June 29, 2018
Through many tears and many laughs, we are writing to you on our last day and final day. I cannot thank you enough for investing in this company and allowing your children to join me and Mikey this summer- boy how we have loved each and every one of your kids! We feel forever grateful to have spent these 14 days together and have definitely come out of this experience a true family. But I don’t want to get ahead of myself, let us tell you about the amazing days we’ve had first!
Since we last spoke, we had just victoriously emerged from trekking across the Dolomite mountains and were seeking refuge in the beautiful, quaint, Italian town of Clauzetto. Situated on the top of a grassy hill, the views from our hotel were unparalleled, offering the now comfortable feeling of still being in the mountains and allowing us to cleanse, reenergize, and come together for our last few days as a Moondance group. And man did we!
Our first morning was spent with some well-deserved rest. You guessed it- we let the students sleep in until 10AM! Our now fully energized bodies were ready to take on everything Clauzetto had to offer, after enjoying some breakfast— donuts and hot chocolate, of course.
We started our morning off by taking a walking tour of the beautiful town finding a massive historic cathedral at the end of the hill, a handmade soap store, and many other little hidden gems. It was so nice for the group to have this relaxing morning to rest our feet and enjoy one another’s company. In the afternoon, we headed to our canyoning adventure! Although hilariously struggling to wiggle our way into our wetsuits, the group’s energy was at an all time high. We made our way through a forest to emerge onto an enormous waterfall. While everyone started to feel butterflies at the thought of repelling down the fall, Zach and Isabel leapt to the front. They showed courage and a true love for adventure by being so eager to put their newly-sharpened climbing skills to the test! The screeching laughs and shrills echoing around the canyon filled our hearts and bodies with the truest form happiness and thrill. Slippin’ and slidin’ our way through the icy rushing mountain water, we eventually came upon a large pool-like opening where Susanna, Coleman, and Charlie spotted the perfect jumping ledge. After receiving an OK from our guide, the three climbed up canyon rocks and hurled their free-living bodies into the air. What a WOW moment of such spontaneity and joy. Quickly afterwards the whole group was leaping, twirling, and toe-touching off the ledge, all being treated by the deep pool of natural, fresh water. Needless to say, canyoning was the highlight of many’s trip.
Adding to the excitement, after de-wetsuiting and drying off, we surprised the group with hand-rolled, fried crepes! This local spot lets you pick your filling- Nutella, fruit, white chocolate, whatever it may be- and rolls it into your dough, slapping it in a mini frier. Wheeeeew baby these ooie, gooie crepes ended our evening feeling accomplished and cherished, with our sore muscles and full bellies.
Not wanting to say good-bye to our seemingly magical day, we all decided to stay awake until midnight for Kaitlyn’s SWEET SIXTEENTH birthday! Through great conversations, music, and cards, we all managed to pry our sleepy eyes open and dog pile onto the birthday girl, marking the beginning of a 24hr celebration.
The next morning, we woke up all the students except Kaitlyn and had them run into her room with a candle-lighted chocolate croissant. After singing happy birthday, we loaded up our good ol trusty packs and boogied our way to Venice! It was so special and fun to get to show these students such a neat, historic city. Our hotel was in an amazing location right down from the main canal and a 15-minute walk to San Marco Plaza. We were all immediately in love with the cobblestone streets and gelato stores sprinkled around every corner. Harrison M and Avery expressed their love for Italy to be parallel with their passion for gelato and took it upon themselves to enjoy as much as they could in our one day in Venice. Speaking of eating our way through Venice, we came across what seemed like the coolest candy shop any of us had ever seen. Talbot went into candy mania mode, celebrating the variety of options and loading up on delicious, unique treats.
With full bellies and tired feet (quite a theme of the trip), we all greeted the evening with a peaceful gondola tour through the many Venetian water canals. Harrison S really enjoyed this unique, authentic perspective of the city and used his GoPro to capture the moment with some incredible photos! After the gondola ride, we made our way to the hotel to get ready for banquet. Mae and Will had convinced the group to stock up on some ‘tacky tourist’ Italian clothes, so we all threw on our vibrant souvenirs and geared up for an incredible last meal.
We chose a quaint little pizzeria situated perfectly on the main canal, floating on the water. As the sun set behind us, we all looked forward and discussed our hopes for our futures and how this experience has shaped what we want to accomplish in life.
And guess what we got after banquet? Oh, you guessed it, more gelato!!! We decided we were not quite ready for our last night to end just yet, so we meandered our way through the gently lit cobblestone streets towards San Marco Plaza. Truly embracing Moondance’s motto of living in the moment and being spontaneous, we all plopped our booties down in a circle in the middle of San Marco Plaza and had the most incredible last Moonup any leader or student could wish for.
One of the hardest challenges in having this incredible job and opportunity is the very last responsibility- putting the students back on a plane. There are no words to convey the pit of sadness and epitome of joy the last day brought to us as leaders and to our kids as students. We cannot thank you enough for taking a blind leap of faith and trusting us, for each and every single one of them has impacted our lives in the most powerful way. We hope we have instilled a new curiosity and quest for living a meaningful life, free from mind-numbing technology and overflowing with quality time. Thank you again and we are sending our love to all of our students who are now returned to their comfy beds all over the US!
Mikey and Mo
June 23, 2018
To all our loved ones: we have officially made it out of the mountains!!!!
Although only a couple of days have passed since we last updated you guys, we have covered a lot of ground (physically and emotionally). We have spent our days trekking from mountain hut to mountain hut, each one with its own unique authenticity and storybook-like character. Hiking up to a new location for the past three nights has truly made our group appreciate the warm beds and family atmosphere of these little rifugios. And oh boy, the food. We have never eaten so well in our lives and are especially thankful for the homemade pasta since the group works up quite an appetite on the demanding, yet picturesque, treks.
Our group owes a special thanks to Harrison M and Susanna for leading today’s hike, encouraging everybody to push through the last section and end strong. All the while, Zach keeps us keen on the fact that though we might be in “fütball” territory (even though some Italians call it calico), football is still a far superior sport. However, maintaining our athletic pride has not kept us from enjoying the landscape. Coleman pushed us all to stop and take in the full beauty of a glacial lake we passed at around 8,000 ft elevation. Such appreciation can only be possible with the help of an uplifting atmosphere which originates from Harrison S’s big smile, loud laughs, and bold jokes. His partnering crime? None other than the infamous Mavorette Harvey who’s shootin jokes back as fast Harrison can think ’em up. As funny as these two are however, even the most jovial of characters find challenge in keeping spirits during long uphill hikes. Thanks to Avery’s and Will’s determination and unfettering positive attitudes, we’ve kept cool heads in the most trying of times. Isabel’s attention to detail has allowed us to keep track of miles passed, giving us a good reading on the rest of the hike, as hard as it may be. Of course, we are constantly relearning that it is always darkest before dawn as we summit again and again to find that Talbot continues to share whatever snacks she has (usually Italian chocolate bars) as rewards for her companions’ hard work. Granted, we cannot give credit to Talbot without acknowledging Charlie’s desire to help out with refilling everybody’s water bottles each rest, ensuring high spirits and hydration. Perhaps, in our opinion, one of the greatest lessons we can learn in life, if not at least in traveling, is that a curious mind keeps us sharp, engaged, and prepped for molding. We have no one else but Kaitlyn to thank for keeping our tired and easily distracted minds curious and attentive to the world around as we trek through what is perhaps the most beautiful little piece of earth any of us have yet encountered in our still short lives.
We cannot believe how quickly time has flown but are still very excited for the last few days to come: canyoning and Venice! We hope all is well back in the states and are thinking about you guys.
With love and excitement,
Mikey and Mo
June 20, 2018
Mo and Mikey here! All we can say is ‘WOW!’ — one of our favorite words at Moondance. Since we left the first hotel where we stayed, we have had some of the most incredible, jaw-dropping, mouth-watering experiences! Let us tell you all about it!
Once we packed up from the hotel, we loaded into a van and drove to our trail head. We started down a 10 mile trek through Campolongo Pass! On our way we stopped at some mountain huts for water and good views. Though the huts may have been situated in some quaint alpine meadows, the hike was a little more than a stroll! We had some good long up hills and plenty of drawn out, pleasant down hill sections. Harrison S and Mae (the leaders of the day) really kept the group charging! We could always find Avery, the athlete of the group, at the front of the line pushin’ ahead. At the end of the hike, we arrived at our rifugio for the night. Exhausted from the hike, we jumped in the alpine lake just a stone’s throw from the rifugio — Kaitlyn led the charge on that one! We ended the day with a nice hot meal consisting of spaghetti carbonara and braised pork – to say it was incredible is an understatement.
The next day, we met with our guides Michele and Evaristo (with whom we’ve gotten very close over the past few days) to hike through the tunnels dug into the surrounding mountains by the Italian army during WWI. This is where Susanna shined! She is our group history buff. The Austrian army had control of a summit overlooking a strategic valley, and the Italian army couldn’t even come close to reaching he top of the mountain before being gunned down. According to our group, the Italians thought, “Heck! Why not just tunnel up through the dang mountain!?!?”
From the tunnels, we hiked to our next rifugio where we would be the following three nights. We rested and played cards while waiting for dinner. Talbot taught us all some of her favorite games while Charlie entertained us with some hilarious stories! We ended the night with a wonderful dinner with our guides who told us all about their past climbing adventures in France, Peru, Alaska, and even Nepal! They also explained that the rifugio we stayed at was the local gathering place for the Dolomites’ local climbers who call themselves Scoliattoli and have organized ground breaking expeditions all of their world (including Everest). It was incredible to hear about!
The next morning, we ate a wonderful breakfast and met Michele, Evaristo, and a new guide, Marika (who we’ve come to love as well) to get ready for rock climbing in Cinque Torri (five towers). This was easily our most exiting activity so far! Isabel rediscovered her love for climbing and it inspired all the beginners to pursue a new curiosity. To keep everyone entertained when they weren’t climbing, Coleman showed us a few dance moves. His favorite? The dab! In the afternoon, we got a really cool opportunity to climb a multi-pitch. It was amazing! Michele and Marika guided Will, Isabel and me (Mikey) on a climb up a rock tower more than 200 feet high!! I myself work as a climbing guide in the U.S. and am so unbelievably impassioned by climbing and its adventures, so helping everyone explore this new challenge was an incredible time for me. After that, we had some well-deserved rest before dinner but were very entertained as Harrison M told us some of his fly-fishing stories from Alaska with his grandpa. Meanwhile, Zach kept himself busy on the ski lifts which carried him through some incredibly lush and green, mountain vistas!
The next day, we met with our same three guides to climb some via ferrata. We summitted our objective to find yet another rifugio before we headed backed down for lunch and some R&R. Soon after we got back to Cinque Torri to learn some advanced climbing rope techniques. Will and Susanna picked everything up quickly while Isabelle helped me teach the lesson. Harrison S, all the while, tried his hand at some mountain photography. If he keeps up producing such quality photos, I think Hayes is going to have to put him on the payroll!
This morning, we climbed more via ferrata, with our same three guides: Michele, Evaristo, and Marika before having to say goodbye to them. Everyone was sad to see them go, but we continued on our trek to our next rifugio. Since then, we’ve settled in to a nice dinner, some crème brûlée and some comfortable beds. I know this sounds like a dream of a trip, but that’s because it IS!
Whew, that was a lot of story telling. Guess what time it is now? SHOUTOUT time!
Mae- “Hey mom and dad, I’m having so much fun but my debit card is not working, please activate it! Love you.”
Harrison M- “Hello mother, ask Charlie about Charlie Polk from Woodberry. He’s one of my new friends here. I’m loving Italy! Love you”
Talbot- “Hi mom and dad, love and miss you guys so much! Hope you have fun in France! Happy 50th dad! Love you so much.”
Coleman- “Hola padres, it is very fun and beautiful. Thank you for allowing me to do this trip. Make sure you have Chick-fil-a in the airport please!”
Will- “Hi mom and dad. This trip has been awesome so far and the views are amazing. Tell Anna and Sadie I say hello. Love you.”
Susanna- “Hi mom, dad, grandma Jane, papa, Mimi, grandma Lisa, and Cooper! I’m having the time of my life! I never want to leave! Love y’all!”
Zach- “Hey mom and dad. Please have greasy food ready at the airport. And the trip is awesome.”
Isabel- “Hey mom and dad, I miss you and Waldo but this has been the best trip. Tell Kaylee I love and miss her.”
Charlie- “Mom and dad, go have fun in NYC! This is a blast! Tell Maggie and Liza and Violet and Ivy I say hi!”
Avery- “Jodi and Bo and Holden- will you please add more money on my debit card? Love y’all having a blast!”
Harrison S- “Hi Madison and Alice and mom and dad!!!! I’m having so much fun!”
Kaitlyn- “Hi mom and dad, Taylor, and AJ! I’m having such a fun time in Italy, thanks so much for sending me. Love yall.”
Mikey and Mo
June 15, 2018
We are sending greetings from the small town of Corvara tucked away beneath the massive, sky expanding Dolomite mountains. Word cannot describe how fortunate we feel to be able to call this place our new Italian home.
Landing in Venice after the overnight flight from Atlanta warranted high spirits and endurance, and boy did we get it! Our amazing group of students overcame their jet lag and let their exhilarating excitement overflow, contagiously empowering many giggles and bonding throughout our bus ride to the majestic Dolomite mountains. After mastering fun facts and names, our group decided to walk through the picturesque mountain town and interact with locals. This proved very enlightening, for our Italian home used to belong to Austria before WWI and still showcases many German and Austrian influences. After enjoying an authentic 4-course Italian dinner, we ended our first day by heading outside to have our first Moonup underneath the breathtaking mountains and starry night sky. We chose Susanna to be one of our group’s first LODs for the following day. Susanna truly stepped into the Moondance veteran role by engaging with every student, immediately making the group feel welcomed and easing the sometimes-awkward first meetings. Will was named the second LOD due to his ability to bring the group together and fortify positive group dynamics. It was easy to identify Will from day 1 as a confident, knowledgeable leader, and we could not be more excited to watch him continue to build upon these incredible, life-long skills.
Waking up bright and early, our group was finally fully rested after our day of long travels and ready to tackle the day! Kaitlyn entertained everyone during breakfast with her overall enthusiasm for being in Italy and waking up with such an incredible, once-in-a-lifetime view. Her excitement and appreciation set the tone for the group, impacting even the sleepy heads at the table ☺. After a yummy breakfast (we really wish we could send you guys a Nutella-filled croissant—they were a crowd favorite), we hoped into a van and rode up the town to the trail head for the Via Ferratas. Nerves and excitement were intertwined as we began our ascent to the world renown iron railways. Avery noticed that some of the students were beginning to breathe heavily and may be doubting their competence, so she began encouraging everyone, even though she too was feeling the climb. Her cheerful, sweet personality inspired the group to keep climbing through the more tricky areas, and she truly exemplified what it means to lead by action, serving as an incredible role model to the rest of group and to ourselves.
Reaching the top of the summit, we all glorified in the 360 degree views of such an incredible world. From our mighty advantage point we could see the Swiss and Austrian Alps that expanded the eyes view. Zach especially celebrated the group climb by bursting out into a victory dance. Soon the excitement caught on and everyone was doing a jiggy… After eating a delicious packed lunch on the top of the mountain range, Charlie perfected his GoPro skills by showing the group how to take a picture and video with audio orders. He hilariously ordered Siri to “take a picture” in varying voices, making the group erupt into laughter and savor this special moment of victory and accomplishment.
The hike down from the mountain was equally as challenging and thrilling. We could not be more proud of our group for tackling this physical feat and supporting each other throughout the whole activity. Isabel especially stood out to be making a constant effort to engage everyone in conversation. It is extremely evident that she has a special way of making others feel noticed and truly cares about getting to know her fellow students on a deeper level. Coleman surprised the group by rushing toward a mountain stream and thrusting his hands in the ice cold water. His enthusiasm at the details of the nature around us inspired us all to fully invest in the moment and cherish our movie-like surroundings. Almost having made it back to our hostel, we encountered a group of mountain cows. The pure, unaltered beauty of the mountains coupled with the farm animals to produce an impactful wow moment, we are absolutely on cloud nine. Harrison M was so excited to see the cows that he could not help but leap with joy. This was by far a magical day and was only our first activity on this incredible journey.
After returning to our home-away-from-home and showering, we took the students into the town to explore and grab snacks for the trails. Harrison S has an incredible idea to get chips and salsa for a much deserved “salsa party” after such a physically demanding day. We all sat in the grass and played cards, filled our bellies, and laughed, taking in our accomplishments from the day and basking in each other’s company. Talbot and Mae both explained new games to the group. One particular game called Indian Chief was a true hit. We soon wrapped up free time with another over the top 4 course Italian meal and ended the evening outside breathing in the crisp mountain air beneath the stars yet again. Harrison S and Mae were chosen as tomorrow’s LODs, and we could not be more excited for them to seamlessly step into a crucial leadership role for our 10 mile hike.
Overall we’ve had an incredible couple of days. It feels as though we have all been together for weeks, while at the same time, we cannot believe it is already day 4 tomorrow. All of the students are having an absolute blast, and we cannot wait to see how much closer we will grow during the days to come.
We will be in touch soon with another update and hope all is going well in the US of A!
Mikey and Mo
June 14, 2018
Hi Dolomites Families!
The group has arrived safely in Italy and are headed to the Dolomites to begin their exciting trip. More updates to come!