“Many miles away there’s a shadow on the door of a cottage on the Shore of a dark Scottish lake.
– Walter Scott
Autumn, Tracy and I will soon tread upon the highland hills of Scotland! This trip has been a lifelong dream for me. One of the many lessons Tracy helps me realize is that a goal without a plan is only a wish. Riding to a presentation several months ago, she surprised me with a text message enticing “Want to go to Scotland?” She knew the answer which was a resounding yes and I’d guessed airfares alerted her it was within our comfort range, and so the planning commenced!
Thanks to the knowledge of our veterinary team at Mercy Animal Hospital in Merrimack, the complex coordination required to bring a Dog Guide into the United Kingdom has been managed. Taking this trip with Autumn will be remarkable in ways many of our prior adventures didn’t allow. While her faithful devotion is without question, we will begin in Edinburgh for a couple of days where high on my list of places to tour is the home of Greyfriars Bobby. This unprecedented story of dog dedication will be a heartwarming start to our trip. We’ll explore castles and culture for all too brief a time in appreciation of auld lang syne.
After a few days, we’ll travel north towards Inverness and a stay on the shores of Loch Ness. Several short hikes from our base there entice me, including a couple which tribute some of the splendors so aptly described by the Bard of Scotland, Robert Burns. I hope to stand overlooking the waterfall and feel the inspiration which inspired him to write Lines on the Falls of Fyers. Too short a time to hike in the highlands, we’ll take solace in our travels to the Isle of Skye and the magic of the Fairy Pools, Cuillin Mountains and ocean serenity for several more days of relaxation.
Finally, the port of Oban promises scallops the size of tennis balls as a partial prize for the culmination of our trip. We will take a tour of three islands into the Hebrides and particularly to the Isle of Staffa and Fingal’s Cave. This acoustic gem has been on my list to hear, smell, and even taste. I’m sure Autumn and Tracy may have their eyes and ears tuned to the puffins who inhabit the island, but for me voices older than my time took inspiration from the thin ledge upon which I’ll stand to hear the siren song of this cave and to let my own song echo into its depths even for the briefest of moments.
All too soon we’ll be boarding planes to return to New Hampshire and our home. We’ll have more tales to tell although the greatest story is the one we’ll share in our experiences together there in that far off land.
I joined the students of this leadership and backpacking course in the spring of 2010 in preparation for my own hiking adventures and to provide an untypical aspect for those students. Those experiences and friendships left a significant imprint upon me and I continued to be involved in different ways through the years since then. This year Brent asked me to act as the TA for the class and we went through the appropriate approvals, hoping my many experiences in hiking, leadership, and communication would provide positive guidance in the classroom and along the trails.
Day 1: We set out on May 21 with my legs being a little weary from the Gate City Marathon the day before and my pack a little heavy as I was carrying Autumn’s sleeping bag and food along with all of my own supplies. The two student leaders of the day, Brian and Sam had provided us walkie-talkies to keep communications open in our two vehicles as we approached the trailhead for our first day’s hike into Wachipauka Pond.
As usual Autumn spent the first 100 yards being a little too enthusiastic and I had to mitigate her enthusiasm with my own enhanced caution as my right hand trekking pole work was emphasized. Quickly she settled into high quality trail work and I was very proud as on the hot day and steady climb she simply shined in work and obvious love for the wilderness. I spent the early part near the back with Brian behind me as sweeper, ensuring the group was together and ahead of him. As we began our first descent we switched to a little trail entertainment by partnering up, me with Caitlin, to talk about our day and trip goals with each other. It was a chance to begin building better connections and worked rather nicely. Ultimately as we reached a series of “bog bridges.” Autumn and I worked them tediously but Caitlin had the opportunity to help by becoming the first student to choose a little human guiding. She set the tone for many others later and we worked the short stretch of trail building the guide language for a comfortable pace and quality interaction.
In short order, our shortest day brought us to Wachipauka Pond. The temperatures were ideal, the scene as majestic as previous trips promised, and for a time we just relaxed and enjoyed the remote serenity earned by an afternoon of trail work together. My SteriPEN water purifier refused to light as the single downside of my evening preparations, but Brent and the team found ways to help Autumn and me have purified water for the trip. The leaders brought the team together and bear bags were hung, tarps for sleeping and cooking were established and an idyllic evening descended complete with one of the sunset gifts those who experience them in the White Mountains usually treasure for the rest of their days. We had a couple of meetings to close out our activity before sleeping open to the air with the sounds of the pond and the likely moose who traipsed belligerently within 50 yards of our campsite and left his marks for us to find in the morning.
Day 2: Samm and Anthony were our leaders. (This “Samm” was male, vs. the female “Sam” who led on day 1.) Anthony was taking a bonus leadership day to fill in for our first casualty as Chloe had an illness requiring her to miss the trip. We started out with a steady upward climb to the Webster Slide summit and a beautiful overlook, our first official “peak” of the trip. We did a little stretching as a group and had a lot more interactions amongst the team as both Bridget and Emma took some turns guiding me to supplement the great work being done by Autumn as well. Down is simply always easier with a human guide and there were some fun challenge points along this route. We made excellent time to cross a road and make a significant water crossing which included an educational moment for the various methods of safer water crossing. Autumn showcased multiple crossings until a stick enticement convinced her to go all the way over and be held there awaiting my cross.
There is a point in most hikes where conversations bring teams together and as the rain held off for us, the trail was generally gentle, we came together decently. Just to enhance the scenario of challenge, a “fake” broken arm practice was added to the leader challenge and still we arrived to the Jeffers Brook Shelter ahead of schedule and feeling strong despite the rain joining our group. Several of us made use of the shelter and had a few AT through and section hikers to enhance the evening conversations. The evening debrief was a supportive and encouraging preparation for what most expected to be our most challenging day.
Day 3: Bridget and Anthony had us up at 5 with light traces of the rain still falling. Brent was ill and that complicated the start, as did our plan to hike a short distance to a car spot where we would have breakfast and adjust some equipment for the remaining trip. This was more important, as Brent’s medical device had lost its charge and the back-up battery wasn’t working. As my water purification system had seemingly failed, Brent was my support and my cook partner so both of us became a delay for the group. At the car Brent charged his device, we repacked, and set out for the Glencliff trail and Mt. Moosilauke!
Because of the low water aspects, I had my heaviest water load, and below Glencliff the trail gets a little boulder-strewn. Due to this, after the steady steepness we reached a section of trail which was particularly hard work for Autumn and me. At this point I shared my struggle to keep the group pace and for a short time switched to Emma guiding me to bolster both of us for a bit. Then Samm took his first shift to handle the long steady steep up to and over the headwall of Moosilauke with us pushing well into the full hunger-almost-hangry range for the team. A well earned lunch below south peak recharged us for the glorious ridge walk which Autumn handled once again until we emerged in the boulder fields and alpine zone where Brent guided as we all managed an impressive 40 mph wind for our spectacular summit reward!
Our goal for the day was Beaver Brook Shelter and so a fair bit of hiking remained. The trail involved some particularly precarious sections and due to Brent’s overall health concerns, he needed to be free of guiding. The students realized Autumn and I would be slow on this track and so took the challenging load for a strenuous section concluding with a considerable amount of snow/monorail hiking led by Sam, working some impressive final descents to the much celebrated shelter. It was a very weary team debrief, proud of the accomplishments and having fully come together to work through all the challenges and fully understand the many ways of supporting each other. Our AT section hiker had made the journey with us and surprised some by sharing that in his 23 years of section hiking the Appalachian Trail, this was his hardest day ever.
Day 4: Our fourth and final day began with the most powerful sunrise of the trip. We faced out over the Kinsmans, the Lafayette ridge, and the presidentials beyond with the sun rising to give the layered mountains a particularly majestic splendor few will ever forget. Caitlin and Emma were our leaders of the day. Brent had experienced his roughest night and was resolutely tending himself to overcome a difficult start. It was crisp and cold at our 3800 feet of elevation and Autumn wisely chose to curl up with our AT companion as he was the last one in a sleeping bag once we had all packed and prepared for departure. We set out as quickly as possible to retrace some of our prior evening’s steps up before descending steadily down through an old forest. It was part of a long-ago Dartmouth ski trail from an era when skiing involved no turns other than what the trail made!
Some of the terrain was more difficult than anticipated and trail games had the group laughing and entertained while I was in full concentration. On a particularly rough trail, I rolled an ankle on a shifting rock more seriously than usual, which resulted in a rare fall for me. The mirth of the group would be essential as would Brent’s high focus guidance to ease my hobbling worked out the long miles still remaining. When the trail eased by our stream crossing and gentle footing allowed us to pick up pace and find the Ravine Lodge for reward, a weary but satisfied group had once again undergone the transformative process of such hikes.
Leadership, guidance, and the richly rewarding wilderness experience were certainly all part of the process. For Autumn and me, we had bonded well with the people of this trip and it was easy at times to forget the decades of difference in our ages because of the commonality of our experience. There is a sadness to the ending and knowing we will never have the same group together to experience all of the varied powerful moments we did share. There is, however, much reward in knowing we grew together, shared together and all of us, student, teacher, and Autumn extraordinaire experienced individual growth on our journey towards personal peaks. I’ll take the growth and the memories and the solace of knowing the choice to be on the path is the most rewarding one of all.
As we pass the anniversary of the loss of Randy’s Guide Dog, the Mighty Quinn, we share a post from January 30, 2016 when Randy shared a chapter from his book-in-progress about taking Quinn’s ashes on his climb up Mount Kilimanjaro.
“The problem I had, and I suspect a lot of people have, is that you sometimes give yourself the illusion of moving forward without actually moving forward.” – Matt Landry
As many of you know I’ve been working on my own book project for longer than I’d like to admit. It is going acceptably well at this point after a series of unreasonable delays which have disappointed me and frustrated me at various times. A friend of mine shared with me words from Stephen King suggesting that if you truly want to write, nothing will stop you.
I met Matt Landry indirectly as a result of our mutual appreciation of hiking. We crossed paths a few times including a marvelous afternoon last summer. I’ve been a fan of his on social media as his kindness and wisdom shone very brightly. Thus I was determined to read his newest book and share with all of you.
What a delight I found in the journey he shares with us! It’s far more than a journey through the 48 although I did some reminiscing of my own hikes while reading. It’s a journey of goal setting and moving our life forward, upward and onward.
1) This isn’t your first book and the choice to become a writer has come later in your life. What inspired you to publish initially and what was the motivation behind writing this book?
To make a long story short, my main goal in life is to make the lives of others easier. About 3 or 4 years ago I decided to go back to college to work towards my Human Services degree. In doing so, I took an English composition course, and with the encouragement of the professor, I decided to write a book. She saw a value in the way I wrote that I couldn’t see in myself. Writing a book was an excellent vehicle for serving my purpose of changing the world for the better.
The motivation behind the initial book “Learning to Be Human Again,” my first, was that it was drawn upon from a series of journals I had written about ten years ago while going through a major depression. One of the biggest lessons I learned was to in order increase my self-worth and limit my regret was to learn to simply be myself. The true “me” that was created to shine in only the way I knew best how to do before the World told me who I thought I should be. I thought others may have benefited from a book like that.
For the current book “Forward, Upward, Onward,” the motivation came more from just wanting to achieve a major goal and to see what I was made of, and again, maybe helping someone else do the same in the process. I had a lot of fun writing this one, and hopefully, it shows. It was good to re-live a lot of these hikes again while I was organizing and writing the book.
2) I used this quote as the lead into the blog and I wanted to ask if you would elaborate since I rarely get to ask the source of a motivational quote to enlighten us directly. While you do this wonderfully in your book, perhaps you can give us the abridged insight for the blog: “The problem I had, and I suspect a lot of people have, is that you sometimes give yourself the illusion of moving forward without actually moving forward.”
That quote has to do with a mindset and lifestyle that I lived with for most of my life, and I feel I’m not alone in that concept. The example I used in the book was that if you buy a book about how to speak Italian, it still doesn’t allow you to speak Italian unless you open it up and read it and practice the information inside. The same goes for music lessons. How many of us have bought a guitar, then let it sit without picking it up, then wonder why we can’t play it? Another great example that ties in well with this New Year is a gym membership. How many of us pay a monthly fee, and don’t go, but having a membership makes us somehow feel like we do? Or that paying monthly will somehow alone make us magically physically fit?
Having the mindset of the completion of a goal in your head is crucial. You need to believe and imagine you are running the marathon, passing the course, making the money, or climbing the mountain before you even step out the door. The problem I had was the walking out the door part. I had imagined the goal of hiking the 48-four-thousand-footers having been completed so much and so vividly, I was almost convinced that I had. The problem was that I actually needed to climb them in order to say I had.
It’s no different than losing weight, quitting drinking, starting a new career, or, well, writing a book. There comes a point when you need to stop talking and you need to do the work. I had that epiphany during my 48 peaks goal, and it made all the difference in the long run. Stop waiting for tomorrow, stop talking about it, and stop dreaming. Do the work.
3) You share many appreciative points of kindness in your book, including some sent in my direction–thank you for that. I’m curious what was one of your favorite responses you’ve received from those of us who are so appreciative at your choice to share so much of yourself and your insights with us in your books? Is there a favorite comment, letter or expression of appreciation you’ve received which you can in some part share along with why it has such meaning for you?
With all due respect, the kind words said to me by friends about the books or my insights mean the world to me, but it’s the strangers, the people who I have never met, that mean a little more to me. Although the encouragement of people I know is an important part of my getting these books done, it’s the connection of making a difference to those who I don’t know that goes a long way in motivating me.
Back to the question you asked, I have no specific notes of importance that outweigh another, but I’ve been blessed to get enough of them to help me realize that I’m on the right path right now in what I’m doing. Encouragement of any kind is always a great fuel, isn’t it?
4) While we are on superlatives, you cover many high points and low points of your journey in the book so I’ll leave those there. I’m curious if you have a high point to share in the writing process for either of your books?
In writing, I go with an almost fits and starts method. I will say that a high point in any writing project, especially a longer one, is the final edit. In my case, being a new writer, I also found another surprising high point was getting your book back from the editor and reading through it, to see how they were able to make it flow better. A good editor can make your words truly come to life. That was a surprising aspect of this writing journey I’ve been on. I thank goodness I didn’t release anything that someone wasn’t able to take a good hard look at first before I put it out there. You get so encapsulated in what you’re writing sometimes that you lose the forest for the trees about the story or concept of the book that you’re trying to convey. It’s nice to have that second set of eyes to set you straight or to let you know that you’re in the right direction!
Hiring an editor alone was one of the smartest things I may have done in writing a book. I learned more about my writing in general than any classroom could have taught me. I originally thought I was hiring an editor, what I didn’t know is that I was really hiring a teacher!
5) Any thoughts on what we might expect next in your writing world?
I currently have three projects in the works. My next will be a “Landscape Photography for Beginners” due out early February. In late April I have “Learning to Be Happy Again,” which is a series of 25 tips, habits, and tricks to live a happier life every day. And finally, I have a book based on my travels and lessons learned in the southwestern United States years ago due out at the end of the summer of 2018.
I was running when I wrote this, so sue me if it goes too fast.
A lot of people have asked me why I decided to run a marathon. After today’s 16-mile training run, I’ve been wondering that myself. One of the leading hypotheses is that I must have been inspired to take on this bench mark of physical feats by the exploits of one Randy Pierce.
It’s easy to see why that theory would gain so much traction in my social circles. Randy and I spend a lot of time adventuring together, he is a perennial marathon runner (heck, he’s even running the very marathon I’m registered for), and if I had a nickel for every time I heard someone refer to Randy as “inspirational,” I wouldn’t be able to claim my position on staff at 2020 Vision Quest as volunteer work.
Although there is certainly a strong case to be made for Randy being my marathon inspiration, it’s not accurate. Don’t get me wrong, he’s certainly inspired a lot of people to do a lot of positive things (myself included), this just isn’t one of them. I’ve come to accept the fact that Randy is a force of nature that will not be stopped. He’s like my personal Chuck Norris. Our adventures don’t challenge Randy; Randy challenges our adventures. If this was your guess, though, take heart–you weren’t too far off the mark.
What some people in our 2020 Vision Quest audience may not know is that Tracy Pierce is also a marathon veteran. I have tapped into a deep well of inspiration in following the exploits of the fairer Pierce. Tracy is ever present in our adventures and exploits and as such I’ve had the privilege of bearing witness to her trials, tribulations, and triumphs.
On more than one occasion I have used the word “tenacious” to describe Tracy in pursuit of goals. When she sets her mind to a task, she will push through all physical, mental, and emotional challenges presented to reach the finish line (literally and figuratively).
Tracy very regularly signs on for activities that she knows are going to be an immense challenge for her that will likely be much less of an issue (possibly none at all) for many others in the group. That takes guts. I’ve often wondered if I have that kind of fortitude. I have much more than the required courage to scale a cliff to sleep in a glass bubble high above the Sacred Valley. But would I have the courage to accept an invitation from folks with greater skills or endurance than I to take part in an activity that I feel I may struggle to accomplish? I can’t say.
Tracy goes into these events with full knowledge that she won’t be the first to complete this race or challenge, she’s not going to win a national division championship, and she’s not going to be called heroic or inspirational by passersby. When some are being congratulated on their perseverance for taking on this challenge blind or dedicating their efforts to guiding a blind person through such dramatic circumstance, Tracy is hiking her hike or running her run, with no promise of accolades or pats on the back, no ribbons or Boston Marathon qualifying glory. She doesn’t do it because other people have done it–she does it because she wants to and it pleases her to do so.
When I watch Tracy take on big things, struggle harder than others, push though that hardship and make it happen, it inspires me to push myself into the unfamiliar, to reach out beyond my comfort zone and try something that does not promise to end in my favor, the completion of which will be rewarding.
I hope to bring some of her tenacity with me to the California International Marathon. If I can employ that trademark iron will, I’ll be on the path to success in Sacramento.
“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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
“When he took time to help the man up the mountain, lo, he scaled it himself.” –Tibetan Proverb
I understand more than most the value of some help up the mountain, whether it’s my four-legged guides or the many excellent friends who have chosen to undertake this role in order that we would reach our summits together. Since Autumn cannot reasonably join us due to the elevation range, the team will once again be essential as my primary means for navigating the many trails and adventures along the way. It is, however, far more about the powerful bonding we experience together in these shared experiences that influences the selection of our team.
Much as I did with our Kilimanjaro team, I wanted to introduce you all to the 14-person team who is making the journey to Peru for a series of epic adventures together. We hoped the entire Killy team would be reunited, but part of the reason for treasuring each experience is you can never truly go back. Time changes us all and life often inhibits our ability to reunite. We’ll miss Cathy, Frank, and Maureen from that trip but there are some new friends joining us this time around!
Greg Neault is back and headlines the list in part because he has taken the lead in coordinating with United Mice, our guides, to ensure the Machu Picchu and Rainbow Mountain hike would be the epic experiences we are seeking together.
All of our team owes Greg considerable gratitude for the work he did in planning the foundation–though still it is the kind adventurous spirit which lies at the heart of our friendship for which I’m most enthused to once again adventure around the world with him.
Jennifer Uhlman didn’t make the top 10 last time as she was a late addition to the Killy team. My, has life changed as she and Greg took that point to heart and added their own addition to this world in their daughter Stella!
Talented and adventurous from the start, the friendships have continued to grow even if she refuses to carry me up mountains as she does so well for Stella.
Ryan Prentiss joins us as a closer friend of Greg’s who I first met during a Tough Mudder together at Mt. Snow, VT. Definitely part of the youth movement, he’s presently the only member of the team to not have guided me, though we’ll have opportunity aplenty ahead. One of the treasures of Machu Picchu will likely be getting to better know this member of the team.
Rob Webber stands in contrast to Ryan, as I’ve known him since Ryan was 2 years old! It was Rob who got me to the key point on the summit journey of Kilimanjaro and our friendship is long and storied but, as this trip continues to prove, so very far from stagnant!
Jose Acevedo follows Rob in being part of a seemingly endless amount of life adventures and experiences. A person would be fortunate to find one such friend in their life. Like so many of my friends, they both challenge me to be better in all ways while encouraging and appreciating the journey so far and none moreso than Jose and Rob.
Kristen Acevedo is our roller derby addition and a force of nature, except perhaps at darts! If it takes a trip to Peru to get more time with this lady, then that’s reason enough to travel. Beyond the first week of epic adventure, she helped motivate the bonus week of relaxation in the sacred valley for which I will be eternally grateful! For putting up with her husband and my penchant for crazy adventures I’ll have to just raise her pedestal a little higher.
Michelle Brier is another gift of friendship brought to me by the Mighty Quinn and Autumn. On the long slog off of Kilimanjaro, she was instrumental in helping me with my health challenges but it is the kindness, compassion, and insight which I value above those medical skills. Too far away in NY, it’s another surprise we have to travel across the equator to appreciate quality time together again!
Cat Orza was already the incredibly fit and capable hiker in our midst and now has become the ludicrously fit veteran of many adventures and experiences of her own. She too was originally a connection made by Guiding Eyes and now our friendship held only distant by geography is eager to surpass geography and strategize our next Flat Bread conquest together.
Robbie Walton is not so stealthily amongst my best friends. I have been appreciative and a little surprised as a series of increasing adventures have become part of our recent repertoire. She guided me for her first ever 5k run and followed by guiding me on the last leg of a relay for her which was my last Boston Marathon qualifier. Stepping up to our recent hikes in preparation for Peru has certainly elevated the achievement in our ongoing quest for Peak Potential.
Brent Walton is the only man to ask me to marry him… to his now-wife Robbie. He’s also the friend who moved into my home to help me when I was put in the wheelchair and struggling to manage everyday tasks. Quiet until the perfect witticism bursts forth to surprise the group, he’s already earned his hiker’s guide patch and ready to take it to the international level.
Loren O’Neil was first introduced to me at the Tough Mudder in LA when she was part of our five-person team for the Oberto Hero of Summer project. Endlessly cheerful and tenacious, I love the spirit of taking on every challenge which she embodies and I’m so appreciative of our steadily growing friendship.
George Claborn is the musical insertion in our group and despite not being the amusingly, or rather misunderstood, advertised 6’2″ guide candidate, he is intelligent, kind and fun. I followed him to John Hopkins University after just one meeting, serendipity, and celebrated his birthday with a relay team Marathon but this will no doubt be our largest celebration since Don Felder!
Tracy Pierce is my lovely bride and I saved my best for last. All of my current adventures happen because she matches my desire to experience the world fully. In his writings, Thoreau suggested that we “live deeply and suck out the marrow of life.” Tracy as a partner encourages and, even better, joins me in a myriad of adventures. The reality is that my lack of sight adds complications which she helps me navigate to make for the easiest experience for all of us. In loving the concept of “team” anyway, it is hardly a surprise I particularly love the teamwork of my partner in life!
I join the team as our 14th member, of course. Unlike Kilimanjaro, this expedition isn’t so intensely focused upon the single summit experience. We will summit Rainbow Mountain but there are a host of experiences along this journey, which make it far more about the entirety of the journey. Those are words I believe, though they can be lost in something epic like Kilimanjaro. For me it is always about the people on the adventure and I reflect upon the words with which I closed out my Kilimanjaro team post as once again very appropriate. I’ll apply them here with only modest adjustment:
While we all undoubtedly have our own reasons for undertaking the journey, we have a common purpose which unites us: we are all determined to do our utmost to ensure that all of us have every chance to reach the summit successfully. A common purpose will bring us together and undoubtedly a few challenges along the way may require we communicate and adjust approaches to best benefit the expedition.
Overall though, we are all very committed to making the most of the experience. Every expectation is that the shared aspects of how each of us grows into the team and from the expedition will be part of our success. My hundreds of hikes have taught me to appreciate how much any individual can enrich the experience and how much the experience will bring any group together. While we will share our stories in words, images, and video, only we 14will fully experience this expedition together and understand completely how it transforms all of us. I do wish I could have many others along with us but I’m reminded of William Shakespeare’s St. Crispin’s Day speech, and so in the same sentence I would not wish for one person more–for we few, we precious few, are enough.
“Few romances can ever surpass that of the granite citadel on top of the beetling precipices of Machu Picchu, the crown of Inca Land.”
On September 14, our journey will begin as members of our 2020 Vision Quest team from around the country will travel to Peru for yet another epic adventure of a lifetime!
I will treasure the team and experience from Tanzania which took us to Kilimanjaro’s rooftop of Africa as well as the Serengeti’s incredible safari experiences. Many of that team are returning along with some new additions to experience some remarkable treasures of South America including Machu Picchu, the lost city of the Incas:
“For the first time since dropping out of graduate school, I remembered an unpleasant weekend spent struggling to comprehend the philosopher Immanuel Kant’s explanation of the difference between calling something beautiful and calling it sublime. Nowadays, we throw around the word ‘sublime’ to describe gooey desserts or overpriced handbags. In Kant’s epistemology it meant something limitless, and aesthetically pleasing entity so huge that it made the perceiver’s head hurt. Machu Picchu isn’t just beautiful, it’s sublime.”
-Mark Adams, Turn Right at Machu Picchu
Initially based out of Cusco, once the capitol of the Incan Empire, we will depart by bus and then train in the ludicrously early morning hours of September 18. This will bring us to Aguas Calientes from which we can launch to Machu Picchu Citadel and guided explorations. Our morning excursion include a hike of Huayna Picchu Mountain (the large mountain that sits directly behind Machu Picchu), rated one of the scariest hikes in the world! This will provide us with a rare perspective on the region before we finish our explorations of the fortress city and return to our base in Cusco.
We’ll have little time before the deeper excursion begins: a four-day, three-night trip into the Andes culminating in a geological wonder called Rainbow Mountain.
Day One: Our first day will take us above 12,000 feet to a maximum of nearly 15,000 feet and includes Tinqui Village, Upis Hot Springs and the Vilcanota Range will loom in the distance with Ausangate and Cole Cruz mountains dominating the landscape.
Day Two: Our second day takes us to nearly 16,000 feet as we traverse Arapa Pass to Lake Pucacocha within view of the western ice-fall of Ausangate.
Day Three: Our third day brings us our first views of the Rainbow Mountain. We ascend to Ausangate pass (16,170 ft) to see the colored mountains, as well as Vicuñas, and alpacas, then we descend to Alccatauri Village (14,435 ft). After lunch, we will follow a llama trail to Minasniyuq Pass to have the first views of the Rainbow Mountain (16,479 ft) and camp at Surine Cocha (15,748 ft) on the banks of the beautiful Lake Surine.
Day Four: Our final day we will hike to the summit of Rainbow Mountain (16,469 ft). We descend to Quesiuno Village and are transported back to Cusco which will mark the end of the expedition for some of our number.
Eight of our crew have secured an evening at the Sky Lodge which entails climbing a cliff overlooking the Sacred Valley to stay in a transparent pod for the night. Our evening dinner, sunset, and brilliant night sky over the valley will be part of the reward for that climb. Sunrise over the valley with breakfast enhances the experience further and the zipline out of the cliffside dwelling will be an adrenaline burst to the adventure. Words can hardly explain this and fortunately there is a marvelous video to help you understand the experience which awaits us all:
You might think that all of this would be enough adventure and experience and thanks to the great coordination efforts of Greg Neault it is certainly tremendous. But in addition, Greg has also arranged for a likely opportunity for a visit and presentation to a school while we are there.
Tracy and I will be joining Jose and Kristen in taking an extra few days after all of this to relax in the Sacred Valley and reflect upon the experiences before we return home, our lives undoubtedly changed once again.
May mountain memories are richly rewarding for me, from my engagement to Tracy on May 1, 2010 atop Mt. Welch to the May 2, 2011 hike we took with Tedy Bruschi. It is the latter I wish to revisit today although you can certainly tour the recollections from our Blaze of Glory blog.
My work with 2020 Vision Quest and Future In Sight combined with my Marathon schedule have limited my opportunities to escape for the altitude adjustments of our wilderness hikes. When spring is slowly releasing winter’s influence and reaching towards summer, the trails are slower still to welcome the warmth and release the snowpack (monorail) which makes hiking particularly challenging for me. Early May on the lower elevations is just right for my reasonable return, so my thoughts are returning and I wanted to share the reflection.
So many seasons have turned since then and so much growth in our lives has happened, yet the foundations there remain constant for me today. Tedy Bruschi joined us to learn and practice as well as to celebrate friendship and teamwork. He joined to help, to put emphasis on ability awareness, and to help us with our own outreach in the early days of our charity. While reading and reflecting and listening to both versions of the Quinn vs. Tedy tug-of-war match, I could not help but appreciate how much fun was interwoven in the entire day. There is so much work in our mission, in the training and planning but at the core of it all I hope to always remember and savor the fun in the experiences.
May always feels right for rejuvenation to me. I know there is an epic hiking adventure in Peru coming for us in September and the arrival of May heralds a celebration of the joys of hiking and life which await. I hope to hear the echoes of Tedy’s laughter on the trails as Autumn guides me where Quinn’s paws proudly pioneered the path before her. I hope for all of you much joy in sharing our adventures ahead and in sharing your own with us as we journey together on the path.
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