Tag: 2020VQ



2 Jun 18

By Amy Till, Vice President, Strengths Now, Inc.

This blog is reprinted from the original version on Strengths Now. 

The quintessential 2020 Vision Quest image with Quinn guiding Randy up the steep, snowy, craggy summit of Mt. Monroe. Quinn’s golden muzzle basks majestically against the blue sky background illuminated by the sunshine while he patiently pauses for Randy, one hand on the harness, one hand on the snow as he struggles up the final slope to the summit!

Randy and Quinn on Mt. Monroe.

Strengths, Leadership and Resilience: Meet Randy Pierce, President and Founder, 2020 Vision Quest

Randy Pierce is an impactful keynote speaker and accomplished athlete who founded and manages a successful nonprofit organization. He runs marathons, has hiked all the 4000+ feet peaks in the New Hampshire White Mountains and has been known to participate in extreme sporting events like Tough Mudder. And he is completely blind.

Randy’s top five talent themes are Responsibility, Woo, Connectedness, Includer and Restorative.

Randy, thank you for sharing your strengths with us today! To get us started, tell us about your work and your organization.

I am the president of 2020 Vision Quest. Our goal is to inspire people to reach beyond adversity and discover all they CAN do. I lead by example and share my experiences to motivate and inspire others. I speak regularly at schools, corporations, and everything in between – from large industry conferences to small scout troops. The money raised supports two non-profit organizations: Future in Sight and the internationally renowned Guide Dogs for the Blind. In the eight years since inception we have given over a quarter of a million to charities. So far this year we have raised over $90,000.

What was your first reaction to your strengths report?  

I felt like my top-five really fit and I relate to all of them. I was entirely unsurprised by the order and by what was included. The Strengths Insight Report absolutely surprised me for its uncanny accuracy. This played an important role for me, because the tool really earned my confidence. As a result, I was motivated to think deeply about my results and give good consideration to the impact of my strengths.

Which of your strengths do you relate to most strongly?

Responsibility and Includer are the themes that stand out most strongly to me. Woo is also a big part of me, and I am comfortable with it, but it did sound a bit like a snake oil salesman at first. Restorative defines how I adapt to challenges and Connectedness fits because I am very aware of how one person’s actions can have great impact on another’s experience. 

During my life I have been fortunate enough to benefit from a process that allowed me to have significant regrowth, and I feel such appreciation. My Responsibility motivates me to propagate that experience and help others. I felt powerless and helpless when I went blind. I was able to shift that with guidance and direction from others. I know how hard that can be and I am compelled to help others.  

The very first 4,000+ feet climb I did with my guide dog was Mt. Hale. This mountain was named after The Reverend Edward Hale who famously said, “I am only one, but I am one. I cannot do everything, but I can do something. And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.” This has been great inspiration to me. I cannot do everything, but I am going to do my part. What CAN I do? What tools do I have to help me? My Responsibility drives me to do that which I can do. 

I know firsthand that one of the best ways to feel better is to help others (Includer, Connectedness). I still have days when I feel bad, but helping others is part of how I manage my own life and feelings. It is altruism? Is it self-servicing? It is both. You can choose what you do and how you do it. This reminds me of a powerful life moment that ultimately helped me lean into my Responsibility more. 

That sounds interesting. Are you willing to share it with us?

Absolutely. In May 1989 I was nearly 22 and I started to lose my eyesight. It was unexpected, and it happened quickly. When I was admitted to the hospital, I had a can-do kind of attitude. Just tell me what we need to do to deal with this and I will do it (Restorative). I easily made friends with the nursing staff (Includer, Connectedness, Woo). It soon became clear that there were no easy answers and that there was no path to restoring my vision. In my mind, success was not possible, and I just quit trying.

One of my nurses got a day pass and took me on her sailboat. She had an honest talk with me. She said I arrived at the hospital fun loving, gregarious and upbeat, and that it was easy for the nurses to work with me and do everything they could to help. She said that I had disconnected and closed them all out, but they were still going to help me. She wondered aloud if other people in my life were going to feel the same way if they met this new version of myself. She feared that others might step away from me, not go towards me, and she asked if I could make my way back to the person I was.

I’m sad to say I was annoyed with her at first, but I thought a lot about it. I wanted to change my behavior, but it was hard. We can logically know something, but our emotions are still there, right? In the hospital I got better with the nurses, but I stayed distant with friends, getting off the phone quickly when they called. I couldn’t do anything fun, so why would anyone want to be around me?  My family was too far away to visit. My girlfriend was overwhelmed and didn’t take my calls. I was isolated, bitter and angry. I knew I had to go through the stages of loss, but what could help me get headed in the right direction? How could I get out of this? 

Things slowly got better when I got home. I started reaching out and sharing my truth, opening up and making connections. And by doing this, I started to help other people. My Responsibility grew from that. I am not even sure Responsibility would have been in my top five prior to this experience. But now whenever people lean on me, it grows. It combines with my Includer and Connectedness, and okay, Woo, to drive me to do more for others.

Woo stands for Winning Others Over and you said you didn’t love it at first because it sounded a bit like a snake oil salesman to you. How do you use your Woo? 

I don’t intentionally try to influence people or win them over. That is not my objective, but I am aware that I do influence people. I want to relate to people and share my stories and experiences. I want them to take what matters to them and works for them or is helpful. I don’t approach my public speaking with, “here are the answers, here you go.” The reality is that my influence does exist, and I can tell from experience that it comes through to others in how I address a crowd, how I tackle challenges and how I live my life. I want it to be present and visible for others to choose to be influenced by – or not. That is how I put it out there.  

Do you think your blindness has caused you to rely on some strengths more than others? 

Complete blindness takes away all sight, and with that goes 80% of the way a typical person interacts with the world. All my skills of people interaction had to go up. One of the best things that blindness did for me is that it gave me a really good dose of humility. I was fresh out of school, had a great job as a hardware design engineer and had lots of things going my way. I hope I wasn’t arrogant, but I was closer to overconfident than humble. Losing my sight gave me perspective on the ease in which our world can change and our challenges can become different than we think. From this point forward, I had greater compassion for what others might be experiencing. I began to look through other people’s eyes, literally and figuratively, after that moment. 

How has blindness changed or impacted your strengths – as you perceive them? Do you ever wonder if your themes were the same before and after losing your sight?

Yes, I do wonder. There is no way for me to go back and take the assessment, but I suspect it would change because being blind has changed my brain. Parts that did sight processing now do language processing. I visualize everything internally with no external mnemonics. In my mind, people are feelings and attributes more than anything physical. Helen Keller, who was incredible, says the most beautiful things in the world we see with our hearts, not our eyes. I try to look at things this way too, though I still enjoy having someone describe a sunset to me. 

I don’t get to look at facial expressions, but my strengths give me candor! I will ask you anything, and I will do so with respect. If there is something I need to know, I will just ask. With my Connectedness and Woo, I can’t imagine not asking.

How have your strengths helped you in your role as the President and Founder of 2020 Vision Quest?

I have a great team of people who work with me, and I do a lot of the work myself too. My wife, Tracy, manages the finances, and I have staff and a board. With my Responsibility, I don’t let things slide. Connectedness and Includer keep me reaching out and building relationships. Woo is so important for all the public speaking and it helps me be comfortable sharing about myself and my accomplishments. Restorative comes into play when there are challenges. I am ready to solve problems and keep things moving forward.  

How do your strengths help you in your role as a keynote speaker?

When I step in front of a group to speak, in most situations I am the first blind person many people will encounter. I just assume people are going to be uncomfortable with me. In order to establish an effective learning environment, I need to put others at ease and in a very real way, win them over (Woo). I can’t see faces and body language, so I rely on sound to collect information about the audience. I listen to get a sense of the baseline of room from a distraction sense. When people are not attentive they shuffle, so I listen for that. I tell a few jokes and pay attention to what their laughs sound like. Different types of laughs can tell you things about the comfort level in a room. Most importantly I note the change in these laughs as we progress, so I can measure the impact I’m having on their comfort and engagement. 

I use my Restorative in these moments too. I need to know where the audience is, or I might rotate a little and no longer be facing them. I develop ways of orienting myself. I am not always at a podium, which can set you apart from the audience. If there is a stage behind me, I might orient by tapping my heel 

When I am at schools I make things as interactive as possible (Includer, Connectedness). I ask questions like, “What do you think a person who is blind might not be able to do?” This gets the students thinking and talking, which helps me achieve the all-important engagement of the students.

Your specific physical affliction could cause more difficulty for you at any time. How do you stay in the moment? Do you ever worry about your health?

Yes, I have an ongoing rare neurological disorder called chronic demyelinating polyneuropathy, which causes nerve damage. It can attack any part of the nervous system. There is no telling if or when the disease will progress nor what part of the body it might impact. There is no comfort in not knowing. My mindset is that I don’t like it, but I can’t immediately affect it. I have to avoid hypochondriac feelings. The disorder could affect any part of your system, so you don’t know what to look for. It could be intensely frustrating.  

Do any of your top five strengths themes help you stay in the moment?

There is a higher chance of a car accident than my neurological condition being my end, but I am not irresponsible about either of these things (Responsibility). There are plenty of good times and good experiences ahead, but I have already won. I choose to not live with the shadow of affliction darkening out present and future possibilities. This mindset has already let me have wonderful experiences and much success. To me this is demonstrable proof that I am taking the right approach. When I have a set-back, I am frustrated in the moment, but I find the new baseline and build from there (Restorative). And I have had incredible rewards from doing this. I am living life to the fullest.  

People always say when you are faced with adversity, you choose how you react. I like to take it a step further. WHAT we choose to do, the specific choice we make, will have a bigger impact on our life than our adversity. My choice of following all my dreams, hiking, founding a company, giving presentations, these are what impact my life – not my blindness, not my neurological disfunction. The specific choices I make impact my life and this is how I view it. 

I am 6’4’’ tall, have gray hair, and am blind, but the strengths at the top of my list have a phenomenally larger impact on my life than my height or sight. My choices, which involve continuing to use my strengths, are what defines my life and leads me to my success.

For more information on 2020 Vision Quest and Randy Pierce, visit 2020visionquest.org. Stay tuned for Randy’s upcoming book, which will be published later this year.

***

To learn more about Amy Till and Strengths Now, Inc. visit the Strengths Now website.

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6 May 18

By Randy Pierce

Autumn looking at the camera with big doggy eyes

Autumn wants you to support us in the Walk for Sight!

On Saturday, June 2, in Concord, NH we’ll all gather for a short 3k (1.8 miles) stroll together for the Walk for Sight.

If you join us, you can see some of the amazing work of Autumn guiding me, many other guide dogs and cane users, and several hundred supporters helping us raise awareness and funds for the more than 30,000 people we hope to provide training and service at Future In Sight. We’ll finish the walk and have lunch together, and somewhere in there our 2020 Vision Quest team will present will also present a check for nearly $30,000 raised through our tremendous community of support throughout the year.

We fund raise through three main methods: our Peak Potential Dinner in November, this walk, and my corporate presentations. This walk is a low cost way to join in, literally, or by a donation to one of our team members (pick me!), but time is running out so please consider making the choice today!

Less than a month to the event and our team has been growing slowly so we hope to make this push for a full team and for all our walkers to hopefully hit their fund raising goals.

See our previous blog on the Walk for Sight.

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14 Apr 18

By Randy Pierce

Image of Randy on a mountain looking out into a sunset, overlaid with these words: The Ninth Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Silent Auction

Hopefully, Jose is guiding me to a fourth consecutive Boston Marathon success for April 16, 2018 even as we are announcing some exciting new twists to enhance the success you help us achieve with our Ninth Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction Gala.

Save the Date: November 17, 2018 at 6:00 p.m.
Proudly returning to the Courtyard by Marriott

Tickets will officially go on sale June 1 and we encourage you to begin organizing your tables early. For the first time, we are inviting you, our generous supporters, to pick your table location. All of the normal on-line sign-up will still be in place, and we’ll reach out to table purchasers in the order that the payment is received with the layout of the available tables, allowing you to select where you and your fellow supports will enjoy a great meal and event festivities.

We are also keeping our early purchase pricing in place at the same $500 for a table of 8. There is also a limited number of larger tables for those of you whose group is 10 or 12, available on a first come, first served basis.  So start your table coordination now  and be among the first tables booked to use our new location selection feature!

We have begun preparation and planning for sponsorships, auction items and many event specific planning, so we invite you to visit our updated website:

Ninth Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction Gala

As always, we understand how fortunate we have been for the incredible support of our community. We continue to work hard to ensure our mission and effort are always worthy of your support. This year we believe we’ll be delivering a few additional surprises to take this event and our appreciation of you to the highest peak yet.

We hope to see you in November. Please help us to spread the word!

Autumn in her harness with her collapsible bowl.

Autumn hopes you’ll join us!

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31 Mar 18

By Randy Pierce

“Achieve a vision beyond your sight!”

– Randy Pierce at the founding of 2020 Vision Quest in 2009

Many Guide Dogs for the Blind working teams and dogs in training, highlighting their robust community. Their logo is also visible.

I believe that you achieve vision not from sight, but from viewing the world mindfully. Our 2020 Vision Quest team strives diligently to serve our collective vision to our best ability, or as we prefer to phrase it: peak potential! One way we achieve this is through an open-minded view of all the opportunities the world presents to us. As such, we recently did a thorough exploration of new opportunities and found to our overwhelming appreciation an obvious and worthy one to share: We are excited to announce a new partnership with Guide Dogs for the Blind. 

Guide Dogs for the Blind is more than an industry-leading guide dog school; they are a passionate community that serves the visually impaired. With exceptional client services and a robust network of trainers, puppy raisers, donors, and volunteers, they prepare highly qualified guide dogs to serve and empower individuals who are blind or have low vision.

We were impressed to learn Guide Dogs for the Blind produces roughly twice as many working teams each year than other US schools. They also have an enviable financial efficiency, with an average cost per team that lower than most if not all other schools, making them an excellent value for our donation. All their services are provided free of charge and they receive no government funding. GDB is headquartered in San Rafael, California, with a second campus in Boring, Oregon. Since their founding in 1942, they have graduated more than 14,000 guide teams; today there are approximately 2,200 active teams in the field across North America. For more information, please visit guidedogs.com.

We will continue to equally split our charitable donations between two outstanding vision assistance organizations — Future In Sight and Guide Dogs for the Blind — with full confidence that we are conscientiously serving our mission.

With this announcement, we will have a cross-country partnership with a team eager to work with us on our shared vision. This is also a reunion with the school from which I received my very first Guide Dog, Ostend — but don’t worry, Autumn and I are doing fine. She is healthy, happy, and working very well with me. I expect that she and I will continue our successful work together for many years ahead.

We are excited for our new partnership and the increased impact that our support will achieve. We think you will find many reasons to appreciate their work and find them deserving of our support. Please join me in celebrating the inclusion of Guide Dogs for the Blind in the mission of 2020 Vision Quest!

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3 Mar 18

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Alex, the team captain, in the Walk for Sight in June 2017

Randy and Alex, the 2017 team captain, in the Walk for Sight in June 2017. Look out for Tracy as the team captain for 2018!

“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

On Saturday, June 2, 2018, I will celebrate walking at the 15th Annual Walk for Sight at 25 Walker Street, Concord, NH which is the home of Future In Sight. I will celebrate the thousands of lives uplifted by their life-changing training, services, and support — including my own!

What I hope to celebrate even more is the many people who will gather to walk the 3-kilometer route or otherwise support our ability to ensure thousands more in need will have the same opportunity. We can raise awareness, funds, and community connections by joining together to enjoy the late morning and early afternoon.

Will you join our team?

We have had so many commitments and activities for ourselves and our many friends that it has been more challenging to sustain our commitment to this wonderful event for the incredible 15 years. Yet the need persists and the organization’s commitment to improve it each year while elevating the incredible work they achieve has enhanced their worthiness for our efforts.

The 2020 Vision Quest team at Walk for Sight 2017!

The 2020 Vision Quest team at Walk for Sight 2017!

So Autumn and I implore you to consider joining our team and using the new website to help reach out for donations to support the 2020 Vision Quest effort as well as Future In Sight. We will be splitting our fundraising in a 50/50 program, assuming we meet our minimum fundraising requirements of $1,000 as a team. We have managed this each year since the program began and I can tell you that Autumn and I have made that amount our personal goal. If you cannot join our team — which is our absolute first preference — then please consider making a donation to our effort.

Donate to Randy and Autumn’s Walk Page!

The earlier you make the choice to join the team, the easier it will be to hopefully help raise a few sponsorships for your walking or general donations of support. So please consider one of my personal quotations: procrastinate procrastination! Join us today and we’ll keep you informed of all the ways we hope to keep the event and our team growing together towards our goals!

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7 Jan 18

By Randy Pierce

Randy Pierce standing at a podium presenting” …it rocked the entire audience of 130 people. There were farmers, lawyers, doctors, teachers, artists from young to old… Everyone felt that Randy was talking to them. It was a profound experience.” – Celeste Barr, Beaver Brook Association

I always strive to connect with people. It is perhaps one of the foundations of who I am and not surprisingly how I have been able to achieve. It is why Celeste’s kind words above inspired me. Through the evolution of 2020 Vision Quest, my keynote presentations to corporations and other organizations have developed into a fundamental part of our connection and the means by which we raise funds to do our charitable work. I appreciate the outstanding and often longstanding ovations received for the method and message in our keynote approach. I intend to keep building on the worthiness and expanding our outreach.

Anyone may schedule a presentation or learn more on our Keynote Presentation page.

What is the goal of my keynote presentation? While my experiences have equipped me with a foundation of prominent speaking points such as goal setting, managing adversity, teamwork, communication, managing failure, finding purpose, motivation, and more; the essence of them is my ability to customize each presentation towards the target audience.

The presentation has a highly relational conversational tone which most who attend find captivates their attention and broadens their vision. In order to do this, I typically will take the time to understand the objectives of the conference, meeting, or event to ensure the right anecdotes and themes are brought to the forefront. I encourage a positivity which is well grounded in understanding and embracing realistic challenges in a resilient, problem-solving mindset utilizing collaboration and communication to best affect.

These successful keynotes have enabled us to present across the country to hundreds of organizations. Whether a small business group or full corporate event, the testimonials continue to confirm that we meet and more often exceed the objectives professionally while providing an uplifting personal inspiration for those who join us.

As compensation for these keynote presentation, we request an honorarium to the 501(c)(3) charity, 2020 Vision Quest. With all the positive aspects involved in this opportunity, we again encourage you to consider scheduling us for your event or recommending us to someone you know in need of such a speaker for their event. We think you’ll join many people who believe it was one of the best decisions they made.

Schedule a presentation or learn more.

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19 Nov 17

By Carolina Tumminelli

Carolina with her table having fun at Peak Potential 2017!

Carolina with her table having fun at Peak Potential 2017!

Be the main character in your life, and the supporting character for others, especially in those lives of the people you hold dear.

When Randy asked me a few days ago if I wanted to write the guest blog about his foundation’s main event, Peak Potential, I was thrilled.  When I realized that he asked me because of a conversation we had had months ago – marathons ago, difficult times ago, ages ago – I was honored.  I have never heard an unkind word spoken about Randy or Tracy – in fact, everyone always says they are both inspirational, awe-inspiring, amazing.  That’s all true, and last night’s event was a complete testament to that.  But that wasn’t my take away from last night’s dinner and fundraiser.

I arrived fashionably early last night, and was immediately greeted by Tracy, Randy’s beautiful and also inspiring wife.  Tracy isn’t just the woman behind the  man – she takes on her own challenges – school while working full time, running, etc – and handles them with grace and sometimes, I’m sure, a few choice words, but nonetheless she handles them!  I was handed my name tag, given a few details about the night, and directed to the room where the silent auction items were laid out.  There were people milling about looking at items, but what struck me was the team that was still working diligently to take care of those last few details to make sure the event went smoothly.  As my friends arrived, we drank, ate and chatted.  And that’s the second time I was awe-struck again.  I was surrounded by friends – amazing people who were doing amazing things, some small, some large – none more amazing than the next and everyone had chosen to spend an evening in support of our friend, Randy, because of what he meant to us.

The items for the silent auction were plentiful and amazing – from jewelry, to weekend stays at a ski resort, to a beautiful, handmade afghan blanket made by Randy’s mother (probably the most valuable item in that room).  It was wonderful to see how many different people and organizations had come together to donate items to support 2020 Vision Quest.

We were slowly ushered into the dining room, where dinner was served.  The food was delicious and the atmosphere lively – somehow you felt and knew that Randy and Tracy, and their friends, had orchestrated every last detail so that we would all have an amazing evening (although I must admit, the coffee was lacking in quality, but I’ll let it slide).

The Live Auction was next and brought laughter, bribery with puppies, bidding wars, and an extraordinary amount of money raised for the charity! And apparently someone is being fed homemade scones by Randy while riding in a hot air balloon – I’ll let you decide if that’s a prize or not.

Then, Randy spoke.  I don’t want to say he gave a presentation – he does that almost every day to various schools and organizations.  Nope, last night, Randy spoke.  He spoke to a room full of friends, family, supporters – he spoke to his team – the people he has in his life who help him get through the big challenges, the daily struggles, the happy times and sad days.  Randy spoke about being the main character in your life story – making the choices that allow you to be the best person you can be, to reach your Peak Potential.  No matter who you are, you need to surround yourself with a team of people who will help you, guide you, catch you when you fall, laugh with you, and love you.  Randy spoke about building that team so that you could be the main character in your life story, not just a backseat driver.  And I’ll take it one step further: on top of being the main character in your own life story, be a supporting role for others, particularly those people that you hold dear.  Life is too short to live it in solitude, thinking you can achieve your goals alone.  Besides, when you get to the top of the mountain, you want someone there to share in the champagne, whiskey, coffee, and cake (okay, maybe not the coffee!).

2020 Vision Quest Poster with Quinn and Randy on a winter slope, with the words "Climb Your Mountain" superimposedGuys, life is not easy, but it wasn’t meant to be.  We all have our stories, our struggles, our journeys. I own my own business, have two small children, attempt to be a runner, and try to be there for my friends and family – the people I hold close.  Because without those people, I wouldn’t be able to even THINK about achieving the goals I want to achieve.  They believe in me, even when I do not.

The final “event” of the night was a team/table event where people could make pledges towards 2020 Vision Quest.  The team – everyone in the room – raised more than $13,000 in less than 10 minutes! That’s teamwork!

At the end of the night, I grabbed one of the posters that was being handed out.  I didn’t open it up until this morning, but when I did, I knew it was a poster that was going to be hanging in my kitchen so that I could see it every day, so that my kids could see it every day.  It is the embodiment of what I want to teach my children – climb your mountain, reach your peak potential, and remember, you can’t do it alone – build your team and be there for the people who have chosen you to be on their team.

Learn more about Carolina Tumminelli.

 

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29 Oct 17

By Randy Pierce

Randy presents in front of a room of children who are seated and paying attention.“Education is not the filling of a pail, but the lighting of a fire.”

– Likely anonymous though often mistakenly attributed to William Yeats

Why am I so passionate about the 2020 Vision Quest educational presentations to students in schools throughout New England?  In my own life, the transition to blindness was a catalyst which I believe did much to enhance my ultimate drive and accomplishments as well as personal happiness. I often share my belief that the lack of adversity is more likely to bring about stagnation for any of us — and conversely, challenges bring about the best opportunity for growth and achievement.

One significant epiphany was realizing that it did not have to be something negative or detrimental that brought about the spark of growth as powerfully as I experienced. While I acknowledge the potent value of experience, I found my presentation style interwoven with the depth of my experiences could result in captivating, motivating, and life-changing results for the students with whom I interacted. As more and more reports from teachers, parents, and administrators suggested the positive impact was significant, I became inspired to better understand and enhance this approach.

I think most of us strive for positive meaning in our lives and I find this in many different ways. Students of all ages represent the  future of this world and a possible positive legacy to which I feel a tremendous allure. I delight in hearing each moment when someone expands their belief in their own future of possibility. I take tremendous hope when I feel I’ve enhanced acceptance for the message of working together and understanding the value of kindness in all of our interactions. I am buoyed by the many sharings from others that my efforts have lifted their spirits, enhanced their perspective on adversity, or inspired them to work towards a better life for themselves and a better world for us all. Best of all, most of these things are common responses which serve to reinforce my dedication to a core mission of 2020 Vision Quest.

Why do I share all of this with you today? It isn’t intended as any boast of my abilities. I’m aware of my many shortcomings even as I appreciate the aspects of this work which are so commonly well received. I share it because it has been the efforts of many in the past and present which have enabled this work to take place and it will take the continued efforts of many to ensure we continue to undertake this great work. I am certain I will put forth my best efforts because I so well believe in what I’m doing and the results which I hear back from students, teachers, administrators and parents. My fire has been lit and I hope enough inspiration has reached our community to continue the great support we’ve received. Much as the often misattributed quote above suggests, the root of it may be in the classics and I hope for all of us to experience a little kindling but especially our young minds just setting out on the journey of their lives!

“The mind is not a vessel to be filled, but a fire to be kindled.”

- Plutarch

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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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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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