Hiking



15 Oct 17

By Greg Neault

Tracy with arms up on the summit of a mountain.I was running when I wrote this, so sue me if it goes too fast.

A lot of people have asked me why I decided to run a marathon. After today’s 16-mile training run, I’ve been wondering that myself. One of the leading hypotheses is that I must have been inspired to take on this bench mark of physical feats by the exploits of one Randy Pierce.

It’s easy to see why that theory would gain so much traction in my social circles. Randy and I spend a lot of time adventuring together, he is a perennial marathon runner (heck, he’s even running the very marathon I’m registered for), and if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone refer to Randy as “inspirational,” I wouldn’t be able to claim my position on staff at 2020 Vision Quest as volunteer work.

Tracy at the Sky Lodge in Peru.Although there is certainly a strong case to be made for Randy being my marathon inspiration, it’s not accurate. Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly inspired a lot of people to do a lot of positive things (myself included), this just isn’t one of them. I’ve come to accept the fact that Randy is a force of nature that will not be stopped. He’s like my personal Chuck Norris. Our adventures don’t challenge Randy; Randy challenges our adventures. If this was your guess, though, take heart–you weren’t too far off the mark.

What some people in our 2020 Vision Quest audience may not know is that Tracy Pierce is also a marathon veteran. I have tapped into a deep well of inspiration in following the exploits of the fairer Pierce. Tracy is ever present in our adventures and exploits and as such I’ve had the privilege of bearing witness to her trials, tribulations, and triumphs.

On more than one occasion I have used the word “tenacious” to describe Tracy in pursuit of goals. When she sets her mind to a task, she will push through all physical, mental, and emotional challenges presented to reach the finish line (literally and figuratively).

Tracy with her arms up on a summit.Tracy very regularly signs on for activities that she knows are going to be an immense challenge for her that will likely be much less of an issue (possibly none at all) for many others in the group. That takes guts. I’ve often wondered if I have that kind of fortitude. I have much more than the required courage to scale a cliff to sleep in a glass bubble high above the Sacred Valley. But would I have the courage to accept an invitation from folks with greater skills or endurance than I to take part in an activity that I feel I may struggle to accomplish? I can’t say.

Tracy goes into these events with full knowledge that she won’t be the first to complete this race or challenge, she’s not going to win a national division championship, and she’s not going to be called heroic or inspirational by passersby. When some are being congratulated on their perseverance for taking on this challenge blind or dedicating their efforts to guiding a blind person through such dramatic circumstance, Tracy is hiking her hike or running her run, with no promise of accolades or pats on the back, no ribbons or Boston Marathon qualifying glory. She doesn’t do it because other people have done it–she does it because she wants to and it pleases her to do so.

When I watch Tracy take on big things, struggle harder than others, push though that hardship and make it happen, it inspires me to push myself into the unfamiliar, to reach out beyond my comfort zone and try something that does not promise to end in my favor, the completion of which will be rewarding.

I hope to bring some of her tenacity with me to the California International Marathon. If I can employ that trademark iron will, I’ll be on the path to success in Sacramento.

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1 Oct 17

By Randy Pierce

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”
-  Thich Nhat Hanh

The team with the Rainbow Mountain Range behind them.

The team with the Rainbow Mountain Range behind them. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

On our recent trip to South America, we chose a series of rewarding and challenging experiences that blended the historically intense cultures with the breath-taking backdrops of the incredible natural treasures held within Peru. This only served to enhance the notion of savoring each step along the journey despite the unparalleled splendor of Rainbow Mountain which dominated the landscape from our perch atop Winicunca at the end of our remote trek through the Andes. Certainly the altitude had already stolen much of our breath and yet the staggering views managed to evoke an astonishment beyond the expectations we had built, despite viewing many photographs in preparation for the moment. Each of us were held for a time, imprisoned in sublime silence by the majesty of those magical mountains and still there was something more powerfully at root within us for the true culmination of our expedition.

We began assembling in Cusco, Peru at an impressive altitude of 11,132 feet. We roamed around the historic Plaza de Armas and observed the melding of Spanish culture with that of the native Quechuan people. Such vast differences in culture from our own as the festive marketplace was an experience in and of itself. Soon our travel guides, United Mice, brought us to Walter Suri who would be our guide for most of the experiences ahead.  A native Quechuan, he spoke four languages and was well versed in the history and culture of his people with a bias understandably different from the textbooks with which most of us had more familiarity.

The team at Machu Picchu

The team at Machu Picchu. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

We toured many areas of original stonework crafting demonstrating the astounding talent of the Incan Empire. Their ability to build to withstand the earthquakes of the region and to integrate it with their natural world showcased remarkable artistry and engineering. We filled a week of learning on just the one-day trek across a pair of tectonic plates and seemingly a handful of centuries as well. Walter gave us insight into a people not quite lost to time. We stood in the chambers of the Temple of the Sun where King Inca was held prisoner and ransomed for a room full of gold and understood a little of the tragic results of civilizations colliding without the sophistication to preserve the worthy qualities of each culture. We took those somber reflections away from the city of Cusco.

The entire trip was initially founded upon a visit to Machu Picchu. While highly commercialized by the busloads of tourists brought into the ruins each morning, the vast mountain retreat is still impressively captivating. Built into the mountain with terraces, fountains, and the ever-present Incan stoneworkings, it was easy to  look across the deep chasm and marvel once again at the civilization which crafted this mountainside retreat.

Top-down view of a man climbing up an extremely steep stone staircase with jungle beneath him.

A very steep climb up Machu Picchu. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

We barely had time to appreciate a fraction of those marvels before we set out to climb Huayna Picchu. This craggy peak towers over Machu Picchu and is rated amongst the most frightening climbs in the world as it blends sheer drop-offs with steps built into the cliff edge along the way up to the terraced top. It provides an unrivaled view of the region and a challenge for those to whom heights are intimidating. While not more challenging a trail than what we routinely encounter in our White Mountains of New Hampshire, the consequences of a misstep were continuously more stark and the emotional energy was as significant as the rewards we shared in our team success throughout the many difficult stretches of this climb.

Already we had savored an incredible amount and the majority of our experiences remained ahead with the subsequent days’ start of our four day trek into the Ausangate Range. It began on a very rough road in which our adapting to the pace of low oxygen breathing was interspersed with dodging the “no license required” motorcycles which were a primary means for farmers to move simple supplies along this road into the mountains. We gained elevation steadily and the massive form of Ausangate or “Snow Mountain” was ever in our sights. This enormous peak is taller than Kilimanjaro and would be the center point of our hike. We passed through farms and briefly experienced a life so quiet and incredibly rural as to hear the call of civilizations past. Two very young school girls travelled with us after school, part of their two-hour walk on trails, one way(!) to attend school. Alpaca, llama, and sheep were commonly encountered along the way.

While being quickly surrounded by a remote and beautiful wilderness, the struggles were interspersed throughout the team as altitude can cause painful headaches, nausea, and a wearisome shortness of breath. The team began both encouraging and supporting each other early and I thought for some it was indeed the best of times and worst of times. Sunset on the first day was particularly incredible as we were just nearing our final camp destination and our rolling highland hills held dramatic clouds surrounding Ausangate’s glacially capped magnificence. Exhausted from the effort and immersed into the sudden splendor of these ranges, the Upi village hot springs were something only a few of our group appreciated and the gift of southern hemisphere stars without any light pollution was a wonder to behold. The Milky Way was vividly creamy and the “Black Llama” inverse constellation highlighted the nebula viewing possibilities.

Beautiful view of Ausangate in the distance.

Beautiful view of Ausangate in the distance. Photo courtesy of Jose Acevedo.

The next day we climbed higher still to Arrapa Pass as we circumnavigated the seemingly impassable mass of Ausangate. Tiny stone homes where a shepherd brought his herd every five years in rotation were some of the only signs of any connection to an outside world we had near completely escaped. As we camped by the Western Ice-fall of Ausangate, our evening held the sounds of many avalanches thunderous enough to raise our focus and just distant enough to ensure we had no peril. The twin glaciers dripping down the steep side framed a massive waterfall into turquoise lagoons in a valley of incredible serenity.

The views, celebrations, and struggles continued for many of our number and the support, caring and connection of the team grew with each step. I was trading guides regularly to avoid any strain on them and fortunately my health remained near ideal throughout the entire trip. Our third day brought us over 16,000 feet a couple of times and past remote locations where seemingly wild Alpaca ranged beneath a waterfall on the edge aof a ridge line across yet another lagoon. We had passed the shark-tooth mass of an unnamed dour mountain and the geological wonders of the rainbow striations were seen in the distance and our ultimate reward. Communal meal tent time brought the team together to reflect on the trail, distract with laughter, or simply share struggles and support. Each portion of the trip brought visual splendors which surpassed expectations and always the remote aspects of the experience were a gift to us. So it was that our final trek began at 3:30 am so that we would arrive to the Rainbow Mountain Ridge before the ever growing popularity of day trips brought people to our secret treasure. We had roughly half an hour of near seclusion to savor the team, the accomplishment, and the majesty before the arrivals of day trippers from the other side began. We made our way out amongst them, appreciative of our guide Walter’s impeccable timing.

For almost half the team this was a parting of sorts as eight of us would make a trip to Sky Lodge for a final adventure together, but an ending had begun. The team was not unravelling–our experiences together had brought us too close for that. We will part but in a moment of reconnection we will be back in the Andes together with the bonds only a shared powerful experience can create. With but an eyes-closed recollection most of us may vividly recall any of a multitude of amazing and breathtaking moments along the path in Peru and those are the truest treasures, not the iconic summit or achievement but every mindful moment of possibility upon the journey.

The team climbs up the side of the cliff to the Skylodge.

The team climbs up the side of the cliff to the Sky Lodge. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

Finally, I cannot leave out the Sky Lodge experience. Scaling the 1800-foot cliff to our transparent pods was as adrenaline-laden an experience as imagined. Risks managed by the two clip system, we still faced overhangs, wire crossings, and endless stretches of steep climbs and sudden drops. It was exhilarating and to culminate in the dining pod which was open rock face behind and wide open view to the sacred valley everywhere else was… simply unique.

We celebrated our accomplishment and were served an incredible dinner by our guides from the comforts of that cliffside perch. We retired to our 4-person pods to sleep in comfort and while the remoteness was not as hoped since 1800 feet is an eternity upwards and yet so very little actual distance from the roads, trains and shops below us, the exuberance was slow to fade. Morning’s breakfast involved a brief climb to the dining pod and then the six-point zip line retreat. There was a speed line named the Arrow and a 700-meter line called the Beast, but all of the traverses of a cliff were surges of intense excitement to cap off the adventurous portion of our excursion. We all had at least one tandem ride and all grew closer still to share these things together.

My final reflection as it all came to an end is how glad I am to choose experiences with friends as a way of building the person I hope to become. I grew as a person to view the people of Peru, the wonders of their land and most especially our triumphs and struggles together to ensure we could all succeed as we did. For me especially there is a feeling of occasional burden upon those who choose to partake of these things with me and yet never did any of my friends hint at such a thing. Instead, they are the kind of people who help me feel that together we experience the situation more fully and more richly because our differences do not separate us but unite us in appreciation of a world with wonders worthy of that union.

 

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17 Sep 17

Photo of Randy at a fancy table at Peak Potential superimposed onto a photo of the Skylodge with mountains in the background.

Don’t leave Randy hanging! Join him at Peak Potential.

By Randy Pierce

One of my responsibilities each year is to encourage our community to join us for this event which is essential to our success. We got off to a great start with our Boston Marathon table sale burst, but we slowed over the summer. Now deadlines are approaching and I really need another burst of ticket sales, whether table (our best value), pairs, or individuals; all will help us step towards our goal of a sell-out and the success this brings.

Imagine my relief if I return home on September 29 and discover we’ve reached our goal?! I encourage you to help make this happen and I commit to ensure this event will be spectacular once again.

When: November 18, 2017
Where: Courtyard by Marriott in Nashua NH
What are we serving? Your choice of:

  • Balsamic Marinated and Grilled Medallions of Beef, finished with a Cabernet Wine Reduction and Chipotle Hollandaise Sauce
  •  Sage and Raisin Bread Stuffed Chicken Breast finished with Maple Brandy Sauce
  • Wild Mushroom Ravioli Semolina Pasta filled with Portobello and Crimini Mushrooms, Mozzarella and Parmesan  Cheeses, tossed in a Rich Roasted Red Pepper Cognac Cream Sauce
  •  Salmon Smoked Spice Rubbed and Pan Seared, topped with a Warm Pineapple Salsa
Steep outdoor stairs in a Peruvian ruin

If Randy can navigate these to demonstrate Ability Awareness, will you navigate our ticket purchase?

We absolutely love our venue at the Nashua Courtyard by Marriott and so did our guests last year. Whether you are staying overnight to join us from afar or just traveling for the evening, the venue is wonderful in all respects. I will not provide a back-flip off the stage this year(!), but I will provide a new presentation bolstered by our expedition into South America.

We have many exciting things to share with you and as always the most important aspect is the great work we can do thanks to your support. We have presented to more than 60,000 students in schools throughout New England and that number continues to grow steadily. We support critical sight services and we do this all with an entirely volunteer team who come together once each year in this grande event.

So please do join us for the 8th Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction on November 18!

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10 Sep 17

2020 Vision Quest Poster with Quinn and Randy on a winter slope, with the words "Climb Your Mountain" superimposed

By Randy Pierce

While presenting at the Bow Elementary School on September 11, I will deliver our very first copy of this fantastic new poster to the NH school systems. We continue to be incredibly proud of the educational outreach provided by 2020 Vision Quest and now believe it’s become just a little better as we leave behind a physical reminder of our positive message.

For many, our signature image is this fantastic winter hiking photo taken by Justin Sylvester in January 2012. Recently Greg Neault helped coordinate the entire 2020 Vision Quest team in line with his digital creativity to develop this inspirational poster. I believed it would make a tremendously positive impact upon students and staff alike at the many schools we visit and reached out to collaborate with the Bank of New Hampshire. They were enthusiastic to support the positive community benefit and now the finished product has arrived! We are proud of the message shared in the poster and think it will present a potent reminder of many of the messages we share in our educational presentations to schools throughout New Hampshire and beyond.

How can you get a poster? The easiest way is to schedule us to visit your classroom or school. We are proud to be called back repeatedly to visit schools who wish to ensure each year’s students have the opportunity to hear our messages. Whether we’ve been to visit you before or this is our first visit, it’s a simple process. Refer us to the teacher, administrator, or even PTA member responsible for coordinating presentations by sending them the link to our “For Educators.” page. From there, we provide the information and contact information to schedule us for a visit.

We can and will schedule as far in advance as you require, and in fact, as we become steadily more popular, there is considerable advantage to scheduling early. But we’ll always make every attempt to honor every request for a presentation. More than 60,000 students have experienced the benefit and now through our poster collaboration team we think there’s just one more good reason to schedule with us now!

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27 Aug 17

By Randy Pierce

Greg Neault, Jenn Uhlmann, and Baby Stella

Greg Neault, Jenn Uhlmann, and Baby Stella

“When he took time to help the man up the mountain, lo, he scaled it himself.”
–Tibetan Proverb 

I understand more than most the value of some help up the mountain, whether it’s my four-legged guides or the many excellent friends who have chosen to undertake this role in order that we would reach our summits together. Since Autumn cannot reasonably join us due to the elevation range, the team will once again be essential as my primary means for navigating the many trails and adventures along the way. It is, however, far more about the powerful bonding we experience together in these shared experiences that influences the selection of our team.

Much as I did with our Kilimanjaro team, I wanted to introduce you all to the 14-person team who is making the journey to Peru for a series of epic adventures together. We hoped the entire Killy team would be reunited, but part of the reason for treasuring each experience is you can never truly go back. Time changes us all and life often inhibits our ability to reunite. We’ll miss Cathy, Frank, and Maureen from that trip but there are some new friends joining us this time around!

Ryan Prentiss

Ryan Prentiss

Greg Neault is back and headlines the list in part because he has taken the lead in coordinating with United Mice, our guides, to ensure the Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain hike would be the epic experiences we are seeking together.

All of our team owes Greg considerable gratitude for the work he did in planning the foundation–though still it is the kind adventurous spirit which lies at the heart of our friendship for which I’m most enthused to once again adventure around the world with him.

Jennifer Uhlman didn’t make the top 10 last time as she was a late addition to the Killy team. My, has life changed as she and Greg took that point to heart and added their own addition to this world in their daughter Stella!

Talented and adventurous from the start, the friendships have continued to grow even if she refuses to carry me up mountains as she does so well for Stella.

Ryan Prentiss joins us as a closer friend of Greg’s who I first met during a Tough Mudder together at Mt. Snow, VT. Definitely part of the youth movement, he’s presently the only member of the team to not have guided me, though we’ll have opportunity aplenty ahead. One of the treasures of Machu Picchu will likely be getting to better know this member of the team.

Rob Webber

Rob Webber

Rob Webber stands in contrast to Ryan, as I’ve known him since Ryan was 2 years old! It was Rob who got me to the key point on the summit journey of Kilimanjaro and our friendship is long and storied but, as this trip continues to prove, so very far from stagnant!

Jose Acevedo follows Rob in being part of a seemingly endless amount of life adventures and experiences. A person would be fortunate to find one such friend in their life. Like so many of my friends, they both challenge me to be better in all ways while encouraging and appreciating the journey so far and none moreso than Jose and Rob.

Jose and Kristen Acevedo

Jose and Kristen Acevedo

Kristen Acevedo is our roller derby addition and a force of nature, except perhaps at darts! If it takes a trip to Peru to get more time with this lady, then that’s reason enough to travel. Beyond the first week of epic adventure, she helped motivate the bonus week of relaxation in the sacred valley for which I will be eternally grateful! For putting up with her husband and my penchant for crazy adventures I’ll have to just raise her pedestal a little higher.

Michelle Brier is another gift of friendship brought to me by the Mighty Quinn and Autumn. On the long slog off of Kilimanjaro, she was instrumental in helping me with my health challenges but it is the kindness, compassion, and insight which I value above those medical skills. Too far away in NY, it’s another surprise we have to travel across the equator to appreciate quality time together again!

Cat Orza was already the incredibly fit and capable hiker in our midst and now has become the ludicrously fit veteran of many adventures and experiences of her own. She too was originally a connection made by Guiding Eyes and now our friendship held only distant by geography is eager to surpass geography and strategize our next Flat Bread conquest together.

Michelle Brier

Michelle Brier

Robbie Walton is not so stealthily amongst my best friends. I have been appreciative and a little surprised as a series of increasing adventures have become part of our recent repertoire. She guided me for her first ever 5k run and followed by guiding me on the last leg of a relay for her which was my last Boston Marathon qualifier. Stepping up to our recent hikes in preparation for Peru has certainly elevated the achievement in our ongoing quest for Peak Potential.

Brent Walton is the only man to ask me to marry him… to his now-wife Robbie. He’s also the friend who moved into my home to help me when I was put in the wheelchair and struggling to manage everyday tasks. Quiet until the perfect witticism bursts forth to surprise the group, he’s already earned his hiker’s guide patch and ready to take it to the international level.

Loren O’Neil was first introduced to me at the Tough Mudder in LA when she was part of our five-person team for the Oberto Hero of Summer project. Endlessly cheerful and tenacious, I love the spirit of taking on every challenge which she embodies and I’m so appreciative of our steadily growing friendship.

Cat Orza

Cat Orza

George Claborn is the musical insertion in our group and despite not being the amusingly, or rather misunderstood, advertised 6’2″ guide candidate, he is intelligent, kind and fun. I followed him to John Hopkins University after just one meeting, serendipity, and celebrated his birthday with a relay team Marathon but this will no doubt be our largest celebration since Don Felder!

Tracy Pierce is my lovely bride and I saved my best for last. All of my current adventures happen because she matches my desire to experience the world fully. In his writings, Thoreau suggested that we “live deeply and suck out the marrow of life.” Tracy as a partner encourages and, even better, joins me in a myriad of adventures. The reality is that my lack of sight adds complications which she helps me navigate to make for the easiest experience for all of us. In loving the concept of “team” anyway, it is hardly a surprise I particularly love the teamwork of my partner in life!

I join the team as our 14th member, of course. Unlike Kilimanjaro, this expedition isn’t so intensely focused upon the single summit experience. We will summit Rainbow Mountain but there are a host of experiences along this journey, which make it far more about the entirety of the journey. Those are words I believe, though they can be lost in something epic like Kilimanjaro. For me it is always about the people on the adventure and I reflect upon the words with which I closed out my Kilimanjaro team post as once again very appropriate. I’ll apply them here with only modest adjustment:

Loren O'Neil

Loren O’Neil

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 14will 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 person more–for we few, we precious few, are enough.

George Claborn

George Claborn

Robbie and Brent Walton

Robbie and Brent Walton

Randy and Tracy Pierce

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17 Aug 17

By Randy Pierce

Autumn does a hula in Hawaii.

Autumn does a hula in Hawaii.

While we travel to Machu Picchu and into the Andes mountains, the elevation is sufficiently high to give us pause in bringing Autumn along as my guide. She is too valuable a companion and guide to put into unnecessary risk, so as we did on our trip to Kilimanjaro, we have found her alternative accommodations.

While I love the care, attention and bonus training provided by Chrissie Vetrano of Guiding Eyes for the Blind last time, we are staying closer to home with another friend with strong Guiding Eyes connections. Bill Leblanc is the Regional Coordinator for Guiding Eyes Puppy Raising here in NH, a fellow Hudson NH Lion, a friend, and for many who know him: the dog whisperer. Autumn adores him and she will get the attentive and knowledgeable care blended well with playful puppy play breaks throughout our time away. That’s the real fun and secure news which will allow us to travel with confidence Autumn will be well loved and well tended.

On the lighter side, you may recall the magic of Greg Neault releasing Autumn’s World Tour while we were away at Kilimanjaro. Every few days of our travel, a new photo appeared of Autumn traveling somewhere new in the world. They were so fun and popular that I crafted a blog afterwards to showcase the images.

Now I challenge all of you to give us some worthy suggestions of where Autumn might “visit” on her second tour while we are away in Peru! We just may put some of your suggestions to use with Greg’s creative photoshop magic once again.

If you need a little inspiration, let’s remind you of her first world tour.

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24 Jun 17

Sweeping shot of Machu PIcchu with Huayna PIcchu in the background.

A majestic view of Machu Picchu with Huayna Picchu in the background.

By Randy Pierce

“Few romances can ever surpass that of the granite citadel on top of the beetling precipices of Machu Picchu, the crown of Inca Land.”

-Hiram Bingham

On September 14, our journey will begin as members of our 2020 Vision Quest team from around the country will travel to Peru for yet another epic adventure of a lifetime!

I will treasure the team and experience from Tanzania which took us to Kilimanjaro’s rooftop of Africa as well as the Serengeti’s incredible safari experiences. Many of that team are returning along with some new additions to experience some remarkable treasures of South America including Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas:

“For the first time since dropping out of graduate school, I remembered an unpleasant weekend spent struggling to comprehend the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s explanation of the difference between calling something beautiful and calling it sublime. Nowadays, we throw around the word ‘sublime’ to describe gooey desserts or overpriced handbags. In Kant’s epistemology it meant something limitless, and aesthetically pleasing entity so huge that it made the perceiver’s head hurt.  Machu Picchu isn’t just beautiful, it’s sublime.”

-Mark Adams, Turn Right at Machu Picchu

Initially based out of Cusco, once the capitol of the Incan Empire, we will depart by bus and then train in the ludicrously early morning hours of September 18. This will bring us to Aguas Calientes from which we can launch to Machu Picchu Citadel and guided explorations. Our morning excursion include a hike of Huayna Picchu Mountain (the large mountain that sits directly behind Machu Picchu), rated one of the scariest hikes in the world! This will provide us with a rare perspective on the region before we finish our explorations of the fortress city and return to our base in Cusco.

We’ll have little time before the deeper excursion begins: a four-day, three-night trip into the Andes culminating in a geological wonder called Rainbow Mountain.

A breathtaking view of Rainbow mountain.

A breathtaking view of Rainbow Mountain.

Day One: Our first day will take us above 12,000 feet to a maximum of nearly 15,000 feet and includes Tinqui Village, Upis Hot Springs and the Vilcanota Range will loom in the distance with Ausangate and Cole Cruz mountains dominating the landscape.

Day Two: Our second day takes us to nearly 16,000 feet as we traverse Arapa Pass to Lake Pucacocha within view of the western ice-fall of Ausangate.

Day Three: Our third day brings us our first views of the Rainbow Mountain. We ascend to Ausangate pass (16,170 ft) to see the colored mountains, as well as Vicuñas, and alpacas, then we descend to Alccatauri Village (14,435 ft). After lunch, we will follow a llama trail to Minasniyuq Pass to have the first views of the Rainbow Mountain (16,479 ft) and camp at Surine Cocha (15,748 ft) on the banks of the beautiful Lake Surine.

Day Four: Our final day we will hike to the summit of Rainbow Mountain (16,469 ft). We descend to Quesiuno Village and are transported back to Cusco which will mark the end of the expedition for some of our number.

Eight of our crew have secured an evening at the Sky Lodge which entails climbing a cliff overlooking the Sacred Valley to stay in a transparent pod for the night. Our evening dinner, sunset, and brilliant night sky over the valley will be part of the reward for that climb. Sunrise over the valley with breakfast enhances the experience further and the zipline out of the cliffside dwelling will be an adrenaline burst to the adventure. Words can hardly explain this and fortunately there is a marvelous video to help you understand the experience which awaits us all:

You might think that all of this would be enough adventure and experience and thanks to the great coordination efforts of Greg Neault it is certainly tremendous. But in addition, Greg has also arranged for a likely opportunity for a visit and presentation to a school while we are there.

Tracy and I will be joining Jose and Kristen in taking an extra few days after all of this to relax in the Sacred Valley and reflect upon the experiences before we return home, our lives undoubtedly changed once again.

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18 Mar 17

By Randy Pierce

An early picture of Autumn, Randy's Guide Dog partner, who arrived in Nashua on March 16, 2014.

An early picture of Autumn, Randy’s Guide Dog partner, who arrived in Nashua on March 16, 2014.

Autumn’s joyous exuberance was evident as she bounded into me on our first meeting on March 16, 2014. Her affectionate, loving approach won my heart immediately but she had some legendary paws to fill in the working world.

I was determined to keep an open mind and remove expectations to let our working relationship develop based upon the skills and qualities each of us brought to the team under the supervision of Guiding Eyes Trainer Chrissie Vetrano. I had some success in this approach as I had transitioned from Ostend to Quinn and understood the benefits of being open minded to the strengths and challenges which each of us bring to any partnership.

I was not without a little baggage of my own I needed to address for the journey. It wasn’t entirely seamless out in the working world and that’s why we have trainers and the guide school support system to help us manage the many possible challenges and ensure we have the skills and tools to work through the difficult days in a steadily improving fashion. Autumn wanted to please me and I wanted my special little girl to succeed with me as well.

Randy, Tracy, and Autumn on a mountainside, one big happy family!

Randy, Tracy, and Autumn on a mountainside, one big happy family!

Three years later I’m amazed at how far we’ve come. I’ve learned to understand her body language to tell when her exuberance is driving her more than her thinking and she’s learned to realize when I’m allowing myself to be a little distracted and need a little correction to her warnings for me. Yes, we both still make some mistakes on our journey but we’ve built an understanding of when we are smooth together, when we are challenged and how to address it so we can do the necessary work even amidst challenge.

Better still, the challenging days are the rarity and the smooth days are so very common. I step out of my home with confidence each day and harness her expecting and receiving the freedom and independence which is such a part of a dog guide team. She gives me hours back each day in the efficiency with which we can do our tasks. Using my cane I find walking to the bus stop is 15 minutes normally, 30 minutes on trash day and “just stay home” on trash and recycle day.

Autumn looking bashful

“Stop, dad, you’re embarrassing me!”

Working with Autumn it is a five minute relaxed and mentally free stroll. She strides eagerly ahead of me and slightly to my left watching for the obstacles and trying to determine which destination is next for us. I try to keep her guessing a little and reflect that it is not just the hours she gives me back each day but the quality of the hours improved by spending my time with her.

So as I celebrate my third year with my wonderful Black and Tan Labrador Retriever, I realize we are in the sweet spot. Our bond is complete and deep, our skills have come to a great understanding, and our eagerness to adventure together is buoyed by our mutual (ahem) youthful approach to the world. I love her work, I love the impact of her work on my life, I love her impact upon my life and so it is not surprisingly how completely and proudly I love my Autumn. Thank you for three wonderful years and I look forward hopefully and eagerly to many more ahead!

Autumn lies on top of Randy, pinning him to the floor.

Autumn’s love and exuberance bowls us over!

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4 Feb 17

By Randy Pierce

Jose leads Randy up the Barranco Wall on a steep and rocky mountainside.“The Holman Prize is not meant to save the world or congratulate someone for leaving the house. This prize will spark unanticipated accomplishments in the blindness community. You will see blind people doing things that surprise and perhaps even confuse you. These new LightHouse prizes will change perceptions about what blind people are capable of doing.”

–Bryan Bashin, CEO at LightHouse 

I chose a life of independence and freedom based upon believing in possibility, problem solving, and perseverance. While my blindness slowed me on occasion and helped me stumble on several occasions, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by friends and a community which rarely even attempted to hold me back and more commonly joined efforts with me to help us all reach for our peak potential. In this, I’m incredibly fortunate as well as in the resolve to not allow those other times to overly impact my confidence or determination.

Along the path, I learned how much work remains to be accomplished in the area of awareness to encourage the vast majority to welcome these reasonable approaches. It is why I’m excited to share the news and to ask all of you to help me share this news as well with the sighted and visually impaired communities as well!

The Holman Prize: $25,000.00
The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition is an annual award to finance blind adventurers in pursuing their most ambitious projects. In January, the contest begins with a challenge: blind applicants must submit a first-round pitch, in the form of a 90-second YouTube video.

Deadline for submission: Feb. 28th at 12pm PST 

Click here to learn more.

I love several great aspects of this project. First, it emphasizes my sight-impaired peers to be creative in developing an adventurous goal emphasizing travel, communication, and connection towards the cause of demonstrating ability awareness. Second, it creates a stage for all of the world to see these goals and dreams as well as many of them hopefully coming to fruition. I’m so enthused by it that despite my many adventures I want to develop something beyond my prior scope to suggest in my own 90-second video.

So please, take a look at their message, their contest, and the results already underway! I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and I’m just one person with the limitations of my own focus. It is a world full of talented people, some of whom might just need this push to reach for their own peak potential!

Man on a nighttime mountain: The Holman prize for blind ambition

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28 Jan 17

By Randy Pierce

Team of 2020 Vision Quest hikers from the epic accomplishment of the 48th summits in one winter on March 10, 2012. Taken on East Cannon with the Lafayette Ridge in the background on a beautiful winter day!“Players win Games, Teams win Championships” – Bill Bellichick

I attribute many of my successful accomplishments to the positive results of teamwork. At the most basic daily level my teamwork with my dog guide enhances my life tremendously and I’ve learned to find, build, maintain, grow and enhance teams along my journey and it has taken me to incredible heights. I’ve long supported the suggestion of team as an acronym: T.E.A.M. – Together – Everyone – Achieves – More.

Since my childhood, I’ve been a fan of football for the blending of strategy, myriad athletic types, and exceptional reliance on teamwork for success. I have always had an appreciation for the hard-working over-achiever and strive to emulate that personally. The New England Patriots were my home team and for much of my life were not particularly successful, but still I enjoyed the lessons I learned about teamwork.

When the ultimate team player for me joined our squad in 1996 and happened to share my birthday, I quickly became a Tedy Bruschi fan, though it was the 2001 team which reminded a nation in their famous “choosing to be introduced as a team” entrance to the Super Bowl just how much value comes from learning to work together to lift each other up to better than the sum of the individual parts. Sixteen years later, most of the individuals have been replaced multiple times but the team’s first approach and success have sustained.

Regardless of the team anyone supports or even an interest in the sport, there’s a worthy lesson in Bill Bellichick’s quote which is valuable in all of our life approaches. Simply put, there is tremendous value in being the best individuals we can become and we will likely gain much success for personal development. Ultimately, however, the greatest accomplishments and the lasting success for the long term are more commonly achieved by learning to build our team, maintain our team and work together towards the important goals. At the behest of several conferences, I’ve developed workshops on these approaches to “team” which are beyond the scope of a single blog. I will say that commitment and communication are essential components. The specific methods adjust for the varied types of people, circumstances, and goals as well, but if we want to reach the pinnacles of accomplishment, it is worth the effort.

All that said, it is Super Bowl week and even in my actual football fandom I think you’ll find this Sports Emmy Award-nominated piece from 2007 showcases how community is involved in my approach even to fandom. Community, after all, is just another type of team! Along the way you might find some emotionally charged moments about my life as well including my description of the very last moment of sight I ever had in this world. Enjoy!

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