Tag: blind hiker



25 Sep 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and the expedition hiking group on the summit of Kilimanjaro. “’There and Back again’ by Bilbo Baggins” was the alleged epic title of the fictional hero’s epic recording of his own journey from Lord of the Rings. I struggle a bit with the notion because every experience changes us so much that even while it may seem like yesterday, we are so vastly different there is no real return. As if autumn nostalgia wasn’t already powerful enough in my life, the shadow of Kilimanjaro also looms over as I make the return trip in my reflection for the one year anniversary.

For me, it is so often the people which take primary focus and even upon a pillar of the earth that was once again true. The team which stood together on the slopes of that mighty mountain were passionately dedicated to supporting each other and yet we never know until it happens whether we ever will stand together on any similar quest. The commitment to each other, the determination to achieve, the raw emotional sharing, the joy of celebrations and the feeling of absolute certainty we would reunite were powerful and real. Many of us will connect for various adventures and in fact have already throughout the year, but capturing that exact group is a difficult and unlikely reality for most expeditions. Even should we manage it, we all will have changed and so too will our experience together. That seems sad initially but for me we’ve achieved those glorious moments and have them captured in our memories as well as how they have shaped our lives. So I’ll be glad for the reflections even as I plan many future adventures and experiences, hopefully including many or all of the team who touched my life so well in Africa

This day, I will remember September 2015 and the energy and nervous anticipation we shared in Arusha. I’ll smile at our challenges ordering pepperoni pizza, I’ll feel the awe of the real exclamation from those in my van as the first view of the mass of Kilimanjaro came into view. I’ll recall the shift from playful monkey thievery to worry that my friends shared as they noted the monkey making Darwin-like realizations about my blindness and ability to protect my juice boxes! The hopeful eagerness as the rainforest wide and smooth trail of the Machame gate allowed us to hike a little too quickly before “Polley-Polley” eased us to the “Slowly – slowly” we would need. The ever ascending views above the clouds day after day in a world so foreign in both plant and animal life, the cold winds at Shira camp, the ever cheerful and polite porters, “Harris Tweed!”, the impossibly distant summit cone illuminated each night by the splendor of a nearly full moon, and a foreign night sky my companions would share with voices filled with marvel and delight. All these and more were common occurrences as was a rotational sharing of guide duties for my ability to trek the trails.

There were struggles and some of us took ill. There was difficult terrain at times and none of us will likely forget how well our team came together for the Baranku Wall! That was our team together in the most health and celebration during the higher climbing I think, but you climb a mountain ultimately for moments near the top. While we did not all reach the summit together, a large contingent did and in weary, oxygen starved, sleep deprived, cold and hungry reality; we touched a point atop the second-largest continent in the world. With the glaciers beside us, the crater of Kibo peak and a horizon more distant than any of us had known from the ground, we experienced something together.

Each of us had different dreams and visions which brought us to that point and likely were touched a little differently by the experience. I do not envision ever standing at that point in the world ever again and yet I know the strength, determination, sacrifice, pain and amazement which are part of that moment and stand within me since then. It is as fresh as yesterday in some ways and as fleeting a memory as something from another life at times. Such is the difficulty I have with trying to hold time in my mind, yet I know if I close my eyes and breathe deeply, I can let my mind slowly wander to that time and place and steadily things become more clear and vivid to me. I can travel there and back again just well enough to keep it all so very real for me and to remind me of the fortune I have in the companions I keep here and there.

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30 Jul 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy sitting on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at sunrise, thinking about what's next.

Randy sitting on the summit of Mt. Kilimanjaro at sunrise, thinking about what’s next.

I ask myself “what’s next?” often in part because despite my lack of sight, I do like to spend more time looking forward than back. I try not to get caught in a trap of devising grandiose depths of challenge to compare to prior challenges. Rather, I think about what inspires me for the present moment of my life. Let’s face it, Kilimanjaro was quite the experience last September and from Tough Mudder to TEDx talk I have plenty of experiences to savor already.

The year has been somewhat laden with medical challenges which we are still exploring and attempting to properly address. I’m excited to have achieved the freedom to return to so many of my training activities in very reasonable condition for them. So as August 2016 arrives, I’ve put three endurance goals into my autumn sights. Training has begun for all three and that’s quest enough for the short-term accompaniment to the work of 2020 Vision Quest, Lions, and life.

First up is a collaboration I hope to announce in more detail next week, but we’ve assembled an all visually impaired team to undertake an ultimate running relay called “Ragnar” or “Reach the Beach” in which with the help of our guide team, we will run from Cannon Mountain to Hampton Beach as a massive relay effort. I’ll be logging nearly 40 miles for my part in that. Pete Houde is my guide and inspiration for the undertaking.

A second quest reunites me with Brent Bell as we return for another century “tandem” bicycle ride, although rumors abound about whether we may turn the NH Seacoast Century ride into a triplet and celebrate in style.

My final quest takes me into October and allows me the opportunity to complete the Bay State Marathon which I departed at roughly mile 23 just two years ago. I hope to use this to earn my Boston Marathon qualifier as well. With better health ahead, I hope to continue my Boston Marathon streak in the future with the more solid ability I had my my first year instead of the determination and perseverance (but more health-related obstacles) highlighted by Jose and my efforts last April.

Training has already been silently underway. August training will ramp up and September and October will become interesting opportunities to return to some of the adventures which are so often a part of this 2020 Vision Quest. I hope you’ll be a partner in some way in our adventures ahead!

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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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30 Jan 16

By Randy Pierce

“Don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.” Dr. Seuss

Randy and team watching the sunrise on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

Randy and team watching the sunrise on Mt. Kilimanjaro.

I just emerged from a difficult anniversary as it has now been two years that the Mighty Quinn is gone from us. The week leading up to it, WGBH in Boston and several other public television stations re-aired NHPTV’s “Windows to the Wild” episode of “Hiking in the Dark.” How incredible is it to know television stations air programming to honor our marvelous boy and his incredible accomplishments?

If you missed this New England Emmy Award-winning show, you may find it on our website in the collection of worthy videos we keep for your perusal.

This week, we release my January writing collections intended for the book I hope to release at the end of the year. Those who have chosen can be pre-reading and commenting upon the story of my life’s adventures and the lessons found along the path.

If you wish to join in that experience, I refer you to our invitation for that opportunity.

Few of us in this world are spared the grief and pain of losing a loved one to death’s cruelty. Many of us understand all too well the bonds we can form with our beloved pets. My Dog Guides are so much more to me than a pet — and their loss takes a piece of me with them each time. Fortunately for me, their presence in my life leaves such a larger legacy of love, learning, and growth that I am far more for the experience of having had them in my life. As I ease away from the sadness and nostalgic reflections brought by Quinn’s passing, I want to share with you just a few paragraphs which I’m releasing to those following the progress of my book as mentioned above. It was a gift of sorts I gave to myself and an honor I felt my Quinn deserved when this year provided the opportunity. This is from a chapter I call “The Ashes of Kilimanjaro.”

***

I was physically exhausted. Despite the freezing temperatures, my cheeks were wet with the salty warm tears pushed out of my sightless eyes by the heaving sobs lurching from deep within my abdomen. All of my muscles ached with their oxygen-deprived exertions which had propelled me to the top of this Pillar of the Earth. I had not slept for two days and three nights which left an exhaustion nearly as complete as my grief. My hand trembled slightly as I used my index finger to slide through the weather-crushed rock which felt like sand to me as I began to form the letters of his name. Q – u – i – n – n.

Below his name I pressed my fingers more firmly and deeply to create a hole. Reaching into the chest pocket of my snow pants I withdrew the pristine handkerchief which had been so carefully prepared one week earlier.

Tracy and I had gone to the meditation room in the back corner of our home in Nashua, NH. In that room the ashes of my three boys are kept in a place of honor for the love, life, and joy we shared together. I hold none of my dogs more dear in my heart for each unconditionally and entirely gave entirely of their being to the partnership we shared. I too gave each my best love and care as I learned from them and with them so many lessons of being a better participant in the world we share together.

We pause there beneath a beautiful tapestry of Quinn from our final hike together. Pearls have been worked into the piece to provide a braille translation of the quote from Ghandi. I think briefly on Rachel Morris for giving us the quote, Kevin Gagnon for giving us the tapestry, but mostly of my Quinn gone from us for over a year and yet still so powerfully with me in everything I attempt. Tracy and I unfold the crisp new white pocket square and each of us reach into Quinn’s urn and  collect some of his ashes for the journey. I’m surprised to feel the bits of bone whichare mingled within the ashes and it pains me for reasons I cannot fully explain. Ever so gently, I refold the handkerchief with his ashes now held within. I tuck that into the chest pocket of the ¾ snowpants which will be worn only on the summit ascent. 

A sob shakes me from my remembrance and I feel Jose place a comforting hand on my shoulder. I pull open the handkerchief and ease his ashes into the hole. I feel the tears flowing steadily and I allow the drops to roll off my cheek and into this honorary grave I’ve created here atop the tallest stand alone mountain in the world. I mutter to myself what may have seemed barely coherent to Jose from our isolated retreat here on Uhuru’s peak. “I love you so much, my dear sweet Quinn-boy. You gave so much to me. It was you who taught me to fully walk again, it was you who taught me to run and who ever so patiently guided me to learn how to hike. We shared a lot of peaks, my beautiful boy, and all because you believed in me, encouraged me, supported me with an unrivaled spirit. Of course you are here with me today too and while I may never reach a higher mountain summit, we will forever bound across limitless peaks of love and achievement. A bit of you will always belong here as your love and friendship are the highest summit any of us could ever know.”

Then I simply cried until there was no more water for my tears. I hugged Jose tightly loving his friendship even as my heart yearned most for the thick furry body of Quinn to force itself under my arm and against my side as he did so many times in our past. Ever so slowly, we turned back to our team gathered around the summit sign for this tallest of Kilimanjaro’s peaks.

***

Learn how you can read more book excerpts.

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2 Jan 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy signs a book

Possible future book signing?

Those in attendance at our Sixth Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction in November were afforded a very limited opportunity to be an integral part of the experience ahead. For those not in attendance, we want to now invite you enjoy a part of that experience. We have created a private and secure website where each month throughout this year I’ll upload a portion of my writings intended for the book. This will allow for all those participating to have an advanced reading of all the sections under consideration for the final product well in advance of that book release. You’ll also have insight into sections which while very pertinent to me may not make the final entry into the book. As such you’ll have a more complete and full experience than those who ultimately receive the final version of the book which we anticipate releasing next year.

How does this become possible for you? For a donation of $55 to 2020 Vision Quest, you may have your email added to the list receiving the monthly release of my writings to our secure site. You’ll be able to visit that site at your convenience and review not only that month’s release but the entire year’s uploads. This is a great means for you to help support the incredible work of 2020 Vision Quest while proving yourself with a very rare and special gift into my newest and perhaps most epic quest of all.

Randy and quinn on Mt. Monroe.

Randy and quinn on Mt. Monroe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit this page to make your donation and join us for this experience.

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5 Dec 15

By Randy Pierce

I’m thrilled to share my second TEDx talk with all of you! My first talk was centered on the notion of how all of us can and should reach for our peak potential. This second talk was asked to fit to the theme of a “Brand New Day” and put focus upon a valuable perspective on Transition Trauma and Social Risk Management.

You may recall that back in October I shared how I develop a presentation as I prepared to give the talk and now you can directly see the results below. I also include that blog link here so you can perhaps gain insight into the process and compare the two different talks.

If you, as I do, believe there is value in these talks, please consider sharing them with all those who might similarly benefit. Thank you again for the tremendous support which helps inspire me to be reaching for new heights!

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16 Nov 15

By Michelle Russell

What an amazing Event!

Last night I attended my fourth Peak Potential Dinner and Charity Auction (the sixth one they’ve held). As I reflect on the night one word comes to mind:

GIVE….

G ~ Guiding Eyes for the Blind

A golden lab puppy named Honey meets Autumn

Future Guide Dog Honey meets Autumn!

The event was attended by 24 puppy raisers from NH, ME and MA and 6 puppies in training  (3 black Labs and 3 yellow Labs).

The hit of the party was 8-week-old yellow Lab “Honey” that was carried around and loved by all.  This event is a special night for the puppy raisers. It is a chance to socialize with each other while supporting a cause that is at the core of each of us. This is to provide the gift of love and raise a puppy for approximately 14 months and then give it back to Guiding Eyes for the Blind. This priceless gift – a Guide Dog will provide a person with vision loss, not only independence and mobility but also companionship.

Guiding Eyes for the Blind receives check

Guiding Eyes for the Blind receives check from 2020 Vision Quest

The dinner works as a wonderful training venue for our pups.  It allows the puppies to practice greeting people, settling at the tables with other dogs and practicing good house manners while food is being served. We each appreciate the chance to be welcomed with our pups by all of those attending the event.

Pat Weber, the Regional Manager for Guiding Eyes for the Blind, and Bill LeBlanc, the NH Region Coordinator, accepted a check from 2020 Vision Quest of $20,200 for the non-profit Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

A second check for $20,200 was given to the NH Association of the Blind.

I ~ Inspiration

NH Association for the Blind receives a check from 2020 Vision Quest.

NH Association for the Blind receives a check from 2020 Vision Quest.

The culmination of the dinner is getting the chance to hear Randy Pierce speak.  The slideshow that accompanied Randy’s talk reviewed some of his amazing accomplishments as a blind athlete this past year: running the Boston Marathon and the National Championship, being the first blind athlete to compete in the Tough Mudder in LA, watching the amazing video and then Climbing Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. Throughout the slideshow Randy mentioned his beloved Guide Dog Quinn who passed away from cancer a year and a half ago. His dedication and devotion to Quinn is evident as you hear Randy’s voice quiver at the mention of his unforgettable pup. All of the puppy raisers also learn by watching Randy’s Guide Dog Autumn working the event with Randy.  She is a beautiful black and tan Labrador retriever that Randy received from Guiding Eyes for the Blind.

The array of silent auction items.

The array of silent auction items to raise money for our worthy causes.

V ~ Vision

My take away “nugget” from Randy last night was this: “You do not need to have sight to have Vision.”

Randy has vision. He is a goal setter. We found out that in the next year, Randy plans on writing a book. It was fun watching Randy act as an auctioneer – one of the special auction items was to be emailed pages of the book he will be writing each month. The silent auctions were fabulous. It was fun to take my pup “Gary” and walk by all of the incredible silent auction items. What a great way to raise money for the 2020 Vision Quest charity.

E ~ Education  

Lively participation in our live auction.

Lively participation in our live auction.

One of the key missions of 2020 Vision Quest is to lead and inspire students and professionals to reach beyond adversity and achieve their “peak potential.” It is mind boggling to think that Randy and 2020 Vision Quest have spoken to 45,000 students. He recounted letters he has received from some of the schools. Just recently,  a student that attended one of Randy’s presentations was going to drop out of school — but decided not to because of the inspiration and impacting message that he received from Randy. He does this all while integrating life lessons into little stories that teach about overcoming obstacles by managing adversity.

By attending the Peak Potential Dinner and Charity Auction, I am able to support the organization that is so important to me – Guiding Eyes for the Blind – but I gain so much from Randy.  He inspires me to do more…. To push myself…..  To set Goals…. To have vision…  in both my personal life and in my career.

“To Believe and Achieve Through Goal Setting, Problem Solving, and Perseverance!”

Thank you, Randy… you GIVE .

Bio:

Barnaby and MichelleMichelle Russell, MBA, is a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and a NH Region Volunteer.  She has raised 3 pups, currently one of the pups she raised – Black Labrador Retriever “Randy” is in NYC working as a bomb detection dog keeping us safe. The puppy that she is currently raising (pup #4) is 5-month-old black Lab “Gary” who attended the dinner. She is also a Realtor with Keller Williams Realty in Nashua, NH. Please visit her website.

If anyone is interested in becoming a puppy raiser for Guiding Eyes for the Blind or buying/selling a home in NH they can contact Michelle@NHselecthomes.com for more information.

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7 Nov 15

By Randy Pierce

“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” – Winston Churchill

I recently returned from a week-long travel for presentations at the University of New Hampshire and four days in the Camden, Maine region. I returned recharged and invigorated by the rewards I received during this process. While our presentations to students are at the core of our mission, too few of the people who support and encourage our efforts have the opportunity to fully appreciate the positive impact routinely shared with me during and after these presentations. I left for this trip a little weary and feeling overwhelmed and returned eager to begin working to enhance our ability to continue this mission as strongly as ever. Why? Administrators, teachers, and students once again went out of their way to ensure I understood the incredible gift they felt our program provided to all of their lives. I gained a new perspective on having a vision, building teams and communities to enhance our lives and methods for achieving goals and dreams which resonate simply and powerfully with the inspiration of our overall delivery. I thought more about framing and understanding our failings and frustrations as possible pathways to more gifts, as the sample video below illustrates during one of this week’s presentations.

When we find ways to be a positive part of helping others, we ultimately enrich our own lives in ways which are a tremendous gift to others. When caught up in the administration and behind the scenes work of our project, there are times I lose sight of the rewards. Thanks to many people who strive to help us expand our outreach in schools and beyond, I have the opportunity to be reminded and recharged by these results.

So as we enter the month which often puts a focus upon being thankful, I am sharing the gift we give and the reward it provides to me. For all of you who help ensure we continue to be shared and supported in our 2020 Vision Quest, I hope you too may feel a part of that gift so warmly given to me. A very special thanks to John and Hellen Kuhl of the Camden Lions for bringing us to Maine and for Brent Bell in bringing us to UNH so very often as well!

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17 Oct 15

By Randy Pierce

Autumn sings with Billy Joel!

Autumn sings with Billy Joel!

While there’s still so much more to tell about our own African adventures, Autumn wasn’t just left home to sing the blues, despite what our playfully adjusted image to the right might suggest!  She is due a little attention because her part of the experience was very important to us as well as rather worthy. On the lighter side, I suggested to our social media manager, Greg Neault, that perhaps he could Photoshop some fun pictures of Autumn’s virtual world tour to post intermittently while we were away. He took the challenge and created a fun series of adventures which our Facebook  and Twitter followers were able to enjoy while we were away. We include all those images in this blog for your enjoyment.

Meanwhile Autumn actually was staying with our friend and Guiding Eyes trainer Chrissie Vetrano. Chrissie originally trained the Mighty Quinn and also brought Autumn to me to work us into the team we are today. Of her own kindness she was taking our precious girl into her home with the promise of plenty of love and attention from the humans of the house and Chrissie’s lovable lab Malcolm. Her accommodations were more like Club Med for dogs than our own home and pictures and video clips of Autumn crossed the Atlantic regularly to keep us posted on her being well loved and tended.

Autumn does a hula in Hawaii.

Autumn does a hula in Hawaii.

During the days, Autumn would travel with Chrissie to Guiding Eyes to enjoy their accommodations and a little bit of extra work along with her vacation. The poignant part of this process is the ongoing care and attention which Guiding Eyes brings to all their teams and dogs. Their work doesn’t end with the training of their incredible Dog Guides but continues throughout the lives and work of the teams. While I’ll never forget the over-the-top care and support they provided to Quinn and me during his battle with cancer, I’m similarly appreciative of the demonstrated way in which they provide this to all handlers and dogs. They were all too glad to accommodate, ensuring our girl would have the best of care in all ways while we were away. She even returned freshly bathed and pampered and so very eager to see and snuggle with us again.

Autumn with Pats players

Autumn snaps some photos with the Pats!

The real key to any organization is always the people (and pups!) who make it great. In this I end as I began, and endured our time away from Autumn with the incredible appreciation I had knowing Autumn was in Chrissie’s so very capable and attentive care. I’m not sure I can ever be thankful enough for the gifts of Guiding Eyes in the dogs and people they’ve brought into my life. I will say with full conviction that I am very, very grateful and hope that every day the open way in which Autumn and I share our teamwork with the world helps to showcase the power of a great organization and the people behind them. Meanwhile, as the photos show – we have a little fun along the way!

Autumn at the Taj Mahal

Next stop: Taj Mahal!

Autumn sits on a ledge at Notre Dame

Autumn saunters over to Notre Dame and hangs with the gargoyles.

Autumn poses beside a large canyon

And finally, Autumn ends an exhausting week taking in some excellent views at Zion National Park!

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4 Oct 15

By Randy and Tracy Pierce

Our African Expedition to Kilimanjaro, the Serengeti and Ngorongoro Crater was an absolutely amazing experience. While it is not reasonable to chronicle it entirely in a single blog, Tracy and I thought we’d share a couple of insider questions to each other to help you understand just a little of the experience.

Randy and Tracy share a kiss on the Serengeti.

Randy and Tracy share a kiss on the Serengeti.

Randy: While the elephant looming behind our kiss is eye-catching, there’s another elephant in the room in that we did not summit together. Would you be willing to share a bit about that?

Tracy: Oh, dive right into the tough questions! So I did not reach the summit, which was a very tough choice for me. I  spent much of the trip plagued by headaches and shortness of breath. These symptoms caused me to progress far slower than the rest group so I requested a head start on summit night. About three hours into the hike (2am) the rest of the group caught up and easily passed us. By 4am (5 hours in) I was feeling extremely dizzy and was starting to stumble, after about 45 minutes of this I began to question whether I should continue. My teammate Maureen and guide Goodlove encouraged me to keep trying. I pushed on, hoping that sunrise would reinvigorate me. Sunrise came (amazing, gorgeous) but I had no rejuvenation. Finally at 7 am, after 8 hours of climbing I decided that if I kept pushing I would not be able to make it back down. I felt that I made a smart decision that was right for me and was proud that I persevered for hours and came within 10 minutes of Stella Point  (5685 meters). In hindsight I wrestle with feelings of being left out of the experience that the rest of the team shared, yet, I also learned that I reached high enough in my climb to have technically reached Stella Point and I am mighty proud to have climbed so high.

Tracy: Day two was some of the toughest footing we experienced can you share some thoughts on how you felt at the end of the day?

Randy: Day one had particularly easy footing with water bars being the main challenge so in contrast day 2 was a little bit of a wake-up call. It still wasn’t any different than most of the trails in the White Mountains upon which we train. As we were climbing over 10,000 feet there was a constant barrage of incredible views and that gave us pause for photographs and side explorations commonly. As we neared the end of the uphill climb which was handled in the entirety by a strong and motivated Jose, we hit a few interesting side scrambles with a drop off. This required us to be slow to manage the risks of the falls which might have otherwise been a problem. Ultimately it was not the most tricky footing for me on the trip but in comparison to day 1 it was a slow down reality check on our pace even before altitude really reduced our speed.

Jose and Randy Day Two

Randy: Do you have a particularly powerful moment from the Kilimanjaro hike which you might also like to share?

Tracy: I think there were two experiences that I’d share. The first was on day two which is arguably the hardest 2.8 mile route I have ever hiked. I was hiking ahead of you and Jose which provided frequent occasions where I would be worried about how the two of you would navigate extremely tough footing. I occasionally stopped long enough for the two of your to catch up so I would know that you were well. The combination of fear and pride at what the two of you accomplished together will be with me until I die. Such powerful emotions do not fade easily.

The second powerful moment was on the Barranco wall. We camped at the base of the 800′  Barranco wall on day three where it loomed imposing and scary. I woke feeling more than a touch apprehensive. Once we started on the wall I realized that the rock scrambling that we experienced in the Whites really set me up to tackle the wall strongly, although I was still scared of the notorious Kissing wall. We navigated a particularly tough spot and I mentioned out loud that if that one was so tough how hard would the Kissing wall be? That was when my guide told me that we had just done the Kissing wall. I felt so triumphant to have handily tackled something that I’d been so worried about.

Tracy: As we know, summit day was extremely hard. You had some unexpected difficulties while trying to make the lower camp, will you share that story?

Randy: Absolutely I’ll share what all those on the hike already understand all too well. Summit day was incredibly difficult in many ways. We’d had little, or in many cases no, sleep; we had too little nutrition as feelings of nausea hamper the ability to eat. We hiked in the dark which restricted my guides abilities and as the oxygen thinned it was harder on all of us to find ways to keep working. Seven hours of hiking brought us to the summit with nobody feeling well or strong. Still things were good enough to savor the sunrise and the summit before we began the long descent. Down is almost always harder on me though the skree of the upper levels wasn’t too bad. Few guides had much strength to guide long and Jose and Rob had spent much of their efforts in getting me to the summit. Greg Neault really stepped in at a critical time. Unfortunately the last half mile before Barafu (high camp) was truly the most difficult for my feet and we worked incredibly hard to get through it. With my headache pounding at impressive levels, food reserves non-existant it would have been great to get a refreshing break at Barafu. Unfortunately plans called for us to rest briefly, get lunch and then hike six difficult trail miles back to a more reasonable elevation at Mweka camp. I was unable to sleep or eat and while Greg put in two of the miles guiding, we switched to Jose with me feeling more and more nauseated, light headed and struggling to give the focus I need to walk even a moderate trail. Two full days of no sleep along with the mental and physical exertion caught up with me and I lost consciousness for a moment, collapsing behind Jose.

Once again a strength of the entire experience was the incredible dedication and capability of the Climb Killi guides and porters. Our main guide, Emmanuel, and one of the assistants, Vader, walked beside me with our arms wrapped around each other’s shoulders for steady support. The trail became a washed out stream bed which is amongst the worst for my making time. We plodded on slowly and with little progress towards my recovery until we neared 12,000 feet. Finally the nausea lifted enough for me to hold down a couple of Jenn’s sports drinks and keep me conscious through to the final camp. I collapsed into the tent and slept through until morning with again no dinner. While this concerned the guides, Tracy and the team understood I could eat a hearty breakfast but sleep was my essential need. This allowed full rejuvenation and a strong hike out on our final day which was blessedly back on trail which is more easily managed. I’m certainly not proud of how rough it was for me but I’m thankful for how much the team supported the efforts necessary to let me struggle through ultimately enough. A very special thanks to Michelle for the constant medical care along the way and to you, Tracy, for having our tent so well ready for my essential collapse.

Randy: My next question involves our team.  As I was so commonly connected to a primary guide and each of us formed our own interactions, I wonder what you took away from the development of our team?

Tracy: That is an great question. I knew every member of the team to varying degrees prior to our trip, with the exception of Maureen. A wonderful development was that Maureen was by far my biggest, most pleasant surprise.  We found that we hike at similar paces and have similar hiking styles and really got along famously. As to the rest of the team, I loved how quickly the entire team settled into a fun camaraderie coupled with kindness and helpfulness. It is true that sharing epic adventures with a group of people creates a bond that is both amazing and unrivaled. I will cherish this group of people for their sense of fun, adventure and their willingness to help their fellow teammates!

Tracy: One of my favorite, most celebratory moments was the singing that we were greeted with at the Mweka gate on our completion of the trip. Can you share a time that was most celebratory to you?

Randy: You know I’m never shy so I’ll share two very different experiences which took place on the same day, I believe. On Wednesday night we camped at the Barranco Camp with the massive and intimidating 800 foot wall directly ahead of us. This was a hands to the trail slightly technical scramble for much of the morning. Our entire team has enough familiarity with scrambles in the white Mountains that we treated the entire journey like the East Osceola chimney. We were quick and capable such that at the top of the wall we stopped to celebrate together. It was a great bonding moment of achievement and pride for how well everyone had worked. I relished that feeling then and still.

Later that evening we were in the mess tent sharing a dinner when Greg asked Rob to read his guest blog that had been released back home. It was powerful and moving on so many fronts and led to more team emotional sharing which brought us together on an even deeper level. We had plenty of trials ahead but the team was cemented into a strong and caring enough core to undertake that challenge together.

Randy: The Serengeti was so vastly different from what I expected and definitely an incredible experience. What surprised you most about the Safari adventure?

Tracy: The Serengeti was amazing and the one thing that surprised me the most was just how close most of the animals were. Whether it was hyenas or lions sleeping right off the road, or elephants passing behind our Landrover almost close enough to touch.

While this is just the barest insight into the experiences of only two of our eleven team members, it hopefully provides you with a little flavor as well as the incentive to reach out to any and all of our team for the rest of the many stories. Life has the potential to be an amazing series of adventures whether by hearing or living the stories. As in many things, however, they are always the sweeter when shared together. Thank you Tracy for sharing life’s adventures with me!

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