Archives - August, 2015



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.

DAY 1: ARUSHA – SERENGETI

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!

DAY 2: SERENGETI

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.)

DAY 3: SERENGETI-NGORONGORO

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. 

DAY 4: NGORONGORO – ARUSHA

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!

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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!

Tracy!

Tracy!

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.

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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!)

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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.

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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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