clouds, the first of the trip. McKee took it upon himself to raise the group morale, digging deep into his southern roots, by singing every song off of Marshal Tucker Band’s seminal album “Long Hard Ride”. Halfway through “Everyday (I Have The Blues)”, McKee took a respite to lament on the fact that he is missing Hank Williams Jr, the remaining members of ‘Skynyrd, and BlackBerry Smoke at Alabama’s finest amphitheater, Oak Mountain. Pressed about why this concert of the finest vestiges of southern rock meant so much to him, he looked longingly at the storm clouds above the limestone massifs, gracefully spit between his feet, and exclaimed in his antebellum baritone, “Man, you could throw a dead raccoon down there in Pelham and you’re bound to hit a good guitarist”. Though much of this story is misremembered, McKee did lead our hike as a graceful and much beloved Leader of the Day.
The last day, wowawooWA! What a long strange trip it has been through the Pyrenees. We hiked up very steep mountain cliffs, alongside the multicolored mountain goats and the pink crows. We reached the top of the mountain to finish off our Pyrenean journey with a bang, arms linked and as a team. We were then met by the taxi drivers and Becky’s child, Aragon (not to be mistaken for a demons offspring with a spider). We then rode down the o-so-smooth roads to Lourdes, the catholic town we had visited before. Kate embraces the French culture and dug into a delicious crepe from an authentic local restaurant. A certain highlight of the gastronomy thus far. Aside from the grand castle, Lourdes is a fantastic place. Did you know Lourdes is the world capital of speckled lizard scraps? I didn’t either. It also has the largest slug to rat ratio in all of the Pyrenees. That’s enough fun facts for Lourdes.
June 13, 2018
Hello Chamonix Families!
We heard from our leaders, and the group has arrived safely in Geneva. We cannot wait to hear about their amazing adventures!