July 7, 2019
Our mountain adventures ended with our arrival back from the Pyrenees, but the lovely city life in Paris was awaiting us. Our city dwellers, Nathalie and Owen, navigated us through the train stations and the metros flawlessly. We dropped our bags at the hostel and headed out to town immediately! Our first stop was Notre Dame. Although what remains of the cathedral is surrounded by construction, we were struck by the prominence and the beauty of the parts we could see. We continued our stroll along the Seine, admiring the works of street artists and taking in all of the elegant surroundings. While watching the sun set behind the Parisian bridges, we enjoyed some savory crepes for dinner. Enchanting picnics were taking place all around us. Sallie and Anna dreamed of recreating some of the fanciful picnics with all of their friends, old and new, in the future as a reunion. Because we would not dare go an evening without dessert, we stopped by our new favorite ice cream joint for a pre-Moonup treat. Our LODs, Anna and Drew, scoped out a pedestrian bridge over the Seine as our Moonup spot. We vulnerably shared about failure we have experienced and how we learned from these situations. Our heads hit the pillow hard in preparation for our big Paris day!
Nathalie and Sally, a dynamic duo to say the least, were selected as our LODs to guide us through our final day together. We began our morning in the Luxembourg gardens, slowly meandering our way through the perfectly manicured flower beds. After stumbling upon a beautiful church, Connor found a Laduree location for us to stock up on the world famous macaroons. She promised the pit stop would be well worth it, and she was so right! We fueled up with some lunch, adorned our art historian caps, and headed to the Musse de Orsay. Jordan proved to be quite the expert on artists such as Van Gogh and shared her wealth of knowledge with us as we made our way through the museum. Sydney shared her own interpretations of the paintings she saw. Her interpretations were creative to say the least. Our next stop was the Lourve, where we took a little nap in the gardens as we people watched and enjoyed the sunshine. Rested, we made our way through markets and stores until we reached our thrifting destination (we of course needed some attire for banquet). Owen came out with some creative combinations- a favorite being an adorable polar bear tshirt. After all the big fun, we began our last big moments together.
Throughout dinner, we shared our highs and lows of the trip. With the reflection, we re-experienced so many fun times together. Next, we had the incredible opportunity to spend some time and eat some gelato with Hayes and his friend Les. The students were thrilled to meet the man behind all of their transformative experiences. We laughed with him and shared about what our Moondance experience on Chamonix 2A meant to us. It was great to see Hayes, especially as we were his seventh and final visit in the field for the summer. After saying our goodbyes, Nathalie and Sallie brought us to the foot of the Eiffel tower, which was glowing in the night sky. For part one of Moonup, we opened the nug jug for a final time. In perfect timing, the tower sparkled, and we headed back to the hostel.
Cozied together in one room, we affirmed and uplifted each individual of the group. We spoke of Sallie’s compassionate and joyful soul. We talked about Jordan’s ability to humbly bring peace to any situation and Anna’s innate ability to form a team from a diverse group of students. We spoke of Audrey’s grit and perspective, which she shared so eloquently. We spoke of Nathalie’s unquenchable thirst to know the best version of herself and those around her. We spoke of Owen’s compassionate and fun-loving demeanor that can warm anybody’s heart. We spoke of Connor’s thoughtful ways, and of Drew’s gentlemanly and Southern charm. We spoke of Charly’s pure intelligence and vulnerability at Moonup, which inspired the rest of us to boldly share. We spoke of Maddy’s energizing and mature leadership style. And, we spoke of Cooper’s ability to wear so many hats, adjusting to the needs of the group around him. We spoke of how Sydney is a dedicated friend and a motivating source of competitive spirit on the trail.
Our group demonstrated the power of trust and value in learning and co-existing with a diverse group of individuals. We showed how humbling yourself and submitting to the trust of friends can produce powerful experiences and relationships. We walked 120 miles, climbed 30,000 feet, and lived simply for a few weeks.
Beauty in that simplistic existence is the freeing of time and space for conversation and camaraderie; we had no other worries than just putting one foot in front of the other. As we said late last night to our students, perhaps if our thoughts or situation back out there ever prove overwhelming…think back to a trail conversation, a moment of mountaintop solitude, or a renewing jump into a cold river. Take a deep breath and you may find that it brings a calm and a balanced peaceful perspective that may positively alter your outlook on a present challenge or mindset.
Thank you for sharing these incredible people with us. We will miss this group immensely.
-Bowen and Henry
July 5, 2019
Bonjour/Hola from the Pyrenees!
Day 1 of our trek started with a long drive to our French trailhead in the Pyrenean Mountain Range. The landscape is starkly and impressively different from the Alps. We noticed, as we drove to the trailhead through Tour de France race routes, more numerous jagged peaks that seemed to stretch for miles. The sheer quantity of peaks and impressive vertical landscape reminded some of us of Glacier or North Cascades National Parks from previous Moondance or family trips. Our first day started with a steep uphill towards a clearing where a river ran through the landscape. All the river water in the Pyrenees is clear blue, incredibly beautiful and very cold. The lack of shade cover in the terrain gave us an opportunity to go over proper hydration and water source finding techniques. Our LODs, Nathalie and Owen, provided the energy for the group like no one else can as we traversed through Marmot, sheep, and cattle covered landscapes. One difference in the Pyrenees that we noticed is the plethora of natural springs. These springs provided us with cold refreshing water as we hiked towards the top. Another difference is the solitude. The Tour du Mont Blanc is a much more popular trek. Now, feeling as if we were on Mars as we looked out onto the landscape, we realized we were, many times, the only ones out here. This theme would continue for most of our trek.
Once we reached the plateau, we replenished ourselves with a typical lunch, which included some added energy from our peanut butter and bread stash. The stash was depleted a little faster than usual, as Drew likes PB a lot (we made sure to restock in our next town). After lunch, trail conversations hummed along, and you could tell the group was glad to be hiking once again. We soon reached an alpine lake where Drew led the way into the water for a group swim. After cooling off, we commenced our downhill portion as the vertical mountain faces loomed over us, providing some shade from the setting, but still powerful sun. We reached our refuge for the night and feasted, to start, on the best salad we’ve ever had. Post dinner, our Moonup, held in the refugio’s outdoor yurt under the stars, led us into conversation about inventions and regrets, capping off a great first day.
The trek started with a dedicated and determined Anna and Nathalie jumpstarting the trail conversation with their Australian accents. We still have work to do on those, but they only improved as conversations in strictly accents continued. After we finished our first uphill, we broke out into the sunshine. This day proved to be a challenge because of a French heatwave or “canicule.” It tested our wills, just as much as our steep vertical climb. Next, our trek led us through winding rivers where our group polar bear plunged again. The cold water refreshed some our shoulders and feet. After lunch, Drew and Cooper led us in some hydration, as we ascended again towards a mountain pass. Maddy did an amazing job encouraging the group as we climbed our last vertical section. Before we summited, Audrey inspired the group with her sheer will. Finally reaching the summit, we looked out onto a vast expanse below. Still higher peaks surrounded us, including the Breche du Roland, which stood sentry above us to our left at about 9500 ft. To our right stood Mt. and Petit Pimene (more on that later). We took some photos and then the group descended towards the direct center, where our incredibly scenic refuge occupied the landscape. That night, Moonup provided some great conversation in front of a mountain range lit fire red by the setting sun behind it. We went to bed early, knowing a 5am wake up beckoned the next day.
Our alarm jolted us awake at 5 today. After getting two feet on the floor at about 5:02, we eagerly anticipated a sunrise summit attempt of Petit Pimene (~2850m). Both Petit Pimene and her father Pimene, stand tall over our refuge, so the attempt was difficult. However, we found it easier because the mountains provided us with a cool, shady breeze all the way to the top! Always active, Cham led a group workout on the summit, providing us with a great start to our day. We reached basecamp after seeing some wild horses at 10am and began our hike for the day. Today’s hike, all downhill, led us through the highest waterfall in Europe (save for Norway) and along another glacial runoff river. After some dancing, pull-ups on a bridge, and more swimming, we finally reached a small ski town. That evening, a local festival with live music gave us a memorable night. Sallie and Connor led the group in some dancing to French music, showing us how it’s done. We even got a shout out from the band and Charly stumbled upon a Patagonia jacket!
Today was a fun day. We hiked over the Spanish border and immediately switched our languages. Jordan’s Spanish skills took over for Nathalie and Owen’s French. Trail conversation hilariously included some candid thoughts about our first impressions of each other. On the trail, we also discussed different leadership styles and how altering or adapting our communication methods can help a group function better, especially a group with differing personalities. We crossed trails with the Camino de Santiago, the world famous Spanish pilgrimage trail and reached our incredible Refugio, where we sang happy birthday to a fellow Spanish traveler and swam in another cold river. Lastly, a beautiful stone bridge crossed the river into the Refugio and provided a great setting for some midnight Astrophotography lessons, and it was truly amazing!
After challenging ourselves on some long days, we had a shorter walk from one Spanish town to the next. Nathalie led the group in a “monk walk” as we wound through the woods. A monk walk is a time in which the group remains quiet while hiking, giving time to quietly reflect on the experience and the surroundings. Our walk led us to a pristine swimming hole, which was a beautiful sight to see after such hot days. The whole group plunged into the super cold water by jumping off the HD (Henry Dyke), not Owen Brown, Cliffs. Anna and Sydney managed to hold hands throughout their jump. Audrey returned back to her mermaid ways of Costa Brava and swam around until it was time to go. A warm shower and a hot meal awaited us at our next town. Per usual in our Spanish towns, fresh bread and olive oil was a major highlight.
Our morning began our journey into Ordessa National Park. All of the students encouraged each other up a steep but rewarding climb to our first plateau where we enjoyed nice break overlooking the world famous canyon around us. Anabelle shared tidbits of information about all of the plantlife and geology of the area. Sallie especially took a liking to the wildflowers of Spain and France. While the bright blue Johnsean was her favorite flower, edelweiss came in a close second. We curved our way along the plateau overlooking the canyon and taking in the views until we reached our superb lunch spot. Cooper led us in a game of “oo,” a new rendition of a classic game called zoo.
After a bit more climbing, we neared our refugio for the night. However, we couldn’t pass up one last break opportunity to overlook all of the land we had journeyed over so far that day. Jordan and Anna shared ideas about what it means to “live in the moment” here on Moondance and at home. We are all grateful for experiences like Moondance, but we are reminded that we don’t have to be on a Moondance trip to live in the moment. The conversation continued later in the evening at the refugio as the sun set over the mountains during Moonup. Our leaders of the day, Maddie and Owen, guided us in an incredible Moonup conversation in which we made lists of things were grateful for on Moondance and back at home.
We awoke refreshed and ready to trek down what we had come up the day before. Nathalie and Jordan led the way. Our first jaunt led us to a beautiful waterfall where we peacefully sat on the rocks below and stared up at the crazy rushing water. We followed the waterfall’s river the rest of the way down to a lunch spot on the river’s rocks. Anna enjoyed a nice slumber, and Sallie practiced some mindful meditation. Meanwhile, Charly continued to crack us all up with his dad jokes. Our day ended at the same swimming hole from a couple days prior. Despite the chillier temperatures, quite a few brave students jumped off the HD (OB?) cliffs one more time. Anna made sure not to miss out on the opportunity- she’s wonderful about reminding the group that each opportunity out here is unique and should not be passed up (“YOLO”). A warm shower, cozy hostel, and an awesome Moonup felt incredible after the cold jump. Owen, Cooper, and Henry made stayed up late for some Astrophotography. They worked super hard to perfectly capture the newest, most beautiful star called the Sydney Hunter Star, named by Sydney Hunter herself.
The next day proved to be bittersweet, as it was our day to walk in the mountains for the last time all together. Sydney and Audrey were chosen as leaders to bring us back to Lourdes. They started our morning with inspirational words and a patriotic pledge of allegiance to kick of the our Fourth of July holiday spent in Europe! Sydney guided us in another monk walk, encouraging us to reflect on what our walking experience has meant to us personally. We reached the top of our final climb, and the French/Spanish border, with lots and lots of joy. For our big Fourth of July celebration, we sang a mountaintop National Anthem and snacked on some American candy bars. After enjoying our final backcountry lunch by an alpine lake, we were transported back to our hotel and said our goodbyes to sweet Annabelle, grateful for the walking we had accomplished.
We are super proud of the whole group and have loved getting to walk, talk, cry a little and laugh a lot with them these past three weeks. We’re amazed by their leadership skills and their determination to keep growing as people. We will miss our group more than they know I think- what an incredible group of individuals!
We sincerely thank you for sending them on Moondance and couldn’t be more grateful for the time we spent together!
-Bowen and Henry
Hi guys! I’m having a great time out here kayaking and on trail. Can’t wait to see you soon!
Hey fam! I’m having a blast hiking and kayaking. Can’t wait to see y’all soon. Love you.- Drew
Hello Hunters! I’m having a awesome time hiking and staying in hostels in the Pyrenees. I’m never coming home!
Hi!! Can’t believe it’s almost time for me to come home but STILYJHTDW! Love y’all miss y’all and see y’all so soon
Hi guys! Miss you very much. Love my leaders they are the greatest – Charly
Hi y’all! Miss y’all so so so so so much. See you soon Love my leaders they are the greatest -Cooper
Hey family! I’m having a great time hiking and exploring new places! Miss and love you guys!
You’re right. I’m moving to Europe.
Hey family! I miss all of you so much and can’t wait to come back and see y’all! I love y’all!
Hey modge, podge, Ollie, and Rockstar! I love and miss you all so much and I will see you very soon! I am having so much fun! We just finished all the hiking of the trip in The Pyrenees and it was so beautiful. We are on our way to Paris where I will see you mama! Love you<3
Hi mama, dada, meems and merms! I’m really seeing all that I’m grateful for out here among the altitude and sals! Love the people and place and cows. Happy birthday dad I love you so much and can’t wait to be in Michigan.
Hey fam. I’m living my best life out here. Don’t really want to come home. Love you and see you soon.
June 26, 2019
Chamonix 2A is en route to the Pyrenees, rejuvenated by the salty Mediterranean waters. Our days in Spain moved at a refreshingly slower pace than our adventures in the French Alps. We happened to arrive to our beach town to a day of celebration for the life of St. John and the beginning of summer. After crushing some delicious local tapas and pizza, we wandered to the beach to watch the fireworks light up the sky. Owen decided that this is his new favorite holiday and that he will celebrate it every year from now on.
After the travel day, we arose to a long morning of bungalow porch sitting and group breakfast cooking. Anna and Sydney whipped up some perfect scrambled eggs while Sallie led us in a jam session to some oldies. We then prepared for our water excursion and headed to the beach where we met our local kayaking guides and suited up. Our guide Guillermo led us through the insanely blue waters, mini oceans caves, and then to a cove for lunch. Maddy’s rowing arms came in clutch as she sailed through the water. We soaked up the sun, looking out at the precious wooden Spanish boats anchored in the cove in front of us, and snacked on some sammies. During our journey back, Drew was the first to attempt a “kayak roll,” a skill used by white water kayakers. We were impressed by his natural abilities in his kayak and his courage. Upon arriving back to our main beach, Nathalie had a grand idea of a family dinner, and everybody was on board. We stocked up on all kinds of food and headed to our bungalows. Everybody helped cook, and everybody sang. We lined up all of our tables outside and enjoyed our beautifully crafted burrito bowls and lots of laughs. To top off the evening, we took a group trip back down to the beach to a gelatería for some ice cream and to watch the moon rise before Moonup. An extra special Moonup closed our extra special day- we opened up about our fears, sharing our own and offering advice to our peers.
Day two of kayaking began with some superb French toast and scrambled eggs. With full bellies, we met our guides Paul and Javier to head to our new kayaking spot. We couldn’t believe it, but our new location was perhaps even better than the last. We were struck by the beauty of the caves, which were a lot bigger today. Henry led us in some Bohemian Rhapsody echoes. Nathalie and Sallie belted a wide array of songs to entertain us all throughout the paddle. Paul taught us about the local animals such as the sea tomatoes and the sea urchins. Connor was the first to touch the sea tomato. She wanted to take it back with her, but she decided that she would leave no trace and let the tomato thrive in its natural habitat. We arrived at a beautiful rocky beach where we enjoyed a picnic. Suddenly, Audrey basically turned into a mermaid. She swam around as if the ocean was her home, climbing on rocks and floating around. We all followed suit, though not as gracefully. Drew and Cooper managed a game of baseball, using materials from the beach. Owen, Charly, and Henry scoped out some perfect jumping rocks for the group and Jordan and Maddie took a beautiful sun nap. After our perfect pit stop, we paddled back to our beach and arrived back to the bungalows for an intense yet friendly iron chef competition.
The leaders of the day, Anna and Cooper, served as team captains. Anna’s team went for an Italian style spaghetti, complemented by a caprese salad and Connor’s specialty sautéed zucchini. Team Cooper went for a Mexican theme. They prepared steak and avocado creme tacos, served with black bean salad and fresh pico de gallo. While the competition was stiff, Cooper’s team came out with the trophy (a pineapple) due to their acute attention to the aesthetic of their final product. Because so many important birthdays are happening back home while we are living it up abroad (shout out to Audrey’s mom, Nathalie’s dad, Sydney’s beloved fish), we thought it would be appropriate to celebrate everybody with a birthday oreo cheesecake. So, we sang happy birthday to all of you, blew out candles, and chowed down. During Moonup, we shared our big goals for the future. We leaders went to bed super inspired by the heart, the aspirations, and the drive within the group.
Our sweet dreams did not last too long, for we arose to watch the sunrise on the beach before our journey back to France. Nathalie, Sallie, and Anna especially soaked up day’s first light by practicing yoga breathing and stretching. We walked back to the bungalows to Drew Holcomb’s “Live Forever,” packed up our bus, and headed on our way. We cannot wait to begin walking again, this time in the Pyrenees. Just walking has a powerful way of bringing out fruitful and happy conversations. We have no doubt the group will crush the miles and grow even stronger as a team. We’ll keep you posted! Until the next time…
-Henry and Bowen
June 22, 2019
Bonjour from Chamonix!
After a long two travel days, our Chamonix group was ready to make the most of every moment in France. We spent day three making our way up to a stunning view of Mer de Glacé, a glacier right near the town of Chamonix. Two seasoned veterans, Anna and Audrey, were selected as our first leaders of the day and led us to the top. Halfway up, we stopped at a little cabin that served refreshments to travelers and enjoyed fresh juice and conversation. We loved chatting with the friendly French folks and hearing about their mountain getaway. The striking glacier and an artistically carved ice cave at the top blew our minds. After a family picnic, we made our way down the mountain, enjoyed some spaghetti and chocolate mousse prepared by the hostel, and prepared for our trek beginning the next day.
Bruno, our fantastic French guide, met us bright and early at our hostel for day one of the Tour de Mount Blanc in which we ate breakfast in France, lunch in Italy, and dinner in Switzerland. The trek began with a rather steep start, but all of the group conquered the hill with enthusiasm and strength. Our leaders of the day, Cooper and Sallie, encouraged the crew the whole way. Our reward for our climb was a snowy 360-degree view overlooking the Alps, most prominently Mount Blanc. After soaking in our surroundings for a bit, we journeyed downward to a picnic spot to enjoy our French bread, meats, and cheeses in a picturesque location. To our surprise, a crew of mountain bikers came zooming by on the nearby trail. We loved getting to see the bikers sail down on the snow. The rest of the journey down was filled with lots of trail conversation and awe of the views. We arrived with tired and accomplished legs to La Fouley, our small Swiss alpine village for the night. Sallie led us in a rejuvenating afternoon yoga stretch in the front lawn, and the LODs helped grocery shop for lunch the following day. Swiss chocolate was first on the list. After a filling dinner of THREE courses, we gathered for Moonup on the lawn. We laughed and shared about characteristics of strong friendships with Mt. Blanc shining in the background.
Our next trek started off with a maps lesson from our top gun maps expert Charly. Our route took us past Swiss farms where Farmer Owen made friends with the local livestock. We crushed an uphill section after trekking through some more alpine towns and found ourselves in Champex. Champex is home to a large alpine “lac” so we all jumped in and 5 members of the Swiss Army took a picture of the polar bear plunge crew. Maddy, one of our LODs, led us in a Moonup in the back-yard set against the setting sun on the Alps. After a fantastic meal of chicken and rice, everyone was fat, happy, and very tired, so many were fast asleep to rest before our early wake up the next day.
Our next trek led us to Trient, a very small Swiss alpine village with a strikingly pink church. Our route, freshly cleaned by our leave no trace stewards Cooper and Nathalie, took us up a mountain. Despite the first real rain of the trip, spirits were high. We crossed a small river of glacial run off, assisted by the trailblazing Connor, and then ascended to a mountaintop farm where we feasted on a much deserved lunch that included sausage and freshly baked apple pie from a local cabin mountain top restaurant. Jordan and Sydney shared their “WOW moments” with us as encouragement before continuing our journey. The tiny town of Trient was a welcome sight after a long afternoon, as was our first taste of local French cheese fondue.
We arose early to prep for our biggest day of hiking yet. The day led us from Trient to Argentiere, via a mountain pass. Drew kicked off the day leading our morning huddle, pumping us up for our hike with some wisdom. Slowly but surely, we ascended to our next mountain pass. Per usual, the venture was well worth it, and everybody felt on top of the world as we peaked the pass and crossed back into France. We descended alongside the ski lifts that run during the winter ski season. Avocado toast for lunch hit the spot, especially for Sallie who is apparently an avocado fanatic. The rest of the way down wound through more quaint French villages until we reached Argentiere, and our super nice hotel for the evening. After some killer pizza, we circled up for Moonup where we discussed what we would eat if we could only eat one food the rest of our life. Nathalie decided orange Pillsbury cinnamon rolls are the way to go. We’re sad to say goodbye to the TMB tomorrow, but grateful for long trail days with great conversation and great people.
Our last day included was a short venture along trails beside the mountain villages, soaking up our last moments with Bruno. Nathalie and Connor led us in a moment of meditation to reflect on the incredible experience on the TMB as we overlooked Mt. Blanc to wind up our first adventure together. We also couldn’t have asked for better weather for our over 50 miles and almost 20,000 ft completed. The group has bonded so beautifully, and they work together as a well-oiled machine already. We have no doubt this is the product of a group of strong leaders from all over. We cannot wait for sea kayaking- we are looking forward to updating y’all soon from Spain.
Bowen, Henry and the Cham 2A crew
June 16, 2019
Hi Chamonix Families!
The group has arrived in Geneva and the trip is off to a great start!
We are so excited for their adventure!