July 10, 2019
To those who love these students as much as we do,
These last few days sure are hard to put into words. Not only were they incredibly adventurous, they were filled with joyful celebrations and sweet lasts.
Our first morning in Claut, the whole group charged Marshall’s room and belted a beautiful rendition of “Happy Birthday” to welcome him to his 17th lap around the sun. Though everyone was tired, it spoke volumes to how much everyone cared about him that they were able to turn on the energy immediately just to make him feel loved. After spending a few minutes getting ready, everyone headed down for a buffet breakfast to fill up before heading out for our last day of activity. We threw on our bathing suits, donned our wool socks, and walked down the street causing quite the ruckus. It’s nearly impossible to take this group of Chatty Cathys anywhere without being noticed, but we wouldn’t have it any other way. Soon, we arrived at a small park where we squeezed into our full length wetsuits. Sam’s red and blue wetsuit made him look just like Spiderman which gave us all a good chuckle. We then threw on a harness over the wetsuits and trekked up a small mountain to the start of the canyon. Everyone looked like a penguin trying to waddle up the hill in their tight, restrictive suits. However, as soon as we plopped down into the water everyone turned into a fish. Brenda and Anora broke out into song which filled the entire canyon with joyful noise. The group also sang “Dancing Queen” in honor of Marshall turning 17. It only felt right. Liv and Adelaide then descended down a waterfall together which resulted in a lot of happy squeals. The water may have been cold, but onlookers would have never known because everyone was splishing and splashing every which way. Once at the bottom, Will caught some tiny salamanders and let us hold a few! He is a natural with aquatic critters!
After our adventures in the canyon, we walked back to the hotel, changed into warm clothes, and enjoyed a warm lunch. The food was delicious and prepared us for our journey to the gelato shop down the street. Lunchtime dessert is always a must, but especially when celebrating a birthday. So we filled our bellies with gelato and enjoyed a relaxing afternoon playing card games, knotting bracelets, reading books, and conversing with one another. The relaxation provided a time for extra bonding which the group took full advantage of. These students truly love each other, and it is so darn sweet to witness. When dinner rolled around, Marshall sat at the head of the table as we presented to him an Italian batman birthday card, glitter playdoh, and several different Italian desserts. Though the chocolate salami and various cookies were a hit, that didn’t stop us from going back to the gelato shop for round two. After all the desserts had been consumed, we headed to the park to play around on all the various contraptions before Moonup. Scarlet and Sam ran around dumping water on each other and Zach did his best to run atop everything that spun. He looked like he belonged on America Ninja Warrior. George and Adelaide then led the group in a fun yet moving Moonup and nominated Marshall and Laura to be the LODs in Venice!
The next morning, we woke with high hopes and expectations of the remarkable things we’d see and do in Venice. And by golly, our dreams came true! After a van ride and a water taxi transfer, we made it to our hostel in Venice! We dropped our bags, ate our lunch in a nearby park, and boarded the public bus (but really a boat) to take us to the square. Once in the heart of Venice, we immediately ran to the gelato shop. Laura and Marshall, our fearless LODs, led the way through the narrow alleys and did an incredible job navigating the city and keeping the group together. We entered an empty gelato shop and quickly realized onlookers thought it must be good since a large group walked in. This became a trend everywhere we went and enjoyed feeling like celebrities. The gelato gave us enough energy to then make our way to an infamous gondola ride. We jumped aboard the boats and checked out the old architecture and narrow canals for a bit before making it back on land. We then hit the town to do some shopping. Don’t worry, we didn’t buy too much! But we did buy some postcards and tiny trinkets to remember our time together. After a while, our shopping feet grew weary so we headed to a local pizza restaurant to enjoy our last Italian meal together. Liv finally got her gnocchi with red sauce while others enjoyed pizza. And of course, after pizza we enjoyed one last gelato at the funkiest little gelato shop we could find. Sophie, Scarlet, Brenda, Liv, Laura and Adelaide went all in and got bubble waffle cones that had us all drooling! We enjoyed the gelato as we made our way back to the hostel as the sun was setting. Naturally, a photo shoot occurred before Moonup because it was just too stunning not to record the moment. Our LODs then led us in our last moonup where we recounted our favorite memories and discussed what we’d miss the most from our time together.
Without fail, everyone mentioned that they’d miss being around one another all day every day. The laughter we shared was unforgettable and we can’t imagine this group without each and every student’s unique contributions. Leaky and I feel remarkably blessed to have spent two whole weeks with them and we can’t wait to see what they do in the coming weeks, months, and years. They are unbelievable humans and we can’t thank you enough for sharing them with us!!
With all our love,
Maddie and Leaky
July 8, 2019
What a gift it has been to call Cinque Torri home for the past three days! After our first afternoon of climbing we knew we were in for a treat, but the past few days far exceeded anyone’s expectations.
In the morning, we woke to a bountiful buffet of cereal, chocolate croissants, prosciutto, cheese, yogurt, Italian donuts, and more. The best part? Hot chocolate for all! We all stuffed our bellies full in order to have all the necessary energy for our first activity of the day: a via ferrata! We then met up with Marco, Young Marco (affectionately named), and Chisto who served as our trusty guides. Once again, we threw on harnesses, helmets, and ferrate kits and made the initial trek up to the base of the mountain. Once there, we had a mini photo shoot and handstand contest for a quick break. Adelaide and Laura took the cake on the handstands while Brenda took charge on the photos. After our legs were rested, we continued our trek up the mountain along a narrow path. The path soon led us straight to rock face where we had no choice but to start climbing. Though Will claims he’s scared of heights, he scaled the wall as if it were no problem. It was impressive to say the least. Once at the top of the climb, we hiked our way up and over rocks of all different sizes to the summit. And boy was it worth it. The summit offered incredible views and a journal for everyone to sign their name! The group also decided to celebrate the 4th of July a little late and sing the national anthem atop the summit while waving American flags. It was a perfect way to celebrate our accomplishment and remember the freedoms we enjoy back home. After countless pictures were taken (ask to see them!), we trekked and climbed our way back down. Young Marco and Anora were sharing jokes the entire way down which kept Brenda and me laughing.
Once at the bottom, we made our way to the bustling rifugio and ate a delicious pasta lunch on the patio. The weather was perfect, and everyone agreed it was their favorite pasta yet. Sophie, Scarlet, Marshal, Brenda, and Anora borrowed huge sunhats from the rifugio to wear throughout the meal which gave everyone a chuckle. We then let our food settle before making our way back to one of the five towers in Cinque Torri to climb! This time, the guides set up two routes for the group to climb while also taking some students on multi-pitch climbs! A multi-pitch is where you climb a mountain that is longer than the rope and requires you to set up multiple belay stations as you go. Scarlet and Zach were the first to take on the challenge followed by Sam and Marshal and Liv and Adelaide. While they were away, everyone conquered the two top rope routes! The guides thought that the students were up for an additional challenge, so they set up a longer, more difficult route. In no time, Scarlet and Sophie scampered up the wall making it look easy. Meanwhile, Zach and Will ran around like squirrels touching all the rocks in sight. After George climbed the routes, he went around our base camp making cairns (rock stacks). He got quite good at it! With sore fingers and arms, we decided to head back to the rifugio to shower and enjoy a quick nap before dinner. Dinner was scrumptious as always and we all screamed when ice cream with raspberries made an appearance for dessert.
The next day, we woke up to beautiful blue skies and a whole lot of excitement to continue our climbing adventures. We started the morning with some more challenging top rope climbs on a new tower. Though the climbs were a bit more challenging, they proved to be no challenge for Zach as he continually scaled the wall with ease. At the same time, the guides took Laura and Anora, Will and George, and Sophie and Brenda on the multi-pitch climb! Leaky and I were so impressed by everyone’s bravery and willingness to try something so new. Marshal and Sam also spent the morning jumping around on the wall with every limb flying through the air. With so much energy being expelled, we all grew hungry, so we ran back to the rifugio for lunch. More pasta was served followed by a trio of desserts! We let the food settle and our eyes rest before hitting the wall for the last time. The guides took us to yet another new tower and set up some tall, challenging routes. One route in particular was incredibly difficult, and Liv and Adelaide decided they wanted to try and tackle it. The climb became a real team effort as the boys helped pull the girls up the wall when a move was too challenging. We all got a good laugh out of it. Meanwhile, Anora and Brenda showed incredible perseverance while climbing two of the other routes. It took them a minute to get off the ground and find their groove, but once they did, they made their way up with ease. Will made one of the other routes look easy and Laura did a fantastic job not only climbing, but also belaying! It’s always special to see someone so willing to not only enjoy climbing but also enjoy helping others get up the wall as well. Once we all had our fill, the guides packed us up and we headed back to the rifugio to say our goodbyes. We all grew so close to the Marcos and Chisto and were sad to see them go. However, everyone loved climbing so much that they expressed interest in taking up the sport in their hometowns! Next up, LASAGNA dinner! Or should I say, lasagna appetizer. A huge slice of creamy lasagna graced our presence and we were all thrilled to enjoy such a yummy Italian classic. The clouds soon rolled in as the sun set creating a beautiful, once in a lifetime view. The students ran outside and took pictures, so they’d never forget it. We then gathered around for an intentional Moonup where we all shared our biggest fears.
Today, we took in the incredible views Cinque Torri offers one last time before heading out on our last hike! Can you believe it? OUR LAST HIKE. T’was a bittersweet morning as we realized this would be our last time to push through uphills together. Along the way, Laura sang camp songs to help us keep the pace and Scarlet and George talked about movies and books for an hour. Along the way, we witnessed one of the most famous amateur bike races. Cyclists were flying by down hills and around turns. We eventually made our way to a beautiful mountain top view where we enjoyed our last prosciutto sandwich lunch. George said it may have been his favorite view of the whole trip. You could see a large beautiful lake beneath us as well as the city of Cortina surrounded by mountains. Once we finished our meal, we hiked down to the lake and skipped some rocks! Sam and Will were particularly talented at rock skipping and Will also used his hands to catch a small fish! Of course, he released it right after so as not to hurt the little guy. We then continued on our way down the mountain until we found two vans ready to take us to our next destination: Claut! Brenda, Sophie, Zach, and Anora were the only ones who managed to stay awake during the drive. Everyone was tired upon arrival so we enjoyed an early dinner, ran to the local gelato shop for dessert, and then had Moonup on the porch. Zach and Scarlet led a great Moonup that ended in everyone singing “You are my sunshine”.
Tomorrow, first and foremost, we’re celebrating Marshall’s SEVENTEENTH BIRTHDAY! YIPPEEEEE! We could not be more excited to sing and dance and treat him like a king. We’ll be heading to the river to go canyoneering and then we’ll be off to Venice! We can’t wait to update y’all one last time in a few short days!!
See ya later alligators!
Leaky and Maddie
July 5, 2019
Ciao Friends and Family,
It’s been a few days since we last checked-in and we are happy to report we are living THE LIFE over here! Every few hours we remind one another we’re in Italy and the awe sets in all over again.
We started our trekking adventure in a luscious valley not too far from Cortina. With hip belts and shoe laces tightened, we set off with our two trusty Italian guides, Luca and Paulo. Luca and Paulo immediately felt like family as they shared jokes and offered helpful tips and tricks. The valley offered incredible views of mountains we would soon summit and also served as the home to countless cows. Adelaide yelled in excitement upon seeing the creatures and wanted a picture with each one. We did our best to make the perfect picture happen, however, the cows were very uninterested in socializing. Marshall, Sam, Zach, and William then lead the group up the first challenging hill. And when I say hill I really mean mountain. Leaky and I were incredibly impressed with the groups ability to take on such a steep and strenuous hill from the get-go. Brenda, George, and Laura kept spirits high by singing songs along the way. After a few more twists and turns, we stopped for lunch beside our first mountain lake! The scenery was nothing short of stunning. Once we chowed our prosciutto sandwiches and apples, the group enjoyed a brief fossil and geology lesson from Paolo before we continued our trek. Not only are the mountains stunning, but the wildflowers are also in full bloom! Anora took the time to appreciate the yellow, blue, purple, white, and pink flowers that danced in the wind along the entire trail. After 8 miles, our first day of trekking came to a close upon arrival at our first rifugio! We immediately hunkered down in our bunkbeds and spent time telling stories, making friendship bracelets, and playing cards until dinner. Laura and Sam then led a great Moonup along a creek to end the night.
Liv and Marshall started the next day as LODs! After another delicious buffet breakfast, we hit the trail for our second full day of trekking. Unlike the day before, the hike started with a large downhill that got everyone moving and grooving. The downhill allowed us some time to stretch our legs and get ready for the next uphill to come. Because of course, what goes down must go back up. So after a quick hydration stop at the bottom of the hill, we took off up another big hill–imagine hiking from the bottom of the Grand Canyon to the top and you’ll have a somewhat accurate picture in your mind. The group tackled the challenge with grace and stopped for a much needed snack at the top. Laura discovered that apples aren’t all that bad and ate the entire thing! She’s becoming quite the adventurous eater here in the Dolomites. Not long after our break, the sky started to darken and the rain came down. Nothing brings the group together like an additional challenge from Mother Nature. With quick steps, everyone hastily made their way up the rest of the trail dodging rain drops and making jokes about hiking in the rain. These students sure know how to find joy in the midst of any and all circumstances, let me tell ya. Once we were dry, we devoured our lunch in the warmth of our next rifugio. This place is simply amazing. Imagine a valley covered in wildflowers with a clear blue lake to one side, 360 degree views of mountains, and marmots and cows galore. We slept right in the midst of all of it. But first, we enjoyed the rest of our afternoon outside after the rain departed. Will and Zach braved the cold lake water and jumped in which left us all jaw dropped while Scarlet read her book aloud to Sophie and Anora under a tree by the lake. The afternoon was rather blissful and left everyone well rested in time for a scrumptious dinner. We enjoyed pasta as our first course and a traditional wiener schnitzel with fries for our second course. Liv and Marshall ended the day by asking everyone “If you could spend the day with anyone, dead or alive, who would it be and why?” Answers ranged from Steve Irwin, to Abba, to Yvon Chouinard.
The next day, we left our heavy packs at the rifugio and set off on a day hike! More songs were sung as Anora led the crew up the trail to the saddle. Without question, the views were the best we’d seen yet so naturally a photo shoot ensued. Brenda whipped out her camera and snapped photos of everyone, and George impressed us with some mountain push ups. After we tired the camera out, we took one last snapshot with our eyes before trekking back down the mountain. We took a windy path down as Paulo led us to see marmots and an enormous ant hill. Paulo even showed us that if you put a tissue on an ant hill and let them run over it for a bit, the tissue will smell like vinegar when you take it off! We were all mind blown. The lake then called our name so we made our way there to enjoy our lunch. The food was simply delicious as always. Once the food was consumed, everyone enjoyed some free time for a while. Zach, Will, Sam, and Marshall decided to head back to the rifugio to change into Chacos so they could jump in the lake. Scarlet, Sophie, and I decided to just live in the moment and jumped in with our boots on! It was freezing cold but soon everyone wanted to experience the thrill. The boys soon returned with their water shoes, along with Brenda and Laura, and they all passed them around so everyone could jump in. Yes, EVERYONE submerged in the freezing cold water: a memory we won’t soon forget. Paulo and Luca then organized a navigation game for the group. Zach led the way in one group while George took lead in the other. It was really neat to watch the students learn how to navigate the wilderness and identify where they are on the map. Free time came next and everyone was ready to relax for a bit before dinner. When dinner rolled around, we enjoyed more pasta and deer with potatoes. And to everyone’s surprise, Laura tried the deer AND enjoyed it! She devoured the whole plate.
Day 7 arrived with plenty of challenge as we trekked to our next rifugio. To start the morning, Brenda, Will and I jumped in yet another lake! On the trail, Adelaide, Liv, Sophie, Scarlet, and Laura played a word guessing game on the trail. The game helped us all pass the time as we walked through a beautiful valley. The valley soon gave way to an uphill climb to another saddle. The views from the top were unreal, per usual. We began our hike down and discovered the canyon walls were a great echo chamber. Let the yelling begin. Halfway down, the rain also decided to chime in. We threw on raincoats and rain covers and powered down the hill in order to start our 2-hour uphill journey. On our way up, the rain turned to hail! No one saw that coming, but everyone kept a positive attitude and cheered each other on! When we reached the top, everyone felt incredibly accomplished! We celebrated with hot chocolate, chocolate cake, and apple strudel. It only felt right. The rest of the afternoon was spent playing board games, making bracelets, and going on a small hike for another photo shoot. The views at the top were a stunning 360-degree view of the Dolomites so the photo shoot was completely warranted. You’ll have to ask your student to see the pictures! We then had to say a heartfelt goodbye to Luca and Paulo. They were an unbelievable addition to our crew and we couldn’t thank them enough for all the laughs and support they provided. Dinner soon followed and Zach and Adelaide led an incredible Moonup on top of the mountain. We all bundled up and enjoyed the last light together while sharing stories about our favorite childhood memory.
In the morning, we met up with two Marcos(our guides) and experienced history firsthand while hiking through the World War 1 tunnels. The tunnels were humbling and left us all bewildered at the hardships the Italians experienced during the war. Once at the bottom, we sang American songs on the trail (Happy 4th of July!) until we reached a perfect lunch spot on the creek. The food refueled us and helped us reach the top of the next mountain where we found our home in Cinque Torri for the next 3 nights! Cinque Torri (Five Towers) is a renowned climbing area and we could not be more excited to get our hands and feet on the rock. And so the LODs, Anora and Sophie, decided to ditch yet another hike and climb instead! We headed over to the first few routes where everyone fearlessly climbed to the top. The climbing soon turned to dancing on the wall as students learned to belay themselves and their partner up the wall so they were in the air at the same time. Laughs erupted every which way as the goofiness took over. After climbing, we sat down for another three course dinner and a surprise visit from the man himself, Hayes Hitchens! We couldn’t believe our eyes. Hayes, along with his friend Les, joined us for the evening and spoke to us about our experience so far and the power it can have on our lives in years to come. We felt lucky to have him stop by for a few hours and were sad to see him go when the time came. It’s always fun to have a taste of home drop by in the midst of the mountains. Sophie and Anora then led a great Moonup in which everyone opened up about their lives at home.
This group is truly something special and Leaky and I could not be more grateful for our time together. With only 5 days left, you better believe we’re going to make the most of it! Today, we’re off to climb and embark on another via ferrata! The stoke is high and we can’t wait to update you again in the coming days! Stay tuned!
Over and out,
Leaky and Maddie
P.S. Enjoy these shout outs from your very own students! They are incredibly grateful to be here and wanted to send a few words home!
Sam – I NEVER WANT TO LEAVE! (Love you Mom and Dad!) Love, Sam
Scarlet – Hey family! Having so much fun! Everything here is beautiful! We have to come back and ski!!! Love you!
Brenda – Hi Mom, Dad, and Marcelle! Tell Sadie that I love and miss her… and you of course! Sorry I didn’t get to call you! Love you!
Liv – Hey Mom and Dad! Miss you all but everything is so pretty and fun. Want to stay longer!! Love you all!
Adelaide – Hi family! I am having so much fun! Everything is so beautiful! Love y’all!
Will – Sup dudes, I’m alive and having fun. Very nice views know what I’m sayin. Love you, bye.
Marshall – This trip rocks. My only regret is not going on a Moondance trip earlier! Love you.
Laura – Dear family, I’m having so much fun! Love and miss you!
Sophie – Hey fam! I am having so much fun and everything is so beautiful! Tell everyone I miss them. Love you!
Anora – Miss you guys! I’m having a blast and everything is amazing! Love you guys and see you soon!
George – Hello my family, Mom and Dad were right about Italy. Having tons of fun. See you guys soon!
June 30, 2019
Bienvenuta a Belloluna! (Welcome to Moondance)!
Once the students touched down in Italy, we hit the ground running! After a few loud shouts and cheers in the airport, we all boarded a swanky private bus for a transfer to Cortina. This past Monday, Cortina was chosen as the home of the 2026 Winter Olympics! And as if that’s not exciting enough, we arrived in the midst of the Lavaredo Ultra Trail race! As soon as we hopped off our bus, we were swarmed with outdoor enthusiasts and fans alike. We dropped our bags at the hotel and quickly made our way to the city center to witness the excitement while scouting out a spot for lunch. In no time, we found a home-y pizza restaurant where Leaky and the boys (sans George) put in our name and patiently waited while the girls and I (plus George) ran across the street to watch the 2nd, 3rd, and 4th place finishers cross the line. We cheered alongside people of all different languages which made for a unique and memorable experience. We then made our way back to the restaurant for our first Italian meal together. ‘Twas delicious!
With full bellies, we made our way back to the hotel to take a much-needed afternoon nap. Then we hit the town once again in search of a green space to play games. After a few short minutes, we came across a field that ran alongside the trail running route. We let out the occasional “Bravo!” or “Wahoo!” as we played stages of evolution (a variation of rock paper scissors) and ninja. Anora, Sophie, Liv, and Brenda competed in a veggie off to determine the winner of evolution while William walked away the champion of ninja. The games provided some needed energy and gave some quality laughs to the group as well as onlookers. We then made our way to dinner where we enjoyed another pizza!!! When in Italy, right?
Next up, Moonup: a time each night we come together to reflect on the day, appreciate each other, acknowledge accomplishments, and answer intentional questions. Leaky and I led the first Moonup and asked everyone, “Why are you here?” Everyone gave thoughtful answers and revealed their desire to have fun, seek discomfort, try new things, and make new friends! Leaky and I then nominated Brenda and George to take over as Leaders of the Day (LODs) for our first day of activity!
In the morning, we woke up to a buffet breakfast where Mango nectar became the talk of the town. The plethora of food fueled our stomachs to prepare us for a hike and via feratta with our first Italian guides, Marco and Luca! They met us, gave us our gear, and helped us board the city bus to the start of the trailhead. Immediately, the trail opened up to a forest alongside a clear running river. Our jaws dropped. The scenery here is nothing short of stunning. When we 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. But first, we threw on our harnesses, carabineers, and helmets to keep us safe as we traversed high, narrow trails and climbed up the mountain. Sophie and I soaked ourselves in a small waterfall as we waited for others to climb, while Sam and William laughed their way up the entire climb. After passing behind the waterfall, we enjoyed our packed lunch of three whole sandwiches! Scarlet tried to remember the name of an actor for 10 minutes to no avail until Zach stepped in and finally realized who she was talking about. We all laughed for a few minutes realizing it took us all that long to think of one person. The hike back consisted of cheering on more trail runners and swimming in the river. Sophie and Brenda fully submerged in the river with me while Zach, William, Sam, and Marshall threw rocks at other rocks as if they were skeet shooting.
Once we completed the hike, we made our way back to the city center to eat our first round of gelato! We may have overwhelmed the gelato shop with our large order, but it was well worth it. Next, the LODs consulted with the group and decided we should make our way back to the hotel to play games on the patio. Laura graced us with her ukulele playing and impressed us with her bracelet making. In an hour, she completed a friendship bracelet that had the word “Dolomites” written across it. We were all shocked! Liv, Adelaide, Scarlet, Anora and Brenda also made bracelets while Sophie played cards and the boys played Frisbee. Our activities were followed by a scrumptious two course dinner and an INCREDIBLE Moonup led by Brenda and George. They asked everyone what their goals were for the trip and pretended to be astronauts while introducing the nug jug (the jug that carries our daily appreciations!). Laura and Sam were selected as the next LODs and we could not be more excited for them to lead the group on our first day of trekking tomorrow!
We’re off to see all the beauty the Dolomites has to offer and can’t wait to update you in a few short days!
Catch ya on the flip side,
Leaky and Maddie
June 28, 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!