Winter



30 Dec 17

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Autumn in the winter, with an icy blue filter“I always loved the idea that a photograph was a memory frozen in time.”
Ed Gass-Donnelly

Just as the Winter Solstice begins the lengthening of the day, so too does the arrival of the New Year bring about reflection for many of us. So many moments over the last year or even many years captured in our minds as a frozen moment of experience we can no longer change or affect.

Nostalgia can be emotionally potent and despite the myriad marvels of 2017. I will not hide that the most powerful images for me are the bitter-sweet recollections of my beloved and now deceased mother. Sweet because so many of the memories are richly laced with the love and attention we chose to share our lives; bitter because I know 2018 and beyond will not hold the possibility of creating new moments together as we did so well most of our lives.

As an icy cold winter has presently embraced New England, Autumn and I are not frozen in time as the above photograph might suggest. We are in the prime years of our work together. As we shelter in the warmth of our home and hearth, we are planning the possibilities for the year(s) ahead. We often share the goals of 2020 Vision Quest through our school presentations and our corporate keynotes. For this blog I wanted to share just the simple goals which warm the moments, days, and year for Autumn and me.

  • Each and every morning begins with Autumn crawling onto my chest to lay stretched atop me in either affection or dogged determination to convince me by gravity to feed her sooner than later!
  • Each morning she hopes to inspire me to put the harness upon her and take a walk of at least 2 miles and hopefully 4.
  • Each morning the Playment (payment) plan ensures that following that work is a round or seven with a favorite toy of which she has roughly 54!
  • Mid-morning she wishes to interrupt my computer work to remind me there’s an opportunity to play, groom or, weather permitting, take a cup of coffee out to the back yard! She all too often gets her way.
  • When we visit a school or virtually any social excursion she almost patiently awaits the opportunity to be told she is off duty so she too can greet her friends old and new with the wagging tail and joyous burst of energy which is her natural grace. A reminder to me so often of the treasure of kindness and friendliness in our world.
  • Each evening she eagerly greets the arrival of Tracy (Mom!) with the enthusiasm of someone gone for weeks. This is only partially because Mom’s arrival heralds the serving of Autumn dinner, mind you.
  • Each evening she encourages the opportunity to be a lap dog and curl up with her family whatever the activity of the evening. Yes, she is undeterred by cross training on the schedule.
  • By 8:00 pm she begins facing us with enormous yawns of Snoopy fame as her not-so-subtle hint she would like us all to retire to bed.
  • She is first to the master bath to sit ever so pretty facing the counter where her treat jar sits. Ever hopeful that we will provide her the nightly reward for being her awesome Autumn self, she will resort to Jedi mind powers if necessary and has been known to still be sitting there waiting when we have gone to bed determined that not every night is treat night. Occasionally we have relented and gone to get her and a treat!
  • Each night she sleeps comfortably in her giant Taj-Mahal of beds in our bedroom unless we make the slightest of entreaties at which point she will, ever vigilant, leap to our request and ensure our pillows and people are snuggled with the lightest and cutest of snores until all are asleep… and then she will mystically spread to take up the entirety of a king size bed!

Such is the typical day in the life of Autumn and from such simple roots do I grow the rest of my plans for the new year. Happy New Year everyone, treasure all the little moments frozen in time even as you move forward!

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22 Dec 17

By Randy Pierce

Christmas is certainly for all ages, though I admit to the appreciating the special enjoyment it brings to children. In this wonderful Christmas tale, Jonathan Mosen shares an insightful story of Christmas being for people of all abilities. If you visit the link to his story directly you’ll discover audio versions of the story are available and can share feedback directly with the author. Meanwhile with his encouragement to share this story here is his clever and educational Christmas story.

Link to original story here. Reprinted below. 

***

 “Louis, The Blind Christmas Elf”, a Story for Children
- By Jonathan Mosen

A long long time ago, so long ago that even your teacher hadn’t been born yet, so that makes it a really really long time ago, a stylish, shiny elf-driving car pulled into the long driveway at Santa’s busy workshop.

Out of the car stepped Mrs Scott, a smartly-dressed elf wearing a business suit and black patent leather high-heeled shoes.

They made such a loud clop, clop, clop sound on the cobblestones leading to the gingerbread front door of the workshop, that Harold, the chief elf, heard his visitor coming, even over the sound of all the toys being made and packed.

He met Mrs Scott at the door of the workshop, greeting her with a wide smile, a firm handshake and a laugh that was squeaky and high-pitched, yet somehow when you heard it, you could tell it was coming right from his wobbly little tummy. He immediately felt under-dressed in the overalls he was wearing while he was helping out on one of the assembly lines. Yet despite Mrs Scott looking immaculate, and Harold looking decidedly shabby, Harold was the boss, and she had something he needed.

“Come in, come in! You must be from the elf-improvement school,” Harold exclaimed.

Harold ushered Mrs Scott into his office, and one of the kitchen elves was asked to make her a cup of tea. Making all those toys and sorting them for Santa made all the elves hungry like a wolf, so Santa’s workshop had a big kitchen where all kinds of delicious treats were being made for the elves to eat whenever they got hungry.

Mrs Scott had been the director of the School of Elf Improvement for five years, but this was the first time she had visited Santa’s workshop. If elves were ever lucky enough to get a job with Santa, almost no one left. That meant that even though there were many elves graduating every year from the School of Elf Improvement, not many got the ultimate prize, the job of working for Santa.

Mrs Scott was at Santa’s workshop on this day, because Harold had called her late one night on her elf-phone, saying that with more children than ever in the world, they could use a bit more help.

After the tea arrived, and Mrs Scott had sampled some of the delectable fairy cakes from the workshop kitchen, she opened her briefcase and they got down to business.

“As you can appreciate,” she said, “every elf would love to work here at Santa’s workshop, but I know you can only use the cleverest, most capable elves. You have so much to do! So I’ve brought you three elf-assessments to take a look at.”

Mrs Scott took out three beautifully spiral-bound leather folders, with the name of an elf etched in gold on the front cover of each one.

“This is Huey”, she said. “Huey loves building musical instruments. During one of his exams, he built a piano, a clarinet, a huge noisy drum kit, a Didgeridoo, a nose flute and a plinkety plankety, all in under an hour. I’ve never seen anything like it,” Mrs Scott beamed.

“Well now,” said Harold looking impressed, “I’ve heard of most of those things of course, we have lots of them being built in the workshop right now actually, but what’s a plinkety plankety?”

“Oh,” said Mrs Scott, beaming with pride, “it’s a new instrument Huey invented himself! If he doesn’t come to work here, I’m sure he’ll be producing it for one of the big toy companies before the year is out.”

“Hmmm,” said Harold, “he sounds wonderful and would make a great addition to the team I’m sure, but the thing is, we’re not really having any trouble keeping up with musical instruments. Who else do you have?”

“Well,” said Mrs Scott, moving the second leather-bound volume to the top of the pile, “this is Stewy. Now Stewy is a genius at making toy kitchens, and all the things to go in the toy kitchens. Do you know,” she said, getting so excited that she spilled a bit of fairy cake all down her front, so it was just as well that her garments were elf-cleaning, “the other day, Stewy made a toy kitchen with a fridge that really gets cold? But that’s not the half of it. It only works when you put chocolate in the fridge. Put any other food in that thing, and nothing happens. Outstanding piece of work.”

“Very clever,” said Harold, “although I’m not convinced the boys and girls will want a fridge that only keeps one thing cool. And we do have some good engineers here. Still, he’s worth considering. And who is the last elf you wanted to show me?”

“Ah, well,” said Mrs Scott, suddenly looking a little fidgety, “I really wasn’t sure about whether to suggest Louis or not. Louis is special.”

There was something in the way Mrs Scott used the word “special” that immediately peaked Harold’s curiosity.

“What exactly do you mean by special?”

“Well, you see, Louis makes excellent use of his hearing. It’s not that his hearing is better than any of the other elves in the school, it’s just that he tends to take a lot more notice of what he’s hearing. Recently, we were manufacturing a load of ride-on toy tractors for a toy company, and one of the whizimybobs developed a fault!”

“Oh no,” said Harold, understanding exactly how serious a matter this was. “You get a problem with one of your whizimybobs and it can really set you back. Actually we had a fault with one of our whizimybobs here at Santa’s workshop last Christmas. It stopped a lot of our production for a week because no one picked up on it, and we nearly had to cancel Santa’s delivery altogether”.

“Well exactly,” said Mrs Scott. “If Louis hadn’t heard the subtle change in the machine caused by the problem with the whizimybobs, I think we would have lost the contract. We were so lucky he was around.”

“I’m intrigued,” said Harold. “We could definitely use someone with those skills. Tell me more about this Louis.”

“He’s very thorough,” said Mrs Scott. “He inspects things with his hands and often picks up on problems making things that we might miss visually. It’s been very useful to us more than once”.

“But why?” asked Harold, “why doesn’t he just use his eyes like everyone else?”

“Because his eyes don’t work,” said Mrs Scott. “Louis’s totally blind.”

“Blind?” Harold scratched his little head in utter bemusement. “How does he…how will he…what if he…I just don’t think a blind elf could work in our workshop.”

“I thought you might think that,” said Mrs Scott patiently, “but hear me out. Remember how you nearly had to cancel Christmas Eve once, because it was too foggy for Santa to travel. If it wasn’t for Rudolph, kids all around the world would have gone without presents that year.”

“Oh I remember it well,” sighed Harold. “It was the most scary day of my life. I was so stressed out I was beside my elf.”

“Then surely,” continued Mrs Scott, “you know that people with a range of abilities and gifts make Santa’s workshop run more smoothly! Louis can bring skills that many of your other elves don’t have.”

“You make a good point Mrs Scott,” Harold said. “Send him to us. We’ll take him on. I don’t want anyone getting hurt and there is a lot that goes on in this workshop, but we’ll give it a try.”

Louis arrived at Santa’s workshop the next day, with his little suitcase and his long white candy cane. He put it out in front of him, so he new when he was getting close to an obstacle. If the cane hit a wall or something left on the ground, he would feel it. And after being shown around the place, he soon started remembering where all the divisions of Santa’s great workshop were located. It wasn’t that difficult for Louis. He soon noticed how different the sounds of the machinery were depending on which part of the workshop he was in. Sometimes, his sense of smell helped too. Just like his hearing, it was no better than anyone else’s, but since he didn’t have his sight, he took more notice of what his other senses were telling him.

Louis was very excited about meeting Santa, but Harold explained that since Christmas was getting close, Santa was very busy preparing, and usually, elves just starting out didn’t get a chance to meet with the big guy.

Louis settled down to work as quickly as he could, but he wasn’t happy. He felt that he wasn’t being given as much responsibility as he was capable of. Everyone was very nice to him, but they just couldn’t imagine how he could do the things that needed to get done if he wasn’t able to see. Louis tried to be patient and explain.

“Since you’ve been able to see all your life,” he said, “you use your sight. You depend on it for a lot of things and that makes sense. But I’ve never been able to see, so I don’t know any different. I get by just fine without any sight. I might do things in a different way sometimes, but I still get the job done in the end.”

Still, the elves found it hard to give Louis a fair chance. It’s not that they meant any harm, they just were scared about him being hurt.

Then, one day, a mad panic developed in the mail room at Santa’s workshop. Every day at precisely 29 o’clock, a small earthquake could be felt, as the mail from all the children who had recently written to Santa got delivered to the workshop.

The mail elves had an efficient system of sorting through the mail, and making sure that all the requests from the girls and boys got put on Santa’s list. At the end of every day, Santa would always check the list twice, to be sure all the good children had their requests noted.

But today, the mail elves had a problem they didn’t know how to solve. They had received a group of letters that were nothing like they had ever received before. The mail elves prided themselves on being able to read every single language in the world. But these letters had them stumped. Rather than being written with squiggly characters on the page, these letters felt all bumpy. Hannah, one of the mail elves, said the pages reminded her of her teenage brother Brad, who was having a major problem with pimples. The pages, she said, looked and felt a bit like Brad’s face.

“Do you mean kids are now writing to us in pimple?” said Harold, who had been put in charge of solving the issue because of how urgent it was.

“I don’t think any child would be quite that dotty,” Hannah replied. “But I think we need to call an elf-development meeting, to see if anyone can solve this problem. Because Santa has made it clear, we need to do whatever it takes to make sure all girls and boys who write to us have their requests read, even if we can’t always grant them all”.

Elf-development meetings didn’t happen very often so close to Christmas, but this was an emergency. All the elves from around Santa’s workshop stopped what they were doing, and gathered together at exactly elve o’clock for the big meeting.

“For the first time in our history,” Harold announced, “we have received a group of letters from girls and boys that none of our team can read. Here’s a sample.”

Harold held up a page of the dot-filled writing. Everyone stared, first at the dotty page, then blankly back at Harold. No one had any idea what the writing was, or how to read it.

“The interesting thing about this writing is,” Harold said, “if you touch it, it feels very easy to distinguish by touch, almost as if you’re supposed to read it with your hands.”

Louis’s little ears pricked up. He couldn’t see the sample, but based on the description, he was pretty sure he knew what it was.

“May I please feel a page of that writing?” Louis asked.

Harold handed Louis a page filled with the dots. Louis took the fingertips of both index fingers, and started gently running his fingers across the page. He began to speak.

“Dear Santa. My name is Sam. I’m nine, and I can’t wait until your visit. For Christmas, I would please like a cool train set, one with plenty of awesome sounds and loud whistles if you can. My sister Amy is seven. She is a pest, so I think you should bring her a frog. Love, Sam.”

“How did you do that, and more to the point, what is that dotty stuff?” Harold asked.

“It’s Braille,” said Louis. “It’s the new way for blind people to read and write. These letters are from blind boys and girls. They’re writing to you themselves. You see, Braille lets blind children write to us here at Santa’s workshop, just like sighted children can.”

Suddenly, all the elves started jumping up and down and clapping. “Hooray for Louis! Hooray for Louis!”

The elves were happy because, thanks to Louis, they could make sure that all girls and boys, including those who read Braille, could get their presents on Santa’s list.

Louis spent a lot of time in the mail room after that, but that wasn’t all he did. The elves realised that just because you’re blind, it doesn’t mean you don’t have valuable skills that others may not have. They realised that Louis just did things differently. Not better, just differently. Soon, Louis was also put in charge of whizimybob inspection. The elves used to be worried that Louis would hurt himself, because whizimybobs have so many moving parts. But they knew that Louis was careful and capable, more capable at that particular job than anyone else.

One day, Harold came into the mail room to find Louis.

“The big guy wants to see you Louis,” Harold said.

“Santa? See me? Have I done something wrong?”

“No idea,” Harold said, “I was just asked to bring you to see him.”

Louis timidly knocked on Santa’s office door. “Ho, ho, ho!” came the reply. Louis opened the door, and walked into the office, which seemed to be shaking. It turns out Santa was happy to see Louis, and Santa’s enormous belly-laughter was making the whole office bounce up and down like a carnival ride.

“I wanted to see you in person Louis,” Santa said, “to thank you so much for your gift.”

“Gift?” said a puzzled Louis.

“Oh yes,” said Santa. “You know, every year, I give lots and lots of toys to girls and boys all over the world, and that’s wonderful. But your gifts are also very precious. You see, you showed us all here at the workshop that no matter who we are, we’re all special, we’re all unique, we can all do something no one else can do. Some of us are good at some things, some of us are good at others. Some of the elves here thought that just because you couldn’t see, you couldn’t contribute as much. But they just didn’t know better. Now everyone knows you’re a very important member of our team. We’d be lost without you. You showed all of us that the best gift we can give each other at Christmas is to love and appreciate everyone around us for who they are.”

And all these years later, every year, when he’s not looking after those pesky whizimybobs, you’ll find Louis in the mail room, making sure that all the Braille letters from blind children all over the world are making it onto Santa’s list, and being checked twice. Which just goes to show, there’s nothing you can’t do, as long as you believe in your elf.

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10 Dec 17

By Randy Pierce

Quinn, Randy, and Tracy on a winter hike“Joy is a loyal companion, love is a faithful friend, fear is a terrible adversary, and hatred is a merciless enemy.”

–Matshona Dhliwayo

On December 11, 2004, a golden bundle of Labrador retriever came into this world as the ninth puppy in his litter. It was an inauspicious start perhaps for a pup who reached such lofty peaks of success well beyond climbing and guiding. The Mighty Quinn demonstrated love, loyalty, and friendship to me on an unrivaled level which those who witnessed typically found astounding. He had dedication and devotion for certain, and his competitive intensity showed an intelligence and focus beyond all my expectations. In his barely 9 years of life he lived more than most ever dream and he touched the lives of thousands. Much has been, deservedly, shared about Quinn’s life and death.

On the anniversary of his birth, I take a special few moments to reflect in joy upon how very fortunate I feel to have had this amazing boy in my life. I think about our mountain adventures and often play a video we call “Winter Celebrations with the Mighty Quinn.” Dina Sylvester created this video at the request of Michelle Brier and I am so thankful for both as it is a fight for me each time I listen to it. For me it captures the joy he felt in his life, or specifically in our winter hiking adventures. I listen for the subtle background sounds of interactions, the clear love and fun in our communications, as well as the playfulness which is interwoven in our work together. Playfulness was a centerpiece of his  life for certain. There is no description to this video at this time though I have had it shared with me at times. I know there are countless moments of Quinn joy throughout, so I encourage you to enjoy the short three minutes of heart lifting opportunity to choose, like I will, joy.

While I cannot say there will be no hint of sadness in my reflections, I can tell you with certainty that I would gladly choose all of the moments of sadness I’ve ever experienced before, now, and ahead because of the loss of Quinn–I would consider all those moments of pain a bargain price for the incredible joy, love, courage, and freedom Quinn brought into my life during the time we were blessed to share company together. It is why in recollection each day, and especially on his birthday, I choose joy!

“Dogs, lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and the mistakes we make because of those illusions.”

–Dean Koontz

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2 Dec 17

By Randy Pierce

Peaceful snowy woods with trees and a field.I’m all too often aware of the many worthy causes which tug on all of our heart strings as we travel the paths along our journey. Sometimes the causes fill me with sadness and the empty feeling of being insufficiently able to help. Usually though, the very act of learning is because someone has guided me to the opportunity.

It was the night before our Peak Potential event as we were closing out preparations when two inspiring people made the first choice. Tom Cassetty is a friend who also coaches young athletes in running. That morning, the father of one of his young runners had unexpectedly died. We all scramble for how to respond in such dour times laced with well intentioned platitudes. Tom wanted to ensure the runners for the track meet the next mourning would have black arm bands to wear to memorialize the father and he needed someone who could sew them together for him late that night. My wife Tracy immediately volunteered and together they made it happen despite all the many reasons she could have understandably elected not to step forward.

I am so proud and appreciative of the kindness and caring in these two people for a simple step and still I felt and feel so concerned at the wife and eight children left behind by the sudden death of John Balletto.

John was their source of income through his business of moving and clean-out services Balletto & Sons in Hudson, NH. His wife Melanie intends to temporarily close the business to prepare for her ability to take over managing it going forward. Those changes will take a little bit of time and I hope that anyone in need of their services will consider reaching out to them as they re-open.

In the meantime, the holidays approach with many needs despite many caring people reaching out to help with their short term needs and if you, like me, are moved to help in any fashion; I wanted you to have access to their story and a place where you could donate.

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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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18 Dec 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Quinn on Mt. Monroe.

Randy and Quinn on Mt. Monroe.

The plan suggested it was to be a demonstration of Ability Awareness. It was to be an appreciation of the diverse gifts provided by winter hiking. It was a chance to savor the easier footing I would experience as snow filled in those twisty, rocky, root-filled routes we call trails in the White Mountains of NH. The experience would prove to be far greater in scope than I ever realized and like so many things in life, the vastly heightened challenge enhanced the rewards received in like proportion.

The greatest gifts were the many friendships found along the trails from Greg Neault at the base of Hale to Justin Sylvester who took the photo to the right and Dina Sutin who filmed the teaser below as well as the accompanying film. Many friends were found and forged along those trails along with the lessons of perseverance, planning, and preparation. As winter arrives five years later, I’m so vastly different than I was when that first December 22 climb of Tecumseh began. I thought it worth a moment to look back and share a little with all of you who were with me and some who have joined us since those days.

I have so many thankful moments, so many delightful moments, and so many inspiring moments, I could fill a book well beyond the scope of this blog. As my holiday gift to the blog readers out here, I will share a tale in the blog comments for every person who comments and requests one. Similarly for our social media friends if you share our post and tag me so I can be aware of the share, I’ll give you a tale on your post as well. Happy Holidays and my thanks for the greatest gift of all that winter: Quinn’s incredible work, love, and dedication.

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10 Dec 16

By Randy Pierce

Hiking Mt. Isolation in 2013Mt. Isolation via Rocky Branch was looming as a daunting challenge for our team as we closed in on the completion of our non-winter 48 summit goal. As its name implies, it has some significant separation from many other trails
and routes more commonly hiked in the White Mountains and our team was a little short of the ideal numbers for the added risk my blindness brings to remote hiking. I had interacted with Mike Cherim  a few times on the internet and was glad for his willingness to join our team. We had a considerable amount of experience already on the trip and we were generally well prepared so he joined to meet, learn a little about the guiding process we use for my total blindness, and to share the enjoyment of hiking.

On the early ascent my Dog Guide Quinn did the work and those new to our team got to appreciate the subtle ways we worked the trails together. As we reached the general flats across the valley with the mud, water crossings and narrowed trails, I switched to a human guide for speed and efficiency under those situations. An experienced friend took that role (thanks, Sherpa John!) and Mike watched occasionally asking a few questions about the process. Mostly though, we were a comfortable group of friends sharing the wilderness. Mike’s excellent eye for photography proved to be an excellent eye for sharing some of the descriptions I might otherwise have missed. The easy-going comfort with which we all fell into conversations as well as times of quiet appreciation highlighted an awareness for allowing our group dynamics to develop naturally to allow us all to appreciate the hike in ways we wanted and needed.

Guiding can be mentally taxing, and as John was a little tired Mike offered to give it a bit of work. He was a natural and showed quickly that he translates his personal comfort and grace on the trails to his ease in guiding my steps through it as well. By the time we rose out of the valley to the ridge line and up to the remote summit, we were all friends sharing the marvels of the wilderness and learning to understand each other and the treasures of experience and knowledge each had brought along with them.

This is not a story about that hike. However, that journey can be found here.

Winter guiding with Randy's groupThis is a story in which I want to talk about guiding. Mike guided me much of the way out of that trip, somehow amazingly taking me through the muddiest of trails while keeping his boots shiny and clean. Better still I was safe and smiling, albeit a little weary. Mike is in tremendous shape which is part of why he is able to be so effective in both guiding and his work with Search and Rescue. His mental toughness to keep high focus through a long day many find grueling was truly impressive, particularly for someone undertaking this for their first time.

It was no fluke either as he would join me and guide more for our Carter Dome trek and once again highlight the knowledge, skills, fun, and friendliness with which he shares his passions for the trails and wilderness experiences. I’ve had many human guides on my mountain treks and a couple tremendous dog guides. I make no secret that my life bond with my dogs has much to do with my preference for our work together even as I understand there are times when the right choice is to use a human guide for a stretch of trail or occasionally longer when speed or types of risk suggest it. The more time I spend with guides the better our effectiveness and rapport develop and the more effective a team we become.

Redline GuidingIn two epic trips with Mike Cherim, it was clear to me how talented and capable we were as a team and he is as a guide in general for me as a totally blind hiker. As such I am not surprised by and absolutely support his  choice to make his passion a career choice with many options to enhance the experience of those who choose from the many fun packages–weddings anyone?!

In fact, I applaud your choice if you decide to use his services with Redline Guiding but more importantly I suspect and the review agrees that you will applaud his services should you make such a choice. In this appreciative blog for his services and all my present and past guides, I have only one simple bias which is that I experienced and appreciated the time we shared on the path and so too, I suspect, will you.

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21 May 16

By Randy Pierce

“Today we are going to take a little hike and naturally you’re invited.”
— Willem Lange, host of “Windows to the Wild”

I am missing the mountains. My health has inhibited hiking opportunities recently and with a significant anniversary arriving, I took the opportunity to take a hike a little differently. I listened to the video of NHPTV’s Emmy Award-winning show “Hiking in the Dark.” Willem Lange, Quinn, and I took this hike in July of 2013 although the show was first broadcast in February of 2014 and received the New England Emmy Award just one year ago. It was a 1.6-mile journey to the summit of Mt. Willard and for me it was the reminder of many of the wonders which are my reward for choosing to be on the path.

Watch the episode above and savor the journey with us. Meanwhile I’ll share a few of my reflections from the day.

Willem’s introduction takes a playful jab which set the tone for our relaxed blend of playful banter and in-depth philosophy. The trailhead at old Crawford Station begins with a short water crossing. It’s shallow enough I probably could have walked carefully through without concern but I chose to work it as if that wasn’t the case. Without my normal guides along to help support the process with information or even a human guide, we took it extra cautiously. The sticks were arrayed such that I could have trapped Quinn’s paws and thus it was the two trekking pole tactic for that short stretch.

As we continued, Willem underwent the transformation many hikers experience when joining me. Initially he wanted to warn me about every possible obstacle and watched with concern as Quinn and I used our teamwork to traverse the trail successfully. In no time at all, Willem was sharing his insightful perspective with the many other hikers sharing the trail at various times along the way. I remember feeling my own pride as Willem seemed both appreciative and proud of Quinn’s incredible guide work.

The interlude which included Tedy Bruschi taking on the Mighty Quinn in a mountaintop tug of war was an excellent diversion. Hearing Kyle’s laughter as he filmed Tedy doing a Quinn voice over is infectious. It was during this time Willem recommended I read the book The Art of Racing in the Rain which is written from a dog’s perspective. Having spent years writing Quinn’s dog blog often from Quinn’s perspective, it likely inspired my first published short story which appeared in Pet Tales in July 2014 and details the Mighty Quinn’s life.

Another surprising revelation for me on my recent virtual hike came about as I heard myself reference my favorite mental picture. While I describe it in detail and it remains an incredibly potent image for me, I have often in my presentations discussed my two favorite photos, which are both Quinn images. I hadn’t realized my own transformative journey, for I have mental images of those two photos. The image I speak about is the last thing I ever saw with my eyes in this world–my first Guide Dog, Ostend–and remains a gift I’ll treasure all of my days.

As the show closes out, Willem shares the success of our climbing Quest and the sorrow of his passing. As that sadness began to take a little hold on my heart, one last treasure snuck out for me. At the end of the hike I’d brought out Quinn’s tug ring for a little reward. That ring was originally Ostend’s, though he never much cared for tug. Quinn, however, was the master and delighted in every opportunity to match strength and wit. The toy which had traversed so many mountains on our journeys fell to his might that day in Crawford Notch.  The end of the toy was a tribute to his might and the many many battles of Tug of War. It came at the end of the hike and far too close to the end, albeit unknown to us, of his life.

I do not love endings. I do love the notion of the present both in immediacy and generalities. It’s what makes the whole hike what I celebrate and not just the summit. It is why we call this blog “On the Path.” As I wrap up this week’s entry, I’m also reminded that our best journeys can be taken again with some different results even as was necessary for me this time, virtually. Thank you, Willem Lange, New Hampshire Public Television and the crew of “Windows to the Wild” for giving me the gift of a journey I can retake time and time again.

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21 Feb 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and his former Guide Dog Quinn climb one of the NH 4,000-footers during the winter of 2012-2013.

Randy and his former Guide Dog Quinn climb one of the NH 4,000-footers during the winter of 2011-2012. Quinn passed away in January 2014.

For me the winter of 2016 has finally arrived. Shortly before Tracy, Autumn, and I departed for the New England Visually Impaired Ski Festival at Mt. Sugarloaf in Maine, the first appreciable snow arrived to our home in Nashua, NH. Travelling north and into the mountains of Maine, we encountered more snow, though still a winter with considerably lower than average snowfall. Shortly after our arrival more snow was delivered, and several days of skiing later it felt like winter had arrived. Returning home reinforced this as another snowstorm arrived and our first deep freeze of below zero temperatures soon afterwards.

Sitting by the fire with a cup of coffee, my mindset turns to the winter of 2012 and the epic hiking experiences. I’m recalling Quinn and me adapting to the notion of winter hiking and solving the challenges in order to receive the rewards available. In my quiet moments, I bask in the nostalgic recollections and occasionally seek out a blog from those times to help me experience the moments again. Where do you explore in your cherished nostalgic moments?

On this simple week I hope you might turn the clock back just four years to my first season of winter hiking:

Hiking Sacrifices for “Super” Goals

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16 Jan 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Jose running and determined

Jose and Randy run the California International Marathon in December 2014.

“We do not plan to fail, we fail to plan.” – Lorrie Ross

I was excited to announce that my good friend and fellow 2020 Vision Quest Board Member, Jose Acevedo, would be running as my guide for the Boston Marathon. But now it’s time for the discussion of some details. Just making the announcement won’t help either of us run the Superbowl of road races. It takes a plan and plenty of hard work in implementing the plan.

Most marathons require roughly 18 weeks of training in order to prepare for the endurance experience impact upon the body. Running it as a team requires being in synchronicity sufficiently to ensure the best chance of success. So Jose and I reached out to Greg Hallorman, a good friend and excellent run coach. We use a modified version of the Hal Higdon training program with a few lessons from our past marathon experiences.

Having very successfully run the California International Marathon together in 2014, we understand fairly well how to work together. There is an additional burden on my guide to be able to find their comfortable pace for not only running their marathon but having the reserves mentally and physically to be my guide. This includes the breathing room to call out warnings of obstacles we might not be able to simply steer around such as a pothole or manhole cover. It involves tracking not only the pathway they are running, but the wider path for me with an extra bit of attention to provide warning time for me when those obstacles cannot be avoided. The guide often has to alert other runners of our presence and the visual challenge to help us be good citizens to our fellow runners. On the very crowded Boston course this can be an especially significant challenge.

Given these factors, Jose set our goal race pace as 8:40 minutes/mile as our target. This was the basis for our plan. Added to this is the expectation that four days per week of running was the right and reasonable limit for the rest of our busy schedules.

This does not mean that we only train on four days, however. There are two additional days of cross training for roughly an hour each time. These days help develop a different range of muscle motion, enhance our cardiovascular conditioning as well as hopefully support our body clearing lactic acid build-up from the running. Jose often uses his Kilimanjaro favorite of stair climbing at his high-rise office building, I tend to visit my local YMCA and put the time on an indoor bicycle. Many alternatives can exist to help supplement the core run training with cross training.

While staging to ever longer runs as we near the April 18 Boston Marathon date, our typical week might look like this glance for the week of January 18:

Jose on a training run.

Jose on a training run.

Monday: 60 Minutes of Cross training

*Thanks to Rick Perreira who drives me to the YMCA Each Monday Morning, helps me with the touch screen cycles and takes me home!

Tuesday: 5 mile run with 4x hill repeats in the middle (alternates weeks with speed intervals)

*Thanks to Tracy for pushing me and helping with the timing on the key points of this hard workout!

Wednesday: 60 Minutes of Cross training

*Thanks to Alex Newbold who drives me to the YMCA each Wednesday morning, helps me with the touch screen cycles, and takes me home!

Thursday: 6 miles of “tempo run,” meaning 2 miles of warm-up at 9:00 minutes/mile, 3 miles of “lactic threshold”at 8:10 minutes/mile, and 1 mile cool-down at reduced/recovery speed like 9:30 minutes/mile.

* Thanks to Matt Shapiro who works hard to give me this very early morning speed push most Thursdays!

Friday: My one rest day to recover and prepare for the weekend push!

Saturday: 6 miles of race pace (8:40 minutes/mile)

Sunday: 11 mile “easy pace” run (8:45-9:15 typically)

* While we often switch Saturday and Sunday, Rob Webber has been steadfast on longer and faster runs with various guides or treadmill options for the other day as necessary!

Those weekend-long runs will rise to 20 miles and as the snows fall, roads become icy and temperatures can drop; training for Boston is simply a challenge. Meanwhile my counterpart in Jose will contend with Texas temperatures and we check in with each other regularly to see if our progress remains encouragingly comfortable. All this work for an incredible celebration together as we share the legendary experience which has become the Boston Marathon. Hopefully some of you will be helping us out with encouragement throughout the training and especially on our big day.

Boston Strong!

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