Tag: outdoors



12 Aug 18

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Tracy with Eilean Donan in the background

Randy and Tracy with Eilean Donan in the background

Braveheart was the last movie I ever watched with sight remaining in my eyes. The landscapes capture my memory still even if the historically divergent Hollywood script was not the source of my early love of the land. The imaginations of my youth fed the adventurous spirit of my later years and I’ve long wanted to hike the highlands, feel the castle stones, hear bagpipes echo off the munros, taste the sea spray of Fingal’s Cave, smell the peat of Loch Ness and so much more from this ancient land. Tracy and I attempted to make as much of those dreams reality in our whirlwind tour of the country.

We landed in Edinburgh airport and walked out into a courtyard of shops with an energy belying the overnight flight without sleep. It was a quick walk to an easy rail which smoothly and efficiently cut through city blocks towards our hotel in Haymarket Square. Tracy noted all the personal gardens and shared garden spaces throughout the city as well as an abundance of green space. Temperatures were cool and comfortable, a tremendous relief from the oppressive heat and humidity of London and our home in New Hampshire. The lyrical language around us was a delight to my ears and it was with considerable discipline I did not continuously try to emulate the accents.

Eilean Donan Castle up on the hill with a cloudy sky

Eilean Donan Castle

We had two days to appreciate Edinburgh Castle, including a marvelous walking tour. The “crag and tail” of castle rock provides iconic placement atop the city and “Game of Thrones” fans would find little difficulty in the likely origins of the Lannister homeland of Castlerly Rock. The “Fringe Festival” was in full swing with music, theater, and comedy throughout the city in celebration, ensuring Autumn’s work along the Royal Mile was all the more impressive for the crowds gathered. We did not get to hike to Arthur’s Seat to experience some of the oldest signs of humanity in the city but Facebook informed me which of my friends had been there recently!

Off to Sterling Castle, we encountered one of our few disappointments as the all too popular tourist destination had absolutely no parking and we experienced it only from a distance. Deanston Distillery salved our spirits with a tremendous lunch and tasting and we did ultimately replace Sterling with the Eilean Donan Castle later which was one of our more tremendous castle experiences.

The shores of Loch Ness with a partly cloudy sky

The shores of Loch Ness

First though, we had to travel through the Cairn Gorm. This mountain range is similar to the White Mountains in height and wintry ferocity with a bit more remoteness preserved. Though the weather was overcast, the contrast of these open field mountains to our own wooded summits was noteworthy and common throughout Scotland. Arriving to Inverness atop the Great Glen we crossed the river Ness and found our hotel on the shores of Loch Ness.

Scotland’s mountains were carved impressively by the glaciers during the ice age and the resulting dramatic landscapes are truly remarkable. The Great Glen runs through to the west side with the Caledonian Canal using the route for travel. I was impressed by the deep smell of peat and Tracy’s reports on the darkness of the lake which combined tremendous depth and peat to hold a haunting sense of the unknown. It is small wonder the legend of the Loch Ness Monster lasted so long. The ruins of a castle destroyed in the Jacobite rebellions provided a haunting ruin over the entire scene even as the immensity of the lake stretched well beyond sight.

This stop was our gateway to the Highlands and we set forth the the Isle of Skye through incredible Highland hills. The heather was in full bloom and we constantly used the lay-by traffic stops to capture photos or take a short walk in the beauty and splendor which surrounded us. Sheep grazed everywhere with enormous stretches of road without sign of habitation. We just marveled at the rugged beauty of this land as the mountains plunged deeply and rose sharply with waterfalls and twisting streams in full view due to the open landscape so rare in our New England hills. Rounding one bend and dropping steeply, the ocean of the west side of Scotland emerged pressed tight to the mountains we were within. It was here we found the castle of Eilean Donan, popularized in the United States for its use in the “Highlander” film. With more than 2,000 castles in Scotland, few are so well maintained as this gem and we toured through it with the staff encouraging me to take advantage of the tactile offerings of many artifacts on site.

View of Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock, Isle of Skye. Dramatic waterfall flowing into the ocean, with a cloudy sky.

View of Mealt Falls and Kilt Rock, Isle of Skye

Our half-way point brought us to the Isle of Skye, an absolutely enormous gift in the Highlands. We spent a few nights here nestled in an inlet of Sleat at Eilean Iarmain. Surrounded by the ocean on three sides with the peaks of the Cuillin Munros visible around us. There was a lighthouse adjacent to mark our way although we spent much of our time travelling the immense island.

First we traveled west to the edge of the Black Cuillins and a hike to the legendary Fairy Pools. The water crossings had some challenge but the climb was worth the spectacular views our camera could not capture on this cloudy and eventually rainy day. The series of waterfalls and cascades were remarkable and Autumn delighted in her most technical of the generally easy hiking work. At the end of our climb we found ourselves within a few miles of Talisker’s remote distillery and availed ourselves of their spirits before travelling to Portree. A tour to the northernmost point on the Isle of Skye included a stop at the infamous Kilt Rock and Mealt Falls. Of course a bagpiper played in the background as we stood at the windy point and marvelled at the scene. Later we found the ruins of a Clan MacDonald Castle which marked the wind-driven point atop the island. It was here Tracy commented on the absolute vastness of the entire island. The sky seemed limitless here, the mountains immense and unending, the ocean again vast beyond measure. With gusting winds making it hard to stand, let alone walk, it was easy to feel humbled by the land upon which we stood for so brief a time.

All too soon our time took us away from Skye. We traveled to Glen Coe and what many feel is one of the most beautiful valleys in all of Scotland. While more renowned to some for the massacre of 1692, it is the beauty of a valley surrounded by mountains from the three sisters on the southern end to the technical ridges of her northern end. We feasted at a hiker’s lodge adjacent to where Hagrid’s hut was located in the filming of Harry Potter. Appropriate since I was in a magical fantasy trip of my own.

Oban port image, under a pretty partly cloudy sky at sunrise.

Oban port images from breakfast.

Our effective final stop was Oban Bay, a beautiful port south of Skye and suddenly the best weather of our trip. It is worth noting we did not find Scotland precisely rainy as many might suggest. It did rain at times but mostly it was a quick spritz of rain in one place or another while half a mile further was sunny and beautiful. Occasionally it was full sun for a rain shower. In New England we say if you don’t like the weather wait a few minutes and it will change. In Scotland they say all the seasons in a single day and that showed to be true, though we never saw snow while we were there. Oban was a beautiful sheltered Bay and it was our launch point for a three island tour of Mull, Staffa, and Iona.

Mull, like Skye was immense and we took a bus tour across it to see the many glens, munros, and forests which comprise a seemingly separate world. On the far side we could see the pink granite quarry briefly before boarding a smaller vessel to sail us to Staffa. Autumn’s work in these transitions was solid and the crew and passengers always marveled at her work. Her true work came on the tiny island of Staffa where the walk to Fingal’s Cave was the most difficult of our trip. A guide wire lent stability for me to make it safe but her patient warnings kept me striding where many thought it unlikely for a blind person and guide dog team.

The rocky Staffa Island shoreline under a clear blue sky.

Staffa Island shoreline

Last winter the final section of ledge leading into the cave mouth collapsed and while we were able to view fantastically the incredible basalt column cave of historic fame, the sounds which inspired so many were lost to our ears as the crashing of the waves into the cave did not return the echo of legend to our more distant point. Tracy’s awe was more than uplifting enough to make the trek worthy and as we scaled the perilous stairway to the heights of the island again as a testament to Autumn’s prowess we crossed the island to unrivaled views. The puffins had left just two days prior and Tracy was sad for the miss, but invigorated by the freedom of our stroll across the grassy top of Staffa island. Here is where I will most remember the taste of the ocean and the scent of Scotland as my girl guided me in the sunlight high above the Hebridean entrance to this land.

Staffa is the Norse name for the island, meaning stick or staff. I did not use a blind cane on this trip, as Autumn was my link to a freedom of travel beyond what I find with that stick. Scotland was a symbolic freedom of travel as well. In the film Braveheart, William Wallace’s father says “Your heart is free, have the courage to follow it.” Reflecting on yet another excellent adventure, I am so appreciative to have such wonderful dreams and the courage and patient determination to follow them.

Share





21 Jul 18

By Randy Pierce

“Many miles away there’s a shadow on the door of a cottage on the Shore of a dark Scottish lake.
- Walter Scott

A picturesque castle in Loch Ness, Scotland.

A picturesque castle in Loch Ness, Scotland.

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.

Fairy pool in the Isle of Skye, Scotland

Fairy pool in the Isle of Skye, Scotland

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.

Share





9 Jun 18

By Randy Pierce

A group of hikers on a mountain summit with a partly cloudy sky behind them.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.

Hikers with full packs walk on a rocky trail. 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.

Rocky trail with a blue sky behind it.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.

Sign pointing to various trails including Glencliff Trail 0.9 milesDay 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.

Bright sunrise on Day 4 of the hike. 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.

Share





25 Mar 18

Group shot at the LA Tough Mudder

Randy poses with his team at the Tough Mudder.

By Randy Pierce

“Give your all, and whenever possible give it with the support of a team you deserve and which deserves you. The rewards will likely be how your life is defined. See obstacles or opportunity, stumbling blocks or stepping stones, but believe you can achieve and you’ll have a vision more powerful than sight!”
– Randy Pierce following the March 28, 2015 L.A. Tough Mudder

We are all going to face our share of obstacles on the path. Will it turn us back, unable or unwilling to achieve for the challenge presented? Will we try, fail, and try again until we reach the goal? Will planning, problem solving, or the helpful guidance of another enable us to learn, grow, or better ourselves enough to overcome the obstacle?

The choice in approach is vastly up to each of us and we’ll experience the result of the choice as powerfully as the obstacle. I’ve always felt there’s a partial frustration in having met an obstacle and a similar frustration in the effort involved to overcome it. Since I’m facing some of the frustration either way, I’ll choose the version which most often results in the eventual jubilant feeling of success. In the process I tend to find an earnest dedication to the problem solving and perseverance often distracts me from the disappointing aspects of the challenge and invigorates me as well.

One of my most epic physical obstacles was out in California for the “King of the Swingers” obstacle featured around the 1:45-minute mark of this short video clip from Oberto’s “Hero of Summer” series. I encourage you to take a moment to remind yourself of a team oriented and determined approach to obstacles.

As we lined up below the platform with my team watching others attempt this incredible leap and swing, I was absolutely intimidated. I understood the difficulty and the large chance for failure. I knew there would be video cameras capturing every aspect of my attempt and reaction to it. I wasn’t aware beforehand that they would stop the other swings so that the entire Mudder Nation surrounding the challenge would be focused upon my attempt. This was an additionally daunting aspect of the obstacle.

I knew those things, understood them, accepted them, and let them go in favor of what I consider a more powerful consideration. By choosing to try, I was already growing and becoming stronger. I learn as much from failures as success if not more. We made a plan to help me orient on the T-bar trapeze. A teammate suggested the brilliant idea to grab the vertical bar instead of the smaller, easily missed, horizontal piece. I’m told my leg launch was a strong enough surge I almost sat on the T-bar. I managed this because I committed fully to the idea of the attempt and that is a strength for me most of the time. A partial commit would have made the first catch and grab of the trapeze weak and more likely to fail. Make the commitment and give it your all to succeed.

Oberto’s motto was: “You get out what you put in.” I find that true of so many things in life and especially our attempt to manage obstacles. If we decide to take the challenge, then give it our best effort and we’ll likely experience our best growth. As for the final release and ringing of the bell, how much of that involved my long arms and a fair bit of luck I’ll never know. I do think we make a fair bit of our own luck by the choices we make. I would not have rung the bell if I had backed away from the challenge and my life would have been missing a ringing success.

That said, I always want to honor the team who made such an incredible experience possible. Thank you Greg, Jose, Loren and Skye! It was an incredible experience and while we can’t ever  quite reproduce the magic of the day, it’s not hard to recall the experience and most especially our incredible teamwork! There’s a line from a stranger in the video and I hear it and love it every time: “Keep moving forward.” And so we shall!

Share





14 Jan 18

By Randy Piece

Image of book cover: "Forward, Upward, Onward"“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.

I strongly encourage you to pick up a copy of his book and remember if you use 2020 Vision Quest for Amazon Smiles you help us along the way. In the meanwhile, here are five simple questions and much better answers from the author, Matt Landry.

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.”

Matt Landry on a hike on Mt. Willey.

Matt Landry on a hike on Mt. Willey.

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.

Share





10 Dec 17

By Randy Pierce

Quinn, Randy, and Tracy on a winter hike“Joy is a loyal companion, love is a faithful friend, fear is a terrible adversary, and hatred is a merciless enemy.”

–Matshona Dhliwayo

On December 11, 2004, a golden bundle of Labrador retriever came into this world as the ninth puppy in his litter. It was an inauspicious start perhaps for a pup who reached such lofty peaks of success well beyond climbing and guiding. The Mighty Quinn demonstrated love, loyalty, and friendship to me on an unrivaled level which those who witnessed typically found astounding. He had dedication and devotion for certain, and his competitive intensity showed an intelligence and focus beyond all my expectations. In his barely 9 years of life he lived more than most ever dream and he touched the lives of thousands. Much has been, deservedly, shared about Quinn’s life and death.

On the anniversary of his birth, I take a special few moments to reflect in joy upon how very fortunate I feel to have had this amazing boy in my life. I think about our mountain adventures and often play a video we call “Winter Celebrations with the Mighty Quinn.” Dina Sylvester created this video at the request of Michelle Brier and I am so thankful for both as it is a fight for me each time I listen to it. For me it captures the joy he felt in his life, or specifically in our winter hiking adventures. I listen for the subtle background sounds of interactions, the clear love and fun in our communications, as well as the playfulness which is interwoven in our work together. Playfulness was a centerpiece of his  life for certain. There is no description to this video at this time though I have had it shared with me at times. I know there are countless moments of Quinn joy throughout, so I encourage you to enjoy the short three minutes of heart lifting opportunity to choose, like I will, joy.

While I cannot say there will be no hint of sadness in my reflections, I can tell you with certainty that I would gladly choose all of the moments of sadness I’ve ever experienced before, now, and ahead because of the loss of Quinn–I would consider all those moments of pain a bargain price for the incredible joy, love, courage, and freedom Quinn brought into my life during the time we were blessed to share company together. It is why in recollection each day, and especially on his birthday, I choose joy!

“Dogs, lives are short, too short, but you know that going in. You know the pain is coming, you’re going to lose a dog, and there’s going to be great anguish, so you live fully in the moment with her, never fail to share her joy or delight in her innocence, because you can’t support the illusion that a dog can be your lifelong companion. There’s such beauty in the hard honesty of that, in accepting and giving love while always aware that it comes with an unbearable price. Maybe loving dogs is a way we do penance for all the other illusions we allow ourselves and the mistakes we make because of those illusions.”

–Dean Koontz

Share





15 Oct 17

By Greg Neault

Tracy with arms up on the summit of a mountain.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.

Tracy at the Sky Lodge in Peru.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 with her arms up on a summit.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.

Share





1 Oct 17

By Randy Pierce

“The miracle is not to walk on water. The miracle is to walk on the green earth, dwelling deeply in the present moment and feeling truly alive.”
-  Thich Nhat Hanh

The team with the Rainbow Mountain Range behind them.

The team with the Rainbow Mountain Range behind them. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

On our recent trip to South America, we chose a series of rewarding and challenging experiences that blended the historically intense cultures with the breath-taking backdrops of the incredible natural treasures held within Peru. This only served to enhance the notion of savoring each step along the journey despite the unparalleled splendor of Rainbow Mountain which dominated the landscape from our perch atop Winicunca at the end of our remote trek through the Andes. Certainly the altitude had already stolen much of our breath and yet the staggering views managed to evoke an astonishment beyond the expectations we had built, despite viewing many photographs in preparation for the moment. Each of us were held for a time, imprisoned in sublime silence by the majesty of those magical mountains and still there was something more powerfully at root within us for the true culmination of our expedition.

We began assembling in Cusco, Peru at an impressive altitude of 11,132 feet. We roamed around the historic Plaza de Armas and observed the melding of Spanish culture with that of the native Quechuan people. Such vast differences in culture from our own as the festive marketplace was an experience in and of itself. Soon our travel guides, United Mice, brought us to Walter Suri who would be our guide for most of the experiences ahead.  A native Quechuan, he spoke four languages and was well versed in the history and culture of his people with a bias understandably different from the textbooks with which most of us had more familiarity.

The team at Machu Picchu

The team at Machu Picchu. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

We toured many areas of original stonework crafting demonstrating the astounding talent of the Incan Empire. Their ability to build to withstand the earthquakes of the region and to integrate it with their natural world showcased remarkable artistry and engineering. We filled a week of learning on just the one-day trek across a pair of tectonic plates and seemingly a handful of centuries as well. Walter gave us insight into a people not quite lost to time. We stood in the chambers of the Temple of the Sun where King Inca was held prisoner and ransomed for a room full of gold and understood a little of the tragic results of civilizations colliding without the sophistication to preserve the worthy qualities of each culture. We took those somber reflections away from the city of Cusco.

The entire trip was initially founded upon a visit to Machu Picchu. While highly commercialized by the busloads of tourists brought into the ruins each morning, the vast mountain retreat is still impressively captivating. Built into the mountain with terraces, fountains, and the ever-present Incan stoneworkings, it was easy to  look across the deep chasm and marvel once again at the civilization which crafted this mountainside retreat.

Top-down view of a man climbing up an extremely steep stone staircase with jungle beneath him.

A very steep climb up Machu Picchu. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

We barely had time to appreciate a fraction of those marvels before we set out to climb Huayna Picchu. This craggy peak towers over Machu Picchu and is rated amongst the most frightening climbs in the world as it blends sheer drop-offs with steps built into the cliff edge along the way up to the terraced top. It provides an unrivaled view of the region and a challenge for those to whom heights are intimidating. While not more challenging a trail than what we routinely encounter in our White Mountains of New Hampshire, the consequences of a misstep were continuously more stark and the emotional energy was as significant as the rewards we shared in our team success throughout the many difficult stretches of this climb.

Already we had savored an incredible amount and the majority of our experiences remained ahead with the subsequent days’ start of our four day trek into the Ausangate Range. It began on a very rough road in which our adapting to the pace of low oxygen breathing was interspersed with dodging the “no license required” motorcycles which were a primary means for farmers to move simple supplies along this road into the mountains. We gained elevation steadily and the massive form of Ausangate or “Snow Mountain” was ever in our sights. This enormous peak is taller than Kilimanjaro and would be the center point of our hike. We passed through farms and briefly experienced a life so quiet and incredibly rural as to hear the call of civilizations past. Two very young school girls travelled with us after school, part of their two-hour walk on trails, one way(!) to attend school. Alpaca, llama, and sheep were commonly encountered along the way.

While being quickly surrounded by a remote and beautiful wilderness, the struggles were interspersed throughout the team as altitude can cause painful headaches, nausea, and a wearisome shortness of breath. The team began both encouraging and supporting each other early and I thought for some it was indeed the best of times and worst of times. Sunset on the first day was particularly incredible as we were just nearing our final camp destination and our rolling highland hills held dramatic clouds surrounding Ausangate’s glacially capped magnificence. Exhausted from the effort and immersed into the sudden splendor of these ranges, the Upi village hot springs were something only a few of our group appreciated and the gift of southern hemisphere stars without any light pollution was a wonder to behold. The Milky Way was vividly creamy and the “Black Llama” inverse constellation highlighted the nebula viewing possibilities.

Beautiful view of Ausangate in the distance.

Beautiful view of Ausangate in the distance. Photo courtesy of Jose Acevedo.

The next day we climbed higher still to Arrapa Pass as we circumnavigated the seemingly impassable mass of Ausangate. Tiny stone homes where a shepherd brought his herd every five years in rotation were some of the only signs of any connection to an outside world we had near completely escaped. As we camped by the Western Ice-fall of Ausangate, our evening held the sounds of many avalanches thunderous enough to raise our focus and just distant enough to ensure we had no peril. The twin glaciers dripping down the steep side framed a massive waterfall into turquoise lagoons in a valley of incredible serenity.

The views, celebrations, and struggles continued for many of our number and the support, caring and connection of the team grew with each step. I was trading guides regularly to avoid any strain on them and fortunately my health remained near ideal throughout the entire trip. Our third day brought us over 16,000 feet a couple of times and past remote locations where seemingly wild Alpaca ranged beneath a waterfall on the edge aof a ridge line across yet another lagoon. We had passed the shark-tooth mass of an unnamed dour mountain and the geological wonders of the rainbow striations were seen in the distance and our ultimate reward. Communal meal tent time brought the team together to reflect on the trail, distract with laughter, or simply share struggles and support. Each portion of the trip brought visual splendors which surpassed expectations and always the remote aspects of the experience were a gift to us. So it was that our final trek began at 3:30 am so that we would arrive to the Rainbow Mountain Ridge before the ever growing popularity of day trips brought people to our secret treasure. We had roughly half an hour of near seclusion to savor the team, the accomplishment, and the majesty before the arrivals of day trippers from the other side began. We made our way out amongst them, appreciative of our guide Walter’s impeccable timing.

For almost half the team this was a parting of sorts as eight of us would make a trip to Sky Lodge for a final adventure together, but an ending had begun. The team was not unravelling–our experiences together had brought us too close for that. We will part but in a moment of reconnection we will be back in the Andes together with the bonds only a shared powerful experience can create. With but an eyes-closed recollection most of us may vividly recall any of a multitude of amazing and breathtaking moments along the path in Peru and those are the truest treasures, not the iconic summit or achievement but every mindful moment of possibility upon the journey.

The team climbs up the side of the cliff to the Skylodge.

The team climbs up the side of the cliff to the Sky Lodge. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

Finally, I cannot leave out the Sky Lodge experience. Scaling the 1800-foot cliff to our transparent pods was as adrenaline-laden an experience as imagined. Risks managed by the two clip system, we still faced overhangs, wire crossings, and endless stretches of steep climbs and sudden drops. It was exhilarating and to culminate in the dining pod which was open rock face behind and wide open view to the sacred valley everywhere else was… simply unique.

We celebrated our accomplishment and were served an incredible dinner by our guides from the comforts of that cliffside perch. We retired to our 4-person pods to sleep in comfort and while the remoteness was not as hoped since 1800 feet is an eternity upwards and yet so very little actual distance from the roads, trains and shops below us, the exuberance was slow to fade. Morning’s breakfast involved a brief climb to the dining pod and then the six-point zip line retreat. There was a speed line named the Arrow and a 700-meter line called the Beast, but all of the traverses of a cliff were surges of intense excitement to cap off the adventurous portion of our excursion. We all had at least one tandem ride and all grew closer still to share these things together.

My final reflection as it all came to an end is how glad I am to choose experiences with friends as a way of building the person I hope to become. I grew as a person to view the people of Peru, the wonders of their land and most especially our triumphs and struggles together to ensure we could all succeed as we did. For me especially there is a feeling of occasional burden upon those who choose to partake of these things with me and yet never did any of my friends hint at such a thing. Instead, they are the kind of people who help me feel that together we experience the situation more fully and more richly because our differences do not separate us but unite us in appreciation of a world with wonders worthy of that union.

 

Share





10 Sep 17

2020 Vision Quest Poster with Quinn and Randy on a winter slope, with the words "Climb Your Mountain" superimposed

By Randy Pierce

While presenting at the Bow Elementary School on September 11, I will deliver our very first copy of this fantastic new poster to the NH school systems. We continue to be incredibly proud of the educational outreach provided by 2020 Vision Quest and now believe it’s become just a little better as we leave behind a physical reminder of our positive message.

For many, our signature image is this fantastic winter hiking photo taken by Justin Sylvester in January 2012. Recently Greg Neault helped coordinate the entire 2020 Vision Quest team in line with his digital creativity to develop this inspirational poster. I believed it would make a tremendously positive impact upon students and staff alike at the many schools we visit and reached out to collaborate with the Bank of New Hampshire. They were enthusiastic to support the positive community benefit and now the finished product has arrived! We are proud of the message shared in the poster and think it will present a potent reminder of many of the messages we share in our educational presentations to schools throughout New Hampshire and beyond.

How can you get a poster? The easiest way is to schedule us to visit your classroom or school. We are proud to be called back repeatedly to visit schools who wish to ensure each year’s students have the opportunity to hear our messages. Whether we’ve been to visit you before or this is our first visit, it’s a simple process. Refer us to the teacher, administrator, or even PTA member responsible for coordinating presentations by sending them the link to our “For Educators.” page. From there, we provide the information and contact information to schedule us for a visit.

We can and will schedule as far in advance as you require, and in fact, as we become steadily more popular, there is considerable advantage to scheduling early. But we’ll always make every attempt to honor every request for a presentation. More than 60,000 students have experienced the benefit and now through our poster collaboration team we think there’s just one more good reason to schedule with us now!

Share





27 Aug 17

By Randy Pierce

Greg Neault, Jenn Uhlmann, and Baby Stella

Greg Neault, Jenn Uhlmann, and Baby Stella

“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!

Ryan Prentiss

Ryan Prentiss

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

Rob Webber

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.

Jose and Kristen Acevedo

Jose and Kristen Acevedo

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.

Michelle Brier

Michelle Brier

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.

Cat Orza

Cat Orza

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:

Loren O'Neil

Loren O’Neil

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.

George Claborn

George Claborn

Robbie and Brent Walton

Robbie and Brent Walton

Randy and Tracy Pierce

Share



Bad Behavior has blocked 83 access attempts in the last 7 days.