Archives - September, 2010

29 Sep 10

By Carrie McMillen

Randy & Carrie's 1st hike together on Mt. Welch 5/1/10

It’s been an incredible season with 2020.

I’ll be honest – I started out this summer with a lot of nerves. When there is a bunch of unknowns out there, one tends to make up scenarios in your head about what could happen (I think I’ve shared some of those qualms here before). Will we actually summit anything? Will we get stuck in the middle of nowhere and have to be evacuated? How do I keep Randy or Quinn from slipping on the mossy rocks? Do people think we’re insane?

Now, as we prep for Mt Pierce, I feel surprisingly calm. I think it’s because I’m confident in the people around us and in Quinn and Randy’s techniques. The amount of strength in Randy, Quinn, and in our entire team astounds me.

Having never hiked with Randy, Quinn, or the team before May of this year, I am amazed at the differences between then and now. My two favorite moments from this summer encapsulate my pride in that strength:
-The conversation at Lake of the Clouds where we decided it was too risky to descend Mt Washington – on that hike, I witnessed Randy admitting he couldn’t do something for the good of himself and for the good of the team. Also, the group became stronger by being smart and by honestly looking at our limitations.
-Attending to Randy’s two injuries just below Mt Field - the team reacted super quickly to a bit of gore and bruising and each person took a unique role to ensure we had a safe hike down. We learned urgency, safety, first aid skills, and teamwork here.

So this is what I come away with at the end of the season:

I am amazed at the strength and determination in our team, in the hikers, and the friends we have had along the way.

I’ve been fortunate enough to meet and hike with people who carry extra gear, who wait patiently around the next bend, who brainstorm solutions for the challenges we are facing. These are the kinds of people who put the mission before themselves – through patience and kindness. I can’t thank you all enough.
Yes, we have a few more mountains to climb! Mt Pierce should be a great celebration of our accomplishments and strengths from this summer and I am looking forward to welcoming some new hikers to our team this weekend. I’m sure we haven’t seen even a portion of the challenges on the other peaks that lie ahead - after Pierce, more await us next summer in terms of weather, potential injuries, and rocky trails.

Will these things worry me as they did this summer?
Yes…but thankfully, not quite nearly as much as before!


15 Sep 10

by Randy Pierce:
We accomplished Liberty on 9/11/2010 with an impact I will not likely forget. The impressive experience also included a shocking realization, to me, which is a part of this day’s discovery.

There was plenty of doubt about whether we could achieve Liberty’s summit in the time constraints we set and the physical constraints of my hiking. I am well aware that my personal drive should always be tempered with consideration for the toll upon my hiking team. This hike was important, and I wanted us to undertake it with as much proper preparation for success and open minds to the possibility of having set the bar too high.

We met at the trailhead for 5:45 AM and were hiking in the dark by 5:54 AM, though headlamps helped the team on this initial easy stretch. We made steady and impressive progress, which our Spot technology revealed to the growing number of folks who watch our hikes. Many remarked on the beauty of the trail and the surrounding forest, though I admit to being more focused on the drive due to time pressure I had placed on myself. Quinn was sharp and enthusiastic, and the only debate on the trail was when to switch Quinn’s to his boots – there is a tradeoff in that timing which is important to him and to us.

We hit Liberty Springs earlier than anticipated, which meant success seemed likely and ahead of schedule. During our half-hour lunch and rest at the spring, we considered delaying there longer so as not to be exposed too long on the summit. Deciding to take nothing for granted, we forged further over the most difficult section of our ascent. The summit is a rocky pyramid thrust upward above the forest, and it grants the most astounding views yet experienced on any of our hikes. The wonder of the Pemigewasset Wilderness to the east is overwhelming while the Lafayette range, notch, and cliffs of Cannon lend an otherworld quality to the peak. This would be enough for any day, but today there was so much more, as our American flag soon adorned the Liberty summit! A surprising number of hikers reached this peak, each with a slightly different reason, but all seemingly bonded in spirit with the meaning of this 9/11 memorial. An impromptu singing of our national anthem was moving, as were the cheers at each raising of the flag on the other 4000+ foot peaks. There were roughly 32 peaks visible from our perch and there was a swelling of unity and freedom, which I still feel stirring within me from those moments. I didn’t want the experience to end though we did have to start our difficult descent, knowing we still were likely to finish after dark.

Kyle and Randy celebrating on Liberty

It is amazing how different a trail can seem going down than up – particularly a trail with the many steps of Liberty. The time pressure was heavy upon me again, and I went back to the focus I’d chosen on the way up the peak. This was precisely the type of down in which the work Quinn and I do is most difficult. While our work can excel upwards through rough terrain, down is far more demanding on me and more worrisome for me. Quinn cannot lead me down large drops, but must simply show me the drop and let me step ahead on my own. It is slow, demanding, and as I realized more clearly, not the optimum solution. We were managing it, but more slowly and less ideally than I might have with the right human guide. Quinn represents liberty and freedom for me, as our teamwork feels so truly a part of me. Choosing another option always feels like I’m giving away more than I would get, but I could not deny that the best choice down the tough trail was not one with Quinn and me working as a team.

I chose to let Kyle guide me, my hand on his pack. We had the advantage of his height, towering over Quinn, to give me more information about the trail as we descened. We were quicker than anticipated and in some ways safer – though there was some communication development that affected this. My footing was a little extra challenge, but the result was a faster speed for the rough stretch, until we reached the portion where Quinn’s work would again be ideal. It was liberating to know I was choosing the best means for the benefit of the team, and not holding to the Quinn teamwork on principle. This takes nothing away from Quinn’s work, though he certainly worries about someone else guiding me. Like the time pressure impact I chose to accept in the ascent, clinging to our teamwork when it wasn’t ideal was a chain I had to release. We will be more efficient in the future for this learning, and our accomplishments the greater for it. The day was a tremendous success. We did finish after dark and very tired but having accomplished something very powerful. I will have a lot more liberty in many ways having been a part of the 9/11 Liberty summit of 2010.


10 Sep 10

Our author with his dad on Mt. Welch

by The Mighty Quinn

Everyone has his or her own methods and reasons to appreciate 9/11 – including this Mighty Guide Dog! I wasn’t even born when 9/11/2001 became known for the tragic events that motivated the Flags on the 48 project. However, I can tell you a little about what motivates me.

Sure my tug toy and tennis ball are high on the list of motivators, and I’ve never been known to turn down a little kibble or even a lot of kibble, but there is more to me than those simple notions. Yes, I’m rather fond of the big lug (Randy), and keeping him safe is a point of pride for me. Undeniably, I even love the adventure, which climbing Mt. Liberty represents, but like an infomercial – still there’s more!

Did you know one of the guide dogs from my school, Roselle, was on the 78th floor when a plane struck one of the towers? Did you know about the miraculous work he did in leading his handler to safety in the midst of that chaos and devastation? I encourage you to read their story here!

That example alone demonstrates the amazing work of a Guide. We are, however, more than simply about blindness. Have you considered that not only human rescuers gave their lives and efforts on that day, but many heroic and hard working canines did as well? We recently received a note from NH Search and Rescue talking about the dogs they use to help in their efforts here in New Hampshire, along the very terrain where I lead my ‘Dad.’ There’s even a national organization for dogs that help humans when facing disaster.

I know, I know. We have a goal to raise funds for 2020 Vision Quest, which enables us to reach out with our message, all to help causes in which we strongly believe. The fact is there are always many worthy causes and worthy needs. Dad says he wants people to be passionate about something important and to strive forward to positively promote that passion. For me, on the 9/11 hike, I will particularly remember Roselle and my many canine cousins working so hard to help a world that, at times, we cannot understand.


7 Sep 10

by Kyle Dancause

Our guest author, Kyle, kneels to the left of Quinn.

In writing this blog I have done exactly what I tell my students not to do – I started with the title. When I began thinking about a blog post for the Mt. Liberty hike, I became fixated on Patrick Henry’s famous line, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” What a perfectly fitting title for a blog post about hiking Mt. Liberty on September 11th.

As I procrastinated on writing this post and waited for a source of inspiration, I reassured myself that at least I had a great title. Then I realized that this ultimatum might send the wrong message. I don’t know that Quinn would be too happy with me if I’m running up and down the mountain yelling, “Give me Liberty or give me death.” Bad idea.

I did some more thinking and realized that I didn’t even really know anything about Patrick Henry or his speech. About all I remembered was that Henry’s speech convinced Virginia to join the Revolutionary cause. With still no idea what I wanted to say in this blog, I read Patrick Henry’s speech (1775) and found the inspiration I was looking for.

In the third paragraph of his speech, Henry says, “I have one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging the future but by the past.” If Patrick Henry had known Quinn, he may have added a second lamp. However, with Henry’s message in mind, I look to Saturday’s hike with an eye on the past.

Last May I was lucky enough to spend a week in the Pemigewasset Wilderness with Randy, Quinn, and a group of UNH backpackers as a part of Brent Bell’s Outdoor Education course. It is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life and certainly not one I can do justice to in a short post. On our Pemi hike, I learned a great deal about Randy, Quinn, and myself that gives me a deep sense of confidence and excitement approaching this weekend.

First, I know that Randy and Quinn have the physical ability to climb Mt. Liberty. I saw them struggle up Bondcliff, Mt. Bond, and South Twin Mountain – three four thousand footers. Randy was exhausted, perhaps as tired as I’ve ever seen someone standing on two feet, yet he made it. Quinn fought through some nasty chafing and a significant paw abrasion that when discovered at the Guyot shelter left me feeling an increasing sense of despair. “This was a bad idea. We’re in over our heads,” I remember telling others. As a self-proclaimed worrywart, I feared the worst – emergency evacuation. Then Quinn started working, taking the pain, and leading Randy through a two-mile, post-hole minefield that was the Twinway trail.

That gets me to my second point: Courage. I’m fascinated with the concept of courage – both extreme and every-day acts. Those who know me well know that I’m a positive person. My glass is half-full and I believe strongly in the infectious nature of optimism. For this reason, I’m drawn to courage, to people who don’t complain but instead put their head down, grit their teeth, and keep on going. On the second day of our Pemi hike, this was Randy. I distinctly remember passing Randy on the saddle between Bondcliff and Mt. Bond. It was probably around 7pm and though I had tunnel vision – we need water – I remember looking at Randy as I passed him. He was extremely fatigued. He was soaked in sweat and covered in dirt. His arms and hands were shaking. His eyes were looking for a million things at once. I remember being very worried, as scared as I’ve ever been on a mountain, but I also remember feeling an incredibly sense of inspiration. Randy had nothing left in the tank, but he kept on going. No complaining. No, “I can’t do this.” Perseverance. Courage. Mental toughness. As we approach Mt. Liberty, I take comfort in these qualities.

Third, I have confidence in our team’s ability to do the right thing. Though I realize that ultimately I will have to call the shots, I know that Randy and the team will have my back even if it’s not what they want to do. On the third night of our Pemi hike in May, I led a serious discussion about our options moving forward. We had gotten to Galehead Hut sometime after 8pm and a 13 hour day of hiking featuring a rugged 3 ½ hour .8 mile from South Twin to the hut. After back-to-back hiking days of 14 and 13 hours, I didn’t think it was a good idea to continue our original route. I suggested that Randy, Quinn, and others take a down day at the hut and that finishing the loop as planned didn’t seem reasonable. Using Quinn’s paw and Randy’s exhaustion as a scapegoat, we voted for a down day and an altered route out of the Pemi. Though Randy may have had a bruised ego and more likely just downright felt really bad about impacting the group experience, he let us make that decision. It wasn’t the most popular decision but it was the right decision. Looking ahead to Mt. Liberty, if we aren’t sitting on the summit flying our flag at 1:30pm, I’m ready to make a decision and confident that it will be the right one.

I’m excited to once again hike with Randy, Quinn, and T.J, and looking forward to meeting and getting to know the rest of our team. We have a long, challenging day hike ahead of us, but I am eager to begin. I’m confident that we will be sitting atop Mt. Liberty next Saturday, but I’ll be ok if we can’t get there this time.

Finally, I dedicate my participation in this hike to the members of my family actively serving in the armed forces. Todd, Billy, Johnny, Tyler – Thank you. I’ll be thinking about you.


3 Sep 10

by Randy Pierce

Filming atop Mt. Washington

Folks have given our video teaser some quality praise that is well earned by Team 2020 and Shoot the Moon Studios. The teaser is a marvelous look at the reasons why we are doing this project, including that particularly challenging hike up Mount Washington. However, I have been asked a few times lately, “Why a video, Randy?”

Video captures the attention, at least of sighted people, more powerfully than other mediums. Our project is attempting a full spectrum of outreach, because we believe we have a worthy message that is deserving of as many robust mediums as possible. When I give presentations to schools, community groups, and even the corporations, I want to captivate their attention and show them the magnitude of the experiences and achievements that we’ve accomplished. This video will help lend focus to my words of teamwork, goal setting, problem solving, and the two key points of believing in possibility as well as achieving through adversity. In the broader internet world, I hope our teaser piece entices people to want to see more of our story. This video answers questions and demonstrates points more powerfully than the written word. It also has more opportunity to spread virally than other mediums, and with our social media/new media push, we really hope to reach an ever-growing number of people.

This project, after all, isn’t just about climbing mountains – it has a couple of goals. In this first video, we showcase the hiking portion of the project. Ultimately, we are trying, as most charities do, to raise money for the two organizations that were fundamental in helping me transition to total blindness. Equally important is the awareness and inspiration we can bring to people. So, whether you’re are managing blindness personally or managing it in your social circle, whether you are a hiker or someone needing a little boost in your life, we believe we can provide some form of inspiration, and we hope you’ll join us on our journey.

I’ve said many times that I do not hold a monopoly on challenge, and I find it somewhat pretentious to suggest that I am an inspiration. I am proud of what we are doing, amazed and humbled by the work of Quinn and the 2020 Vision Quest team. I do think the awareness I developed in approaching adversity is valuable to share with others. When I think of how close I was to accepting any notion of things I could not accomplish, in contrast with my present confident belief and demonstration that we can all accomplish the things we work towards; I know I want to ensure that our message is available to as many people as possible.

All of our staff is donating their time and effort towards this project, and searching for ways to broaden our community. We hope to share our message and excite a community to help us share our project with others. I am also optimistic that we might become a significant financial boost for NHAB and Guiding Eyes. I truly worry for anyone going blind who might not have the fundamental services that have made an essential difference in my world. We are 2020 Vision Quest and by the year 2020, it is anticipated that there will be 32 million visually impaired people in the United States! Those numbers concern me greatly, so I’m doing my best to inspire others and to proactively aid people forced to walk blind steps behind me.

When the owner of Shoot the Moon Studios, Katherine Alix-Gaudreau, explained to me how much of her time and skills she could devote to bringing this powerful video to our community, it was an easy decision. There’s a lot more story to tell, and with a little help from some sponsors, we will be able to share more videos of our journey with everyone.

I hope you will all help us share the video, the website, and most importantly our message!


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