July 15, 2018
“Allez Les Bleus!”
Cham…wow. It took us all of about five seconds after beginning our Tour Du Mont Blanc to realize that the wow factor was only just beginning. I’ve been trying to use my quieter moments while hiking to conjure up the right way to express just how magnificent it is here and how the difference from the Pyrenees might be best described. At one point during the hike I even turned to Carson and Chloe B to ask what they thought. We kept coming back to how abruptly impressive these mountains seem. If the Pyrenees are wild, open, and expansive, the Alps are jagged, powerful, and at the same time both incredibly close and vastly distant.
We met our new guide Jean-Philippe in Chamonix then headed by van to start our Tour in Courmayer. The first day of our tour also gave us an impressive bragging point: breakfast in France, lunch in Italy, and dinner in Switzerland! It’s not a normal feat to have three feasts traveling by feet! To be suddenly surrounded by rolling Italian accents was quite the novelty and with the epic backdrop of the Alps it was very apparent that we had come to an entirely different part of the world from where we had just been. As we continued to hike, passing over the border from Italy to Switzerland our next bounty of beauty awaited us in the form of the picturesque town of La Foully. If I asked you to close your eyes and imagine the most idyllic and quaint Swiss ski town blossoming with the beginning of summer you might come close to La Foully, but as with many of the tiny Swiss towns we passed through it seemed as though some insanely gifted artist had been told to paint a perfect picture and not a single missed brush stroke would be tolerated and then those paintings were transposed into a real life town.
Our second day of hiking took us further up the TMB to another almost sickeningly sweet town, Champex-Lac, where people were paddling around the lake in canoes, on paddle boards, and in kayaks basking in the summer sun and still managing to stay cool with the fresh alpine air. Our destination for the night was actually another 30 minutes past Campex-Lac in the small mountain hostel named Relais D’Arpette and while the final footsteps took a lot of energy the walk through the forest alongside a rushing river made it more than tolerable. Once we reached the secluded hostel we were fed an absolute feast, getting to choose between a deer stew or a fondue. With bellyfuls of molten cheese we had an unexpected surge of energy when we realized at the back of the hostel was a goat pen complete with four itsy bitsy teeny weeny baby goats madly hopping around their hut. With screams of excitement and giddiness we rushed out to enjoy the entertainment of the baby goats trying desperately to control their spring loaded legs. If you’ve never seen a baby goat trying to walk, run, or get from a to b in any form it’s what I imagine a toddler riding a motorcycle might be like. We could have spent an entire day watching the goats and while it took all of our willpower and restraint to stop Chloe B and Luke from going in the pen with them it was a well enjoyed post meal activity.
Day three was without question our toughest day. We hiked 10 miles of undulating trails and smack in the middle had a steep ascent of over 700m. But having been up and down some of the best of the Pyrenees it wasn’t going faster which we struggled with but slowing down! Hiking as a group is a constant challenge to ensure we are looking after not only the whole group’s needs but our own. With elite runners whizzing past us in training for the TMB race coupled with large groups like ours moseying along its tough to know when to overtake and when to let someone else overtake us. To help keep us distracted and in high spirits we exchanged word games and riddles discovering that Reade is our group puzzle solver extraordinaire, while Catherine is liable to break into a wild frenzy if she doesn’t crack the code of why “Grandma Like Coffee But She Doesn’t Like T”. Meanwhile Elly continues to show her mental prowess by crushing riddles in seconds, whereas I took an entire 24 hours to crack Grace’s puzzle of “How Many Sheep” she was sending. The next thing we knew we were at the top of the ascent which brought us to a stunning viewpoint stretching out to the north outside the boundaries of our map and to the valley of Martingy. But with no time for Martinis of any kind with trekked on to the town of Trient where we would stay the night. Many of our accommodations on this trip have blown us away and we are constantly grateful for the lavish life we’re living but L’Auberge du M’ont Blanc in Trient even had a sauna for us to use!! After another delicious dinner it was Chloe C who took the lead on stumping us all with another word riddle that has us all twisted around for “umm” an hour.
It was then onwards and much to the groaning of our baguette like thighs, upwards once again too! On our fourth day we did a much better job of pacing as a group thanks to the diligence of LODs Preston and Catherine. It was on this day that after hiking around it for days we finally came face to face with the majestic Mont Blanc, in all it’s awe inspiring glory. In that euphoric meeting of mountain and ‘man’ it was indeed awe that struck us. Perhaps one of my favorite moments of the whole trip came in overhearing Chandler and Grace break down just how easily we take for granted the term awe inspiring and just how apt the term is for this area as we have constantly been fully inspired with nothing less than total awe. Our trusted guide Jean-Philippe suggested we hike down a little to then hike up a small summit and catch another perspective of the mighty Mont Blanc, which did not disappoint. Some of you may be aware that it “never rains on Moondance”, every once in a while though groups are lucky enough to witness ‘liquid sunshine’ falling from the sky. After 19 days of our trip having nothing but blue skies, we finally joined those lucky groups as a brief storm chased us off the mountain. The liquid sunshine was nothing short of glorious and everyone in the group was genuinely energized by the drops of angel tears falling on us, and finally gave us a reason to have packed a rain jacket!
It was finally time to start our descent back toward the Chamonix valley but not before stopping to spend the night in Le Tour just 5.5 miles north for our final night of hiking. As we walked in to the town of Le Tour, much like almost all of the towns we passed, there were drinkable water fountains flowing constantly. While some of the fountains are featured with artistic sculptures the one we passed in Le Tour looked so much like a bath tub that Preston, Catherine, and Elly all jumped right in to cool off as a reward for completing our last full day of hiking!
In continuing our games and puzzles theme I decided to make an on the road packable version of my favorite board game, Codenames, which has proven to be a hit in the evenings and on our travel days. On almost every night of the TMB Walker, Reade, Elly and myself would sit down for some late night brain training! As we prepare for our travel day to Paris we’ve been expanding the game getting it ready for some heated train table tournaments. But before our games take the front seat it’s an incredible stroke of fortune that the tournament of tournaments here in Europe – The World Cup, is coming to a conclusion when we are not only in France but in Chamonix to witness the game and cheer on what has been our home for the past three weeks! We’re eager and hopeful to see ‘Les Bleus’ bring a victory home and celebrate with the locals of Chamonix this evening. So say it loud and say it proud, ALLEZ LES BLEUS!!
As always we love you, we appreciate you, we miss you, we can’t wait to see you, and last but not least, we thank you for helping us be here! Stay tuned for a Parisian update before we head back stateside…
July 10, 2018
Chamwow 2B, or chamwow not 2B, that is the question,
Whether tis funner in the mind to hike from peak to peak,
Or to take paddles in arms and by opposing waves,
You must have known it was coming, we couldn’t be Chamonix 2B and not have a punny Shakespeare update at some point! Since last you heard from us we’ve been studying the Bard’s cannon from start to finish…ok ok, so maybe we actually just took full advantage of a LOVELY couple of days at the dazzling shores of Costa Brava but you can’t blame us, their weather has been perfect, the sea has been the ideal temperature, and even the waves behaved for us! Our group has unified stronger and stronger and the sense of family has become a reality instead of a hope. Of course that doesn’t mean we don’t miss you dearly but the trip is living up to all expectations.
When we arrived in Cala Montgo where we were to spend the next few nights it took us no time at all to take a brisk jaunt down to the beach, sadly a threatening storm stopped us from getting in the water for more than a second, but Walker, Carson, Chloe B, Catherine, and Grace wasted no time at all in challenging some local Spanish teens to a game of volleyball instead. After we got our first taste of beach life we went to the grocery store where our very first cook crew of the trip got to grab some supplies and whip us up a much needed meal that had nothing but vegetables to balance out our strict baguette diet!
The next morning, our first day of kayaking took us down the coast a little further to Cala Castell, named after a castle that well…isn’t there anymore. Our LODs Luke and Walker stepped up their energizer game and started the day off with an enthusiastic warm up, then when we got in the vans our energy spiked even higher as we realized we were hearing music for the first time on the trip! Preston continues to evade our group desires of serenading us but also keeps promising us that if we catch him ‘off guard’ he’ll sing us some sweet tunes so we’re still trying to get him to be our walking radio. Chandler on the other hand continues to be a human jukebox and in the van ride got to put her musicality into practice as we sung our way down the coast. The sea’s vibrant blue glow had us questioning whether the sea makes the sky blue or the other way around, being able to see over ten feet through the crystal clear water was breathtaking and after some icy baths in mountain rivers the refreshingly perfect temperature was all the more inviting. Paul, our guide, helped us identify some sea urchins and sea tomatoes along the way as we weaved along the coastline to a wonderful little cove for lunch. While we had managed to carve buns of steel, crusty baguette thighs, and perky croissant calves, our arms seemed to have forgotten how to move so by the end of the day we were all blissfully exhausted. Our second cook crew once again whipped up another great meal and the camaraderie of having our own time as a group and control of our own food was so very much appreciated.
On the second day of kayaking, we started from our very own bay Cala Montgo only to discover it was even more spectacular and the cave exploration blew us away. Getting to squeeze in between the rugged coastline’s rocky edges was a real treat and while it’s easy to feel jealous of the million dollar yachts and motorboats surrounding us, being able to explore cold caves to escape the sun and witness the hidden treasures of the coast was unbeatable. Our lunch break on the second day afforded us even more time to swim around the new little bay and finished with the chance to ride the kayak guide’s boat out to a rocky island to jump into the water. For the first time our optional ‘natural bath’ was taken up by every single person in the group with Chloe C conquering some fear to jump too! Revitalized by the majestic Mediterranean waters we braved the waves back to our new home for our last evening to be fed by the final cook crew, consisting of…only the boys… of course jokes came about, but we men had to step up to the plate…literally and figuratively! So, to show that we had what it takes we served fresh pineapple appetizers, chicken and cheese quesadillas, spinach salad, and topped it all off with an ice cream dessert. Thankfully we finished the meal with heads held high and compliments flying in from our female friends.
Our post meal evenings have been filled with conversation, games, and general huzzahs. Reade’s frisbee makes a prominent feature in almost every day and thanks to its glow in the dark capabilities it gets all day use. Reade however remains king of the frisbee skills and constantly leaves us envious of his disc prowess!
After only two days of kayaking we didn’t quite sculpt the arms of Adonis but we had an absolute blast and feel ready to take on the final leg of the trip with our final legs of the trip. It’s strange to think that two thirds of the way in and we are only just heading to the namesake of our trip. So, look out Chamonix, here we come!
July 6, 2018
We’ve yet to discover the Cham in Chamonix but we did find the wow in Chamwow. Maybe Moondance should rename this trip Pyreknees… what an incredible 8 days!! We are pretty convinced at this point that our quad muscles are now made of four sturdy baguettes and our calves made of little croissants, we are mountain slaying, peak perusing, wildlife spotting, seasoned adventurers! The Pyrenees section of the trip is now at a close but thankfully the trip is far from over! We crossed so many different types of terrain, mingled with a melting pot of cultures, and spotted some truly magnificent wildlife. Words will undoubtedly fail to adequately convey what beauty we encountered but hopefully the smiles on our faces and stories we share will help you see through our eyes.
Since last we caught you up we had our first taste of Spain, discovering that the Spanish eat a lot later than the French and much later than we were used to but with equally delicious ingredients! Our second night in Spain was spent in the incomparable town of Torla which was so perfectly quaint and stunning that we were convinced it must have just been a movie set and not real at all. The narrow, winding streets, cobble stone roads, exquisitely authentic architecture, and delightful locals all merged together into one of the best spots we visited. We then took a challenging hike up the Ordesa canyon to the remote and rustic refuge named Goriz which is tucked so deeply into the mountains that they have to use a helicopter to get any essentials in or out. Our days and nights were interspersed with games, laughter, and goofiness, and seeing everyone come more and more out of their shells and into themselves is an absolute gift for Elly and I.
After Goriz we headed back to the French border at Bujaruelo to prep for a final day of uphill slogging but after a full week of mountain madness the 940m ascent was a piece of cake for us all!
Along the many miles as Annabelle continued to teach us about the flowers and wildlife that we passed, we were fortunate enough to see a family of Isard (the Pyrenean Chamois!), followed by the rare sight of a family of marmots including an itsy bitsy little baby marmot! Having Annabelle at our sides has been absolutely marvelous and saying goodbye to her today was quite the heartache. But we are incredibly excited to keep on keeping on with our trip and use our upper bodies for transport for a few days as we sea kayak!
We are back in Lourdes now getting ready to travel to our sea kayaking destination first thing in the morning. All of the students wanted to take a moment to write personal notes which are below. We will come back with another update in just a few days before we start the TMB (Tour de Mont Blanc) and until then… WE LOVE YOU!
Hi mom and dad Sophie Gracie I miss you all so much. I hope the fourth was fun and that Gracie had fun at her lacrosse i am sorry i missed her. We just finished our first trek 9 days of hiking from France to Spain to back again. I am having so much fun love u all can’t wait for Greece say hi to Ollie and chooks I miss them!
Hi mom dad and Sophie, we just finished our 9 day trek, it was so much fun!! Miss y’all so much and miss Fig and Olive too! Love and miss y’all so much, see y’all soon!
Hey, fam! I’ll see y’all soon! Having so much fun!
Hey hazel and Peabody(and parents)! I miss you, Chamonix is super cool😀
Hey Mom, Dad, Marston, Tuck, Charlie, Houston, and Tobes! So far I’m having a great time in Europe, and each country has been incredible. I just finished hiking all around the Pyrenees (France and Spain), and I feel extremely euphoric and accomplished. However, my body does feel like it is deteriorating, so I’m excited to sea kayak for five days as a break. I’m excited to see you guys, I miss you, and remind Marston to check my fantasy team (I am worried Aaron Nola is on the DL60 by now). Love ya! 🙂
Hi mom dad and Ashton! Hope y’all had a great Fourth of July!! Happy early birthday dad!! I’m having a great time here! We just finished hiking in the Pyrenees and I think we should definitely come back to Gavarnie. Love y’all!
Hey Dad!!! Im having the best time and I miss you! Love you lots and see you soon
Hey mom and dad! Just finished about the hardest thing I have ever done, which was our 8 day trek through the Pyrenees! Though it was tough, the trek took us through beautiful landscape with great friends. Love and miss you all so much and cannot wait to see you soon!
Hey guys, hope you all had a happy 4th. I’m having a great time here, and can’t wait to see you soon. Love you!
Hey mom and dad! I’m having the best time!!!! The Pyrenees were amazing. I can’t wait for the rest of the trip! Excited to tell you all about it. Miss and love you! Have fun in Santa Fe!!!
July 2, 2018
Hello friends, family, and of course hello to our adoring fans across the globe reading our riveting updates and checking in on us! We do it all for you!
As I steal some late night hours to write this we are coming to the close of our 7th day together! We have just crossed the border into Spain by foot and still have four days left of our Pyrenean Pointy Peak Perusal! But with the luxury of finding WiFi at our hostel I wanted to share a little detail with you as this far we have already seen, smelled, tasted, touched, and heard a novel’s worth of beauty. The Pyrénées are offering us not only those spectacular pointy peaks but also alpine lakes, rushing rivers, fancy flowers, mooing cows, baaing sheep, neighing horses, hee-hawing donkeys, the ringing of cowbells, and last but definitely not least, whistling marmots! Our days are so incredibly plentiful in all the awe inspiring scenery that we feel luckier than a gaggle of leprechauns. Since last you heard from us we have hiked a whopping 31 miles crossing from France to Spain up and down, over and around majestic mountains. On the first day of hiking everyone in the group helped showed me with attention as I celebrated my birthday in style with our fearless LODs Preston and Chandler leading us from Haes to the Refuge Maillet via the Cirque de Troumouse. We have been fortunate enough to have an absolutely wonderful, sweet, and charming local guide with us named Annabelle who not only ensures we get from A to B smoothly and safely but also teaches us hundreds of little nuggets of knowledge about the local flora and fauna as we hike.
Annabelle has also been helping us find some form of body of water to energize and invigorate us with every single day. The first day Preston and Grace quickly solidified themselves as two of the most fearless swimmers in the group, never missing an opportunity to splash around in the fresh mountain water. Meanwhile Carson continues to stretch her long legs and is always ready to push the pace and lead the way. The mountain ‘refuges’ we get to stay in are each unique and rustically luxurious. Every day though I am wildly impressed with Walker, Reade, and Chloe C whom are all with us for their first Moondance trip but have all risen to every single challenging aspect of hiking such big days with courage and perseverance. At the end of the day Preston donned a banana suit in honour of my childhood favourite superhero Banana-man to round out a remarkably memorable birthday. Our second night was spent with the unbelievable views of the Cirque de Estaubé from the Refuge Des Espugettes. While the day was one of the more challenging hikes we had recovered from all our travel and with Reade and Catherine stepping into the LOD shoes we hiked as though we were a team of triathletes conquering some serious terrain. When we arrived at the hotel we were greeted by donkeys that seemed to be spending the day welcoming every guest of the hostel! Our donkey discovery didn’t end there though because on the third day we hiked down into the quaint town of Gavarnie where we caught the tail end (no pun intended) of their annual summer festival, just in time to see the madness of their final day donkey racing!
As we watched in excited horror of the crazy locals whizzing past on various mules we couldn’t help but laugh and cheer. And our third day took us across the border from France into Spain with Chloe B and Carson leading the charge. It hasn’t quite hit us yet that we are in a different country after having not even had the remotest border control to pass through. But as soon as we arrived at the largest of our refuges thus far, suddenly everything is largely Spanish. Today was another big day of hiking with some big elevation changes and after some much needed rest we had time for some group games and laughs before the ever so Spanish late dinner. One of the highlights of the trip thus far for me came when Catherine unleashed her competitive and wild game playing side pumping the energy of the group through the roof. But if we giving our superlatives the clear favorite for person most likely to make any of us laugh at any given moment it would undoubtedly be Luke! There is still so much for us to see and experience on this section alone of the trip and we couldn’t be more excited. As always, thank you for your love and support! We can’t wait to share more of this dreamboat of a trip with you.
June 29, 2018
Hello dearest friends and family… or rather bonjour! We wanted to let you all know that we are alive and well and have made it to Lourdes, France, ready to start our Pyrenean perusal of pointy peaks! There have been some strikes with the French trains and so our travel day on Thursday involved some adventurous improvising of our route, but we managed to defy the odds and made it without interrupting our schedule, take that Thomas Le Petit Tank Engine!
Our group has rapidly bonded, as international travel tends to facilitate, and it already feels like we’ve known each other for weeks not days. When we landed in Geneva we arrived around midday local time giving us room for a little city exploration and after we caught sight of Lake Geneva we couldn’t resist going for a swim. They have an amazing sectioned off public swimming area and with the skies clear and the sun shining, it made for the perfect afternoon wake up and energizer. The girls stepped up and reminded the boys this is a woman’s world and 2018 is a year of strong women, as Grace and Catherine boldly jumped off the high dive inspiring Carson to follow close behind. Grace then went on to show us boys up by dominating the floating climbing wall as we struggled to even get out the water! Luke then saw the inspiration of competition and showed off some dedication and fitness finesse on the public exercise equipment, as he proclaimed that he was the man for our first LOD (Leader of the Day).
When we got back to the hostel to rest momentarily and prepare for dinner, Elly and I discovered the long travel day had tuckered out our young adventurists making us have to go wake them all up to eat dinner!
Our hostel in Geneva gave us a lovely rooftop balcony setting for our first Moonup where Grace and Luke’s lake time prowess earned them both the first LOD titles. Day three was another long one as we negotiated the train systems with the strikes, but a wonderful silver lining appeared in the form of a few afternoon hours to explore the exquisitely beautiful city of Montpellier. As we walked along the classically Mediterranean, deeply cultural, and colorful city we came across one of France’s triumphal arches, a luscious botanical garden, and back down through the narrow winding streets to the bustling Comedie Square.
It was then back on the trains where Elly played spades with Catherine, Grace, and Walker, as I taught Reade, Preston, and Luke to play Euchre. Meanwhile Chloe C counted some figurative sheep to catch some sleep as Chloe B, Carson, and Chandler talked and laughed over the backdrop of literal sheep whizzing by in the fields around the train. It was a late evening arrival in sleepy Lourdes but with our second Moonup down we are all set to begin hiking the Pyrenees with our new LODs Preston and Chandler leading the charge!
Thanks for all your love and support we’ll be sure to check in after we bag some Pyrenean peaks!
Team J-Elly (Jack & Elly)
June 27, 2018
Hey Chamonix Families,
We have heard from our leaders and the group has arrived in Geneva and is off to a great start. Stay tuned for more updates!!
-The Moondance HQ