Archives - August, 2011



29 Aug 11

By Randy Pierce

My first personal exposure to Alzheimer’s was as devastatingly moving as I could imagine. As someone with deterioration of my own brain, I envisioned the potency with which this terrible disorder can erase the entirety of a life full of memories, emotions, and experiences. Not so long ago I had the opportunity to hear Liz Longley perform live and gift us with a song which very well captured the emotional surge I feel regarding Alzheimer’s. She calls the song “Unraveling” and it’s a tragically perfect description for the experience. If you are prepared for the emotions, I encourage you to listen:

“Unraveling” by Liz Longley

Very recently, a close friend’s mother died after a long spiral through the unraveling. Her memory walked backwards through her life, dropping her most cherished people and events year by year. She lost birthdays, holidays, children, a husband, and even the ability to make or acknowledge a simple smile. My heart goes out to the people afflicted by this disease and the many loved ones overwhelmed by the results. How can you reasonably share coping perspectives with those who are so immersed in the pain and grief? To me, the answer to healing is time and personal reflections for each to manage in their own way. I believe that the gift of time and experience we share with each person is the treasure to which we should hold in times of loss. Small solace, I know, for those who lose the memories of those very things, and all the worse during the moments when they realize how much they are losing or have lost. That is all the more reason for the rest of us to cherish and hold the remembrance of the experiences with those and for those who have them unravel.

My heart is indeed heavy as I write this. I hope only to honor and support those who choose strength and courage as they confront the awful realities of Alzheimer’s. I wish the healing of time for them, to allow the positive reflections of time with their loved one to influence their memories and lives far more than the tragedy of pain, grief, and loss. The marvel of individual strength in our personal lives is potent and inspiring, though sometimes overshadowed by the sadness of grief which may seem at times to be the more grand stage. Our best strength of support comes from our closest community, as well as our most well-earned admiration and support for the heroic deeds we experience most closely. I hope to never know this pain any closer, and yet if it should come to pass, I hope fervently for the strength, love, and support that is stronger than the challenge.

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22 Aug 11

The actual quote is, “It would be humiliating to lose to a blind guy!” and it comes from a commercial for the series Expedition Impossible which features an adventure competition that includes a totally blind man, Erik Weihenmayer. I’ve heard an assortment of reactions to this advertisement, including some very offended friends who perceive it as belittling. The truth is that it doesn’t resonate discord within me personally for a couple of reasons.

Firstly, the challenge of blindness is not insignificant and for many tasks the benefit of sight would be a significant advantage. Sure, there’s a humorous counterpoint in the idea of attempting tasks in the darkest of night to even out the playing field, but the reality is that many tasks are more challenging without sight. A second point is taking into account the humor with which many (myself included) “view” blindness and its impact upon our lives. Despite spending frustratingly long moments searching for something I’ve dropped right in front of me, I’ve often teased sighted friends in their similarly frustrating searches with a “What are you, blind?” or “Want to borrow Quinn?” Making light of things is not an uncommon response to dealing with challenge, and when done in the right environs, the respect is understood.

When a comment is intended to be insulting or to underestimate the keen awareness of ability which is so much at the core of my beliefs, I feel a little remorse for the (pardon the expression) short-sightedness of the opinion. The reality is that the ability to excel can come from a variety of factors, and whether or not someone’s age, gender, challenge or any other aspect not necessarily related to the task is used as a judgment for their potential success, the performance may be quite surprising. Of the thirteen teams starting on the Expedition Impossible, five remain, and sure enough one of them has Erik: team No Limits. Absolutely he has had help and support from his team, the intended essence of the competition. However, Erik has already managed some incredible achievements on his own and likely changed the perspective many people have on blindness and its limitations on one’s abilities.

Ultimately, the quote and the commercial are controversial, which often promotes ratings. In my opinion, the statement is inaccurate: there is no humiliation in losing to a blind person or to anyone. Humiliation more likely comes from giving much less of your effort than you have the capacity to give. It comes perhaps from making a statement which is intended as demeaning and is based in ignorance or lack of consideration. Whatever the basis for the quote, humor or earnest, the show has provided for many a small glimpse at just how capable one particularly talented blind man proves himself on a regular basis.

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21 Aug 11

By Randy Pierce

“Why do you hike?” is one of the most common questions asked of many hikers. The answers are as diverse as the people being asked and even more powerfully they are as changing as the seasons in new England.

I began hiking in part for the simple appreciation of the ability to walk again. I knew from my past the serenity of reflection I often found on the mountain trails. I recalled the wonder of visual splendor from my days with sight and was eager to understand the full spectrum of senses which could be touched as a blind hiker. I was also eager for the sense of accomplishment each summit might bring to my spirit.

In preparing for our day hike of Wildcat and Wildcat D, I had an interesting conversation with Bob and Geri Hayes. As avid hikers, their own motivations and inspirations have changed over time and we all noted not only the diversity of reasons for hiking but the development of those approaches. I believe it was Bob who coined the phrase “Hiking Evolution.”

The abundance of summer wildflowers along the trails on the Wildcats. Photo taken by Robert Hayes.

This is an older concept than Darwin, of course. The ancient Greek philosopher, Heraclitus, gave us: “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man.” I know the simple changes in my own hiking ability; this day hike would once have been an overnight for certain but as my work with Quinn and the trails has developed my understanding and abilities, this will be shorter than several of our previous day hikes. The mountains themselves have changes in them by the seasons, as well as more immediate variances from subtle daily alterations. I remember how small and shrouded the world becomes on a night hike in winter where the limit of sight and sound brings detail to the closest things. I recall hikes through autumn splendor of colorful majesty surrounding the world. A cloud-encased summit creates an otherworldly quality that makes the landscape quite surreal. The wind may bring different feelings and scents even along the same well-traveled trails. All of these and more combine to influence change within ourselves and our perspective on these trails.

A beautiful vista from the Wildcat Ridge Trail. Photo taken by Robert Hayes.

Hike with an ornithologist and the splendor of bird song is more vibrantly obvious. Hike with those who work the trails and a new appreciation for the subtle care taken to preserve these paths is astounding. Learn the geology which created the various terrains or the adaptations of the trees through the alpine zones. As we learn and change, the opportunity to cultivate a wonder of varying appreciations can develop. Most powerfully for me is the element of community on a hike as I endeavor to take a bit of each person’s motivations and experience along with me to the next hike. My own evolution in this way reminds me of a Jimmy Buffett lyric: “Frankenstein, has nothing on this body of mine.” So where I will be when the Wildcats hike begins is likely different than where I’ll be at the end and just maybe in my passing by I’ll influence the evolution of these trails as well — actual and metaphorical.

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20 Aug 11

By Randy Pierce

We met just beyond the infamous hairpin turn of the Kancamagus Highway in the Hancock parking area. For many 6:45 a.m. cannot constitute an idyllic Saturday morning, but the weather was perfect, the view spectacular, and our team of seven was ready for a long trek. While most people do a single-day hike of the Hancock duo, the AMC guidebook suggests it as an overnight, so our early start was to ensure time for the long hike to be successful even if we were slower than the ten hours anticipated.

We hike through the stream, Quinn waiting his turn.

A classic “lollipop’” hike had us speeding along some relatively easy terrain as shown on the spot adventure. The primary challenge on this easy terrain were the roughly seven stream crossings, all of which could be hiked with just careful steps atop the rocky offerings. Despite the jests of whether Randy or Jennifer might perform the human Bounty Absorption test first, all remained dry. Well, all save for the Mighty Quinn, who always traverses the water directly.

Averaging close to two miles per hour along the “stem” of the lollipop soon had us diverging on the loop that would take us over the two peaks and back to the stem for our hike out. We opted to hike up North Hancock first because it had more of a step terrain, harder on the descent, and ensured we achieved most of our elevation gain earlier in the day. Quinn did all the work guiding to the summit and did so while carrying a tribute photograph on his harness: this hike would honor a lovely young woman who would have been celebrating her birthday had she not lost a tragic battle to a terrible disorder. She loved animals very much and her aunt wanted Quinn to celebrate her life by making her a part of this climb. Quinn was all too glad to oblige.

Quinn carries a tribute to honor the memory of a friend.

A side-trail adjacent to the summit allowed us to rest from the hard climb while sharing lunch and a spectacular view to the east and south. By this point we had already bonded well as a team and felt confident in our chances for a very successful adventure.

As we resumed the hike, Jay guided me in part to handle the descent through the saddle towards South Hancock and in part to practice for the steep down that would come after the next summit. Jay had experience guiding another blind hiker and this showed quickly as we made great time through the saddle with only one exceptionally muddy region for challenge. At the next summit, we packed off for more food and to celebrate our second summit. Quinn received his tug-of-war reward and soon we started down the steep section satisfied by how well things were proceeding. Jay’s work was harder guiding me here but the real concern was the realization that Quinn’s leash had been inadvertently left at the summit sign. We realized this too late to justify returning up the mountain for it. This meant it would be difficult to work with Quinn even after the worst of the downhill had been traversed. We did share a card and the story with a hiker heading up and ultimately Ryan would be a hero of the day as he not only retrieved the leash but finished the loop and caught us before we had reached the trail-head!

With Quinn unleashed, Jay’s ability to endurance lead was tested. While Tracy, John, and Erik had all led me across streams and would have guided again if necessary, Jay had strong focus and deftly managed the entire second half of the hike. Even once Ryan’s heroism had returned Quinn ability to lead, Jay and I both wanted to finish the task together and have the pride of our own work together complete. Still the greater accomplishment was not the two peaks, the 1/3 mark for the 48, but the shared experiences of the entire group who finished our longest single day hike to date weary but accomplished!

Group shot, looking triumphant.

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15 Aug 11

Randy and Tracy after the Waumbek hike

In planning our August 13 hike of the Hancocks, we intended to undertake a considerable distance in a single day, and it seemed likely that a human guide on the steeper ascent and descent would be beneficial. Since we had a vastly new group of hikers joining us and nobody on this hike has ever guided me on a trail, there was reason for some concern. There’s a quote I relish: “We do not plan to fail–we fail to plan.” So with this in mind, and having several years of experience with my wife Tracy, I asked her if she thought she might be ready to try her skills at guiding me on this trip if necessary. The steep trail up North Hancock has stairs, and her shorter height would actually help me work with her if we find the terrain overly slows Quinn’s and my progress together. Shorter guides on the way down are more challenging, though; on South Hancock the trail has fewer steps, which exacerbates the height challenge, but at the same time also has more of a scrambly jumble of slope which mitigates the height differential.

It was a challenging request for Tracy but the terrain and timing were right for both of us to reach beyond our conventional comforts and make this attempt. After a short discussion and more consideration, we both agreed this is an excellent part of the challenge and growth we both make a regular part of our lives. We will both reach a little deeper into trust and perhaps create some strong foundations for our future hikes together. The notion alone has already increased the foundation of our relationship in taking our trust to new heights!

Check back here for updates on how the hike went.

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8 Aug 11

Joe & Teresa enjoying last year's Peak Potential

Pets Choice is the store we trust for all of Quinn’s needs. Whether it’s their dedication to provide the healthiest food choices in a complex market, or simply a little extra-attentive searching for his favorite toy, our choice was obvious after just one visit to Joe’s and Teresa’s store. We initially went there because they are strong supporters of the Guiding Eyes for the Blind Puppy Raisers, but we remained for a much better reason: each pet is as much the customer and client as we humans are. The store owners’ attentive care for the needs of each individual pet ensures they are trying to provide the best for that animal. I know that when I share a concern for any aspect of Quinn’s needs, they will offer not only their obvious expertise in advising me but also a love and care for Quinn which rivals my own. They bring not only the broad supplies of their own store, but a willingness to search well beyond that to find the right solution for every need.

Yes, they attended our First Peak Potential Charity Dinner and yes, they made an incredibly fantastic pet gift basket as a donation for our auction, but they did not ask for this article. I just hope that wherever anyone searches for the right pet companion for them or what supplies are best for their beloved pet, they seek out the kind of individualized attention and dedication that can be found from such caring pet people as Joe and Teresa. If you live anywhere near Merrimack, NH, I absolutely suggest you give Pets Choice a call, email, or visit. If you are really fortunate, you may even be at their store when Quinn visits and is told he’s “Off Duty” so that his surge of tail-wagging enthusiasm makes it clear how much he loves them and their store!

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1 Aug 11

by Randy Pierce

When I first thought to undertake the “48” back in 2010, it was intended as a leisurely ten-year goal. This was, in part, where the name 2020 Vision Quest came from. Since then, my desire to accomplish this goal with the incredible work of Quinn has encouraged me to set a more rapid pace to keep with his healthy working career time.

South Hancock in the second range on the left, North Hancock far right along the ridge -- Photo courtesy of Chris Garby

Our next hike, the Hancocks, includes two summits, which would bring our total accomplishment number, since the founding of the charity, to 16. This is exactly 1/3 of the way to our goal in the hiking portion of our quest. Last year, our official start began later, and we managed only five summits. This year, we have already achieved 9 of the tall peaks. Unquestionably, we have continued to learn a tremendous amount and have improved our skills in the process. As a result, this is the first hike in which the original plan called for an overnight, but we intend to attempt it as a day hike. It is a reasonably long hike, but we believe we have become efficient enough to undertake it in a single day. There are many factors that have improved our progress, and as our story unfolds, those lessons are being shared steadily.

Finding leadership for this higher paced schedule is definitely more challenging. This is part of the reason we can benefit tremendously from having the skill to undertake longer day hikes. Overnights add a host of additional factors, including fewer folk willing to act as a Hike Leader for a 2020 hike. We could definitely benefit from a few more leaders reaching out to us, and we are doing our part to make that more manageable.

Yet as I prepare for the North and South Hancock hike, I feel a swell of both hope and pride. Much as John Hancock put his memorable mark upon the Declaration of Independence, success on these two mountains feels like a transition point to me. I feel like we are putting our own stamp upon our ability to succeed on this project. I know there are many more challenges ahead and the potential for significant setback as well. Even these two peaks, with particularly steep scrambles up and down along the loop trail, provide the potential to block our progress. Still, I feel the confidence to believe in the possibility of a lofty mountain goal.

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