4 Oct 15

Our African Expedition to Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater was an absolutely amazing experience. While it is not reasonable to chronicle it entirely in a single blog, Tracy and I thought we’d share a couple of insider questions to each other to help you understand just a little of the experience.

Randy and Tracy share a kiss on the Serengeti.

Randy and Tracy share a kiss on the Serengeti.

Randy: While the elephant looming behind our kiss is eye-catching, there’s another elephant in the room in that we did not summit together. Would you be willing to share a bit about that?

Tracy: Oh, dive right into the tough questions! So I did not reach the summit, which was a very tough choice for me. I  spent much of the trip plagued by headaches and shortness of breath. These symptoms caused me to progress far slower than the rest group so I requested a head start on summit night. About three hours into the hike (2am) the rest of the group caught up and easily passed us. By 4am (5 hours in) I was feeling extremely dizzy and was starting to stumble, after about 45 minutes of this I began to question whether I should continue. My teammate Maureen and guide Goodlove encouraged me to keep trying. I pushed on, hoping that sunrise would reinvigorate me. Sunrise came (amazing, gorgeous) but I had no rejuvenation. Finally at 7 am, after 8 hours of climbing I decided that if I kept pushing I would not be able to make it back down. I felt that I made a smart decision that was right for me and was proud that I persevered for hours and came within 10 minutes of Stella Point  (5685 meters). In hindsight I wrestle with feelings of being left out of the experience that the rest of the team shared, yet, I also learned that I reached high enough in my climb to have technically reached Stella Point and I am mighty proud to have climbed so high.

Tracy: Day two was some of the toughest footing we experienced can you share some thoughts on how you felt at the end of the day?

Randy: Day one had particularly easy footing with water bars being the main challenge so in contrast day 2 was a little bit of a wake-up call. It still wasn’t any different than most of the trails in the White Mountains upon which we train. As we were climbing over 10,000 feet there was a constant barrage of incredible views and that gave us pause for photographs and side explorations commonly. As we neared the end of the uphill climb which was handled in the entirety by a strong and motivated Jose, we hit a few interesting side scrambles with a drop off. This required us to be slow to manage the risks of the falls which might have otherwise been a problem. Ultimately it was not the most tricky footing for me on the trip but in comparison to day 1 it was a slow down reality check on our pace even before altitude really reduced our speed.

Jose and Randy Day Two

Randy: Do you have a particularly powerful moment from the Kilimanjaro hike which you might also like to share?

Tracy: I think there were two experiences that I’d share. The first was on day two which is arguably the hardest 2.8 mile route I have ever hiked. I was hiking ahead of you and Jose which provided frequent occasions where I would be worried about how the two of you would navigate extremely tough footing. I occasionally stopped long enough for the two of your to catch up so I would know that you were well. The combination of fear and pride at what the two of you accomplished together will be with me until I die. Such powerful emotions do not fade easily.

The second powerful moment was on the Barranco wall. We camped at the base of the 800′  Barranco wall on day three where it loomed imposing and scary. I woke feeling more than a touch apprehensive. Once we started on the wall I realized that the rock scrambling that we experienced in the Whites really set me up to tackle the wall strongly, although I was still scared of the notorious Kissing wall. We navigated a particularly tough spot and I mentioned out loud that if that one was so tough how hard would the Kissing wall be? That was when my guide told me that we had just done the Kissing wall. I felt so triumphant to have handily tackled something that I’d been so worried about.

Tracy: As we know, summit day was extremely hard. You had some unexpected difficulties while trying to make the lower camp, will you share that story?

Randy: Absolutely I’ll share what all those on the hike already understand all too well. Summit day was incredibly difficult in many ways. We’d had little, or in many cases no, sleep; we had too little nutrition as feelings of nausea hamper the ability to eat. We hiked in the dark which restricted my guides abilities and as the oxygen thinned it was harder on all of us to find ways to keep working. Seven hours of hiking brought us to the summit with nobody feeling well or strong. Still things were good enough to savor the sunrise and the summit before we began the long descent. Down is almost always harder on me though the skree of the upper levels wasn’t too bad. Few guides had much strength to guide long and Jose and Rob had spent much of their efforts in getting me to the summit. Greg Neault really stepped in at a critical time. Unfortunately the last half mile before Barafu (high camp) was truly the most difficult for my feet and we worked incredibly hard to get through it. With my headache pounding at impressive levels, food reserves non-existant it would have been great to get a refreshing break at Barafu. Unfortunately plans called for us to rest briefly, get lunch and then hike six difficult trail miles back to a more reasonable elevation at Mweka camp. I was unable to sleep or eat and while Greg put in two of the miles guiding, we switched to Jose with me feeling more and more nauseated, light headed and struggling to give the focus I need to walk even a moderate trail. Two full days of no sleep along with the mental and physical exertion caught up with me and I lost consciousness for a moment, collapsing behind Jose.

Once again a strength of the entire experience was the incredible dedication and capability of the Climb Killi guides and porters. Our main guide, Emmanuel, and one of the assistants, Vader, walked beside me with our arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders for steady support. The trail became a washed out stream bed which is amongst the worst for my making time. We plodded on slowly and with little progress towards my recovery until we neared 12,000 feet. Finally the nausea lifted enough for me to hold down a couple of Jenn’s sports drinks and keep me conscious through to the final camp. I collapsed into the tent and slept through until morning with again no dinner. While this concerned the guides, Tracy and the team understood I could eat a hearty breakfast but sleep was my essential need. This allowed full rejuvenation and a strong hike out on our final day which was blessedly back on trail which is more easily managed. I’m certainly not proud of how rough it was for me but I’m thankful for how much the team supported the efforts necessary to let me struggle through ultimately enough. A very special thanks to Michelle for the constant medical care along the way and to you, Tracy, for having our tent so well ready for my essential collapse.

Randy: My next question involves our team.  As I was so commonly connected to a primary guide and each of us formed our own interactions, I wonder what you took away from the development of our team?

Tracy: That is an great question. I knew every member of the team to varying degrees prior to our trip, with the exception of Maureen. A wonderful development was that Maureen was by far my biggest, most pleasant surprise.  We found that we hike at similar paces and have similar hiking styles and really got along famously. As to the rest of the team, I loved how quickly the entire team settled into a fun camaraderie coupled with kindness and helpfulness. It is true that sharing epic adventures with a group of people creates a bond that is both amazing and unrivaled. I will cherish this group of people for their sense of fun, adventure and their willingness to help their fellow teammates!

Tracy: One of my favorite, most celebratory moments was the singing that we were greeted with at the Mweka gate on our completion of the trip. Can you share a time that was most celebratory to you?

Randy: You know I’m never shy so I’ll share two very different experiences which took place on the same day, I believe. On Wednesday night we camped at the Barranco Camp with the massive and intimidating 800 foot wall directly ahead of us. This was a hands to the trail slightly technical scramble for much of the morning. Our entire team has enough familiarity with scrambles in the white Mountains that we treated the entire journey like the East Osceola chimney. We were quick and capable such that at the top of the wall we stopped to celebrate together. It was a great bonding moment of achievement and pride for how well everyone had worked. I relished that feeling then and still.

Later that evening we were in the mess tent sharing a dinner when Greg asked Rob to read his guest blog that had been released back home. It was powerful and moving on so many fronts and led to more team emotional sharing which brought us together on an even deeper level. We had plenty of trials ahead but the team was cemented into a strong and caring enough core to undertake that challenge together.

Randy: The Serengeti was so vastly different from what I expected and definitely an incredible experience. What surprised you most about the Safari adventure?

Tracy: The Serengeti was amazing and the one thing that surprised me the most was just how close most of the animals were. Whether it was hyenas or lions sleeping right off the road, or elephants passing behind our Landrover almost close enough to touch.

While this is just the barest insight into the experiences of only two of our eleven team members, it hopefully provides you with a little flavor as well as the incentive to reach out to any and all of our team for the rest of the many stories. Life has the potential to be an amazing series of adventures whether by hearing or living the stories. As in many things, however, they are always the sweeter when shared together. Thank you Tracy for sharing life’s adventures with me!


26 Sep 15

By Randy Pierce

“You never know what’s around the corner. It could be everything. Or it could be nothing. You keep putting one foot in front of the other, and then one day you look back and you’ve climbed a mountain.
-  Tom Hiddleston

Team all together in Aurusha before the hike

The team hangs out all together in Aurusha before their epic climb! An important, supportive community.

I’m writing this before departing to Tanzania for my attempt to summit Mt. Kilimanjaro. When we publish this, the success or failure of that summit goal will be known. To me though, the success began with the belief that it was a worthy experience and the confidence to choose to try for it. Hundreds of people with whom I speak often relay to me their lack of belief in their own abilities to attempt a variety of things, sometimes within the realm of common activities for the majority of people. What is it which allows doubt or fear to paralyze people in their pursuits? Why even are people so easily consumed by their own lack of confidence?

One of the simplest approaches to easing this challenge is to surround ourselves with people who encourage and support our ideas. Our basic community has such a powerful impact upon us and we forget that we ultimately choose the people with whom we share our lives. I have a marvelous accompaniment of supportive friends and for me it constantly makes a difference. I, in turn, encourage myself to always be that supportive influence in their lives as well. If we are commonly given doubt from the outside, it’s simply no wonder it might ease into us and impact our own thoughts and feeling for ourselves.

Secondly, I believe we so easily focus upon the negatives in our world. Yes, I too have many doubts and some fears which could easily paralyze me if I gave them the chance. I choose to focus on the means of resolution to challenges, of the rewards and benefits possible rather than those doubts and fears. It isn’t that I do not realistically evaluate them and identify the crucial points–it’s that I dwell on solutions more than problems and rewards instead of failures. Whether this approach is of help to anyone else, I cannot be certain, but I do know that in my pursuit of my own peak potential and my well wish for all of your similar abilities to reach new heights, I think the most perilous peak of all is the choice not to climb!


19 Sep 15

By Greg Neault

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
–Robert Frost

Group of climbers posing at the summit of a mountain in the summertime

The “Lost Boys!”

Robert Frost’s classic verse feels every bit as true today as it did in 1916. A commentary on deviation from the norm, it extols the virtues of a life spent traveling off the beaten path. Taking the path less traveled can sometimes seem a daunting task–people have a natural fear of the unknown. The temptation to stick to known routes and the feeling of comfort we get from the familiar often overshadows our desire for growth and change. However, sometimes life gives us some much needed encouragement to blaze new trails, often in the form of mistakes!

As this blog hits social media, a Monday morning will be unfolding. Breakfast will be eaten, commutes undertaken and a return to the safe and comfortable routine of the work week begins. As your morning is commencing I shall find myself embarking on a journey down a path much less traveled in my circles, somewhere between the Tanzanian city of Arusha and Camp 1 at 9,400 ft on the flanks of Mt Kilimanjaro. As I now sit at my desk at home amid a flurry of activities aimed at preparing for this adventure, I find myself reflecting on the path that led me to this juncture. That path forked unexpectedly one August day in 2008 and has continued that trend, much to my benefit.

The first of these fated forks occurred as this path of mine crossed that of some other folks in the White Mountains. A half dozen spirited gents up from Boston on a weekend outing to hike the Bonds. We shared a campsite and a few laughs on the first night of our backpacking trip through the Pemigewasset Wilderness. We bid them adieu in the morning as we moved on, expecting it would be the last we’d see of them. Little did we know, a mistake was to encourage the blazing of some new trail on their part, both literally and metaphorically. Two days later, we encountered the same, although much less spirited, group of gents. They had taken a bit longer a stroll than planned and were now quite far from their beds with little sunlight remaining. We offered them an alternative route out of the woods and a ride to their car, an offer they accepted with great verve. The miles hiked that day with the Lost Boys, as we had dubbed them, proffered more bonds than had their hike the day before. I left the Pemigewasset Wilderness with sore feet and what I anticipated would be lifelong friendships.

Sadly, after three years of adventuring together, my friend Christian Gagnon was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He was very suddenly hospitalized and, with a weakened immune system, was unable to return to the wilderness or engage in the outdoor activities that he loved so much. I spent the next few month’s weekends alternating between hikes, hospital visits, and attending to my other responsibilities. It was on one of these hikes that the path forks again, but this time, the mistake was mine.

Group standing on the summit in the wintertime.

Meeting up on Mt. Hale!

I was out for a hike on a crisp December day with a relatively new friend, in Aaron Sakash. We had designs on climbing Mt Hale via the aptly named Hale Brook Trail. However, an error on my part lead Aaron and myself astray, hiking up the wrong access road and finding ourselves at the North Twin trailhead. We were amidst the debate as to what our plan of action should be from there, when we were happened upon by a half dozen spirited ladies and gents out for a winter’s hike. The shepherd having become the sheep, I was informed by one of these gents that Hale was their goal as well and there was a route to access it from the North Twin Trail via an unmarked and unofficial trail. After laughing off his directions (take a left at the tall straight skinny tree seemed a bit ridiculous at the time), he asked us to join their group for the trip to the trail junction, he would point out the turn and we could carry on about our way. He warned, however, that they may slow our progress a bit, as his friend Randy was blind.

I was taken aback. I had left my brief conversation with the man without so much as an inkling that he couldn’t see me as we spoke.  My disbelief was elevated further when he told me that not only was this blind man hiking, but that he also intended to summit all 48 four-thousand foot peaks in the state in a single winter. When you don’t know, all you can do is doubt, and that is precisely what I did. We hiked with the group for the better part of that day and, by virtue, got to hear more about their plan and process along with their mission to reach out to people and raise money for great charities. At the conclusion of the trek, he invited us to look him up on social media to track his progress along the way. Once again, we bid them farewell, figuring our paths may not cross again.

Christian Gagnon posing by a peak.

Christian Gagnon.

Whenever I visited Christian in the hospital, he always asked if I had been on any hikes lately. At first, I felt bad telling him about my woodland adventures while he was stuck in that sterile hospital environment. I realized shortly, however, that he really wanted to hear about it. He couldn’t do it himself, so it was better to experience it second hand than not at all. When next I visited, I had quite the tale for my friend. “You’ll never guess what I saw on my last hike,” I said, and then told him of my encounter with the blind man who aimed to climb the 48 in ONE single winter! Like mine, his eyes went wide at hearing this, but where mine had been filled with skepticism, his were full of wonder and possibility.

“What are you going to do?” he asked me.

I was puzzled by this question. Christian was undergoing treatments for his leukemia which involved chemotherapy, radiation, blood transfusions, and a lot of medications. Some times he was more lucid than others. My first thought was that he must be a bit confused, not quite following the story. But, he was on point. “To help him–you have to help him!” was his reply. Christian told me that most people don’t do things like that with their lives. He said when you see somebody trying to do something special, something great, something selfless, that it is your responsibility to help them do it. He also told me that he hoped he would get to meet this man when he was feeling better, he wanted to hike with him and hear about his journey.

Unfortunately, Christian’s journey was cut short. I read the story of the day I found the Lost Boys as we laid him to rest on March 2, 2012, just days before Randy completed his 48th winter peak.

I may have lost my friend, but I have not lost his wisdom. Since that time I have done whatever I could to help Randy reach his goals, however small or large a contribution I could make, and I will continue to do so. The doubt and skepticism that once clouded my vision has been replaced with the wonder and possibility that made Christian’s vision 20/20.

As I sit here on the verge of another great adventure I look back on the road that lead me to it. I accidentally took the one less traveled by, and that HAS made all the difference.


12 Sep 15

By Randy Pierce

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in a while, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” — John Muir

Mt. Kilimanjaro

Mt. Kilimanjaro

This is it! Single digit days will give way to our September 18 departure. When Monday, September 21 arrives, we’ll have already hiked our way past the Machame Gate and onto Kilimanjaro’s massive shoulders. We will make every reasonable effort to share updates along the way and I’ll give you those details now but first a few announcements and thoughts are worth sharing.

When your team is a perfect 10 (members) already, why would you turn the volume up to 11? The answer is simple, when is it not the right time to help someone reach for a dream and once in a lifetime opportunity?! Jennifer Uhlman has guided me along the steep sections of Mt. Carrigain and supported our team in the Mt. Snow Tough Mudder, now she joins the rest of the team.

So on that notion of the seeming “Once in a Lifetime,” I find myself so tremendously blessed with the belief each day we can work towards something which possesses rewards we will indeed treasure forever. There are those moments which resonate beyond our expectations and I count so many in my own life that I have come to believe for all of us the choice to experience such moments is with us. I’ve long suggested I’m a problem solver more than a risk taker and as such try to ensure planning is at the root of many of my quests. That’s all fine and true yet still there is value in words I reviewed today.

“If you have a dream, you can spend a lifetime studying, planning, and getting ready for it. What you should be doing is getting started.” — Drew Houston

We are taking this trip together as a team and for those not joining us directly, I welcome you to follow along and live in this instance vicariously through our progress. Help us celebrate accomplishments and commiserate the hardest of the challenges. In the process, I hope you are evaluating what dream should be just ahead in your life and what excuses for not reaching may be eradicated to leave your goal ready for you.

Thanks to the ingenuity and kindness of our friends and hiking partners www.RoarLoud.net, you can follow us live or review the history of our progress via the Delorme Inreach technology. Simply visit:


We will be sharing progress on our own 2020 Vision Quest Social Media and the front page of our website. The reality is these will be progress updates with no images to be shared until we have completed our descent from the mountain and may send a few of the images along for our friends, family, and community. I’m tremendously excited for all aspects of this experience and intend to put my best effort into the entire attempt. Ultimately it is always the journey and not the destination which is of highest import and I hope that journey includes crossing the crater rim as the sun rises impossibly distant from that incredible height. Thank you for allowing me to share my adventures and I hope for all of us the drive to reach for our peak potential can be constantly and successfully pursued!

You can also follow our friends and their marvelous Roarloud project via:



5 Sep 15

By Randy Pierce

With a mountain as large as Kilimanjaro on our horizon, we are slated to have a more quiet start to our school presentation approach this year. As this is a cornerstone of our mission, I wanted to encourage each and every one of you to help us by becoming an active part of our outreach. I’m sharing a blog from a few years ago and celebrating that we have now increased our school contact to more than 43,000 students. We have finished the marvelous update to our “For Educators” page and are building the essential list of volunteer drivers. We still need you to help share the opportunity with teachers, administrators and parents as well as choosing to be part of the volunteer system which makes this all possible. I won’t return from Kilimanjaro until October but Kristen Taylor is eagerly ready to help coordinate and schedule presentations going forward to make up for the lost month this year. So will you help? It’s as easy as the “ABC” blog below suggests!

ABC Back to School Special!


29 Aug 15

By Randy Pierce

No trick! The safari information is below, but first I am sneaking in an update about my other dream (as if climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and taking an African safari weren’t enough!) One of my responsibilities’ for ensuring the success of 2020 Vision Quest is coordinating ticket sales for our Peak Potential Dinner on November 14. This is more difficult with my two weeks in Africa. I am hopeful we might reach our sell-out or come close before we depart on September 18. If you are thinking about tickets as an individual, couple or table of 8 friends, please consider making that purchase now and helping me with that goal!

Breathtaking view of the Serengeti. (Photo from www.climbkili.com.)

Breathtaking view of the Serengeti. (Photo from www.climbkili.com.)

We’ve shared the details of our climb  and the team and so now it’s time to talk a little about the other adventure on this trip. Given that it is unlikely I’ll ever return to Tanzania or possibly even Africa, there was no way I wanted to miss the opportunity to take a safari and experience the wonders beyond our mountain climb. Throughout my younger life, one of the epitomes of adventure was a jungle safari with lions, elephants, and the Serengeti plain as well! Through our Climb Killy guide service, we have chosen a 4-Day Safari to begin the day after we have finished climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro and I expect it to be the perfect exclamation on a trip of a lifetime.


Wildebeest and zebra graze on the Serengeti plains. (Photo from www.climbkili.com.)

Wildebeest and zebra graze on the Serengeti plains. (Photo from www.climbkili.com.)

We’ll fly out of ARUSHA to get directly out onto the appropriate part of the SERENGETI. While the timing is not appropriate for the incredible herd migrations, we’ll be taking our journey to a known point of quality contact with some of the most exciting animals available on the plains. We’ll travel in well equipped and very safe vehicles to blend our safety and the opportunity to get close observations of these animals in their natural environs. Our safari works back towards our hotel over the four days and our first night will be at Kilima Valley Tented camp. It may seem like the Taj Mahal after our time tenting on the mountain!


Next up is a full day in the Serengeti. We’ll explore the reserve looking for the big five: lions, leopards, buffalo, elephants and rhinos. I didn’t even know the “big five” before the safari but have a few additions like zebras, giraffes, and elephants of course! We again return to the Kilima Valley Tented Camp for a final night.

Gorgeous view of the Ngorongoro crater. (Photo from www.climbkili.com.)

Gorgeous view of the Ngorongoro crater. (Photo from www.climbkili.com.)


Today we’ll follow game routes from Serengeti National Park to the Ngorongoro Highlands. Perched atop the infamous crater which hosts one of the most abundant wildlife retreats in the world we’ll prepare for our final day with a night at  the Ngorongoro Wildlife  Lodge. 


We’ll descend down the crater 2000-ft for a full-day crater tour. This is the largest unflooded and unbroken caldera in the world and as a result has become a breath-taking natural wonder. While our entire trip could likely be spent exploring the geographical and animal splendors of this region, we’ll have one long day before returning to Arusha for the end of incredible adventure!


22 Aug 15

By Randy Pierce

Rob Webber

Rob Webber

“When he took time to help the man up the mountain, lo, he scaled it himself.”
–Tibetan Proverb

While the above proverb is quite likely true in many ways for our group, the basic message suggests that in our teamwork and support of each other, we can all achieve heights beyond our expectations. Once I determined Kilimanjaro was a goal, the most important next step was finding the right people to be part of the experience and team. That in itself was a longer and more interesting journey than I would have anticipated and I’m very pleased to report that I will be part of an excellent group of people.

Jose Acevedo

Jose Acevedo

The selection of those ten began with my intent to use the human guiding approach we developed during my quest to summit the 48. With that in mind, Rob Webber and Jose Acevedo were the first to officially join the team with me. There are many fantastic friends with whom I have hiked through the years and I’d have liked all of them to be able to join this expedition, but unfortunately that was not reasonable. We did feel that we needed at least two friends who have guided me and were comfortable not only with the task but with the impact my medical condition might cause for all of our chances at a successful summit. Rob is one of my longest and strongest friendships going back to our days at the University of New Hampshire together. He was my Best Man and brings  an intelligent, thoughtful patience to his excellent athleticism. He’s also taller than I am which is particularly beneficial when guiding me down from elevation as my hand on the pack appreciates that height to keep me from bending.

Jose meanwhile is “less tall” for the upward sections when I can more readily keep my hand on his pack as we ascend. I’ve known Jose for well over two decades. An excellent and charismatic leader with energy and endurance as we showed in winning the National Marathon Championship together. Both serve on the Board of Directors for 2020 Vision Quest and we were prepared to be the core of a team.

Greg Neault

Greg Neault

When Greg Neault and I discussed the trip. it quickly became clear to me our ever growing friendship and frequent hikes of the White Mountains provided a reason for me to inquire and he was immediately interested and eager to be part of the experience. Greg has a tremendous sense of adventure and matches my drive to believe things are possible with problem solving and determination. An excellent artistic eye and generous with his photography gifts, he has become the Social Media Manager for 2020 Vision Quest.

He also is a positive catalyst for expanding my own adventurous nature. In fact, he and Cathy “Wildcat” Merrifield were fundamental in my eventually entering into the Tough Mudder Nation. Perhaps that explains why Wildcat and her significant other, Frank Parrot, were soon welcomed into the growing team. Each have hiked with me in the past and have become steadily closer friends.

Cathy Merrifield and Frank Parrot

Cathy Merrifield and Frank Parrot

I’d met Cathy on a run with the Mighty Quinn in which a mutual acquaintance had us bounding over tricky roots while training for shorter races. I was proud to keep up with her and have come to value the entire Wildcat clan! Cathy has an infectious spirit of encouragement and courage as well as her own chronicling of adventures. Frank is the quiet technology presence who augments the silence with the deep thought behind the scenes. Perhaps the most difficult to get to know he also provided the most profound answer when our first training weekend had us sharing significant life experiences. Frank is the tallest member of the team and may help Rob with descent guiding as his own hiking prowess has grown as he details in his guest blog to Wildcats page. Frank’s photography skills and hiking determination may exceed the little detail that he might just be able to carry the entire team on his shoulders for short distances!



Cathy’s addition blazed the trail for my favorite addition and yes, I’m not only allowed but expected to have a favorite! My wife Tracy has been a fundamental part of my adventures as well as her own. She ensured Jose would not be the shortest member of the team while allowing me to have the person I’d most wish to share such epic life adventures right there beside me. Along with her taking the core planning of our actual trip into her ever immense list of responsibilities Tracy also best understands my blindness and the rest of my medical challenges. She’s a well grounded presence to aid the entire group but most especially my essential needs to best encourage success. Mostly though I’m just joyful that instead of missing her while away we’ll be sharing the experiences together and that is an essential way to live our lives.

Michelle Brier

Michelle Brier

While we might have halted at a lucky 7 in our group, we have built a few friendships through our strong connection to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Though Quinn and Autumn may top the canine lists of gifts from the wonderful organization,  our friendship with Michelle Brier is unrivaled. Her energy, enthusiasm, and creativity are welcome in all aspects of life, while her caring and giving nature help support a team. Her medical skills will be a tremendous asset for sure as will her subtle attention to the well-being of each individual along the way.

Through Michelle, Catherine “Cat” Orza joined us for what proved to be Quinn’s final hike and took the legendary photograph I’ll always treasure. It’s almost unfair that the youngest member of our team is renown for that photo instead of the hiking knowledge, fun-loving and easygoing kindness she also showcases. Yet another incredible athlete on our team, Cat’s also adding to the photographic prowess I decidedly lack.

Katherine "Kat" Orza

Catherine “Cat” Orza

Our final team member is a trainer at Guiding Eyes and that might be incredibly beneficial on many of our hikes where many dogs and most certainly my Dog Guides might be involved.  All the dogs are remaining home though and Maureen Mellett is  the least known to me of our group. She is a hiker with much familiarity working with the blind and some specifically for guiding. She was the first to positively respond to my request for those who would be willing to guide me on Kilimanjaro which speaks much about her approach. Ultimately though she’ll be some of they mystery we share as our experience goes forward. I know that she joins us with a very high recommendation from Michelle Brier and that’s enough to make our team a perfect 10!

Maureen Mellett

Maureen Mellett

While we all undoubtedly have our own reasons for undertaking the journey, we have a common purpose which unites us: we are all determined to do our utmost to ensure that all of us have every chance to reach the summit successfully. A common purpose will bring us together and undoubtedly a few challenges along the way may require we communicate and adjust approaches to best benefit the expedition. Overall though, we are all very committed to making the most of the experience. Every expectation is that the shared aspects of how each of us grows into the team and from the expedition will be part of our success. My hundreds of hikes have taught me to appreciate how much any individual can enrich the experience and how much the experience will bring any group together. While we will share our stories in words, images, and video, only we 10 will fully experience this expedition together and understand completely how it transforms all of us. I do wish I could have many others along with us but I’m reminded of William Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, and so in the same sentence I would not wish for one man more for we few, we precious few, are enough.


15 Aug 15

By Randy Pierce

Randy and team go through electric shocks in the Tough Mudder they did in March 2015.

Randy and team go through a series of electric shocks in the Tough Mudder they completed in March 2015.

Our adventures have often captured attention and earned us some remarkable media attention. They are, however, so very far from what we do and why we do it. Those adventures are entirely funded personally and we use the attention to hopefully draw focus to our real work. While this information and more is available for those who do explore our website, I wanted to highlight it for the readers of our blog and social media directly.

I once believed everything fun or important in my life was over. I thought I could not and would not have a life worth living. I made jokes and mostly treaded through waters of denial, frustration, and even anger. This is a far distance from the person I’ve become and I never want to forget the roots of those feelings when I first transitioned to blindness at the age of 22. What made the difference for me was the right people and the right perspective.

As I’ve since learned and often try to express, “Going blind is so much harder than being blind.” In fact, for any of us the first encounter with any challenge is so much more difficult than it is once we choose to plan a path for going forward. While there are countless friends and family in the fundamental part of my conversion, two organizations in particular deserve my appreciation and much of the efforts of 2020 Vision Quest. As such, we raise funds and proudly donate those funds to the NH Association for the Blind and, forever in honor of the Mighty Quinn, Guiding Eyes for the Blind. I hope through my efforts and the involvement of many to ensure the life changing services those organizations provide will always be available for the manyh who would benefit so greatly from those services. That’s the “why” behind the fundraising–and yet, still not our core mission.

Newmarket School 2013

Randy speaks at Newmarket School, 2013.

I have a goal to help every single person who might experience feelings similar to my own at that lowest time. I want to demonstrate by my actions and encourage through my words as well the notion of “choosing the right response to any adversity,” about believing in possibility and setting goals to continually strive to reach the peaks we all deserve. I especially wish to provide this opportunity and perspective to students of all ages and to enhance all of our communities by the building and sustaining of each individual into the teamwork which makes life and possibility more successful. I have been fortunate to earn and receive the support of so many people and organizations in a multitude of ways. Whether joining into the core team of volunteers for 2020 vision Quest, helping my own adventures, helping us connect to schools, businesses, and organizations to further our message, donating directly or by attending events like our Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction, there have been many transforming this message from an “I” into a “we.”

While it’s hard work and thousands of hours, it is also incredibly rewarding to observe the positive impact we have already had in our brief five years. There are times I’m tired from the adventures, the presentations, the organization and administration efforts and yet when I think of how high we still have yet to climb and what spectacular views await, I find it easy to reach out for this team to join together and continue our climb. I hope you’ll consider sharing this and joining the efforts in whatever way works for you.

(Coming next week: let’s talk about a smaller team as I introduce you to the Kilimanjaro Team heading to Africa on September 18!)


8 Aug 15

By Randy Pierce

Why would a blind man climb a mountain? Recent sharing of my plans to join a group of friends in climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro has caused some to raise that question once again. Several years ago I gave what I felt was a fairly powerful answer and I think now is a worthy time to share this once again. In addition to my perspectives of the time which remain true today, I simply believe there is so much benefit in being in the moment of experiences which are of value to you and doing your absolute utmost to find ways to fully appreciate every aspect of those many moments. It’s how I’ve lived much of my life and I still marvel at just how much reward I’ve received for taking this approach.


“A Sense of the Summit”

By Randy Pierce

Originally posted on July 23, 2010

“Randy, as a blind person, what exactly is the thrill you get from the hiking to the summit of a mountain?”

I understand the dubious nature of that question even when posed by my well-intentioned friends. It is difficult for most sighted folks to fully comprehend my world without sight. I certainly did not and could not grasp the thought when I had vision. In my imagination, my idea of being blind was neither worse nor better than it actually is, just inaccurate.

Randy and Quinn at a waterfallIt isn’t that my other senses are any better than before I went blind. It’s that I pay better attention to my other senses now. In doing so, I have learned a little more of the language of scent, sound, touch, and taste. The enhancement that this new ‘language’ brings to all my experiences is astounding. Vision can be splendid and awe-inspiring, especially when considering the scenic views of nature found in the White Mountains. Vision can also be a distraction, hiding away some other hidden sensory gem of an experience.

In a poem entitled Thanatopsis, William Cullen Bryant wrote, “To him who in the love of nature holds / Communion with her visible forms, she speaks / A various language” I’m still getting better at appreciating the ”various language” of nature, but try to imagine some of this with me. The babbling brook is easy to hear and visualize, as is the rushing roar of a waterfall. Those experiences are powerful, single-sense perceptions. Standing on a trail and pausing for a rest, you feel the wind caressing your skin as it cools the moisture on your brow. The air carries upon it the scent of pine and the sound of branches rustling in the same breeze – not just the sound of the wind moving one branch or one tree but an entire forest in a symphony of subtle sound. With practice, you can even tell much about the type of forest within which all of this exists. In appreciation, a deep breath pleases the palette with crisp and fresh air – rife with flavor lost to a mind distracted by the stimulus of sight. If that sounds incredible, it is. Each trip, I encounter a few more of these moments, and yet each mountain, each moment, is different and speaks to the “surround sense” world which I am privileged explore.

Many experiences confirm the reward that entices me to the trails. I gain vast and rich experience through the eyes of my fellow hikers and through our mutual accomplishments. I crave the accomplishment of the summit and the bonds of community. I desire the mental reflection atop a summit with nothing above me and the world sprawled below. But most of all, I yearn for the chance to learn the deep and rich language of synesthesia for all my senses, within a wilderness that has so very much to say – if only I can learn to listen with all of the senses still available to me. In the ascent, the descent, the summit, and all along the journey, it is this full sense of the world that is my reward. What a “various language” indeed!

See the original post here.


1 Aug 15

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Jose nearing the finish at their National marathon Championship victory in December 2014

Randy and Jose nearing the finish at their National marathon Championship victory in December 2014.

It’s so easy and fun to share success and celebration and so much more difficult to report on setbacks, failures and injury. Very often I can use determination, willpower, and perseverance to overcome many obstacles and achieve fantastic results. I think occasionally this creates an illusion for some that I do not get mired in frustration or failure at times. Right now I’m in the midst of one of those challenging times which has some ramifications I’m still exploring and trying to find ways to manage properly. I hope it may lend a beneficial perspective for people to get a look inside one of these difficult times for me.

Several weeks ago, I finished a run through Mine Falls which had gone poorly due to some type of stomach bug. As I recovered from that a few days later, I noticed my lower calf into the Achilles tendon was unusually tight. I worked at stretching it but it was fairly minor so I didn’t worry too much. A five-mile outside run with a friend had loosened it up nicely and alleviated my concerns. With Kilimanjaro looming, I broke in new hiking boots on a series of mountain climbs of ever-increasing duration and the tightness seemed manageable through those.

Yet, every faster run or hill-based run soon had the tightness returning and worsening. I have a fair bit of neuropathy in my legs which can mask pain, but soon it was clear to me that the Achilles was sensitive to the touch at an unacceptable level. It was relatively pain-free without my weight on it, but when would lean my knee over my feet with weight, that stretch would be very painful. Every morning I began to hobble a little more. When going down stairs, the back foot would really let me know it was unhappy. It was time for some professional medical explorations.

I halted all training, began a regimen of 4x’s-day ice and Achilles-specific massage while awaiting the appointments. Two weeks of rest with those treatments improved things notably but it hadn’t gone away.  The doctors initially suggested bilateral Achilles tendonitis and a specialist modified the diagnosis to bilateral Achilles tendinopathy. The physical therapy began that same day and continues for a bit of time still ahead.

The harder news is that this condition has an age component and I’m certainly getting older. Often this is not a curable situation as much as it is a managed care approach to minimize the impact. While it absolutely does not presently halt any of my athletic goals ahead, it does add a component of uncertainty.

Kilimanjaro remains absolutely certain at this point. It’s the California International Marathon and the USABA Championships which, while still likely, will require me to be very attentive to continually working with and adjusting a plan for managing the injury and easing into the right training for that injury. My original plan had August 3 as the start of my formal training, but I have not yet even been able to reach out to guides because of the uncertainty of how/when to begin training properly. I may still be a few weeks away from knowing more.

Friend and 2020 Vision Quest secretary John Swenson guides Randy through a water crossing on Mt Liberty.

Friend and 2020 Vision Quest secretary John Swenson guides Randy through a water crossing on Mt Liberty.

So, you may ask, how am I managing my approach?

Overall, I’m fine mentally and emotionally. There is certainly frustration, but I’ve already begun the shift of mentality to accepting my present condition and exploring every possible means to go forward successfully. Well, perhaps not every possible means, as while there are many marvelous home remedies folks might begin suggesting, I need to reasonably limit myself to a targeted plan that has earned my confidence. I’m on the path of that targeted plan right now and will continue to research and undertake with my full determination.

Does that mean I’m not still a little down when my foot hitting the floor each morning gives a little pain and tightness? Of course I feel that frustration, but now I’m as quick to reach for the leash and try the stretch techniques to help it improve and continue to heal. It’s the small steps forward with the long-term goal still in my vision but not overshadowing the need to attend to a lot of small details to manage the immediate challenge. After all, you don’t get to those glorious summits without learning how to manage all the twists and turns of the trail along the path, without learning to get up after each fall and without a little consideration for how to ensure we fall a little less along the way.


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