Tag: Hiking



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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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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2 Jul 16

By Randy Pierce

It was July 4, 2010 and we were sitting on boulders outside Lake of the Clouds on Mt. Washington. This was our first official climb of the 2020 Vision Quest and I was certainly feeling a little independence celebration. Our weary crew was discussing the days trials and tribulations when the first bursts of color set my imagination soaring. Perched atop this pillar of New England those of us with sight could see all of New Hampshire, much of Maine, Massachusetts, Vermont and even places beyond. As the various townships began launching their fireworks into the night sky below us, the notion was astounding within my mind. What a glorious way to celebrate in full festive fashion as fireworks feel to me, the exuberance of our accomplishment on this day and in a much grander way our country’s pursuit of freedom.

Kat Alix-Gaudreau created two film shorts for the experience which are well worth revisiting for the anniversary of our inaugural hike. While I’ll always treasure the team of Quinn, Tracy, Kara, Carrie, Jenifer, Ben, Cliff, Kat, and Jessie as well as our voluminous learning experiences upon that journey. I think the messages stand powerfully still today in both versions of her film productions:

Blind Ambition – Independence Day 2010 Climb of Mt Washington – (4-min. preview)

Blind to Failure – Independence Day 2010 Climb of Mt Washington – (17 mins.)

One finally amusing reality to close out this patriotic reflection. I shared the story of the fireworks in much more vivid and vibrant description at several presentations. In my mind’s eye, we were witnessing the Esplanade Finale happening all over New England again and again from our lofty perch. It was a few weeks before my wife shared the truth of it with me.

Because our distance from those towns was often so great, they were occasionally just little dots of color in the distance and not nearly the spectacle my imagination had created. Tracy was initially concerned I would be disappointed by this revelation. Ultimately I think it is ironic but telling that sometimes the blind man has the better “sight” of a situation thanks to the power of imagination.

Happy 4th of July, everyone! I’m proud to celebrate the independence I feel in my life personally and in my country where I consider myself so very fortunate to live.

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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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12 Mar 16

Randy, Tracy, and Autumn sitting on a mountain

Some mountaintop silliness from the family!

By Randy Pierce

“Spring passes and one remembers one’s innocence.
Summer passes and one remembers one’s exuberance.
Autumn passes and one remembers one’s reverence.
Winter passes and one remembers one’s perseverance.”

- Yoko Ono

I’m so enthused to share this anniversary with Autumn! Our second year together arrives with still more of the transformative power of time working with us to strengthen the bond and teamwork we share. Each of the seasons bring so many nostalgic reflections and the numbers of them behind me can weigh upon me like the Golden Anniversary of my own life rapidly approaching.

Randy and Autumn framed in silhouette against the Boston skyline.

Randy and Autumn framed in silhouette against the Boston skyline.

My time with Autumn is two years old and only two years old. She heralds an arrival of spring youthful innocence still and I want and appreciate that much in my life. She has enough Autumn seasoning that our years have brought us to the new heights for which I’ve scratched out some mark in this world in the mountain ranges far, wide and particularly tall this year. Everything which Autumn brought to my life in our first year is still so powerfully true as March 16 heralds our second year. She is the bounding, joyful presence who delivers love and affection as her primary focus each day.

I celebrate all of that first year as powerfully today as I did then and as such I urge you to share that reminder by looking back at my First Anniversary well wish to her: together. 

What this second year has brought is a maturing of our work. There’s still some of the petulant, independent and distractable girl who makes me shake my  head and smile. There is, however, far more of the attentive, mature and Guiding dedicated partner who works so well with me to give me freedom to travel anywhere with comfort and confidence.

Autumn takes a moment from her luau to say hello! She is wearing a lei and and a grass skirt.

Autumn takes a moment from her luau to say hello!

We are in our golden years together caught between the spring of her arrival and the autumn of her name, enjoying a summer of living, loving, experiencing, and celebrating our season of time to share with each other.

She is no old soul lost to maturity but the playful pup who takes her work seriously and understands my strengths and shortfalls well enough to help me work even as I’ve come to understand how to encourage her through her own. When the harness falls she is simply the dog guide I want and need first and the joyous distraction uplifting my life with but a moment’s allowance.

Thank you my beautiful girl for all the aspects you bring into my world. I hope I continue to foster your love of life and work with that perfect blend which has made us such a fine team. Now let us show the world just what a wonderful series of adventures lies ahead for us! At the risk of alienating all my Beatles fan friends, you have earned the reverence of Autumn and given me the exuberance of our summer together! Happy Second Anniversary!

Randy and Autumn hug at the top of a summit.

A summit hug!

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21 Feb 16

By Randy Pierce

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

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

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

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

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

Hiking Sacrifices for “Super” Goals

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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.

***

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