by Randy Pierce
We set out early the next morning, though not too early as to over-push it. The trail atop the ridge was beautiful and we made excellent time. All seemed ideal, even on my sore knee – that is, until a second mishap occurred.
We were walking on the edge of a washout section of the trail. The three-foot-deep washout was boulder-strewn and hard to navigate. Quinn took the flat high ground to the left, because I walk better on flat ground. As I stepped down with my left foot, the dirt and roots of the washout collapsed and dropped me into the wash. I released the harness and leash from my left hand, so as not to trap Quinn while I tried to catch myself, but sadly I sliced my left palm on a spiky stump fragment – just as my injured left knee took yet another hit.
The team, having practiced the day before, was amazing. I am exceedingly grateful for the efficiency with which they got pressure on my two bleeding points, then got my knee elevated and iced. Rest, Ice, Compress, and Elevate is the order, R.I.C.E. for those wanting the mnemonic. All was accomplished in moments, and though I was sore and concerned, I was in good spirits. During my twenty minutes of ‘ice’, my hand wound was cleared of debris and tended by the amazing crew. Everyone was excellent, and I’m grateful. My spirits took a small hit here for obvious reasons, but the team support was solid – and it was at this point that we observed a little mountain magic, which may have made the difference for me.
We had been told that atop Mt. Field, one could hold out a hand with dried fruit and the Gray Jays would perch on your fingers and eat the fruit. At this very stop, the Jays revealed themselves, and we tested the rumor with an awe-inspiring delight. When ready, I stood and partook of the process, marveling at communing with these birds. I felt a bit as if I was in a Fairy Tale, and my knee and hand hurt a lot less for it.
We continued on, a bit slower, to the summit of Mt. Tom, where we were again treated to better views than anticipated. We called in more of the Jays and even had them perch upon my pack, which of course had the names of our $100 donors (thanks!). One of those names, by the way, is a Guiding Eyes for the Blind puppy that is being raised to do the same job as Quinn!
We eventually began our descent, knowing this would definitely test my knee. I don’t think I can praise enough the work of Quinn or Tracy’s efforts ahead of me in trail blazing and sharing just enough information to keep us focused and safe. It was tough terrain, but we made good time – and my comfort and confidence in the progress Quinn and I have made was clear. We are a strong hiking team. He knew my injury and he helped me much, occasionally getting me to shift feet for a tricky point, and occasionally giving me stability on a rough area. He knows how to show me when we can do something readily and conversely, he knows how to alert me when I must step or sit down for a significant drop. We did the trip well, arriving at the end of the first rough stretch in time for Carrie to decide that she and Dave would go ahead for water refills while the rest of us could attempt the Avalon spur. Carrie and Dave had done the spur previously, and the team had used a lot of water to flush my injuries – so were lower on water than ideal.
The summit of Mt. Avalon is a very short spur off the trail, and we again did this without our packs…well most of us. Kara kept her pack on, for first aid and other vital needs. The craggy point had some unusual terrain and made for a great climb. Some of the spur trail required a 4-limb scramble, so Quinn could not lead me, but he came along and was excited for the challenges. We loved the view but rested only for a moment, as we had much work ahead in our final steep descent.
The next phase of the Avalon Trail is very steep and challenging – even for the fully sighted. It quickly earned my respect. It was not my most challenging down section, but very close – and Quinn was tireless in keeping me safe and oriented. Kara led us for much of this stretch, giving Tracy a well-deserved break. We made great time given the challenge, and we accomplished faster than Carrie expected. When we rejoined with her and Dave, there was a jubilant sharing of restocked water and much celebration. We knew this hike would be a success, despite the injuries. The team had come together marvelously and we had bagged a trio of peaks, two of which were part of the 48 on our list.
There are so many memories of the experiences on those mountains. The lingering bruises certainly have me reflecting on them, but the most powerful memories are of the teamwork and friendship built in sharing the marvels of the White Mountains. Seriously, how many people can stand atop the highest peak in a glorious range and have wild birds landing in their palm? How many people can know the value of friendship and fun so deeply at the core of that peaceful sanctuary? I’m certainly a happier person for it. Thank you to all those who hike with me and to all those inspiring me along the way!