July 29, 2018
Watching Paris shrink in an airplane window, we are feeling grateful for the opportunity to have experienced so much of what this historic city has to offer. Our few days here have been action-packed, and have served as the perfect bookend to our spectacular adventure. We soaked up every moment walking along the Seine, using up every possible gigabyte on our cameras and GoPros in an effort to capture the moments we experience. Cameras may preserve what we see, but they can’t capture how we feel. We will leave this incredible continent with a new appreciation for all that we have experienced, and all that we have waiting for us at home.
Our last day on the trails was the perfect way to wrap up our time in the Pyrenees. Our avid hikers Will and Clay wanted to make sure that the day lasted even longer by starting it at the early hour of 4:30am. The two boys, Tyler, and our guide Mandy crept out of the dorm rooms in our refuge and hiked by the light of headlamps. They summited a nearby peak, called Le Petit Pimené, well before sunrise. They reported back to the group that the slow change in the gradient in the sky and watching the orb of the sun itself rise over the ridges was well worth the early alarm. Our group made sure to welcome them after having also witnessed a stunning sunrise over the low-hanging clouds in the valley below.
The rest of the day’s hike was a walk in the park compared to the intense days we’ve faced before it. We got into the picturesque town of Gavarnie before lunchtime and most of the group went out for delicious crepes. We made one final stop by the candy store, where we had previously nearly bought the shop owner out of stock. After shuttling to Lourdes, we said a teary goodbye to Mandy who had been more than just a guide, but our inspiration and motivation for the past eight days. Seeing her drive away felt like leaving a family member, and we hope to all get the chance to see her again.
We were instantly hit by the heat of the city when we returned to Lourdes, and longed for the cool mountain breeze that kept all of us fighting over Matt’s Patagonia sweatshirt. Luckily, a little gelato did the trick to cool us down! We finished our 14 person, 14 pizza, 14 minute dinner off with 3 scoops a piece. But the treats were not finished yet! As a little surprise to our crowd, we found a theater that could play a movie in English just for us, and enjoyed a private theater showing of Mamma Mia 2! Cooper, Martha, Courtney, Elizabeth, and Belle sang along to the songs, and Browning exclaimed that she now no longer has a reason to go home since she was only waiting to see that movie (just kidding parents!). We danced our way back to the hotel for a quick Moonup before we packed up for Paris.
Travel days can be complex, but our group has them down pat. Our last sammie crew made train lunches for us, and we munched on PB&Js and snacks while we made our way to the City of Lights. Getting into our hotel in Montmartre by the afternoon, we loaded our backpacks into rooms and took the metro to go explore. First on the list – the Louvre. We got in before closing and scrambled around the marble floors to see as much magnificent art as we could. The girls rated seeing the Mona Lisa as a huge “WOW moment” for the day. A hearty Italian dinner that night topped off an unbeatable day, and we answered introspective questions about what we’ve learned in this trip at Moonup in a beautiful park as the sun went down. Our journey back to the hotel took us past the Sacre Cour cathedral where we were able to catch our first view of the entire city twinkling below us.
We hit the ground running the next day, making the most of every second we have. We ate our final breadfast of croissants and baguettes and got a move on. We got to the Musee d’Orsay to see famous Impressionist works by notable artists, while also getting the chance to escape the heat of the city in a marbled, air conditioned space. Finally hunger drove us out of the light-filled museum, and we got burgers to-go to take to a nearby park. We strolled along the parks between monuments, taking pictures and linking arms. Matt haggled for the best price on an umbrella hat, and Harrison made sure to purchase the strongest green laser pointer he could find. We cruised to a thrift store in a hip part of town and bought some crazy items to wear to our Final Banquet later that night. Andrew walked out with a memorable “biscuit” shirt, and Michael created an entirely new outfit that he sported for the rest of the day. We explored the area in our new clothes, then went to see the Arc de Triumph. As Courtney and Matt exclaimed when we popped up out of the metro station, “finally, this is Paris!”. We walked down the Champs Élysées and made some purchases, including colorful macaroons at a specialty store.
We ran to our Banquet restaurant in our crazy thrift store outfits just as it began to pour outside. The dinner was filling and the conversation was fantastic. Afterwards, we walked to the Eiffel Tower for our last night of the trip. We chose to make our way to the top and take in all of the city sights from arguably the most recognizable monument in all of Europe. Climbing those stairs to the first and second levels rivaled our biggest hiking days! Taking the elevator all the way to the top was an item that most people were able to check off of their bucket list. One of the best moments of the entire three weeks had to be seeing each of our faces light up when the Eiffel Tower did as well. We conducted our final Moonup, and Moondance’s most epic one yet, on the first level of the Eiffel Tower. Each participant had their own “nug jug,” an imaginary jar that we fill with compliments, so that everyone was appreciated by the group. It’s heartwarming to see how close we have grown over the course of this trip, and this night was the culmination of that sense of community.
The tears flowed freely when we said goodbye in the airport, and the attitude of gratitude was pervasive. 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! Here are a few final thanks from our Cham Fam:
Matt – Trip has been cool. Kreger is a hot topic of conversation as is Rider. See you guys soon.
Will – Trip has been outstanding and I’m so thankful for you guys giving me this experience! Can’t wait to see you guys and tell you about it!
Andrew – Can’t wait to see y’all at home.
Harrison – this trip has been amazing and I am so thankful for you guys giving me the opportunity to experience this. Can’t wait to be home.
Clay – Hey guys! Thank you so much for giving me this incredible experience in these breathtaking places . As you can imagine, I am absolutely in paradise. Can’t wait to see you though!
Michael – I am so appreciative of you guys allowing me to take part in this awesome trip!!
Belle – I am so grateful for the opportunity to go on this amazing trip!! I have seen some of the most beautiful places ever and can’t thank you guys enough xoxoxo
Courtney – Trip was a blast! Can’t wait to see you soon!
Browning – I am filled with gratitude for these people and these places. Thank you for the trip of a lifetime- I love you both so much!!
Martha – Thanks for the best three weeks of my life! I can’t wait to tell you all about it! Love and miss y’all!
Elizabeth – thank you so much for giving me the opportunity to take a trip like this! I have seen so many amazing things and I am so grateful! Can’t wait to see you guys and tell you all about it 🙂 xoxo
Cooper – I’ve had the best time and can’t wait to see y’all! So thankful that I was able to do this trip, love y’all!
We love you all and miss you terribly already!
Nancy and Tyler
July 25, 2018
“Too much caution is bad for you. By avoiding things you fear, you may let yourself in for unhappy consequences. It is usually wiser to stand up to a scary-seeming experience and walk right into it, risking the bruises and hard knocks. You are likely to find it as not as tough as you had thought. Or you may find it plenty tough, but also discover you have what it takes to handle it.” – Norman Vincent Peale
Elizabeth chose this quote to read to our group at Moonup in Lourdes the night before our hiking section in the Pyrenees, and it was received by many supportive snaps. We needed to hear these words before we laced up the boots again. This quote spoke perfectly to how our attitude towards the uphill climbs we will soon face can change the entire experience. By entering the Pyrenean chapter of our journey with courage, a positive mindset, and open hearts, we can make this adventure even more meaningful.
From when you last tuned in, we travelled from L’Escala, Spain back into France. We ate plenty of snacks and chocolate croissants, napped, and read hilarious Haribo gummy bear reviews during the five hour border-crossing bus ride. After arriving in the sacred city of Lourdes, France, we walked to the famous gilded church and looked at the mosaics while listening to mass happening in the background. We wandered through the city and strolled the street markets, and Cooper, Elizabeth, Courtney, and Browning purchased bracelets to remember their time in this place with these friends. Our gelato-fiend Belle was able to stock up on her favorite flavors before we headed into the mountains for the next eight days. After a dinner of thirteen pizzas between our fourteen group members, we Mooned up and packed our bags.
We met our guide Mandy first thing in the morning and shuttled to the start of the trek. She showed us the maps and plotted out the next few days, and LODs Matt and Cooper relayed the pertinent information to the group. We all agreed from the start that the Pyrenees are dramatically different than the Alps. We hiked up to a stunning glacier lake for lunch, where we rested along the banks and ate the best sandwiches of the trip so far. Will got the chance to lighten his pack a bit by passing out the carrots he had been selflessly lugging up the hills for the group. Pressing on to our refuge for the night, we arrived at the exact moment of an impending hailstorm and crowded inside before we were soaked. After a spectacular dinner, in which Matt, Michael, and Andrew ate more bread than anyone thought possible, we took time to relax. The nap became sleep for most, and the next thing we knew, we had fallen asleep for the night at about 8:30pm. Clay, Tyler, and I remained awake long enough to catch the breathtaking alpenglow streamed across the stone peaks just above our refuge, watching the sun fade while listening to Clay pick on a communal guitar.
That full night’s rest helped us on the next day, as we hiked up and over a mountain pass from France into Spain. With snowfields to toe-kick into, rocky areas to work around, and a large amount of mileage to cover, we knew we were in for a big one. Mandy and LODs Courtney and Andrew lead us fearlessly. Our pace preferences may differ and our knees may be sore, but we are facing those issues with a big dose of PMA (Positive Mental Attitude) and enjoying our time on the trail. Playing games, telling stories, and taking GoPro videos of every moment, we are getting into the groove of hiking thousands of meters in elevation gain and loss. It’s easy to be happy here when around each corner, the view is somehow more magnificent than before! We’ve seen jagged mountains carved by glaciers, jumped off low bridges into rivers so cold it takes your breath away (and managing to stay in them long enough to ice our knees and feet), and explored adorable cobblestone towns like Torla, Spain. The girls quickly discovered that Torla happens to be home to the best one-euro pastries in Europe. This town also hosted a unique Moonup in the loggia of a fifteenth century church.
This particular session of the Chamonix trip has the incredible unique opportunity to hike a completely different itinerary than any other session this summer. We had the chance to climb up and through the famous Breche du Roland because of adequate snow conditions. Standing out like a missing tooth in a high cirque smile, the Breche drew us in and was on our minds since the starting step we took on the trail in the Pyrenees. We had our first view of the notable feature when we hiked up and along the walls of Europe’s largest canyon, called Ordesa. Belle declared it the most beautiful place she’s ever seen, which carries weight since she is a well-traveled girl! We slept in Refugio Goriz on the rim of Ordesa Canyon for two nights before we attempted the Breche to get us acclimated and prepared. The day before our summit day was a rest day for most of the group, who read and napped in the sun near our refugio. Harrison, Michael, Will, Andrew, Belle, and Clay opted instead for a day hike to a high alpine lake. Clay, Martha, Elizabeth, and I ended the day with yoga with Mandy as the sun set on the sea of clouds.
Finally, Breche day was upon us! We woke up with the sun and covered distance quickly. Games of contact between Cooper, Clay, and Martha kept our minds distracted while we scrambled up limestone rock fields. LODs Harrison and Cooper made sure we kept a good pace, despite the slick snow and scrambled scree that we had to get up before the summit. When we finally popped up into the gap on the cirque wall, we celebrated! We made it!!
We are all so proud that we reached the top no matter how challenging it may have been. We carried that enthusiasm into the long hike down. We pulled out our rain pants, a staple in Courtney’s wardrobe already, and glissaded down the snow. Harrison invented a new style by riding his pack down like a bull, which only worked for so long. Water bottles were lost and later recovered as we reached mach speed sitting and sliding. Matt managed to steer over and take out Harrison and others like bowling pins. Michael kept a permanent smile on his face, even when it was pelted with a snowball. Despite all of the snipers out there causing us to slip, we still made it down in one piece. At our lunch break, both Belle and Browning declared today the coolest day ever, to which everyone else agreed. Things only got cooler when a helicopter banked a turn around us and landed to pick up workers only about 200 feet away, then flew right over our heads. The wind from its propellers blew our couscous lunch everywhere!
We descended from the Breche into the small town of Gavarnie, where the girls collectively bought 100 euro of well-deserved candy. Martha declared that she’d had enough candy to last her entire life. Matt and Andrew both bought shirts, equal parts for the souvenirs and to avoid laundry. Thank heavens Harrison bought some new socks too! Our next two days were relatively easy as we hiked to one of Europe’s largest waterfalls and up to our mountain refuge perched in a bowl with a perfect view of the Breche that we had conquered. Will attempted to boulder a rock or two while donkeys walked loose all around. Moonup inside of the low-hanging cloud at Espugettes was one we will always remember for both the view and for the conversation about goals we hope to accomplish in our lives. A few of our group members mentioned that one of their goals is to continue to focus on positivity throughout their lives, since they have noticed the impact it has had on the past week of hiking.
Reemerging into civilization and getting a large dose of culture in Paris will be welcomed, but it’s clear we will all be sad to leave these ancient mountains. The Pyrenees have challenged us, but our focus has been on “getting to do it, not getting through it.” No matter what has been thrown our way, we have been able to accept it and appreciate the experiences. Though some of us may have blisters so large they have been named, we are not complaining! I think our 10 second “smile stretch” that we’ve incorporated into our morning stretch circle has made it even easier to grin. As Browning always exclaims, quoting her favorite movie Trolls, “your positivity gives me strength!”
Nancy and Tyler
July 17, 2018
We are emerging from our time along the Costa Brava in Spain as a closer, more connected family. Although we have been by the sea for the shortest total amount of time on our European adventure, it has made an impact and created a shift in our group. Our large communal dinner table outside of our bungalows has been the sight of many conversations, and the beach hosted some deeper Moonups. As we head to the Pyrenees, we know we will take this newfound sense of community with us.
From when you last tuned in, we have accomplished much. Our travel day from the Alps to the sea was a bit longer than expected, but no one seemed too bothered. Matt did sudokus on the train and asked other passengers to play some of the favorite songs he was missing. Andrew, Matt, and Harrison played blackjack, while others journaled and napped. Clay and Nancy made each other crossword puzzles, and spent the remainder of the train rides figuring out clues. Cooper stayed awake, explaining that the scenery was too beautiful to close her eyes for fear of missing something out the window. As Browning aptly declared at Moonup that night, we ate breakfast in Switzerland, lunch in France, and dinner in Spain. Our group is getting accustomed to crossing borders and travel days. By nightfall, we had made it to L’Escala, Spain! We ordered 11 pizzas and ate every slice of each on the beach. We conducted our first sandy Moonup by the water, lead by LODs Harrison and Martha. They asked us who has influenced you most in your life, and readers, you were definitely featured! After Moonup, Michael and Matt ran straight into the water, wanting to be the first in the Mediterranean and getting a taste for what was in store tomorrow.
We woke up in our cozy bungalows and got ready for a day on the water. After meeting our Kayaking Costa Brava guides Guifre and Pau, LODs Browning and Will lead us in some arm stretches and we pushed off. Most of us were in single kayaks, while two groups chose to share a double. Matt and Browning were perfectly in sync from the beginning in a double kayak, and proved they had more speed and power than just alone. Courtney and Harrison filled the other, even attempting a challenging double wet exit in a sheltered cove. After our guides taught us the maneuver, Will and Andrew volunteered to attempt it first. They had to bail themselves out with a pump for a while afterwards, but it was worth it for a nice dip in the sea on a hot day.
Paddling for a few miles definitely works up an appetite! To prepare for our feast, Browning and Elizabeth took charge in the grocery store and shopped for three upcoming meals for all of us. Belle cooked taco meat, Clay sautéed some veggies, and it all came together in a giant taco bar. Harrison supplied the tunes for the situation, DJing from Nancy’s phone while others sang along. We ate on a huge table that we put together outside under a pine tree. It was a big night to be in Europe, because the World Cup finals was on! We “plugged in” for just a little while to catch the game. GO FRANCE!! Matt cheered until he couldn’t anymore, and we all heard the horn honks and fireworks after our home-away-from-home team’s victory! We made a quick stop for gelato on the way to beach Moonup, and shared a heavier conversation. Talks like this shared on the beach amongst friends have a marked way of stitching a group together.
The next day, we woke up to some inclement weather that ultimately dashed our kayaking plans. We watched the lighting roll in and were glad not to be out on the water. Our guides instead took us to a fishing museum, where everyone fell asleep on the pillows upstairs in one giant pile. The rain showed no signs of lessening, so we headed back to the bungalows and prepared for a day inside. Luckily, it cleared up and we were able to make a beach day out of it! We bought a pink and green beach volleyball and played a game. Michael, Elizabeth, Clay, and Andrew took on Harrison, Will, Martha, and Nancy. Browning and Belle swam, while Cooper and Courtney chilled in the sun and Tyler and others kicked around a soccer ball.
For our last night with a kitchen to cook in, we had an Iron Chef “Battle of the Bungalows” competition! Our two teams created two distinct pasta recipes, and ultimately all of the consumers were the winners. We lingered around our long table and joked around, both enjoying each others company and avoiding the cleanup process. Belle and Clay demolished an entire group salad so that we all could stop by the gelato stand again while walking to Moonup. What wouldn’t our group do for gelato?
We’re making our way now to the city of Lourdes to begin our final backpacking section, and we’re traveling as a closer family. The closeness of our living quarters, sharing kayaks, and the communal meals have helped knit our friendship tighter. We hope that this same sense of community will be carried with us from the sea to the mountains. Until our next update, here are a few shoutouts to all of you at home!
Elizabeth – Hey Mom, Dad, and Wood! I miss y’all so much and I am having the best time. I love y’all and will see y’all soon 🙂
Belle – Hi!!! This trip has been so amazing so far. It’s all so pretty and the people are awesome. I miss everyone and can’t wait to see you soon!!! Xoxoxo
Browning – Hi Mommy & Daddy! I miss you soooo much, but I am having so much fun. The trip is amazing & everything is absolutely so beautiful. I can’t wait to tell you all of my fun stories! I can’t wait to give you both a big hug in two weeks!! Tell the W/M gang I miss them SO much too!! Love you lots and lots!!! Xoxo
Cooper – Hey Mom, Dad, Thomas, and Sadie! Love and miss y’all so much but I’m having the best time. Can’t wait to tell y’all all about it! Please tell MD that I wish she was here with me!
Martha – Hey fam, I miss y’all so much but I’m having an amazing time! Thank you so much for sending me on this trip! Love y’all and tell Rebel that I miss him!
Courtney – Hey 🤪 having a great time miss you guys tons. Can’t wait to see y’all and tell about the trip. Love you guys.
Michael – Having a great time on the trip! Super cool being so close to the World Cup Champions! Hope you guys are all having a great time and make sure to tell Holt Happy Birthday from me!
Will – Hello everyone! Trip has been outstanding! I’ve been having such a wonderful time and seeing the different parts of Europe has been great. The group is great and the activities have been just as good. Love you guys!
Harrison – Hi having a great time love and miss y’all!
Matt (with the help of an anonymous ghost writer) – I feel the natural splendour coursing through me; I feel alive with the spirit of the forest. I have experienced an existential awakening within me. Miss the family.
Andrew – Hey parental guardians. It’s good to finally get to write to y’all. The trip has been great so far we finished the tour de Mont Blanc and kayaked in Costa Brava. So far I really love Spain the best it was low key lit. Anyways we’ve just gotten on a bus otw to the Pyrenees hope to see you soon.
Clay – Hey guys! The natural beauty in Chamonix is unlike anything I have ever seen. I feel so grateful to be in this place but I miss everyone a lot. I’m so stoked for the Pyrenees and I can’t wait to tell you all about it. Tell Connor to take care of the Jeep okay? Love you!
Nancy and Tyler
July 13, 2018
Bonjour from the Cham Fam!
We are writing this trip update now from the laundromat in beautiful Chamonix, our home base for this section of the trip, while watching our fresh Moondance T-shirts tumble in the dryer. We are happy to be back in town and happy for the chance to get some clean clothes and time out of our hiking boots. Most importantly, we are proud to have completed five spectacular, sunny days on the Tour du Mont Blanc!
So much has happened here in the span of a week. Days filled with new activities and getting to know new people feel long, but the time has flown by. It seems like months ago that our group collected together for the first time in the Geneva airport. Martha came out of the arrivals gate first with her pack on and a huge smile on her face. When we gathered up the rest of our new family, we headed to Chamonix for a lunch of crepes and burgers. After a much needed nap, our group walked to a field near our hostel and played the first of very many games of intense hackysack. Elizabeth and Clay were the last remaining players, as Andrew’s arm cannon quickly got most of the group out. Our first French dinner was just what we needed to end our day, and we closed with a meaningful Moonup gathering where we received some new gifts (thanks Moondance HQ!) and talked about our hopes for the next twenty-two days.
We started off our first day in-country with a day hike to test out these hiking boots of ours and get acclimated to our new environment. Our first LODs (Leaders of the Day) Harrison and Martha, who got the chance to work together before on a previous trip in Peru, shopped for groceries for the trail ahead. Traveling by train to a nearby town, we hopped off and hiked to a dramatic waterfall, ate lunch on the banks, and chilled our water bottles in the stream. We walked along the tiny towns that time seemed to have forgotten on our way back to Chamonix, arriving with enough time to check out a rock-climbing competition and meet our guide for the next few days, Maude. She came bearing gifts of brand new shirts that were worn matching all together on the last day of hiking.
We said goodbye for now to Chamonix and set off on the Tour du Mont Blanc. A bucket-list hike for many, we all felt so grateful to have the chance to log these miles. Our first TMB hiking day LODs Elizabeth and Michael started us with a strong pace uphill while Clay taught us the addicting game “contact.” It may be hard to believe, but in the span of this one day we ate breakfast in France, lunch in Italy, and dinner in Switzerland. Cooper and Matt have been able to use their French skills throughout the Tour. Our first mountain chalet in La Fouly looked just as Swiss as we had hoped. The group proved their immediate closeness by opting to put mattresses on the floor and all sleep in one big room rather than splitting up. Each hotel and refuge on the trail has their own distinct charm, but they all share one thing in common – amazing food! We’ve been lucky enough to have fondue, homemade cobbler, ratatouille, and more on this trek. Our hardworking “sammie crew” lovingly made sandwiches with fresh baguettes every morning, the core group consisting of Browning, Courtney, and Clay. Will took trying new food to an extreme level, when he willingly ate an ant on the trail.
Each day, as we hiked multiple miles through some of the world’s most beautiful terrain, we played games and developed a routine. Our fearless leader Maude kept us moving, and our LODs kept us motivated. Andrew, Harrison, and Will usually made up the front of the line, chatting and hiking right at the guide’s heels. Belle lead the group on our most challenging, largest uphill day when she was LOD with Matt, who helped to run sweep. Everyone followed Cooper’s braids up switchbacks as she lead us over mountains and between countries on a big day. We encouraged each other to put one foot in front of the other and boy, were the views worth it! Everyone agreed that our lunch spot on the fourth day, when we crested the hill that lead us from Switzerland back into France and were able to see Mont Blanc itself again, was one of the most stunning sights we’ve seen. The students all walked towards it with their eyes closed, holding on to each others packs, for the last 200 feet in order to see this view for the first time full-on and all together. It was the source of many “WOW moments” for the day.
We’ve had fun singing and playing games on the trail. We’ve stopped in flower fields and made flower crowns that Clay, Browning, and others modeled for photos. After completing the daily hikes, we have taken advantage of everything that these quaint towns have to offer. In Champex-Lac, Switzerland, some brave members of our group hopped in the frigid lake. Courtney was in first and made it look easy, so she was quickly followed by Belle, Martha, Michael, and Elizabeth. As soon as the sun went away and the breeze rolled in, they ran back to the hotel and had a hot shower. We found a place in town that night to watch some of the World Cup, and saw France advance into the finals. We are cheering for France to win it all, since this nation has become our homeland away from home. Allez France!
By the time we returned to Chamonix, this mountain town felt like home. We happened to be here on the night of a rock climbing World Cup competition, and we excitedly watched as climbers advanced up the wall. Harrison even entered himself in a pull-up competition, holding his own against the pros as we all cheered him on. Will and Tyler were enthralled by the competition and stayed a while to watch some of their favorites make it up the tower. It will be hard to say “au revoir” to this action-filled alpine town. We are excited to head to the beaches of Spain soon, but we’re thankful for the incredible time we’ve had in the these ancient mountains.
Missing you all,
Nancy and Tyler
July 7, 2018
Hello Chamonix Families!
We have heard from our leaders, and the group has arrived safely in Geneva. The trip is off to a great start! Stay tuned for more news from their adventures.