My “vision” for 2017 as it pertains to both the 2020 Vision Quest and myself is admittedly fraught with a little more doubt than usual. I’m generally a confident planner with a fair bit of will and determination, yet that was not enough for me to deliver 2016 in quite all of the ways I hoped.
I still count it as a successful year despite the many setbacks and it is for those setbacks I have a little trepidation in setting my sights on the peaks ahead for this year. I still would rather reach for the highest summits and learn to celebrate the higher altitudes even when I’m not reaching every peak with perfection. I think if I reached every goal set forth at the start of the year, perhaps I wouldn’t have challenged myself quite enough.
So with this in mind, some of these goals are reaches but most are reasonable stretches given the supportive team striving for these goals together.
As the heart of our mission, I’d like to see us elevate from the 54,000 students we’ve reached in schools at this point to more than 60,000 by this time next year! We continue to receive tremendously positive testimonials from students, teachers and administrators as well as parents, so perhaps you might want to volunteer or refer a school to our “For Educators” page that they may schedule a visit from Autumn and and me.
Delayed by my health challenges, the book writing project halted near the halfway point and that is a setback I consider unacceptable. Its return is a high priority and several other pursuits are getting relegated behind the priority this writing deserves. The plan is to have it finished by the arrival of my birthday in June!
Running Old and New
First up in the running goals is our return to the Boston Marathon with the ability to train properly and appreciate a fully healthy run. We’ll announce the guiding details in the near future but the training program is already underway and going well.
It will be my first of three marathons this year, as I intend to run the Nashua “Gate City Marathon” in May. A special feature of that marathon is the relay option in which five-mile loops will enable many to be part of the celebration as partial participants or spectators from the downtown central location of my hometown!
Lastly, it is my plan to return to the California International Marathon in December and once again attempt to compete for the B1 National Marathon Championship which I was fortunate to win back in 2014.
One other novelty run mixed into the many enjoyable local runs in which I’m often eager to participate is a 7.6-mile run highly touted for having only a single hill. It’s a hill I know rather well since the race occurs along the Mt. Washington Auto Road. Getting into this race is a little tricky but I’ll be doing my best to gain entrance so that in June I can find yet another way to the top of the rock pile infamous for the worst weather in the world.
Our Kilimanjaro team has not finalized the late summer plans but it looks very much like a trip to Peru and the Inca trail may be in order. We may visit the ancient city of Machu Picchu or the incredible Rainbow Mountain or even some other as yet undetermined treasure of the Andes. We simply miss the team and experience and so are seeking yet another opportunity.
Certainly there are many more goals great and small which are in my thoughts and which may develop. I want to help the Peak Potential team improve on what many felt was our best ever Peak Potential event last November. I want to always ensure I’m learning, growing and helping others around me do similarly. I hope you’ll help hold me to some of these goals and perhaps join me in the achievements and celebrations!
On October 16 Rob Webber will run his very first marathon… while also choosing to guide me for that Bay State Marathon. While perhaps a surprising choice to some, it is not for me as Rob has spent many moments over the last 31 years providing me with many styles of valuable guidance. Our friendship began at the University of New Hampshire in the spring of 1985 and his friendship has been one of the greatest strengths in my life.
I could doubtless embarrass him with many tales of why his calm, steadfast, intelligent, caring, practical, and wise approach to the world has been so essential to my managing many challenges in my life. I could regale us all with humorous anecdotes of our mischievous and mirthful adventures and for those who share a fireside pint we may indeed do that a time or two ahead. I also happen to know there are plenty of recent photographic and video demonstrations of the amazing world adventures we’ve shared, and yet those who know Rob already are aware of these things and fortunately I’m fairly certain I’ve already made Rob well aware of how much I treasure our friendship. Why, then, this post?
I believe it is always appropriate to ensure the people we value in our lives are aware of how much they mean to us. I rarely have enough to give back to the many people like Rob who make so many choices to help me and this is just one moment to do such a thing. So absolutely thank you, Rob, for the friendship most of all, the moments of support at times when life was overwhelming, the moments of laughter when life needed celebrating, and in a simpler but well appreciated fashion, for the many miles ahead on the course of the Bay State Marathon.
There are so many people who have guided me in races and each may have their own reasons for the choice. I’ve had so many guides it would fill the pages to list them and someday that’s exactly what I should do. For now, it is just an appreciation for those who take the time to step out of their own running goals, put focus on the notion they can add more challenges to their experience, and allow another person the opportunity to take part as we might not otherwise manage. Yes, I do believe there are rewards to the guide and yet that choice is still a remarkable decision which creates a tremendous opportunity and experience. I’ve run a few marathons now and spending hours of hours running with probably close to 50 different guides. In each situation, I would not have had the chance if they did not make that choice.
So to Rob and all my other guides as well as all those who guide other blind/visually impaired runners, I wish I had much more than a “thank you” to clearly offer you. The closest I may come to expressing that appreciation at present is in sharing how I feel when I am running. Whether in training or a race, whether exhausted or invigorated, whether hot or frozen, snow-encrusted, rain-drenched or sun-baked; each time I’m on a run, I recall the gift it is to feel my legs move, my lungs respond, and the freedom which is being gifted me. I’ve never yet failed to give a moment of reflection to my first run guide Quinn. Those who guide me honor his legacy and for me that is the highest honor I can bestow upon any guide. Whether the full meaning of that is something you understand, I assure it is of deep value and meaning to me.
So again, thank you to Quinn, Rob and all of my guides.
“When he took time to help the man up the mountain, lo, he scaled it himself.” –Tibetan Proverb
While the above proverb is quite likely true in many ways for our group, the basic message suggests that in our teamwork and support of each other, we can all achieve heights beyond our expectations. Once I determined Kilimanjaro was a goal, the most important next step was finding the right people to be part of the experience and team. That in itself was a longer and more interesting journey than I would have anticipated and I’m very pleased to report that I will be part of an excellent group of people.
The selection of those ten began with my intent to use the human guiding approach we developed during my quest to summit the 48. With that in mind, Rob Webber and Jose Acevedo were the first to officially join the team with me. There are many fantastic friends with whom I have hiked through the years and I’d have liked all of them to be able to join this expedition, but unfortunately that was not reasonable. We did feel that we needed at least two friends who have guided me and were comfortable not only with the task but with the impact my medical condition might cause for all of our chances at a successful summit. Rob is one of my longest and strongest friendships going back to our days at the University of New Hampshire together. He was my Best Man and brings an intelligent, thoughtful patience to his excellent athleticism. He’s also taller than I am which is particularly beneficial when guiding me down from elevation as my hand on the pack appreciates that height to keep me from bending.
Jose meanwhile is “less tall” for the upward sections when I can more readily keep my hand on his pack as we ascend. I’ve known Jose for well over two decades. An excellent and charismatic leader with energy and endurance as we showed in winning the National Marathon Championship together. Both serve on the Board of Directors for 2020 Vision Quest and we were prepared to be the core of a team.
When Greg Neault and I discussed the trip. it quickly became clear to me our ever growing friendship and frequent hikes of the White Mountains provided a reason for me to inquire and he was immediately interested and eager to be part of the experience. Greg has a tremendous sense of adventure and matches my drive to believe things are possible with problem solving and determination. An excellent artistic eye and generous with his photography gifts, he has become the Social Media Manager for 2020 Vision Quest.
He also is a positive catalyst for expanding my own adventurous nature. In fact, he and Cathy “Wildcat” Merrifield were fundamental in my eventually entering into the Tough Mudder Nation. Perhaps that explains why Wildcat and her significant other, Frank Parrot, were soon welcomed into the growing team. Each have hiked with me in the past and have become steadily closer friends.
I’d met Cathy on a run with the Mighty Quinn in which a mutual acquaintance had us bounding over tricky roots while training for shorter races. I was proud to keep up with her and have come to value the entire Wildcat clan! Cathy has an infectious spirit of encouragement and courage as well as her own chronicling of adventures. Frank is the quiet technology presence who augments the silence with the deep thought behind the scenes. Perhaps the most difficult to get to know he also provided the most profound answer when our first training weekend had us sharing significant life experiences. Frank is the tallest member of the team and may help Rob with descent guiding as his own hiking prowess has grown as he details in his guest blog to Wildcats page. Frank’s photography skills and hiking determination may exceed the little detail that he might just be able to carry the entire team on his shoulders for short distances!
Cathy’s addition blazed the trail for my favorite addition and yes, I’m not only allowed but expected to have a favorite! My wife Tracy has been a fundamental part of my adventures as well as her own. She ensured Jose would not be the shortest member of the team while allowing me to have the person I’d most wish to share such epic life adventures right there beside me. Along with her taking the core planning of our actual trip into her ever immense list of responsibilities Tracy also best understands my blindness and the rest of my medical challenges. She’s a well grounded presence to aid the entire group but most especially my essential needs to best encourage success. Mostly though I’m just joyful that instead of missing her while away we’ll be sharing the experiences together and that is an essential way to live our lives.
While we might have halted at a lucky 7 in our group, we have built a few friendships through our strong connection to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. Though Quinn and Autumn may top the canine lists of gifts from the wonderful organization, our friendship with Michelle Brier is unrivaled. Her energy, enthusiasm, and creativity are welcome in all aspects of life, while her caring and giving nature help support a team. Her medical skills will be a tremendous asset for sure as will her subtle attention to the well-being of each individual along the way.
Through Michelle, Catherine “Cat” Orza joined us for what proved to be Quinn’s final hike and took the legendary photograph I’ll always treasure. It’s almost unfair that the youngest member of our team is renown for that photo instead of the hiking knowledge, fun-loving and easygoing kindness she also showcases. Yet another incredible athlete on our team, Cat’s also adding to the photographic prowess I decidedly lack.
Our final team member is a trainer at Guiding Eyes and that might be incredibly beneficial on many of our hikes where many dogs and most certainly my Dog Guides might be involved. All the dogs are remaining home though and Maureen Mellett is the least known to me of our group. She is a hiker with much familiarity working with the blind and some specifically for guiding. She was the first to positively respond to my request for those who would be willing to guide me on Kilimanjaro which speaks much about her approach. Ultimately though she’ll be some of they mystery we share as our experience goes forward. I know that she joins us with a very high recommendation from Michelle Brier and that’s enough to make our team a perfect 10!
While we all undoubtedly have our own reasons for undertaking the journey, we have a common purpose which unites us: we are all determined to do our utmost to ensure that all of us have every chance to reach the summit successfully. A common purpose will bring us together and undoubtedly a few challenges along the way may require we communicate and adjust approaches to best benefit the expedition. Overall though, we are all very committed to making the most of the experience. Every expectation is that the shared aspects of how each of us grows into the team and from the expedition will be part of our success. My hundreds of hikes have taught me to appreciate how much any individual can enrich the experience and how much the experience will bring any group together. While we will share our stories in words, images, and video, only we 10 will fully experience this expedition together and understand completely how it transforms all of us. I do wish I could have many others along with us but I’m reminded of William Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, and so in the same sentence I would not wish for one man more for we few, we precious few, are enough.
“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
We 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.”
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!
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.
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.
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.
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