Completing the Quest–And all that it means

By Randy Pierce

What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”

Henry David Thoreau

Randy and Quinn, Mt. Flume summit. Photo courtesy of John Swenson.

I completed an epic 37-month quest with my final step off the Liberty Spring Trail. Originally, this dream to summit all 48 of the mountains in NH which rise over 4,000 feet was simply a choice to celebrate my return to being able to walk and the joy of sharing life with my wife Tracy and my incredible Guide Dog Quinn. It blossomed into something far more than all our expectations.

We chose to share the goal and process through the charity we founded, 2020 Vision Quest, mainly because we thought that an ever-growing belief that spreading the idea of “Ability Awareness” might enhance and transform the lives of others. I did not understand the full measure by which it would transform and enrich my own life.

One of my first lessons was how very many paths and approaches would lead me to failure. The physical aspects of this challenge for each totally blind step was obvious and has been reasonably well discussed throughout our journey. The need to grow and learn from each experience was essential. A community of support had to choose to invest their own efforts into this process for me to reasonably succeed. “Believe and Achieve” is absolutely a fantastic mantra but one should not forget how much physical, mental, and emotional effort is likely required as well. The very endurance nature of this experience over years of life scheduling requirements is enough to challenge success, as commitment and perseverance must be continually reinforced.

Success on the summit of Mt. Flume! Photo courtesy of John Swenson.

Anyone who has not seen the interaction between Quinn and myself on a treacherous mountain trail may never fully understand how absolutely incredible that bond is and how its potential can progress. Similarly, there are many human guides who forego the experiences which might normally bring them to the wilderness so they may put their focus 3-5 feet in front of their own feet and transform their personal experience to one tending my safety and ability to navigate this terrain. It is a sacrifice and a gift which has many powerful rewards for the giver and myself as we build life altering bonds of our own in the process.

Looking out over Mt. Flume. Photo courtesy of John Swenson.

While no blind person had ever managed to summit all these peaks before this quest and while I’m absolutely proud of myself and those who provided the instrumental support to help this goal be achieved, the real meaning of the quest is yet to come: how we all use the experiences to demonstrate what each of us as individuals might achieve despite the various adversity we are certain to all face throughout our lives. It highlights how much greater a positive community interaction can help us all rise to individual and group peaks of realized potential.

I will forever be changed by this quest and I am sure I will be sharing the experiences for many years to come. For now, I wish to share this one thought and hope for all of you. This quest isn’t about hiking, mountains, nor even the accomplishment for which I am so very proud. This is about the choice each and every one of us could and should make personally to reach out for our own “peak potentials.”

After the hike--we celebrate with our community! Photo courtesy of Rick Stevenson.

I wish for all of you the rewards which will come from finding something in your life deserving of your appreciation and passion. Seek the ways to achieve that with all the effort it deserves. Do not limit how high a goal you may choose to set. Be aware of how to build higher and higher steps towards this goal. The reward is in the journey more than the destination and yet the destination is yours to reach. I’ve touched the sky too many times through this journey to not realize the fundamental truth in that. Better still, I’ve been touched by the inspiring stories of many who helped me reach the sky either directly or through the examples they have set in their own pursuits.

“Believe and Achieve”… and then savor the rewards you will deservedly earn!


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


Blind Man Piles on the Peaks in Pursuit of Top Dog

By Randy Pierce

Quinn is a master climber as he leads Randy up a treacherous path.

Our winter hikes on the “NH 48” have begun in earnest and have been very successful so far. We have already traversed a number of peaks, with our most impressive achievement this winter to date being our climb of seven summits of over 4000 feet in four days. More than 40 miles and over 10,000 feet of elevation gain is simply a respectable challenge for most people; we have accomplished this and significantly more as winter has barely begun to overtake the White Mountains. Our challenges have been significant–the trail-heads are generally bare ground or icy coated rocks, which makes the hikes more difficult. They transition above 2500 feet to several feet of snow with a narrow snow shoe trail broken through where other hikers may have passed. While the snow often makes the going easier, that transition has some steep and slippery points with hidden foot traps throughout. These are not the ideal conditions to make climbing easier for me or my guide dog Quinn.

Quinn’s fame is growing both along the network of trails and in the cyberspace network which carries the tale of the tail-wagging wonder who is guiding a totally blind man to the top of peak after peak during the White Mountains winter 2012 season. To be certain, the accolades are well deserved as our speed and efficiency continue to increase and the number of peaks begin to fall beneath our feet.

"Has Dad found someone else?"

In that four-day span, Garfield, Tom, Field, Willie, Liberty, Flume and Moosilauke were added to Tecumseh, Jackson, Hale, and Cabot on our winter season’s summit success stories. An assortment of different hikers have joined us on the various hikes and we’ve met an significant number of fantastic people upon the trails. Many of those who witness the marvel of Quinn’s work are astounded by the dedication and ability he possesses. What many may not realize is that in our group, there is a battle for top dog.

It is not with Dusty, the recent rescue pup of Bob and Geri Hayes, though he is admittedly a little marvel in his own right. His boundless energy in surging ahead on every trail to the extent of his 20-foot leash or his near-constant darting into the side woods to plunge his rodent-sniffing nose after every squirrel scent with rarely a moment delay in our progress.

It is in fact Bob Hayes who is battling it out with Quinn for “top dog.” Not only does Bob bring a fair bit of hiking experience and motivation into our undertaking, he also brings a supportive human guide element to particularly tricky areas and many of the descents when we need or want to increase our speed.

Randy, Bob, and the Mighty Quinn make the best team!

Bob’s and my teamwork has continued to improve our communication and efficiency. Using techniques such as putting my hand upon his pack so I can follow along behind him have helped us traverse vast sections of trail in times better than the AMC book suggests for those regions. We have developed an endurance of work which has far surpassed any prior guiding efforts, and in the case of Mt. Hale actually involved virtually jogging the entire descent of the trail for a summit-to-car travel time of an incredible 2 hours and 15 minutes!

Each person accompanying or encountering us for any length of time upon these wilderness excursions will undoubtedly catch a different part of our experience. Many have provided me with encouragement and inspiration in various ways, for which I am incredibly appreciative. As for who will be “top dog”: the simple fact is that both Bob and the mighty Quinn share honors as my guides, both outstanding in their own ways. They have my full gratitude for their willingness to team up with me and make this incredible journey possible.

How many thousands of feet of elevation we climb, miles of trail we cover, or simple number of peaks we achieve this winter will be determined as the winter unfolds. I already know full well how much I love the experience and celebrating our joys and accomplishments together!

Team portrait!


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.


Give Me Liberty

by Kyle Dancause

Our guest author, Kyle, kneels to the left of Quinn.

In writing this blog I have done exactly what I tell my students not to do – I started with the title. When I began thinking about a blog post for the Mt. Liberty hike, I became fixated on Patrick Henry’s famous line, “Give me liberty, or give me death.” What a perfectly fitting title for a blog post about hiking Mt. Liberty on September 11th.

As I procrastinated on writing this post and waited for a source of inspiration, I reassured myself that at least I had a great title. Then I realized that this ultimatum might send the wrong message. I don’t know that Quinn would be too happy with me if I’m running up and down the mountain yelling, “Give me Liberty or give me death.” Bad idea.

I did some more thinking and realized that I didn’t even really know anything about Patrick Henry or his speech. About all I remembered was that Henry’s speech convinced Virginia to join the Revolutionary cause. With still no idea what I wanted to say in this blog, I read Patrick Henry’s speech (1775) and found the inspiration I was looking for.

In the third paragraph of his speech, Henry says, “I have one lamp by which my feet are guided, and that is the lamp of experience. I know no way of judging the future but by the past.” If Patrick Henry had known Quinn, he may have added a second lamp. However, with Henry’s message in mind, I look to Saturday’s hike with an eye on the past.

Last May I was lucky enough to spend a week in the Pemigewasset Wilderness with Randy, Quinn, and a group of UNH backpackers as a part of Brent Bell’s Outdoor Education course. It is an experience I will remember for the rest of my life and certainly not one I can do justice to in a short post. On our Pemi hike, I learned a great deal about Randy, Quinn, and myself that gives me a deep sense of confidence and excitement approaching this weekend.

First, I know that Randy and Quinn have the physical ability to climb Mt. Liberty. I saw them struggle up Bondcliff, Mt. Bond, and South Twin Mountain – three four thousand footers. Randy was exhausted, perhaps as tired as I’ve ever seen someone standing on two feet, yet he made it. Quinn fought through some nasty chafing and a significant paw abrasion that when discovered at the Guyot shelter left me feeling an increasing sense of despair. “This was a bad idea. We’re in over our heads,” I remember telling others. As a self-proclaimed worrywart, I feared the worst – emergency evacuation. Then Quinn started working, taking the pain, and leading Randy through a two-mile, post-hole minefield that was the Twinway trail.

That gets me to my second point: Courage. I’m fascinated with the concept of courage – both extreme and every-day acts. Those who know me well know that I’m a positive person. My glass is half-full and I believe strongly in the infectious nature of optimism. For this reason, I’m drawn to courage, to people who don’t complain but instead put their head down, grit their teeth, and keep on going. On the second day of our Pemi hike, this was Randy. I distinctly remember passing Randy on the saddle between Bondcliff and Mt. Bond. It was probably around 7pm and though I had tunnel vision – we need water – I remember looking at Randy as I passed him. He was extremely fatigued. He was soaked in sweat and covered in dirt. His arms and hands were shaking. His eyes were looking for a million things at once. I remember being very worried, as scared as I’ve ever been on a mountain, but I also remember feeling an incredibly sense of inspiration. Randy had nothing left in the tank, but he kept on going. No complaining. No, “I can’t do this.” Perseverance. Courage. Mental toughness. As we approach Mt. Liberty, I take comfort in these qualities.

Third, I have confidence in our team’s ability to do the right thing. Though I realize that ultimately I will have to call the shots, I know that Randy and the team will have my back even if it’s not what they want to do. On the third night of our Pemi hike in May, I led a serious discussion about our options moving forward. We had gotten to Galehead Hut sometime after 8pm and a 13 hour day of hiking featuring a rugged 3 ½ hour .8 mile from South Twin to the hut. After back-to-back hiking days of 14 and 13 hours, I didn’t think it was a good idea to continue our original route. I suggested that Randy, Quinn, and others take a down day at the hut and that finishing the loop as planned didn’t seem reasonable. Using Quinn’s paw and Randy’s exhaustion as a scapegoat, we voted for a down day and an altered route out of the Pemi. Though Randy may have had a bruised ego and more likely just downright felt really bad about impacting the group experience, he let us make that decision. It wasn’t the most popular decision but it was the right decision. Looking ahead to Mt. Liberty, if we aren’t sitting on the summit flying our flag at 1:30pm, I’m ready to make a decision and confident that it will be the right one.

I’m excited to once again hike with Randy, Quinn, and T.J, and looking forward to meeting and getting to know the rest of our team. We have a long, challenging day hike ahead of us, but I am eager to begin. I’m confident that we will be sitting atop Mt. Liberty next Saturday, but I’ll be ok if we can’t get there this time.

Finally, I dedicate my participation in this hike to the members of my family actively serving in the armed forces. Todd, Billy, Johnny, Tyler – Thank you. I’ll be thinking about you.


…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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