Greenville to the Hill: Miss America Orientation

Okay, unless you've been casually hibernating in the last week and half, you've probably seen that I've been busy with big things. I mean, Miss America big.

Right, so last weekly update, I mentioned that I was headed to South Carolina, and then bouncing over to D.C. for Miss America Orientation. Well that's exactly what I did - but it was so much more than I could have ever anticipated.

Let's start with going to Greenville. You guys. What a dream, I'm not kidding, I probably said three dozen times how much I loved it, how I wanted to move there, and on and on.

Southern hospitality is alive and well, and Greenville will be the first to show you. Every where we went, everyone we talked to was so incredibly kind, complimentary, and genuinely interested in why we were visiting Greenville, and how we liked it, and where we were from. (I say we, because I had a stellar traveling companion who genuinely made this trip 45,000 times better.)

The food...oh, the food. First of all, shouts to Katie for her perfectly on point recommendations. From BBQ, to brunch, to the best cake I've ever had in my life - she helped us find all sorts of places we might have otherwise missed. Hi Katie, do you read this? Probably not, that's cool. But huge thanks. 

The weather...if you've been to South Carolina, you know about the weather. I have been before, many times. In fact my first plane ride, at six weeks old, was to Myrtle Beach. I continued trips down there, sometimes twice a year, for the next 14 years - so I'm good with the unreal heat and humidity. And y'all, it filled my soul. I'm not kidding, it was 100° out with, I don't know, maybe 80% humidity, and I could not have been happier. Even walking out of Belk (which, wait, Belk guys, has a huge Lilly section and I nearly cried when I saw it) out of the blasting A.C. and into July in the South, I was absolutely 

Finally, why were we really there? To work with Gregory Ellenburg. The Gregory Ellenburg, and his beyond sweet assistant Rachel, and team of amazing seamstresses. See, some years ago Greg met Miss Vermont 2009 and generously offered to sponsor her evening gown for Miss America. And by the grace of God, and a man with a big heart, he has continued this honorable sponsorship ever since.

If you haven't met Greg, but you know someone who has, all they can say is how amazing he is. How kind he is. How wonderful it is to work with him. How he truly makes you feel like you are Miss America.

It's true. It's all true.

And when I left South Carolina last Sunday, I left with a full heart, thanks to Greg, Rachel, and everyone at Gregory Ellenburg. I left prepared not only to take on orientation with confidence and gusto, but to continue on this journey to Miss America with as much vigor as I had when I went into Miss Vermont week this year.

Well, then it was off to D.C.! Now, this is a place I have been only in terms of flight layovers, which, not ideal. I'm also all about historical landmarks, memorials, museums, and tours. I eat that stuff up. To say then that I was excited to finally get to spend quality time in our nation's capital might have been an understatement.

Even better? I was about to do it with 51 new Miss America sisters. fact about me I pretty much wear every emotion right on my face. Not really new information. But I was feeling frustrated the morning of flying to D.C. - for dumb reasons that mostly end with I was overreacting. Let me tell you though, so many people sent me wonderfully encouraging and kind texts, and snaps, and various messages, that by the time we landed I was downright pumped to hit the ground running.

Which we did.

Quick breakdown via pictures because these few days were legitimately so packed that I can only keep track of them when I look at the pictures in order.

Night One: Dinner at L'Hommage, delirious and excited.

Day Two: Arlington National Cemetery, smiling oddly largely following a massively humbling and emotional ceremony at The Tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

Day Two, Afternoon: National Harbor, warmly welcomed with this sign, followed by a slightly terrifying ride on the Capital Wheel. Then, lunch at Rosa Mexicana - hands down the best guac...and amazing enchiladas...and aggressively delicious churros. 

Day Two, Late Afternoon: Post-brand-new-barre-style-class, which had us all saying, I'm sweating off my makeup! Which is legitimately only a concern when you have five minutes to get camera ready. 

Day Two, Evening: Dinner at RPM - the new restaurant by Giuliana and Bill Rancic. And I don't want to be weird, but guys, she lol'd at my tweet. So basically I'll be on the red carpet this year for the Oscars with G. This evening, dinner was followed by an experience that is really like no other. Together we went to the Lincoln Memorial, and on the steps, in the clear night, we read the Gettysburg Address.

Day Three, Morning: White. House. The White House. I died, went to Heaven, came back, fainted, and then went on a tour of The White House. Where I met the first dogs. And went behind the ropes.

Day Three, Lunch: Fig & Olive was exactly as cute and delicious as it sounds. And I have nothing more to say except that I'll never eat another piece of fish so amazing in my life. 

Day Three, Afternoon: I'm sorry, but have you ever asked yourself what it would be like to get a private tour of the United States Capital building by an intern who works for the Speaker of the House, after you step out on to said Speaker's personal balcony and take a breath of freedom and unity? Because I did. Just before all that happened, and yeah, it is as bizarrely amazing as you would think. 

Day Three, Later Afternoon: A brief moment of peace while I waited for Representative Peter Welch to cast his vote on the House floor, charge my phone, rest my tired toes...oh, and officially take part in my first active shooter lockdown while in a federal building. And then...listen to Senator John McCain speak to our class, and die laughing, because you guys? He's so funny.

Day Three, Evening: Dinner was eaten in flat shoes, with big laughs, at Carmine's. Which everyone told us was so good. (They were right.) 

Day Four, Actually Orientation: We had the privilege to hear from Miss America, Betty Cantrell; Executive Chairman and CEO, Sam Haskell; Chairwoman of the Board, Lynn Weidner; VP of Field Operations, Marc Angeli; Producers, Tony and Lauren Eaton; COO, Josh Randle; and Board Member, Dan Meyers. We also had the privilege of being freezing cold, but that's kind of our fault for wearing dresses in a hotel conference room.

Day Four, Lunch: The much-anticipated Joseph Ribkoff lunch, where we receive our special Parade of States, opening number dresses. And say our goodbyes, well, until Orlando in two weeks. 

Day Four, Evening: I took a deep breath, packed my things, and went for a run around the city. I needed that time to be just Rylee after being exclusively Miss Vermont for almost nine days. And it was perfect. I saw things that we had seen as a class, and things we hadn't. I visited memorials on my own, stopped and took pictures without rushing to stay in line. And I just...ran.

I could not have asked for a better first experience with this class of new sisters. D.C. was exactly where we should have been - and I honestly cannot wait to hear what next year's class thinks of it. That's how much I loved it. 

I'm still recouping on lost sleep. I'm still responding to emails I missed. I think I could stand to do one more load of laundry. But dang if that wasn't an amazing two trips. This job, y'all. It is so good.

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