Tag: Hiking



18 Mar 17

By Randy Pierce

An early picture of Autumn, Randy's Guide Dog partner, who arrived in Nashua on March 16, 2014.

An early picture of Autumn, Randy’s Guide Dog partner, who arrived in Nashua on March 16, 2014.

Autumn’s joyous exuberance was evident as she bounded into me on our first meeting on March 16, 2014. Her affectionate, loving approach won my heart immediately but she had some legendary paws to fill in the working world.

I was determined to keep an open mind and remove expectations to let our working relationship develop based upon the skills and qualities each of us brought to the team under the supervision of Guiding Eyes Trainer Chrissie Vetrano. I had some success in this approach as I had transitioned from Ostend to Quinn and understood the benefits of being open minded to the strengths and challenges which each of us bring to any partnership.

I was not without a little baggage of my own I needed to address for the journey. It wasn’t entirely seamless out in the working world and that’s why we have trainers and the guide school support system to help us manage the many possible challenges and ensure we have the skills and tools to work through the difficult days in a steadily improving fashion. Autumn wanted to please me and I wanted my special little girl to succeed with me as well.

Randy, Tracy, and Autumn on a mountainside, one big happy family!

Randy, Tracy, and Autumn on a mountainside, one big happy family!

Three years later I’m amazed at how far we’ve come. I’ve learned to understand her body language to tell when her exuberance is driving her more than her thinking and she’s learned to realize when I’m allowing myself to be a little distracted and need a little correction to her warnings for me. Yes, we both still make some mistakes on our journey but we’ve built an understanding of when we are smooth together, when we are challenged and how to address it so we can do the necessary work even amidst challenge.

Better still, the challenging days are the rarity and the smooth days are so very common. I step out of my home with confidence each day and harness her expecting and receiving the freedom and independence which is such a part of a dog guide team. She gives me hours back each day in the efficiency with which we can do our tasks. Using my cane I find walking to the bus stop is 15 minutes normally, 30 minutes on trash day and “just stay home” on trash and recycle day.

Autumn looking bashful

“Stop, dad, you’re embarrassing me!”

Working with Autumn it is a five minute relaxed and mentally free stroll. She strides eagerly ahead of me and slightly to my left watching for the obstacles and trying to determine which destination is next for us. I try to keep her guessing a little and reflect that it is not just the hours she gives me back each day but the quality of the hours improved by spending my time with her.

So as I celebrate my third year with my wonderful Black and Tan Labrador Retriever, I realize we are in the sweet spot. Our bond is complete and deep, our skills have come to a great understanding, and our eagerness to adventure together is buoyed by our mutual (ahem) youthful approach to the world. I love her work, I love the impact of her work on my life, I love her impact upon my life and so it is not surprisingly how completely and proudly I love my Autumn. Thank you for three wonderful years and I look forward hopefully and eagerly to many more ahead!

Autumn lies on top of Randy, pinning him to the floor.

Autumn’s love and exuberance bowls us over!

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11 Mar 17

By Randy Pierce

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.

“Success comes to those who have an entire mountain of gold that they continually mine, not those who find one nugget and try to live on it for fifty years.”
– John C. Maxwell

The White Mountains of NH are aptly named in winter, but for me they are the gold which has inspired me beyond my expectations when I founded 2020 Vision Quest with the help of some incredible friends.

Throughout this winter of 2016-2017, I especially chose to relive some of the many marvels which comprised the epic single season winter summit of the 48 peaks rising over 4,000 feet. It was only five years ago this was accomplished and yet it seems a lifetime as it was one of many dramatic turning points in my life and worthy of this deeper examination.

When Quinn guided me onto the trail at Mt. Tecumseh on December 22, 2011, I had already learned many skills and techniques for hiking totally blind on our rather rugged trails. I had only a taste of what winter brings to the trails and mountains but I had a supportive collection of friends and a determination to give my best to learning, planning, and persevering through all reasonable challenges.

The large team of hikers supporting Randy on his final hike of that epic single winter quest. The stark and beautiful Lafayette ridge is in the background as the group poses on the summit of East Cannon, just one quarter mile from the final summit!

Randy and the team on Cannon

When I stepped off the trail after our March 10, 2012 summit of Cannon Mountain, I was bursting with pride for the team of friends, for the magnificent and Mighty Quinn and for the the treasures found along the trails and at the summits of these majestic mountains. I was a different person and while still completely without any sight, I had expanded my vision to see even more possibility ahead for myself, this Charity and the friends with whom I had connected so well.

Sharing stories around camps and campfires I doubt I would ever run short of worthy moments just from this winter and certainly I’ve shared some along the journey of this year. It is the expanded horizon of possibility which is the gold from which I draw strength then, now and doubtless onward into my future challenges. Whether pushing over the finish line of a National Marathon Championship, stepping through the Uguru gate at the rooftop of Africa’s Mt. Kilimanjaro, or even the Tough Mudder Leap of Faith out to the trapeze and on to ring the bell, these mountains helped clear my vision and connect me to a foundation of trust in my team and myself.

Randy and Quinn on Mt. Garfield in the snow with a Patriots Santa hat.

Randy and Quinn on Mt. Garfield.

Before this winter I was, I like to think, a man who found comfort in the transition from a sighted world to one of total blindness. I found ways to appreciate my world, challenge myself and live meaningfully. I did not fully appreciate how much kind attention the accomplishment would receive and some of that is no doubt due to the incredible film created by Dina Sylvester, Four More Feet. Despite celebrating each five-year hiking anniversary this winter culminating in the quest completion, I do not and hope never to rest on the nugget of gold in that accomplishment.

I certainly do recall the challenges, the problem solving, the laughter, struggles and, oh yes, some moments of pain, but mostly the jubilant feeling of accomplishment. Those remind me some methodology but moreso inspire the passion to experience them all again, not in memory but in new accomplishments.

Mountains are synonymous with challenge and it is the lack of challenge which leads to the stagnation I hope to always avoid. The White Mountains of NH are my “forever mountains” and will motivate me to many more things. The Single Winter success of March 10 2012 finalized those feelings within me but it was the miles and miles of the journey in which my transformation forged the passion which will power me in the days ahead.

Randy and Quinn on the Summit of Mt. Garfield in the snow.

Taking shelter at the snowy summit of Mt. Garfield.

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4 Feb 17

By Randy Pierce

Jose leads Randy up the Barranco Wall on a steep and rocky mountainside.“The Holman Prize is not meant to save the world or congratulate someone for leaving the house. This prize will spark unanticipated accomplishments in the blindness community. You will see blind people doing things that surprise and perhaps even confuse you. These new LightHouse prizes will change perceptions about what blind people are capable of doing.”

–Bryan Bashin, CEO at LightHouse 

I chose a life of independence and freedom based upon believing in possibility, problem solving, and perseverance. While my blindness slowed me on occasion and helped me stumble on several occasions, I’ve been fortunate to be surrounded by friends and a community which rarely even attempted to hold me back and more commonly joined efforts with me to help us all reach for our peak potential. In this, I’m incredibly fortunate as well as in the resolve to not allow those other times to overly impact my confidence or determination.

Along the path, I learned how much work remains to be accomplished in the area of awareness to encourage the vast majority to welcome these reasonable approaches. It is why I’m excited to share the news and to ask all of you to help me share this news as well with the sighted and visually impaired communities as well!

The Holman Prize: $25,000.00
The Holman Prize for Blind Ambition is an annual award to finance blind adventurers in pursuing their most ambitious projects. In January, the contest begins with a challenge: blind applicants must submit a first-round pitch, in the form of a 90-second YouTube video.

Deadline for submission: Feb. 28th at 12pm PST 

Click here to learn more.

I love several great aspects of this project. First, it emphasizes my sight-impaired peers to be creative in developing an adventurous goal emphasizing travel, communication, and connection towards the cause of demonstrating ability awareness. Second, it creates a stage for all of the world to see these goals and dreams as well as many of them hopefully coming to fruition. I’m so enthused by it that despite my many adventures I want to develop something beyond my prior scope to suggest in my own 90-second video.

So please, take a look at their message, their contest, and the results already underway! I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished and I’m just one person with the limitations of my own focus. It is a world full of talented people, some of whom might just need this push to reach for their own peak potential!

Man on a nighttime mountain: The Holman prize for blind ambition

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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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31 Dec 16

By Randy Pierce

My “vision” for 2017 as it pertains to both the 2020 Vision Quest and myself is admittedly fraught with a little more doubt than usual. I’m generally a confident planner with a fair bit of will and determination, yet that was not enough for me to deliver 2016 in quite all of the ways I hoped.

I still count it as a successful year despite the many setbacks and it is for those setbacks I have a little trepidation in setting my sights on the peaks ahead for this year. I still would rather reach for the highest summits and learn to celebrate the higher altitudes even when I’m not reaching every peak with perfection. I think if I reached every goal set forth at the start of the year, perhaps I wouldn’t have challenged myself quite enough.

So with this in mind, some of these goals are reaches but most are reasonable stretches given the supportive team striving for these goals together.

Student posing with Randy and Autumn at schoolSchool Outreach

As the heart of our mission, I’d like to see us elevate from the 54,000 students we’ve reached in schools at this point to more than 60,000 by this time next year! We continue to receive tremendously positive testimonials from students, teachers and administrators as well as parents, so perhaps you might want to volunteer or refer a school to our “For Educators” page that they may schedule a visit from Autumn and and me.

The Book

Delayed by my health challenges, the book writing project halted near the halfway point and that is a setback I consider unacceptable. Its return is a high priority and several other pursuits are getting relegated behind the priority this writing deserves. The plan is to have it finished by the arrival of my birthday in June!

Running Old and New

First up in the running goals is our return to the Boston Marathon with the ability to train properly and appreciate a fully healthy run. We’ll announce the guiding details in the near future but the training program is already underway and going well.

It will be my first of three marathons this year, as I intend to run the Nashua “Gate City Marathon” in May. A special feature of that marathon is the relay option in which five-mile loops will enable many to be part of the celebration as partial participants or spectators from the downtown central location of my hometown!

Lastly, it is my plan to return to the California International Marathon in December and once again attempt to compete for the B1 National Marathon Championship which I was fortunate to win back in 2014.

One other novelty run mixed into the many enjoyable local runs in which I’m often eager to participate is a 7.6-mile run highly touted for having only a single hill. It’s a hill I know rather well since the race occurs along the Mt. Washington Auto Road. Getting into this race is a little tricky but I’ll be doing my best to gain entrance so that in June I can find yet another way to the top of the rock pile infamous for the worst weather in the world.

2020 Vision Quest team on the top of KilimanjaroWorld Traveling

Our Kilimanjaro team has not finalized the late summer plans but it looks very much like a trip to Peru and the Inca trail may be in order. We may visit the ancient city of Machu Picchu or the incredible Rainbow Mountain or even some other as yet undetermined treasure of the Andes. We simply miss the team and experience and so are seeking yet another opportunity.

Certainly there are many more goals great and small which are in my thoughts and which may develop. I want to help the Peak Potential team improve on what many felt was our best ever Peak Potential event last November. I want to always ensure I’m learning, growing and helping others around me do similarly. I hope you’ll help hold me to some of these goals and perhaps join me in the achievements and celebrations!

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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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13 Nov 16

By Beth Foote

The Peak Potential Team thanks you for your support!

The Peak Potential Team thanks you for your support!

“And you were all there.”

That’s what Randy said on Saturday night during his remarks at 2020 Vision Quest’s 7th Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Charity Auction. He ran through the history of this amazing event–from its humble beginnings in 2010 with 65 people in the Manchester Derryfield Country Club, to last night when we packed 200+ into our massive ballroom in the Courtyard Marriott in Nashua. He told how, in our first year, we gave $2,020 each to Guiding Eyes for the Blind and New Hampshire Association for the Blind, and that now, 6 years later, we’ve been able to give $20,000 to each association each year for the last few years.

“And you were all there.”

In a lively ballroom full of friends and supporters, Randy shared some of his own journey. He shared triumphs: climbing all 48 4,000-foot peaks in a single winter, climbing Mt. Kilimanjaro, running two Boston Marathons. He also shared sorrows and hardships: the death of his father on the morning of the 2012 Peak Potential, the death of his beloved Guide Dog Quinn a little over a year later, and a resurgence of his mysterious medical condition over the last year that caused frequent blackout episodes. Randy took his audience through his personal highs and lows of the last few years, and came back to this statement:

“And you were all there.”

Both this event and 2020 Vision Quest have grown by leaps and bounds every year. At Peak Potential 2016, with our new expanded space and biggest auction yet, we are expected to have raised more money than any Peak Potential so far. 2020 Vision Quest has reached a total of 53,000 children in our school presentations, 10,000 just this year. We’ve now created the “2020 Visionary” award to honor those who embody the principles of 2020 Vision Quest, and presented it to our inaugural recipient Dr. John Dagianis. Dr. Dagianis’s quick diagnosis of Randy’s condition over a decade ago helped Randy save partial sight at the time, and he is also widely known for his skill, compassion, and humanitarianism.

But what keeps breathing life into our mission is the joy, friendship, and support of our community. Year after year, both at Peak Potential and in between, our community comes together to support us and each other. It’s because of you that we can keep making the difference that is so important to make.

Last night, Michelle Croteau, a teacher at the Adeline C. Marston School in Hampton, NH, gave a presentation about how important our mission was to her students. She said that 2020 Vision Quest shows that “turning a vision into a reality is possible if you just believe in yourself.”

Our mission to encourage people to achieve their dreams and to financially give back to Guiding Eyes and NHAB wouldn’t be possible without you. By believing in us and coming back, year after year, you’ve helped us turn the vision of this event and our charity into reality. Together, we’ve built something that’s amazing and meaningful. Together, we’ve helped make a difference to so many people who need it.

“And you were all there.”

So thank you, from the bottom of our hearts. We are humbled and honored by your presence and your support. We hope you’ll keep on coming! We can’t do it without you.

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22 Oct 16

By Greg Neault

Just over a year ago I was scurrying about making last minute preparations for what promised to be the adventure of a lifetime: a trip across the world to Africa with a group of people I respect and admire to scale the flanks of Kilimanjaro, to watch the sun rise from Stella Point, to stand at the continent’s highest vantage point and look out onto the cradle of civilization, and then to explore that region’s amazing natural splendor, a wildlife show like no other on earth.

The team hiking Kilimanjaro in September 2015.I remember very distinctly the eve of our departure. A torturous night spent memorizing the subtle nuances of ceiling tiles. My body calling for sleep, but my mind a flurry with myriad questions about the journey to come. A new continent, country, and culture.

What would the climb be like? Would I make it to the top? Did I forget to pack some critical item? Would Cathy Merrifield be eaten trying to pet a lion? Excited anticipation goes a great deal further than caffeinated beverages in terms of fending off the sandman.

Earlier this month, life found me once again being robbed of sleep by anticipation of a major event: a trip to the hospital with the girl I love to welcome our baby into the world. Fortunately, I had a whole new ceiling to explore as I pored over the questions of things to come.

Kilimanjaro is a giant, for sure, but I’m not unfamiliar with the ways of mountains. My experience and knowledge, acquired over a life of traveling through mountains, canyons, deserts and forests would serve me well in this endeavor. I’m quite accustomed to packing and traveling with the necessities of daily life outside the comforts of home, to living within nylon walls and staying warm on cold nights under starry skies.  Kilimanjaro was a new, exciting, and unique experience, but was still representative of a new chapter in a story that has been unfolding for decades.

As I lay waiting for the alarm to sound on the morning of October the 6th, my mind was a whirlwind of rumination. I have about as much experience with babies as I have with firearms: people have let me handle theirs, but I don’t think they’d be foolish enough to let me wander off with one unattended. We went to the birthing class, we had a baby shower, and I was confident that we possessed all of the equipment necessary for a baby to survive in our care, but once we leave that hospital, we’re it. We are now solely responsible for the survival, well being and healthy physical, mental and emotional development of a brand new human being.

We didn’t even know what sex the baby was and had no clue what we were going to name it! How would we fare in the transition from unfettered adventurers, traveling about the region, country, and world to find new places to run, jump, and climb on a whim, to being responsible for a tiny person in need of care for every necessity around the clock? Do I have what it takes to be a good father? What kind of person will our child grow into? What is up with common core math?

Any anxieties I had in relation to my imminent parenthood were put to rest the minute the nurse put that sweet little baby in my arms for the first time. She was tiny and cute and weighed not even eight pounds. At that moment I knew that I didn’t have to know all the answers to all of the questions swirling around in my mind.

Too few days have passed to declare our success in clearing the hurdle that is the transition from carefree youth to steadfast parental figures. Obviously only time will tell what kind of person she’ll grow to be. I still have no idea what common core is all about.

What I do know is that I’ve mastered the changing of the diaper. I know that, for the time being, if she’s crying, there are only three reasons why and the process of elimination is a short route to a happy baby. I know that a car ride is an even shorter route to a happy baby. I know that my chest is a very comfortable place to take a nap. I know that there are more problems with more complexity than poop in the pants coming our way, but I know that we only need to solve one problem at a time. I know that with the right amount of forethought and a little help from my people, that we can make it happen.

The Kilimanjaro expedition was billed as the adventure of a lifetime, and it did not disappoint. A trip to Peru to hike the Inca Trail to Machu Picchu could be in our future, and that may bear the “adventure of a lifetime” moniker as well.

But raising our daughter, that will be an adventure that LASTS a lifetime. She wasn’t even two full weeks old when she went on her first hike. I’m pretty sure she slept through most of it, cuddled up in a bundle on my chest (like I said, she loves to nap there), but she seems to enjoy the fresh air. As her eyes develop, I bet she’ll grow to appreciate the scenery as well. I hope that one day Stella and I will stand on lofty peaks together, sharing in the types of adventure that I hold dear. But right now, only weeks old, she has a very long journey ahead of her and it’s my job to put her on the path.

Greg and baby Stella on the top of a mountain with a beautiful fall valley view in the background.

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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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