Veterans Day isn’t so special!

By Randy Pierce

Moosilauke - Flags on 48
Randy and friends fly an American flag atop Mt. Moosilauke in honor of those who died in service, both civil and military.

My vision of Veterans Day is from my youth with fog encroaching on a chill morning over a memorial in my hometown of Colebrook, NH. The haunting echo of the bugle is barely finished when the 21-gun salute rips through the echo and startles my somber reflection. My parents and community had instilled in me a sacred duty to honor the service gifted by all our veterans to our country. Veterans Day was one of the special holidays.

Is it still special? Certainly some make efforts to appreciate the choices and all too often sacrifices of our veterans. It does seem less emphasized to me today though, and I wonder if it’s the advent of so many “special” days, from “Unwrapped Twizzler Day” (yes, I hope I only made that up) to a culture that seemingly has lost some intensity of focus on any particular holiday or other day of note. Perhaps the ugliness of war and the reality of instant news coverage of any and every atrocity or failing has desensitized us and increased apathy?

For me, all of this is entirely my subjective observation. I sadly believe it as firmly as I believe there are many very worthy causes deserving of our limited attention and it is our personal responsibility to cut through the dilution of emotion and give focus to as many as we can reasonably manage.

Blindness is a cause to which I dedicate much time and energy. Cancer has impacted my life in so many painful ways it must get my full focus and all too often fury. These are reasonable and worthy points and I’m proud of the means by which I support them both. For all the people who do and have served our country, from my father to the many friends and family across all branches of service, I am humbled and appreciative. For some it may have been just a job or means to an education, and for some a career, but for all an agreement to serve. The reality of such service in hostile and abhorrent circumstances I likely may never fully fathom.

I’ll be grateful all year for the very significant freedom their choices provide. On Veterans Day this year and every year, I hope I will join many in recalling the people who are the veterans so worthy of our dedication on their day. Thank you veterans and to all those who join in honoring them with me.


Tribute to 9/11: Flags on the 48

By Randy Pierce

“The roar of applause upon raising the American flag gave me goose bumps up my entire back, finishing at the base of my neck. Hiking Mt. Moosilauke to raise the American flag on 9/11 as part of the Flags on the 48 program, I wasn’t sure what emotions I would feel. I anticipated feeling patriotism, some sadness, and being filled with very reflective thoughts. However I did not anticipate the tremendous pride I would feel being part of a team that displayed a tribute to our fallen heroes of September 11.”

–Rob Webber as part of 2020 Vision Quest’s Flags on the 48 tribute 2011

Mt. Liberty, Flags on the 48We founded 2020 Vision Quest on Independence day in the year 2010, the same year the “Flags on the 48” graciously allowed us to be part of the team on Mt. Liberty. There was some powerful anticipation in celebrating Liberty, Independence and Community even as we were slowly learning just how poignant the community experience was for this program.

Last year in anticipation of the experience, I wrote a blog expressing my belief in taking Positive Steps. The words I wrote then remain very true as I anticipate our opportunity to again be part of this program:

“There are times in our lives which leave an indelible mark upon our memory. September 11, 2001 is a poignant example of such a time. I can still readily draw forth the stunned shock of the moment the tragedy became real for me. Today, ten years later, I am gathering with many of my community to celebrate our tribute to 9/11 and the positive impact of the choices we have made to take steps forward.”

I remain convinced that in all challenges, the most impactful point for any of us is the moment we choose to begin taking positive steps forward.

This year we have been assigned to join a group tending the flag on the summit of the northernmost of the 48. We’ll be atop Mt. Cabot where last winter we climbed while bald eagles soared on the updrafts of the cliffs of this peak. I think it appropriate that the symbol of our country was so evident on my last trip to this mountain and that spirit will be so strongly in my heart as I reflect upon friendship, sacrifice, choices and the power and emotion available to those who choose to see first with their hearts. As Helen Keller so aptly said, “the most beautiful things are viewed with our hearts and not our eyes.”

Moosilauke - Flags on 48

I hope that wherever you are as 9/11 arrives this year–or even Saturday, 9/8, when the Flags on the 48 will celebrate the event–you find the time to reflect upon all things dear to you and the many sacrifices involved in preserving them. I hope you will think of all the opportunities you have to take steps forward in a positive response to any circumstance. I’ll cherish the service of many who help support this outlook and I will recommit myself to giving the best service I can in the ways which I am afforded opportunity.

Should you want just a hint of the flavor of how worthy and moving this experience may be, I encourage you to watch the video montage crafted by Tracy last year or read the words of my friends Jenifer and Rob as they wrote about their views on the experience. I took the time for all three of these things and feel better prepared to appreciate the moment and my life as a result. Thank you Tracy, Rob, and Jenifer!

Tracy’s Video Montage from Mt. Moosilauke 2011:

Jenifer Tidwell’s 2011 Flags on the 48 Anticipation and Commemoration

Rob Webber’s Reflections on Mt. Moosilauke 2011


Reflections on Hiking Mt. Moosilauke on Sep. 11, 2011

By Rob Webber

The roar of applause upon raising the American flag gave me goose bumps up my entire back, finishing at the base of my neck. Hiking Mt. Moosilauke to raise the American flag on 9/11 as part of the Flags on the 48 program, I wasn’t sure what emotions I would feel. I anticipated feeling patriotism, some sadness, and being filled with very reflective thoughts. However I did not anticipate the tremendous pride I would feel being part of a team that displayed a tribute to our fallen heroes of September 11. The jubilation of the – I’m guessing – one hundred other hikers as we raised Old Glory on the summit was a tremendous feeling I’ll never forget.

The group assembles the flag on the summit.

We had a terrific team of hikers on September 11, 2011, with each member carrying part of the flagpole, flag or rigging to the summit. Once there, we each took a job we thought we could execute well – assembling the pole, deploying anchors in the rock or preparing the lines. Given the size of our flag (6’ x 10’) and typical White Mountain winds, we secured our monument with no less than seven lines. I think it could have withstood 50 mph winds(!), but fortunately we only experienced a fraction of that. In fact, while the winds at noon were fairly strong (enough to make our flag fly very majestically), by the end of our stay the winds were not even strong enough to make the Stars and Stripes fly at full attention.

There certainly was some sadness during our tribute. Thinking of the reason we were there is enough to make the toughest drill sergeant misty. We had some wonderful remarks by people who had special connections to 9/11. Those were excellent speeches, but I couldn’t help but wiping away the start of a tear thinking of all the people we lost ten years ago, and how some of their close relatives were with us today.

The hikers make new friends at the summit.

One feeling I did not anticipate (but probably should have) was the warm camaraderie we shared with so many hikers we met for the first time while on Moosilauke. Hiking is an activity which lends itself so well to meeting new friends and sharing experiences, and this setting only enhanced that feeling. Our commitment flying the flag on the summit from noon until 2:00 pm made conversing with people easier. I can’t imagine we would have spent close to three hours on the summit had it not been for the Flags on the 48 program, but in doing so it forced us to relax, meet so many new people, share special experiences, and have long conversations about a myriad of topics – not just the two or three minute typical chat you might have with someone in that case.

My day on Moosilauke was one filled with emotions I expected and didn’t expect, and gave me memories I will have forever.

The group flies the flag on the tenth anniversary of 9/11/01.

Taking Positive Steps – Dedication and Celebration

There are times in our lives which leave an indelible mark upon our memory. September 11, 2001 is a poignant example of such a time. I can still readily draw forth the stunned shock of the moment the tragedy became real for me. Today, ten years later, I am gathering with many of my community to celebrate our tribute to 9/11 and the positive impact of the choices we have made to take steps forward.

On 9/11/11, we joined the Flags on the 48 and raised our American flag in honor of all the people who dedicate their lives to making a better community and country. We are privileged to be a part of a community which chooses to respond to this tragedy by giving honor to the sacrifices of the many lost and the many left behind with tremendous wounds upon their hearts. The emotional surge of grief is part of the remembrance and dedication, but so to is the swell of pride and hope as we choose to honor the past while creating a community bound by hope and a determination to emphasize the positives within humanity.

On 9/12, one day after our hike, we will gather at the 99 Restaurant in Nashua, NH ostensibly to partake of a 2020 Vision Quest Fund Raiser. We’ll celebrate and commemorate the events of our hike and the powerful meanings behind so many of the experiences which have led to this point. We’ll feast and drink and watch the New England Patriots open their NFL season on Monday Night Football. If you join us and present the form below to your server, 15% of your bill will be donated to our 501(c)(3) organization.

But there is a more important purpose behind our gathering. The celebration of people coming together will demonstrate the power of community. We will share our grief and our hopes. We will remind ourselves that we may influence many aspects of our lives and, most powerfully of all, that we may always choose the manner in which we will respond to any event within our lives. The power of that choice will have a greater impact upon our lives than any event could ever have. As we did on our Flags on the 48 hike and in our 9/11 response, we choose to take positive steps forward. To quote Robert Frost in the closing of his famous poem about choices on diverging roads: “That has made all the difference.”


Remembering 9/11 on Mt. Moosilauke

By Jenifer Tidwell

The unimaginable happens.  Then what?

Ten years ago Sunday, a young Brooklyn firefighter named Chris Pickford lost his life when the Tower 2 fell. He was 32 years old. I’m a mother, and my heart recoils at the thought of losing my son in such a way. Yet it happened to so, so many people that day — we just can’t imagine all that pain, thousands of times over.

Six years ago, Hurricane Katrina struck New Orleans. And barely two weeks ago, Hurricane Irene struck here. Like many readers of this blog, I indirectly know people who were lost to those disasters, not to mention homes and other beloved places.

We hold the funerals. We mourn, we clean up, we rebuild, and the river of time moves implacably on.

Later come the anniversaries and the memorials. To me, these hold a different meaning. Removed in time from the immediate impact, memorials call us not to recover, but to change. They ask us: how has this disaster changed you? And how does it change the world through you?

Tribute to 9/11.

This Sunday, 2020 Vision Quest will take part in one of those memorials — the Flags on the 48 9/11 Memorial Hike. Of course, all of our hikes aspire to be part of something bigger than “just a hike” (we’re raising funds for two charities), but in this 9/11 hike, we’re taking part in a collective effort that really is far bigger than ourselves. Each of the 48 4000-foot peaks in New Hampshire will fly an American flag carried up by a hiking group. This carefully organized effort has been going on for nine years, occurring on or near the anniversary of 9/11.

Chris Pickford’s family is entrusting to us the flag that draped his coffin ten years ago. We will carry that flag up Mt. Moosilauke, and we will fly it from the summit from noon to 2:00. His cousin plans to hike with us, and we welcome him warmly.

How has 9/11 changed you? How do you respond to the anniversary this year?

For many people, simply remembering is response enough. There’s nothing wrong with that; sometimes it’s all we can manage, and remembering is important. Others respond by changing their lives entirely, such as by joining the armed services, or by working overseas to defeat poverty and illness and ignorance. God bless them all.

For me, the Flags on the 48 is certainly one way I respond. I’ve hiked it almost every year, and it moves me deeply each time. I admit that I don’t have the courage to work on the front lines against military threats or global poverty. But another way I can respond is to raise a child who understands how different people may share this world in peace, and who knows the meaning of honor, sacrifice, and courage.


The Hancocks: Leading Me On (Quinn Unleashed!)

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.


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.


Quintessential Reasons for 9/11

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.


…and Liberty for All!

by Randy Pierce - Flag flying on top of Mount Liberty - Saturday, September 15, 2001

That rascal, Quinn, spilled the beans on Twitter: We are climbing Mt. Liberty on 9/11 as part of the Flags on the 48! I am truly honored to be a part of this program, and I’m especially excited to be hiking up the mountain where the program began. I have a deep appreciation for the freedom and liberty afforded us privileged citizens of the United States of America. Having begun 2020 Vision Quest on Independence Day, it is fitting to have this meaningful summit on a day I consider synonymous with freedom. Quinn grants me tremendous freedom and liberty as well, which is not lost upon me. The core of this hike, for me, is to honor and give tribute to those who conceived of and/or defended both liberty and freedom.

I relish community and the idea of building strength by joining together for a common and worthy cause. I believe we all have the opportunity to act in ways that enhance the community of our nation – being the best citizens for the betterment of our community, from the smallest to the grandest levels. I believe our 2020 Vision Quest represents so many of these values, and encourages taking personal and purposeful steps toward things that hold meaning for us.

September 11th is a day I will dedicate to remembering the people who have helped us all realize the benefits of liberty. I hope many of you will share your own thoughts on freedom and liberty, and follow the very worthy Flags on the 48 program. On that day, I hope we all appreciate the greater community of our nation, those lost in her defense, and those who will have a positive impact on this nation going forward.


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