Tag: outdoors



1 Oct 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy and Tracy kiss with an elephant in the backgroundThe year we founded 2020 Vision Quest was also the year Tracy and I  chose to wed. With a perfect date of 10/10/10 for our backdrop, the adventures of 2020 Vision Quest have been fundamentally intertwined in our lives.

While not always as grandiose as a voyeur elephant (see accompanying picture) to our romantic moments, the adventures have taken us around the world. This year they will take us just a little bit north as we each make our first visit to Niagara Falls to experience all aspects of this natural wonder. Whether it’s the rainbow bridge, the Maid of the Mists, or even the thrill of the new zip line, we’ll work them all appropriately into our celebrations of our love story. I love that I have a supportive partner eager to create and share adventures with me and certainly part of this post is a chance to wish Tracy: Happy Anniversary!

I also hoped to emphasize how fundamental Tracy has been to the 2020 Vision Quest Charity effort. Without her many sacrifices, the great work we’ve accomplished simply would not be possible. There are so many people who put in a lot of effort and care to ensure this organization may continue to perform the quality work and yet I’m confident few appreciate just how much Tracy has given to this project. Certainly she provides me a great deal of freedom to manage the many responsibilities and that’s a sacrifice we both accept and yet the greater part of her contribution is the vast amount of personal time, energy, skills and funds given to this effort. She does all of this with her own world of commitments in her full-time job, her training goals, her personal developments and the often too short amount of needed down time. It is our wedding anniversary this week ahead but it is also another year of appreciation and celebration for how much this incredible woman has given of herself to this mission.

Thank you, Tracy, and once again, Happy Anniversary.

The happy family!

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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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6 Aug 16

By Randy Pierce

Emergency personnel attend to Brent Bell and his friend after they were struck by a car while riding a tandem bicycle.

Emergency personnel attend to Brent Bell and his friend after they were struck by a car while riding a tandem bicycle.

Fortunately the title is not quite reality, but there have been several very close calls. I find the world around me increasingly full of distracted people. While I applaud all the healthy undertakings, sometimes I simply do not know how to awaken people from the distractions that occupy the attention at critical times. The judgment to understand when our focus simply should not be divide is essential–and yet more and more I see evidence this judgment is failing.

Recently my good friend Brent Bell was piloting his tandem bicycle with a friend and he was struck by a car. There are very credible reports of the driver looking down at their cell phone as the primary reason for missing the double long bicycle. Both riders were seriously injured and only a bit of luck prevented this from being a fatal accident. Unfortunately, this is not an isolated situation and luck is not always good.

The car with the windshield smashed from the impact of Brent Bell and his friend.

The car with the windshield smashed from the impact of Brent Bell and his friend.

One part of the problem is that it is so easy to take a quick moment of distraction and believe nothing will go wrong. Many times of success will erroneously reinforce that belief. It only takes one moment to validate just how wrong it is and change many lives forever, and even end them.

My friends report witnessing a frightful number of distracted drivers.

Studies suggest distracted driving while texting is more dangerous than driving while under the influence of alcohol and yet that sobering reality is still not sufficient to wake many from the high risk behaviors. How can I possibly hope to do so with this blog? I’ll settle for every saved glance as a possible saved life and build from there – with your help.

Autumn is a wonderful guide for me and I’ve learned that one of her largest challenges is distraction. If I keep her focus I know she’ll keep me safe and on course. I’ve also learned that once distracted I’ll have to work much harder to break her from the distraction and restore us to safety. She isn’t a bad dog or bad guide. She, like many out there, is susceptible to the enticements of distraction.

Similarly, people driving while off in a world of their own distraction are not necessarily bad people. They may inadvertently bring about incredible frustration, or mild or even fatal harm to others as a result of this. Most would be disappointed or devastated to realize that if only they could be made aware in advance in a healthy manner.

So whether you are playing Pokémon GO on foot, tuning the radio, tending your crying child in the car seat, or thinking about that text, think about how much more important it is for you to be fully present in your activity for all the lives you might impact, potentially literally, otherwise. I hope to never write the title of this blog and mean it, but the odds say it’s only a matter of time without all of us making efforts of mindfulness personally and calling on those we know to do the same.

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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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16 Jul 16

By Randy Pierce

July Weather has Autumn and me facing 90-degree temperatures for many consecutive days which would mean one hot dog if I wasn’t prepared to take some precautions. While a hot dog may be a fundamental part of America’s summer pursuits, it isn’t a good idea for the Dog Guides or any of our dogs… “frankly!”

Autumn in her harness with her collapsible bowl. In planning my schedule I try to ensure it involves as little time as possible on hot pavement during the prime time heat hours. If this means I have to make extra arrangements for cabs, Uber, Lyft or friends then so be it because my girl’s health is my responsibility. As a shocking example, when air temperatures are at 77, pavement in the sun has measured as high as 125! Rising into the 90 range and we are at risk of burning the paws even for short distances.

She still wants and needs her work and I still have my obligations to attend which means that I supplement the schedule adjustments with some other simple precautions. While dogs do not sweat for their cooling system in the same way our bodies respond, it’s imperative to ensure they have plenty of water. I keep her collapsible bowl on the harness and give her frequent water stops *with* accompanying extra opportunities to relieve herself. That same water that supplies her system can be used to soak her paws and help her keep cool and protected for any short distances on pavement although I still attempt to avoid it and particularly avoid the sunny portions.

Autumn drinking out of her collapsible bowl on a hot day.Ultimately I get her opportunities to work early in the morning before the heat of the day and late evening if it cools sufficiently. I evaluate whether it is unreasonable timing for her during the day and consider allowing her to stay home in the AC while I use my cane if I absolutely must travel outside at the worst times.

Being attentive and aware is the first step but it’s not enough. We all should make the choice to ensure our canine friends are kept safe from the dangers the hot summer sun can present!

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28 May 16

By Randy Pierce

Moosilauke - Flags on 48

Randy and friends fly an American flag atop Mt. Moosilauke in honor of those who died in service, both civil and military.

In honor of Memorial Day, our thoughts appropriately turn to the many men and women who have given their lives in service to our country. This week, in respectful appreciation, I will simply thank  them for the service they gave and the freedom I experience.

My only aside from this is to appreciate particularly a trio who are no longer with us and have served so very well. My father, Theodore “Bud” Pierce, served in Korea and has been gone from me nearly four years. My two prior dog guides, the Mighty Quinn and Ostend, each spent their lives in loving service to me directly and I’ll choose to reflect on them this memorial Day as well.

Thank you to all who have served and no longer share the living world with us.

Quinn on Mt. Flume. We love you, boy!

Quinn on Mt. Flume.

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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.

***

Learn how you can read more book excerpts.

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