Archives - March, 2012

26 Mar 12

By Randy Pierce

Spring has brought us some fantastic weather here in New England and it also ushers in a return to our school presentations. Most recently, Quinn and I did a presentation in Ashland, NH which inspired a lively round of questions. One question was so important to the student that he convinced a teacher to seek me out afterwards to obtain the answer: “What does Randy see?”

While I am totally blind and have absolutely no light sensitivity at all, this doesn’t mean as some might assume that everything is black or dark. In fact, because I remember my time with full vision and the time where I was transitioning to total blindness, I have developed a way to describe and demonstrate the actual sight within my mind.

Keep your focus forward and hold a finger uplifted in front of you. Keeping those eyes looking straight ahead, slowly move your arm and finger steadily towards the side until it reaches the very edge of your side (i.e. peripheral) sight. Hold it there–what do you “see” when you look just a little further back than the edge of that sight? I call it a sort of “gray nothing.” It isn’t necessarily dark or bright and is probably a bit more of the nothing than the gray, but that is what I “see” unless deliberately trying to imagine an image.

A important (and flattering) question came from a teacher after our talk: “Why do you charge nothing for this fantastic presentation?” The answer is that our 2020 Vision Quest mission supports and believes in the educational and inspirational aspects of this project. We require absolutely no donations to 2020 Vision Quest from schools and non-profit presentations, though we do, of course, welcome them. For our corporate and other presentations, we do request a donation to the charity, as this helps encourage and support our efforts and alleviate some of our time spent fundraising for the two charities, NHAB and Guiding Eyes, to whom we send our full fiscal support.

Ultimately though, the answer is very simple: we hope to reach many more people than peaks through our outreach efforts.

If you want to host us for a presentation please send us an email at or visit our For Educators website! We are always eager for the opportunity to spread the word for our cause.


19 Mar 12

By Randy Pierce

“You made it seem easy!” I heard this sentiment from a few folks in celebration of our accomplishment of climbing the NH 48 this winter. Not so fast with that notion–looks definitely can be deceiving.

I consider setting a goal like this as “Positive Adversity.” I have challenged myself with a task which I must then problem-solve and persevere to achieve. The more worthwhile a challenge, the more it is going to seem like it has a few brick walls. Randy Pausch, author of “The Last Lecture” said it rather well:

“The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough.”

This is why I think the idea of “positive adversity” is so important–because the goal has to be sufficiently rewarding to justify the effort and potential pain involved in the process of achieving it.

While I didn’t choose to become blind, I no longer look at the blindness as my adversity. The goals I set for myself become my adversity, and my lack of sight is one of the potential challenges connected to the process of achievement.

This winter, my goal was to summit all 48 of the New Hampshire 4,000-ft mountains in the limited time of a single winter. This required considerably improving my conditioning, which meant regular training. I heard “no pain, no gain” many times as I pushed the borders of feeling tired and exhausted to ensure I would be ready for some of the physical challenges that awaited on the frozen mountains. Speed and the ability to be steady would be essential in the cold mountain trails and both of those were new challenges for me.

While I walk, my feet become my eyes in many ways. With each step on the trail, in an instant I have to discern as much information as possible as the next step is already on the way. The fact that I broke multiple sets of micro spikes and wore out a pair of boots over the winter is a solid testament to the stress that my feet, ankles, and knees endure upon the trails.

I rarely find that perfect step–I most often settle quickly on “good enough” and endure the resulting impact on body and gear. I’m fortunate that my ankles have some natural flexibility and strength, though it was a rare day that I didn’t have a little swelling and discomfort. The lower snow this winter meant many lower elevation trails were harder for me–the snow didn’t fill in the holes, gaps, twists and rocks which can snag the blind stepping foot. In fact, ice or slippery low snow were added to the mix and at times made my choice of winter goal seem questionable! Fortunately, higher elevations gave me a break and eased much of that particular challenge.

My hands are my eyes in managing equipment, food, water and of course Quinn. In the frigid air up on the mountains, I had to be as good as possible with gloves and/or mittens to limit the time of complete hand exposure. This required constant learning and improvement of processes and dexterity.

Unfortunately for me, my hands are always out on harness and hiking pole, which starts me out at a disadvantage. Worse still, I’m not apparently genetically gifted with high cold tolerance in my hands. On many hikes, a few simple seconds with gloves off left my hands without feeling and unable to work the key gear I needed. Even the simple manipulation of a zipper becomes impressively challenging when you can’t see to align it and your hands have gone numb.

In these difficult moments, my greatest fortune was the eager help of so many hiking partners. Justin, Dina, and Bob each risked their own exposure time often to help me deal with these challenges as we steadily became better at organization.

Early in the season, I slipped on my driveway at home and dislocated my left thumb–hard to believe that falling injury came at home on flat ground. But luckily it was my left hand, which meant I could continue. My left hand is the one I hold Quinn’s harness with, and it didn’t require extensive strain on my thumb. Had it been my right hand, the quest would likely have ended in early January.

My long legs are a tremendous benefit to me as I stride up or down particularly steep terrain. However, along with that benefit comes the fact I was the tallest person on each of my hikes, which becomes a liability when ground snow lifts you higher on the trail and branch snow presses the branches lower.

A common winter challenge is knowing when and how to duck beneath these snow-laden branches. While Quinn can show me these and did when requested, finding what he’s warning about (footing, side obstacles, or head obstacles) can greatly slow down the key need for speed on these hikes.

We developed a system of others telling me key duck points while for the non-critical points I frequently “grazed” the branches and dealt with the snowfall onto my head and back. This often made me colder and certainly led to some interesting “snow face” moments. It also meant all of my gear tended to get more drenched than the typical hiker, which adds both weight and drying time. The number of mild scratches and bumps was also probably a bit above average, but I accepted this as just part of the choice I was making in this goal.

Overall, we were tremendously fortunate in many ways throughout the process. I fell a bit more than most but kept vastly free of injuries of consequence. Not until our final week did I receive the first significant health challenge on a hike.

As our winter window started to narrow, our Presidential Traverse kept us waiting for nearly two weeks before giving even potentially acceptable weather. When we finally did get on the hike, we did it in frostbite-warning cold. I had to do it with new boots, which caused blisters on the heels we couldn’t treat in the moment with moleskin because of the danger of exposure. We decided to push through due to the time pressure.

Before long, bloody and deep wounds became part of the challenge. In adjusting the foot repeatedly to avoid rubbing them, I inadvertently drove the nail on my big toe back into the foot seriously enough to require the nail to be removed and the area patched up by a specialist.

But that minor surgery couldn’t take place until after the next day’s hike of the Wildcats, and our final hike on Cannon three days later. Our Wildcat hike was the most physically challenging of all as a result. Part of pushing through the challenge was knowing the reward of success was close and with it would come plenty of opportunity to rest.

I share all of these challenges not as part of a pity party. Far from it. The experience full of incredible moments and rewarding experiences that I will recall for a lifetime. My intent in the sharing is to make clear that much is required in to achieve a great reward. The higher the cost, the sweeter the reward may often become.

Our immediate team is absolutely jubilant from the experience and the achievement. Support and congratulations have steadily poured in from many fantastic people. All of these quickly help diminish the costs which were part of the process.

In the full reflection of this winter, I wanted to be sure not to forget the price paid by many along the way for this achievement. For me, the monumental nature of the accomplishment far outshines the investment. I hope that as many pursue goals, they find motivation through the challenge in the reward awaiting those who can persevere.

Lack of adversity isn’t the goal. In fact, that is closer to stagnation than I would wish for anyone. The goal is an adversity we craft to be worth its weight in reward. Obstacles are opportunity–that’s my vision of this winter and the entire world!


12 Mar 12

By Randy Pierce

There are so many misconceptions about interacting with a service animal that I thought this week we might discuss the best practice guidelines and rules. Quinn is certainly charming, and I know my rather biased view of his magnificence would make it hard for me to resist. In fact, I frequently give him verbal praise, a rewarding pat on the shoulder, and the occasional Charlee Bear treat for his great work. I find others undertaking many other approaches and part of our educational outreach is to cover the correct things to do.

The basic rule is this: you should never interact with any dog without the express permission of the handler, which is usually signified by the person on the other end of the leash. This is true for absolutely all dogs and particularly true for service dogs. “Interact,” as I tell many students, means call, touch, or offer a slice of pizza! You might think that would be obvious, but it’s a rare week that one of those does not occur. While Quinn is trained to ignore these distractions, they are similar to grabbing the steering wheel of a car in motion.

Each service dog and handler have different levels of ability and comfort with distractions. Many choose to eliminate all forms of interaction with their guide. As always, different people take different approaches to education and communication, making it challenging to know what is the right approach for any individual. The rule of thumb is to always ask the handler to learn preferences or needs.

In the case of Quinn, I know how much he enjoys receiving the command from me that he is off duty and free to say hello to a person who wants to interact. There are in fact many times where a person assumes they can’t request this, and I can tell by their interactions that they want to ask but don’t know if it’s appropriate. I’ll usually encourage them to ask because I love to reward Quinn with just such a treat when it’s appropriate. Again, asking the handler is the key–not every dog, handler, or situation will prefer this.

To that point, I only request that folks consider a bit of judgment before asking. In the middle of a task such as crossing a street or navigating a narrow and steep mountain trail, it might not be the best time. Just as with initiating conversation with people in passing, there are times when we might be moving along at a good clip with a time schedule to keep and there is not really the time or opportunity to stop for petting.

I know Quinn is amazing, perhaps more than anyone else could fully realize. Still, if every time you travelled a block in your car, someone jumped out to pronounce what a swell car it is and ask to look under the hood, life could become a mite challenging!

Fortunately, it’s quite often where a leisurely stroll or a pause in travel presents the perfect opportunity for me to talk about one of my favorite topics, the Mighty Quinn. Please know how much I’ll enjoy letting him get a well deserved greeting if you don’t mind asking and waiting for me to let him know he’s off duty!


If you’re looking for stories about our hike up Mt. Cannon, the final hike up the NH 48 in the wintertime, stay tuned! They are coming soon.


4 Mar 12

By Randy Pierce

Just as many thought we were flying to the finish, our winter quest seemed stalled at 41 of 48 peaks. Wind and weather held us at our homes. The winds boosted to a steady 75 mph and higher on the lofty summits of those daunting Northern Presidential peaks. We hoped and watched for favorable forecasts, but they continually evaded us.

Finally, we now have the minimally acceptable forecast we require to make our next attempt. We’ve set the plan and goal. You can find it on our home page. If successful, we will have our 48th and final summit on Saturday, March 10, 2012.

Success in climbing all 48 peaks is a very worthwhile accomplishment. Accomplishing the 48 in winter is even moreso. The very few who have accomplished this in a single winter season demonstrate dedication, ability and perseverance with this epic accomplishment.

As I near the chance to join this elite group with Quinn, I realize the full significance may take a bit of time to fully settle over me. I certainly didn’t believe in this possibility when I first began to work with Quinn in the mountains. I had reasonable doubts when it was first proposed to me and at various times throughout the early hikes. I felt pretty confident when we narrowed it down to just three good hikes remaining, though the lack of cooperation from the weather certainly gave rise to a little concern.

As I write this, the confidence and finality feels within my reach. I know full well how many people were involved in making this possible. I’m both humbled and proud for the results already and I’m most hopeful that the full message of this accomplishment will be shared far and wide.

The message is far more than the personal sacrifices of people on this seemingly historic accomplishment. Yes, the accomplishment involves the incredible work of Quinn guiding me. It involves many human friends like Bob and Justin guiding me as well and working me around sometimes fairly complicated or even a bit dangerous sections of the trails. It involved my hands numbing to the point I couldn’t put on a glove on my own. It involved three pairs of microspikes falling to the forces on my feet. It cost me one pair of winter boots and gave me some fairly sore and tired nights as well.

What the message of this quest really involves is bigger than that: if there’s something in this world which is important enough to you, it’s likely that you can find a process to help you achieve it. Finding a goal that matters enough to be worth the sacrifices is the important part. Learning to problem-solve through the real challenges is essential and will lead to rewarding realities. Sure, there are setbacks and failures at times, though anything worth working diligently to achieve is worth learning how to stand up again after a fall. It’s worth all the time, effort, and evaluations you put into it.

But the real secret to this entire thing is that while the goal is a goal, the journey is the larger part of success. The choice to put yourself on the path is the real victory and every step forward just piles on the peaks of success.

So if you have the chance to join us on Cannon Mountain on March 10, I hope you’ll consider it. Whether you offer a good luck message online, a handshake at the trailhead, or a cup of hot chocolate atop the summit; whether you ride the tram up the mountain or join us at the Common Man in Lincoln at the conclusion; any and all will have great meaning to me personally.

If you think the message we’re trying to convey–for everyone to believe in possibility and to reach for their “Peak Potential”–has value, then I hope you’ll share our blog, webpage, social media, or simply our story to anyone and everyone who might appreciate it and spread the message further.

I undertook this winter quest to help draw attention to our overall goals at 2020 Vision Quest, and also because it gave me an opportunity to experience something I once thought out of my reach. The personal challenges and rewards have both been higher than I anticipated. I hope to share the story because I believe the impact of the real message should likewise exceed expectations.

Winter is coming to an end and with it my quest as well. I think it will be a very fine finish. Let’s all unite in helping to share this story and make this success as beneficial to all as it can possibly be!

View and share our press release here at Pitchengine.


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