June 24, 2019
What a whirlwind these past two days have been! Upon realizing the trip was quickly coming to a close, this crew didn’t waste a single moment together.
After 8 days of trekking and climbing, we started our last day of activity with a beloved water activity—canyoneering! With chocolate croissants in our bellies, we walked down to a park close to our hotel to change into full body wet suits. Immediately, the crew busted out in laughter as we donned the tight, goofy looking suits. Walker, Leaky, and Logan entertained us all as they danced around in their new swimwear. The majority of the time we looked like a bunch of penguins waddling around because the wetsuits limited the movement of our limbs. Nonetheless, once everyone was suited up we walked up hill to the start of the canyon.
At the top, we jumped right in excited to plunge into the alarmingly clear water. Squeals and shouts erupted from everyone’s mouth as we realized the water was just as cold as it was clear. Luckily, our wetsuits did their job and kept us a comfortable temperature as we started to rappel through the canyons. Fagan, Jane, Brita, Sydney, and Edward took advantage of the canyon acoustics by leading the group in rounds upon rounds of karaoke-style singing. Whenever the group reached a pool, song and dance collided in a hilarious sight not only for Leaky and I but all the other canyoneers as well. After four rappels and one natural water slide, we reached the bottom of the canyon and waddled back to the tent to peel off wetsuits. Though it was raining, and we were all in sopping wet clothes, everyone continued to dance. Jane, Cade, and Brita performed Fagan’s kick routine again and we were all amazed they remembered it so well. Once our fun had been had, we walked back to the hotel to shower and change into dry clothes before lunch.
After a hearty meal of alfredo pasta and quiche, we explored our new city until we found a quaint gelato shop in the middle of town. Without hesitation, we crammed into the shop and each devoured two scoops of the delicious dessert. The gelato proved to be just the treat we needed after a full morning of activity. There was a large open space next to the shop, so after our last bites were enjoyed, Leaky and I lead a leadership activity for the students. The activity allows students to identify their type of leadership and its strengths and weaknesses so they can be more aware of how they lead in the future. Walker was our lone architect analyst (big information seeker) while Kellen, Logan, and Sierra were our spontaneous motivators. The rest, to no surprise, were relationship masters. In no time, it became clear why our group was incredibly intentional, loving, funny, and engaging. After ingesting all the information we could about our leadership roles, we headed back to the hotel for an afternoon of card games, psychiatrist, and naps before dinner. Dinner was delicious as always, but most importantly, we enjoyed a remarkable Moonup led by Sydney and Logan in front of a local church with a beautiful view of the mountains. As the sun set over the peaks, we all answered the question, “If you could be anything, what would you be?” Answers varied from a shoe (with a great explanation, might I add!), to a traveler, to a great listener just to name a few. In the middle of Moonup, we also all got an incredible laugh from the 184 church bell rings that took place during the nug jug. Big nugs to Jane for counting to such a high number! After Moonup, Brita, Grace, Sierra, Sydney, Kellen, and Walker decided it was time for gelato round 2. So we gathered up and made our way back to the gelato shop! When in Italy!
The next morning, we took our time packing and getting ready for Venice! After breakfast, we hopped into incredibly nice vans (Grace was obsessed) and made our way to Venice. Along the way, we passed a bicycle race, farmers, and Dolomites 1B! Their vans zoomed by ours and our crew immediately bursted with excitement at the thought of getting to say hello to the other students upon arrival. And say hello they did! Once in Venice, we briefly greeted the other group before hopping on a water taxi to get to our hostel.
Our hostel was incredibly swanky and made us all excited for what else we would experience in Venice. As LOD’s, Grace and Fagan led the group around Venice without hesitation. Fagan has been to Venice before and was able to help us find more gelato, St. Mark’s square, a girls clothing store they all adored, and a gondola! After all shopping was over with, we jumped on a gondola and witnessed the peacefulness that stems from navigating the canals. Edward especially appreciated the unique architecture and layout of the city. However, when we returned to the dock, we all had only one thing on our minds: food! With a little pep in our step, we made our way to a pizza restaurant for our last Italian meal together. Pizza, calzones, and salads covered the table shortly after we arrived and left our bellies happy and content. Though we were all content/full, we decided it was necessary to indulge in one last gelato before heading back to our island. And let me tell y’all, it was a wise decision. With Fagan as our navigational beacon, we arrived at a gelato shop that made authentic waffle cones for all of us to enjoy. It was scrumptious. But no night is ever complete without Moonup, so we headed back to our Venetian Island via water bus and gathered along the river for our last intentional group gathering. Through laughter and tears, we shared our favorite memories, things we would miss the most, and nugs upon nugs of appreciation for one another.
This morning, as Leaky and I watched everyone walk through security together, we couldn’t help but feel endless amounts of gratitude to have gotten to spend two whole weeks with Grace, Edward, Walker, Logan, Fagan, Sydney, Cade, Kellen, Jane, Brita, and Sierra. As Cade expressed at our last Moonup, these students showed us that it is entirely possible for people to go from strangers to family in two short weeks. Everyone contributed endless amounts of positivity, joy, laughter, and insight that has and will continue to shape our lives for years to come. We can’t wait to see all of the incredible things these students accomplish in the next year and beyond! Never hesitate to reach out if they need anything! We miss them already and can’t wait for you to hear the countless stories we simply couldn’t fit on the page. Have an incredible rest of the summer!
All our love,
Leaky and Maddie
June 22, 2019
Boy oh boy, who knew you could fit so much in to three days?!
We started our first morning in Cinque Torri with a via feratta within walking distance from the rifugio! With our new Italian guides (Marco, Rico, and France) by our sides, we hiked up the mountain with harness, helmet, and carabiners secured. Slowly but surely, one by one, we climbed up the mountain yelling encouragement to one another the whole way. Upon reaching the top of the climb, we traversed through the snow to reach the peak. In order to do so safely, we traveled in groups of 5—each group with one of the guides. We roped up like a professional mountaineering squad which made the whole experience that much cooler. The snow proved to be a challenge, but nothing is too strenuous for this group. We all learned to place our feet sturdily in the snow in order to reach the summit! Once there, everyone signed their name in the summit journal and took a few celebratory pictures before it was time to head back down. The way down provided a ridiculous amount of laughter as Sydney, Jane, Brita, Leaky, and Rico decided to simply sled down the mountain on their bottoms till they reached the top of the climb. Their clothes got a little wet and cold, but their spirits were high as could be. As we started the climb down, Fagan sang an original song titled “Hips to the Mountain” to support Grace on the way down—teamwork at its finest.
We then enjoyed a delicious pasta lunch which fueled us for an afternoon of climbing on the infamous Cinque Torri (five towers). Though no one claimed to be a climber, they all went up the rock as if they had been climbing for years. Sierra made it her mission to climb and belay all four routes and, by golly, the girl did it! I could not be more impressed with her drive and excitement. At the end of our climbing session, Walker and Jane roped up and climbed/belayed each other until they were both off the ground jumping around like Tarzan. Sierra and I soon joined and the afternoon quickly went from fun to weird. We were all flailing around like goons which made for some hilarious videos and pictures. When everyone had their fill, we hiked back to the rifugio to shower and rest before a fabulous dinner of gnocchi, ravioli, steak, soufflé, and dessert! Grace continually amazes us with how much food she can fit into her tiny body. I’m going to miss seeing her eyes light up when the food arrives.
The next morning, we hit the towers again to climb some new routes. The guides helped us take it to a new level by taking pairs up a multi-pitch route (a route that requires you to set up a new belay station as you go up because the route is so long!). Walker and Cade were the first to go up along with Sydney and Jane. When they came down they raved about it so much that Brita, Grace, and Kellen followed suit and Logan, Fagan and I took the rear. They all conquered the mountain with so much grace and laughter despite their fears of heights. If you ever need to feel inspired, this is a group to hang around! Meanwhile, Edward and Sierra turned into the group photographers and captured some incredible moments we won’t soon forget. Nor will we forget the pesto pasta and ice cream we enjoyed for lunch. With full bellies, we headed back outside for some more difficult climbs for an hour before a storm drove us back inside. Though we all loved climbing, we took advantage of our time indoors and played Fishbowl (a group game that combines Taboo and Charades)! Brita and Leaky were incredible actors and kept the group wildly entertained until dinner. Our night ended with equal amounts of joy as we all answered Kellen and Brita’s question, “What is your favorite childhood memory?”
When the sun rose, we all devoured a delicious breakfast before boarding the good ol’ shoelace express for our last day of trekking. With a sturdy pair of legs, we trekked far and wide across mud, snow, grass, and rock while rain fell from the sky. Edward kept everyone’s spirits high with his positivity and intentional conversations while Logan conquered our biggest hill yet with incredible strength and positivity which left us all inspired. After the hill, the LODs (Cade and Sierra) made the choice to keep trekking and eat a late lunch. The decision paid off because we found a rifugio nestled by a lake that allowed us to take shelter and eat our lunch.
Leaky and I then surprised the students with hot chocolate and a dessert! It. Was. Delicious. We couldn’t think of a better way to end our trekking journey. Well, except for Grace, Brita, and Walker’s singing as they ran down the last 20 minutes of the mountain to the van. Upon arrival at the van, we realized we were back where we started our trek! The entire trip came full circle which had us all mind blown and incredibly grateful for our legs. Hopping back in a van felt unnatural, but we are excited to be in a new town as we take on our last activity—canyoneering! Leaky and I have no doubt the next few days will continue to be jam-packed with loads of fun and laughter (along with a few bittersweet tears) as we prepare to spend our last moments together.
Off to finish our adventure,
Leaky and Maddie
June 19, 2019
Hey friends and family,
We are living an absolute DREAM here in Italy! From rifugio’s, to mountain lakes, to unreal food, these past four days have been nothing short of unbelievable.
Our first day trekking we woke early and headed to the foothills with our two trusty Italian guides, Chiara and Claudio. With their gentle spirits, patience, and quirky movements, the two quickly became an integral part of our little family. After they briefed us on the mountain wildlife and terrain, we hit the trail running! Or shall I say walking because we started with an intense one mile hill. Leaky and I were remarkably impressed with Grace as she led the pack and kept the pace. Once we reached the top, we hooped and hollered and hydrated in a field that reminded us of the troll field in Frozen. We were sure the rocks were going to roll to life at any given moment. But alas, we didn’t have time to wait so we continued our journey until we reached a small hut near our first mountain lake where we stopped for lunch. Our lunch was remarkable not only because of the delicious sandwiches but because of the views, laughs, and piles of snow. Yes. Snow. What does one do when they find themselves surrounded by snow in the middle of the mountains with a rambunctious crew of teens? Start a snowball fight, of course! Though Cade claims he doesn’t play baseball, we all think he’s ready for the MLB because his arm and aim are impeccable.
The snow energized us enough to get us up several more hills and take in the sweeping views for the next 6 miles to complete our 9 mile day. Once at the rifugio, the food was delectable, but more importantly, they served us tiramisu for dessert! If you want an accurate report of just how delicious it was, you’ll have to speak with Kellen. He would have eaten an entire pan himself if they would have let him. Shortly after dinner, Walker and Grace led a great Moonup and asked the question, “What is one thing you want to do before you die?” Needless to say, this group has incredible aspirations and Leaky and I know they are going to be world changers in whichever way they choose.
The next morning, we enjoyed a late breakfast before heading to a nearby lake to stretch and play a game of ninja before heading off on our trek. The stretching proved to be important as the trail took us up some pretty gnarly uphills. Needless to say, the group is growing some incredible calf muscles! Halfway through the hike, we were lucky enough to eat alongside another lake—this time without the snow. Jane and Sydney were quick to join me in a polar plunge upon arrival and Cade, Kellen, and Walker followed suit shortly after. We then let the sun dry us off as we enjoyed a relaxing lunch before continuing on our journey. After several ‘fake’ rifugio sightings, we finally laid eyes on our home for the next two nights. Nestled in a valley between two more lakes and a flowing river, our rifugio took our breath away immediately. Everyone ran inside and took a quick nap while Logan tuned the ukulele and played some tunes for guests below our patio. After a few games of cards, it was time for dinner and once again the food was unreal; so much so that Sydney cried tears of joy when the food arrived. To put things in perspective, they served us a full plate of pasta as an appetizer! We’re still adjusting to the idea of multiple courses, but that doesn’t stop us from eating every ounce of food they put in front of us.
When Leaky and I woke the group the next morning, they were excited to hear they needed to pack only their day packs. Lighter load and an incredible hike? Sign these students up!! We threw on our day packs, grabbed a packed lunch, and headed for the mountains. We hiked up yet another beautiful trail with incredible views of the valley and surrounding mountains. Leaky, Walker, and Brita walked ahead of the group and prepared an artillery of snowballs as they waited for our arrival. As the group approached, they waged war and instigated yet another snowball fight that had everyone laughing. The view from the saddle was stunning and the students took plenty of pictures at the top to remember the moment—make sure to ask them about it!
We then hiked back down to the valley and Claudio and Chiara prepared a compass scavenger hunt. The hunt was a fun and engaging way to learn how to navigate with a compass in the backcountry. Once everyone found their hidden items, Fagan taught everyone her kick line kicks. We’ve never seen anyone’s legs bend quite so far with such ease! Our amazement continued when we walked back to the rifugio and ran into John, the head of Sewanee: The University of the South’s head of the outdoor program. He was incredibly excited to see Moondance out and about and we snagged a picture with him and his family. After another incredible dinner, we ended the night with Moonup where Logan graced us with her voice as she sang/played Landslide by the Dixie Chicks.
We woke the next day, packed our bags, and headed for our next rifugio. Another mountain lake crossed our path which meant Logan, Cade, Jane, and Sydney took a plunge in the cold water to start the day. Logan went all out and even belly flopped in the snow which gave us all a big laugh. After we spent some time drying off, we continued on our trek. Along the way, Fagan saw a baby mountain goat and Cade insisted this was simply the best day thanks to the views and rolling hills. With a few miles under our belt, the day got even better as we loaded a bus to take us to a gondola which we rode to the top of a mountain! We rushed to the peak as a cloud rolled in and had a mini photoshoot in front of the breathtaking views. Little did we know, our rifugio was also on top of that mountain! We couldn’t stop ooh-ing and ahh-ing at the 360 degree views.
While we were waiting for dinner, Sierra ooh-ed and ahh-ed at the free food that sat in the entryway of the rifugio. After trying one, she quickly ran down to report how delicious the potato cakes were. Leaky and I soon went up to grab a taste and discovered that the supposed potatoes were in fact meat pies. We saw her come back for seconds (and thirds and fourths) and we jumped in to tell her of our discovery. It’s important to note here that Sierra is indeed a vegetarian. Upon finding out she had been devouring meat, she gave a hearty laugh along with the rest of us. She felt fine and has continued to laugh about it since! ’Twas an event we will not soon forget. The universe then rewarded Sierra for trying a new food by gracing us with a blood moon that night! We all bundled up and ran outside to watch the orange glow take over the sky.
Today, we started the day with a delicious breakfast before heading off to explore the WWI tunnels. We were all amazed and humbled to see such a historical place. The tunnels spiraled through the mountain and demanded bright headlamps as it was pitch black inside. Edward and Cade’s headlamp were bright enough to light the way for us all which we all appreciated. We then made our way down the mountain for lunch before trekking to our next rifugio. The hike went up some pretty strenuous hills and ended with a snowball fight that got everyone laughing and restored the groups energy. The rain then started to fall so we huddled inside our new rifugio for the afternoon talking and playing games.
This group has come together so quickly and so beautifully that Leaky and I simply can’t put into words how lucky we are to have them for two whole weeks. They face every situation with positivity and build each other up when the hiking gets tough. We can’t wait to see them conquer rock climbing in Cinque Torri over the next two days!
Signing off for now,
Leaky and Maddie.
Sierra – Hey, Mom and Dad! I miss you guys. Hope all is well! We have been backpacking for 5 days and I have had so much fun. Everyone is so nice. Can’t wait to see y’all!
Kellen – Hello from Italia! When I get to the SFO airport with y’all can we stop by In-and-Out and Krispy Kreme? I have been craving them so much. Can’t wait to see your faces soon!
Brita – Hey y’all! I say y’all now. It is currently day 8 and we have hiked a total of roughly 26 miles, not to mention I am eating well!! I miss you all who are reading this and can’t wait to be home even though the Dolomites are pretty sick. Okay bye!
Grace – Hey fam!! I’m having so much fun here in Italy. Plus the food is AMAZING! I miss you and Inca Queso.
Fagan – Hey y’all (: I miss everyone so much. I wish y’all could see the view I’m looking at right now—can’t wait to show you pictures! Mom and Dad, I hope y’all are having fun in Florida and Puerto Rico. Would looooove some junk food at the airport + a coca-cola! Love y’all so much!!
Walker – Hey Fam. I’m in Italy now. The scenery is good but the food is better. See you soon. Bye.
Cade – Hey Mom and Dad! We are all having an amazing time and I’m so glad we are all able to go on a trip like this. I miss you and will see you in a week!
Logan – Hey y’all!! I’m having an amazing time and miss y’all a bunch! Everything has been great. We finished backpacking roughly 26 miles and my calves are fabulous. Anyways, love you tons (I also want a pet marmot) K luv you BYEEEE!!
Sydney – Hey y’all! I’m having so much fun! The food here is crazy good! Love and miss y’all!
Jane – Hi Mom. I’m having fun. Tell Dad and Sally I say hi. Love y’all!
Edward – Hey Mom and Dad. I’m having a great time! Hope Lil Pup had a great time at tennis camp. See you guys soon!
June 14, 2019
Benvenuto (Welcome) to Italy!
Upon arriving in Italy, we met up with Kellen, the final member of our crew, before boarding a private bus to Cortina! The bus ride took us past lush vineyards, white rivers, and adobe houses that made our jaws drop at every turn. Honestly, our jaws never really recovered. The closer we got to Cortina, the more the mountains came into view and by golly they are STUNNING. We all squealed as we saw the jagged peaks emerge. To make things even neater, we saw the historic ski jump from the 1956 Winter Olympics as we pulled into the town. The Olympics are a hot topic in Cortina right now as they are a candidate city for the Winter Olympics in 2021.The town is decked out with Olympic signs and we are all anxiously awaiting the committee’s decision on the location in a mere 9 days from now!
After checking in at the hotel, we decided it was time to enjoy our first true Italian meal. We walked around town for ten minutes before deciding on an authentic pizzeria! Most of us decided to split a pizza since it was a late lunch, but Edward and Logan went all out and ate an entire pizza! While there, we learned that a pepperoni pizza in Italy is a pepper pizza (as in the vegetable) and not a meat pizza. T’was a valuable lesson to learn as we expect to eat many more delicious slices of pizza on our journey.
With full bellies, we explored Cortina and took in the incredible views. Picture this: a small ski town with beautiful architecture surrounded by snow-capped mountains on all sides. Every five minutes or so someone would look up at our surroundings and shout, “Y’all, we’re in ITALY!” Our amazement was soon matched with laughter as we found a green space to play mafia, psychiatrist, and ninja. The games worked up our appetite and got us ready for pizza round 2! At dinner, we decided it only seemed right to start a pizza slice count for everyone.
Next came our first Moonup—a time each night we come together to reflect on the day, appreciate each other, acknowledge accomplishments, and get to know one another a little better. Leaky and I led the first Moonup and asked the group “Why are you here?” Everyone had incredible answers which made us excited to see what all we would accomplish as a group with similar goals in mind. We then nominated Sydney and Kellen as our first LODs (Leaders of the Day) to lead the group tomorrow and keep spirits high during our first hike.
You heard that right, first hike!! The next morning, we were all stoked to put on our hiking shoes and head into the Dolomites for a day hike and via ferrata. We met our Italian guides, Marco and Paolo, and hopped on the city bus with 30 preschoolers. Brita fist bumped them and made sure to say Ciao to everyone that walked by her. The bus dropped us at the trailhead and immediately we were surrounded by trees. Walker, Brita, and Grace led the group as we made our way through the trees, along a river, and up a rocky mountain. They made the trek look easy as if they were a bunch of mountain goats. When we finally reached the top, we had a beautiful view of a huge waterfall crashing into a canyon below us. Little did we know; we were soon going to climb BEHIND the raging waterfall. Marco and Paolo helped us secure our harnesses and carabiner leashes and then we took off on our first via ferrata! We started by scrambling down multiple rocky switchbacks which kept the group on their toes. When we got to the bottom of the canyon, we made our way towards the raging waterfall where we squealed as the cold mist attacked us. Jane and Fagan kept us all entertained as they traversed behind the waterfall and got hit by several waves of water. They couldn’t stop talking about it at lunch and we were all laughing while eating a phenomenal lunch of prosciutto sandwiches and fresh apricots and nectarines. We then hiked out of the canyon through more forests and made our way back to town for some gelato! It was a well-deserved treat after our first day of activity. The gelato was nothing short of delicious and Sierra, Sydney, Logan, Brita, Kellen, and Fagan added a delicate macaroon on top.
With happy hearts, we strolled through the village back to the green space to play three hack whack, an intense hacky sack game. Cade and Logan established a deep rivalry and did everything in their power to get each other out. We never established a true winner, but Cade, Walker, and Sierra proved themselves worthy of a final round. We then all practiced our handstands and Brita worked on her cartwheels until we sat down for one final game of “Down by the Riverside.” Our games once again built up our appetite, so we headed back to the hotel for an impeccable pasta dinner!
Following dinner, Sydney and Kellen led Moonup and asked what new thing we hoped to try while in Italy. Sydney tried prosciutto even though she’s never enjoyed it and discovered that she loves Italian prosciutto! How neat! Everyone agrees the food is unbelievable and it earned several nugs throughout Moonup. They closed our time together by nominating Grace and Walker as our next LODs as their positivity and kindness towards everyone would help get everyone up the mountain for our first day of backpacking!
Our journey has been nothing short of incredible and we can’t wait to continue sharing our adventures as time goes on. Off to the Dolomites!!!
Ciao for now!
Maddie and Leaky
June 12, 2019
Hello Dolomites Families!
We heard from our leaders last night, and all students have arrived safely in Venice! We are so excited for them to begin their adventure!