Tag: winter



2 Jan 16

By Randy Pierce

Randy signs a book

Possible future book signing?

Those in attendance at our Sixth Annual Peak Potential Dinner and Auction in November were afforded a very limited opportunity to be an integral part of the experience ahead. For those not in attendance, we want to now invite you enjoy a part of that experience. We have created a private and secure website where each month throughout this year I’ll upload a portion of my writings intended for the book. This will allow for all those participating to have an advanced reading of all the sections under consideration for the final product well in advance of that book release. You’ll also have insight into sections which while very pertinent to me may not make the final entry into the book. As such you’ll have a more complete and full experience than those who ultimately receive the final version of the book which we anticipate releasing next year.

How does this become possible for you? For a donation of $55 to 2020 Vision Quest, you may have your email added to the list receiving the monthly release of my writings to our secure site. You’ll be able to visit that site at your convenience and review not only that month’s release but the entire year’s uploads. This is a great means for you to help support the incredible work of 2020 Vision Quest while proving yourself with a very rare and special gift into my newest and perhaps most epic quest of all.

Randy and quinn on Mt. Monroe.

Randy and quinn on Mt. Monroe.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Visit this page to make your donation and join us for this experience.

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19 Sep 15

By Greg Neault

Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
–Robert Frost

Group of climbers posing at the summit of a mountain in the summertime

The “Lost Boys!”

Robert Frost’s classic verse feels every bit as true today as it did in 1916. A commentary on deviation from the norm, it extols the virtues of a life spent traveling off the beaten path. Taking the path less traveled can sometimes seem a daunting task–people have a natural fear of the unknown. The temptation to stick to known routes and the feeling of comfort we get from the familiar often overshadows our desire for growth and change. However, sometimes life gives us some much needed encouragement to blaze new trails, often in the form of mistakes!

As this blog hits social media, a Monday morning will be unfolding. Breakfast will be eaten, commutes undertaken and a return to the safe and comfortable routine of the work week begins. As your morning is commencing I shall find myself embarking on a journey down a path much less traveled in my circles, somewhere between the Tanzanian city of Arusha and Camp 1 at 9,400 ft on the flanks of Mt Kilimanjaro. As I now sit at my desk at home amid a flurry of activities aimed at preparing for this adventure, I find myself reflecting on the path that led me to this juncture. That path forked unexpectedly one August day in 2008 and has continued that trend, much to my benefit.

The first of these fated forks occurred as this path of mine crossed that of some other folks in the White Mountains. A half dozen spirited gents up from Boston on a weekend outing to hike the Bonds. We shared a campsite and a few laughs on the first night of our backpacking trip through the Pemigewasset Wilderness. We bid them adieu in the morning as we moved on, expecting it would be the last we’d see of them. Little did we know, a mistake was to encourage the blazing of some new trail on their part, both literally and metaphorically. Two days later, we encountered the same, although much less spirited, group of gents. They had taken a bit longer a stroll than planned and were now quite far from their beds with little sunlight remaining. We offered them an alternative route out of the woods and a ride to their car, an offer they accepted with great verve. The miles hiked that day with the Lost Boys, as we had dubbed them, proffered more bonds than had their hike the day before. I left the Pemigewasset Wilderness with sore feet and what I anticipated would be lifelong friendships.

Sadly, after three years of adventuring together, my friend Christian Gagnon was diagnosed with acute myeloid leukemia. He was very suddenly hospitalized and, with a weakened immune system, was unable to return to the wilderness or engage in the outdoor activities that he loved so much. I spent the next few month’s weekends alternating between hikes, hospital visits, and attending to my other responsibilities. It was on one of these hikes that the path forks again, but this time, the mistake was mine.

Group standing on the summit in the wintertime.

Meeting up on Mt. Hale!

I was out for a hike on a crisp December day with a relatively new friend, in Aaron Sakash. We had designs on climbing Mt Hale via the aptly named Hale Brook Trail. However, an error on my part lead Aaron and myself astray, hiking up the wrong access road and finding ourselves at the North Twin trailhead. We were amidst the debate as to what our plan of action should be from there, when we were happened upon by a half dozen spirited ladies and gents out for a winter’s hike. The shepherd having become the sheep, I was informed by one of these gents that Hale was their goal as well and there was a route to access it from the North Twin Trail via an unmarked and unofficial trail. After laughing off his directions (take a left at the tall straight skinny tree seemed a bit ridiculous at the time), he asked us to join their group for the trip to the trail junction, he would point out the turn and we could carry on about our way. He warned, however, that they may slow our progress a bit, as his friend Randy was blind.

I was taken aback. I had left my brief conversation with the man without so much as an inkling that he couldn’t see me as we spoke.  My disbelief was elevated further when he told me that not only was this blind man hiking, but that he also intended to summit all 48 four-thousand foot peaks in the state in a single winter. When you don’t know, all you can do is doubt, and that is precisely what I did. We hiked with the group for the better part of that day and, by virtue, got to hear more about their plan and process along with their mission to reach out to people and raise money for great charities. At the conclusion of the trek, he invited us to look him up on social media to track his progress along the way. Once again, we bid them farewell, figuring our paths may not cross again.

Christian Gagnon posing by a peak.

Christian Gagnon.

Whenever I visited Christian in the hospital, he always asked if I had been on any hikes lately. At first, I felt bad telling him about my woodland adventures while he was stuck in that sterile hospital environment. I realized shortly, however, that he really wanted to hear about it. He couldn’t do it himself, so it was better to experience it second hand than not at all. When next I visited, I had quite the tale for my friend. “You’ll never guess what I saw on my last hike,” I said, and then told him of my encounter with the blind man who aimed to climb the 48 in ONE single winter! Like mine, his eyes went wide at hearing this, but where mine had been filled with skepticism, his were full of wonder and possibility.

“What are you going to do?” he asked me.

I was puzzled by this question. Christian was undergoing treatments for his leukemia which involved chemotherapy, radiation, blood transfusions, and a lot of medications. Some times he was more lucid than others. My first thought was that he must be a bit confused, not quite following the story. But, he was on point. “To help him–you have to help him!” was his reply. Christian told me that most people don’t do things like that with their lives. He said when you see somebody trying to do something special, something great, something selfless, that it is your responsibility to help them do it. He also told me that he hoped he would get to meet this man when he was feeling better, he wanted to hike with him and hear about his journey.

Unfortunately, Christian’s journey was cut short. I read the story of the day I found the Lost Boys as we laid him to rest on March 2, 2012, just days before Randy completed his 48th winter peak.

I may have lost my friend, but I have not lost his wisdom. Since that time I have done whatever I could to help Randy reach his goals, however small or large a contribution I could make, and I will continue to do so. The doubt and skepticism that once clouded my vision has been replaced with the wonder and possibility that made Christian’s vision 20/20.

As I sit here on the verge of another great adventure I look back on the road that lead me to it. I accidentally took the one less traveled by, and that HAS made all the difference.

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16 May 15

By Randy Pierce

“If everyone is moving forward together, then success takes care of itself.” – Henry Ford

Mount Kilimanjaro is the is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Mount Kilimanjaro is the is the highest mountain in Africa and the highest free-standing mountain in the world. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

Our early plans for this epic climb have grown considerable as our winter training hike demonstrated. Each of us has been in various ways attending the training and conditioning we will all want for the successful experience we hope is ahead. Just four short months remain before we will board planes and fly to Tanzania to begin the official expedition. The questions have begun in earnest and our teamwork must now also begin in earnest: What route are we taking? How many days will it take? Where is Autumn going to be staying? What’s the most challenging part? When do we summit? Will we have updates?

The truth is most of these already have answers and I’ll provide more now but the full trip sharing is still ahead as we must first finalize all the details of our teamwork ahead.

We are working with an expedition company called “Climb Kili” and will be using the most commonly traveled Machame Route up the mountain. We expect to depart the United States near the middle of September and return in very early October. The climb itself will involve six days of ascent with a summit planned for dawn after an all-night hike under a full moon. The sunrise from atop the tallest standalone mountain in the world has an incredible allure, though we all recognize the amount of work involved for all of us to experience this together.

Group shot on Franconia Notch

Group shot on Franconia Notch on a training hike last winter.

Speaking of which, Autumn is not joining us for the trip as the impact of low oxygen upon a dog is something we do not understand well enough to undertake at this point. She has plans to stay with Chrissie Vetrano of Guiding Eyes where she will get incredible love and care as well as some potential opportunities to show off at Guiding Eyes for the Blind!

While we are there we have decided to undertake a four-day safari following our climb. It is unlikely that many of us will ever have such an opportunity again and thus it was an easy part of the plan. There are so many safari variations and we are building ours to take advantage of the best regions for the season we are there.

So what can we do to train? We are all building aerobic conditioning. Running, biking, and climbing locally are certainly some ways. Stair climbers and treadmills can help though we simply need to get time out in the mountains as often as possible this summer as well. We have an oxygen-restricting mask to help simulate the low oxygen of higher altitudes when it is literally one breath per step to ensure the muscles have the oxygen they need to function. Equipment research and purchasing is happening. Finding ways to fully share all of the experience ahead is one of our goals. We’ve even heard from a company giving consideration to sponsoring our trip on our more significant scale but all of that remains for future development. Today we just want to share a little more and invite any of your questions or comments about the great adventure ahead!

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20 Mar 15

By Randy Pierce

Hopkinton Welcome Sign“Eventually you learn that the competition is against the little voice inside you that wants you to quit.”
– George Sheeh

Monday, April 20, 2015:
119th Annual Boston Marathon
Randy Pierce, Bib: 25485

For me, Boston’s legend is due to a pair of powerful points worthy of the iconic label. Firstly, it brings together an unrivaled community of support well beyond the throngs gathering along the entirety of the 26.2 mile route. Secondly, it draws and encourages the most inspirational meanings well beyond the running accomplishments as the motivation for so many of the runners. Spend a little time exploring any Boston Marathon and you will likely come away overwhelmed by the compassion and determination of the human spirit.

Randy and Quinn run the BAA 5k in 2013My own Boston Marathon journey began in awe of the incredible positive community aspects highlighted for me in 2013 as well as the spirit of an incredible canine, my Mighty Quinn. If you’ve never read Qualifying for Quinn, I strongly encourage you to visit my motivation and the story of how I came to qualify for Boston.

There are two ways to run the Boston Marathon:

1) Fairly rigorous time qualification
2) Run for a sanctioned charity as a fundraiser

I am fortunate in having a more lenient time requirement due to my blindness, and yet I’m running with and for a cause incredibly dear to my heart. I’m running to honor the legacy of the Mighty Quinn. He touched the lives of so many in his incredible life and our #Miles4Quinn welcomes any and all support. If you are unable to enjoy some healthy miles in his honor, perhaps you’ll consider supporting my effort with a donation to the charity to which I’ve dedicated so much of my efforts:

Click here to donate to 2020 Vision Quest in honor of Quinn and Randy’s Boston Marathon efforts!  

Whether you log #Miles4Quinn or donate to 2020 Vision Quest, you could always support us along the route and be part of an incredible experience. The more people who learn about us, the better we can reach our goals and the stronger I will be for Marathon Monday.

Do you want to experience the race course virtually with a little history and fun worked into the mix? The Boston Athletic Association has prepared an excellent video tour!

I’ve joined “Team with a Vision” which brings together an incredible community of blind athletes from all over the world. While I fund raise primarily for 2020 Vision Quest, I embrace their mission and offer my fundraising page for them as an alternative for those who so choose:

Donate to Randy’s “Team with a Vision” page

Randy and his friend and coach, GregOn Monday, April 20 at 6:00  a.m., I’ll climb onto the Gate City Striders bus with Greg Hallerman, my good friend, running coach, and most frequent run guide, as well as 10-time Boston Marathon participant. Since my qualifying for Boston, his friendship and tutelage have brought me to win the B1 (Total blindness) National Marathon Championship as well as build a foundation of knowledge and appreciation for running. He’ll be with me throughout the race, choosing to give of his own race approach to share the experience together and help make the experience all the more fantastic.

Once at the Marathon start I’ll connect with the husband and wife team of Pete and Christine Houde. They will be my guides. While I only have one active guide at any time on the course, we are still finalizing the strategy for how we will approach this race. Christine was my first run guide after Quinn’s death and we trained during a snowstorm on our first run. (Rather strong foreshadowing of the season ahead.)

Randy and Christine running in the snowBoth fellow Lions, we met through mutual friends and quickly came to appreciate the friendship. Last year Christine ran her first Boston Marathon for a charity cause and at her fundraiser we announced the plan to run together for Boston. The mental work involved in guiding for a Marathon is tremendous and as our training time has been limited by a difficult winter and their long-distance commute, we opted to add Pete to the team and share the teamwork of guides. Both completed the Chicago Marathon earlier this year and each will have a vital role in my Boston Marathon experience. Any blind runner will tell you that the sacrifice of a guide is tremendous. They must run strong enough at my pace to give me all the necessary information to keep both of us safe on a crowded course.

Pete, Christine, Randy, and TracyIf I’m being true to the full measure of that team, I have to include my wonderful wife Tracy. Whether helping to drive me to training rendezvous points, joining me at a treadmill, or the many other aspects of support, she has helped enable this goal to become reality. She has given of herself in so many ways that I will always be foremost grateful to her in this entire process. After all, it’s that feeling of community which I said was part of setting Boston apart.

So now you’ve met my primary team of Greg, Pete, Christine, and Tracy!

At roughly 11:15, we’ll join Wave 4, Corral 2 in the surge down the hill in Hopkinton, Mass. As I run, I’ll carry recollections of every encouraging word and the people providing them. I’ll have to dig deep for inspiration and motivation many times, but my team of friends and community of support has already exceeded what I ever would have imagined when this all began. Boston’s historic course will have more than enough challenge to ensure I need all of that and a great deal of personal determination as well.

When I cross the finish line, hands held triumphantly high with my guides, I’ll likely have tears of joy, exhaustion, jubilation, and just a bit more. I’ll know that my year of tribute to Quinn will be a very hard earned and very rewarding message of dedication. I’ll be part of something truly epic and proud to have connected with such an intense community experience. I’ll be grateful to so many–some from here, some I have yet to even meet. It will only be one experience on a list of many past, present and future. Like the year of work leading up to it, it will forever be a part of who I am. Experiences change our lives and this one is tremendously so.

So this year on Patriots Day, maybe you’ll come visit the course and cheer on me, my guides, or the thousands of incredible stories passing along the course. Maybe you’ll make a donation to support 2020 Vision Quest, maybe you’ll log some #Miles4Quinn, share our story or just follow on line… or perhaps create your own unique adventure. As a sign I had read to me by my guide Meredith on the Bay State Marathon course suggests: “It isn’t everyday you get to do something epic!” Be a part of this experience with us or make your own but put a little epic in your life and be happier for it.

Boston strong!

Boston Marathon 2015 logo

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21 Feb 15

By Randy Pierce

The recent tragic death of a young hiker in the Presidential Range of the White Mountains highlights the importance of risk management. In my presentations, I frequently attempt to address the notions of Risk vs. Reward as well as ways to evaluate and manipulate both risk and reward in our world. As a blind adventurer, these are important skills for me to develop. I often emphasize my desire to be a problem solver rather than a risk taker, despite my understanding that risk is rarely removed from even our most common activities–rather, we can try to minimize it to enhance the safety and enjoyment.

Randy presents to students at UNH.

Randy presents to students at UNH.

The concept of “Social Risk Management” is an all too rarely considered but highly powerful part of our every day interactions. Speaking at the University of New Hampshire course for Professor Brent Bell, I had the chance to explore this notion in a bit more depth. In most of our social interactions with strangers and even friends, there is an element of risk to our approach. Might we say the wrong thing and feel foolish, ignorant, or any of the many negative emotions which could arise from others’ response to our outreach? While there’s value to considering our approach to avoid unintended detriment, there is also value in finding the comfort to be ourselves and express ourselves. Understanding the many diverse social expectations takes time and exploration, especially early in relationships when those feelings of risk and caution are higher.

This caution is also a natural response for people who encounter something outside of their notions of typical. My blindness often falls into this “atypical” categorization, and as such silence is all too often people’s response as they worry how their words might offend me or even whether my blindness takes away too much of our commonality for easy communication. It’s amazing how quickly conversation eases this. Ultimately, we realize we are all people and that as humans we have vastly more in common than we have different. I find that the easiest approach is for me to reach out first because communication is an excellent way to help lower the feelings of risk and to develop comfort.

Our "potent" New England winter.

Our “potent” New England winter.

In this particularly potent winter, it’s a little amusing to realize that “ice breakers” are often what we need. My Dog Guide Autumn often serves as such an excellent ice breaker and conversation starter. “What a beautiful dog!” people will say. “What breed is she?” For others it may be as simple as an inquiry on the weather. It’s not that we are all infatuated with weather–it’s simply a low investment and low risk outreach. A gruff response can be interpreted as a person’s weariness of shoveling rather than feelings against us personally. Similarly a cheery response is the welcome sign which allows us to know we can stride forward with less risk to more meaningful conversations.

We undertake these social risks, of course, because for the “reward” part in the Risk vs. Reward equation. Growing or enhancing our community can expand so much of our potential that it is a very worthy reward and also a topic worthy of another more in-depth blog in the future. Of course, in simply writing this blog I’ve taken some social risks and your response to it will be a sign of the very reward I’m suggesting!

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14 Feb 15

By Randy Pierce

“People glorify all sorts of bravery except the bravery they might show on behalf of their nearest neighbors.”
– George Eliot

Ice and snow at the Pierce house after a recent storm.

Ice and snow at the Pierce house after a recent storm.

One of the most snow-laden winters on record is presently burying our little corner of the country. When there is this much snow, it becomes more challenging to clear driveways with banks over your heads. It also becomes more essential to clear roofs and do other work not common to the typical winter for us. People are tired and discouraged as more storms and more work continue to be a part of the routine.

Yet in the midst of this we find everyday heroes among us. For Tracy, Autumn, and me, this includes two separate but close families who live across the street. It is a rare snowstorm in which we don’t have one or both of them in our driveway with a snow blower–often without our knowing which one came to the rescue–simply because they are the helpful, caring, and kind people who so often find the motivation to do just a little more for others.

When I posted the above picture on my personal Facebook page recently, it was to capture the depth of snow and ice which was invading our home and to mark it before I began the process of clearing the ice and snow from the roofs – a project I would never finish as the neighbors descended in force and worked tirelessly with an invigorating good-humored laughter central to the work. I’ll spare their names for this public blog but suffice it to say they have earned our appreciation and tremendous thanks so many times over that the above quote fits so very well.

“Good fences make good neighbors.” – Robert Frost

While the New England poet’s words have garnered more fame than the heroic quote I opened the blog with, I think the fundamental part of New England community and strength is knowing when to come together in support. We may not raise a lot of barns together in this day and age, but our opportunities to positively influence those around us is simply tremendous. Learning to cross the lines all too often used to divide us is such a worthy approach. My friend Court Crandall took it a step further in his TEDx talk “Creating the Lines Which Unite Us”. I’m just thankful for the great people who choose to do heroic things great and small to show the positive power of community–people like our neighbors, and people like all of us if we so choose.

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7 Feb 15

By Randy Pierce

“Every mountain top is within reach if you just keep climbing.” – Barry Finlay

Group shot on Franconia Notch

Group shot on Franconia Notch.

Our rather epic adventure to summit the tallest standalone mountain in the world should become reality this year. We have assembled a team of 10 friends to climb Mt. Kilimanjaro in September 2015. January 30 brought 8 of the team together for a practice hike in the frigid Franconia Notch.

Originally we hoped the steady steeps of Mt. Lafayette would be excellent work and the views a worthy celebration, but as temperatures began to drop and wind speeds began to rise we adjusted plans to avoid the 2 miles above tree line in dangerous conditions. Hiking just across the notch Lonesome Lake trail and the Kinsman Mountains allowed for more sheltered work which would still have team building challenge and experience. As we assembled by the trailhead, the lowest temperature noted dropped all the way to -8 along with winds to make it more challenging still. This was below the range of our comfort and we expected the hike might be curtailed yet chose to at least work towards the well traveled trail up to the frozen tarn.

Frost-covered Tracy looks at the camera and takes the lead.

Frost-covered Tracy takes the lead!

Tracy took the lead quickly so we could begin keeping warm with the exertions, but many snow drifts quickly had her stopping to don her snowshoes. The long legs of Rob and Randy stayed with micro-spikes to the start of the tree-sheltered incline which made the trail more packed from the frequent daily trips to the AMC hut. This also eased the worst of the wind chills and we all came together along the trail enjoying the beauty of the snowscape and mountain escape.

Autumn guided me with enthusiasm to be working and moving. Pups and people were fine in motion but every stop brought a uncomfortable chill for both Dina and Autumn, the two dogs on the trip. Worse, Dina’s furry paws kept binding snowballs and neither her boots nor the musher’s wax seemed to be helping her.

Rob and Randy cross the bridge.

Rob and Randy cross the bridge.

Thus just before reaching the lake, Michelle turned around and the group consensus suggested that Lonesome Lake would be our turn around point as well. Those few who braved the gusty Arctic chill of the winds on the lake did so mostly to appreciate temperatures well below what we are ever likely to experience during our African journey. We all then headed down with Autumn and me managing much of the down on our own, knowing we had Cat and Tracy ahead of us and the main crew of Rob, Greg, Frank, and Cathy not too far behind. It was a fun part of our trip to work the trail entirely on our own. Once caught up though Rob Webber took over guiding to help us make a faster return to the warmth below. While vastly shortened as a hike, it allowed us to explore the group dynamic for making decisions and supporting each other in fairly difficult conditions.

We spent the rest of the day together feasting, planning the final timing for our travel, Safari, and just having fun. Whether it was a teaser to some of the deeper questions and answers we may share on the trail or the laughter and competition of Catch Phrase, it was quickly apparent that the friendship held by some quickly led to a warm and welcoming friendship for all to share. It’s just over six months away, but it finally feels like the real beginning to our journey together has arrived. We’ve set the next date for a little hike and hang out work. I’m excited to bring the full team steadily together and make the dream a reality. Thank you to the entire Killy Team: Rob, Jose, Greg, Tracy, Michelle, Cathy, Frank, Maureen, and Cat!

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20 Dec 14

By Arielle Zionts

I am a recent graduate of the Salt Institute for Documentary Studies in Portland, ME. Over 15 weeks, Salt students study and make videos and multimedia. They also each chose to focus in writing, photography, or radio. Rather than focusing on pure reporting, Salt teaches narrative, documentary, and story-based work. Our stories have a beginning, middle, and an end. They have tension or a conflict that is either resolved or being addressed.

I was struggling to find a topic for my second radio story so I googled “miniature guide horse in Maine.” I thought it would be interesting to do a story about someone who uses a guide horse instead of a guide dog. However, Randy’s website appeared in my search results and I began to read about Randy, his dogs, and their adventures. I knew there was a story in Randy and his dogs but I wasn’t sure what it was at first. I was afraid of making a cliché story: man has disability, man pushes limits of disability, listeners feel inspired.

After conversing via e-mail, phone, and text message, conducting two formal interviews, and going on a walk and hike with Randy and Autumn, I knew my story. I was struck by the strength and, to be honest, the adorableness of Randy and Autumn’s relationship. I was also moved when he talked about his former dogs, Quinn and Ostend. My radio story was going to be a relationship story.

In “Guiding Eyes,” Randy’s long-term journey of bonding and training with Autumn is explored and represented through a hiking scene on Pack Monadnock. The story also focuses on the cycle Randy goes through with his guide dogs: getting paired up with a dog, training, working together, death, and repeat.

At Salt’s show opening last week, over 50 people were moved to the point of laughter and tears as they listened to Randy speak about his relationships with his dogs.

To listen to my other radio stories, click here.
To learn more about the Salt Institute, click here.

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29 Nov 14

By Randy Pierce

A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands in January 2007. Courtesy of Wikipedia.

A view of the Golden Gate Bridge from the Marin Headlands in January 2007. Photo courtesy of Wikipedia.

We are going to Sacramento, California to run the California International Marathon on December 7. For Tracy Pierce, this will be her first marathon and for me a chance at completing my second. This opportunity comes about primarily because of Richard Hunter and the USABA (United States Association of Blind Athletes) as detailed in a blog earlier this fall.

We will have the chance to be surrounded by a community of incredibly inspirational athletes, many of whom happen to also be blind. While undertaking an incredible opportunity in our own right we realized the escape from snowy New England to a vacation retreat would afford us many wonderful treasures. While the marathon is the primary goal for both of us and my chance to atone for a failure at mile 23.5 of the Bay State Marathon in October, I’m particularly proud to be running with my good friend and fellow 2020 Vision Quest Board Member Jose Acevedo as my guide.

Tracy and friends just finishing the New England half marathon. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

Tracy and friends just finishing the New England half marathon. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

So starting at 7:00 am Pacific Standard Time you can follow along our progress via the California International Marathon website or via various social media connections for 2020 Vision Quest.

Once the race is behind us, the vacation begins. Reuniting with friends (Jose, Kristen, Chris and Kat) to watch our beloved Patriots play the night game in San Diego will start that journey, though we won’t be attending live as California is simply too large a state for that part of the trip to be possible. Wobbly legs will slowly recover with a winery tour in Napa courtesy of our friend Amy Dixon, the Blind Sommelier.

We’ll catch the migration of the Bull Seals at Point Reyes and a couple of days in San Francisco for Alcatraz, eat Godiva’s Chocolate Earthquake Ice Cream Challenge in honor of my running coach Greg Hallerman, and take in other delights of the city. Later we’ll make the journey to Sequoia National Forest where the largest living tree in the world, General Sherman, will highlight a tour of some parks and majestic trees.

We are finding the balance of not overloading our schedule with plans to blend rest and relaxation with this incredible opportunity to visit a rare part of our world. Making the most of opportunities is such a gift to ourselves. Be grateful I didn’t write this blog to the tune of the “Beverly Hillbillies” as my mind first wandered. For my part, I’ll be grateful to the opportunities presented by delving into the experiences of life with a supporting wife and caring community. California, Here we come! – please have no snow!

Randy and Christine running in the snow.

Randy and Christine running in the snow. Photo courtesy of Tracy Pierce.

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8 Mar 14

By Rick Stevenson

Access:  (n.) – the ability, right, or permission to approach, enter, speak with, or use; admittance. (www.dictionary.com)

For our friends all around us with various disabilities, it’s all about access. It can be about other factors too, of course, but access is often a huge issue. Access to some things can be relatively simple: a home or office… a database… a person’s attention… property. But how about a mountain trail… a pristine forest near your home… a wall at a climbing gym… a glassy-calm river in summer? Are these easy for all to gain access? Unfortunately, no, not yet. That’s not as simple as adding a new wheelchair ramp or railings, but people and organizations are out there making progress.

Front L to R: Tim and Dew, in sleeping bags and on “sit-skis,” on the way down the   Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the rest of the team (Rick, Jim, Joel, Dan, Julia, Adam).

Front L to R: Tim and Dew, in sleeping bags and on “sit-skis,” on the way down the Tuckerman Ravine Trail with the rest of the team (Rick, Jim, Joel, Dan, Julia, Adam).

Over the past few weeks I’ve had the privilege to be involved in two events offered by Waypoint Adventure, an eastern Massachusetts-based non-profit organization that provides life-transforming outdoor adventure programs for people with disabilities. One event was a weekend in February at Pinkham Notch, NH (at the base of Mount Washington) when eight of us ascended the Tuckerman Ravine trail toward the floor of the huge bowl. Two of the group had cerebral palsy and rode up in “sit-skis”—modified lightweight chairs mounted on pairs of cross-country skis, with ropes and bars for pulling and restraining. With an afternoon temperature of around 15 degrees F and the wind from the west howling down the trail at us, the trip up and down the famous trail was adrenaline-pumping, hard work, exhilarating and full of joy for all eight participants. Trust was critical, especially on the descent—when anything less than excellent execution would have meant too much risk—and teamwork and communication were superb.

Tim Kunzier tries out the adaptive climbing harness at the Central Rock Gym.

Tim Kunzier tries out the adaptive climbing harness at the Central Rock Gym.

The second event was a Volunteer Appreciation Night held at the Central Rock Climbing Gym in Watertown MA, at which Randy Pierce was guest speaker. About 50 current and/or future Waypoint volunteers packed a room at the gym for a great meal, brief presentations about Waypoint, and expressions of appreciation, as well as Randy’s keynote about ability awareness, goals, and how important an engaged, enthusiastic community is to a volunteer-based organization. Afterward, attendees had a chance to try out the walls of the gym and/or take a certification class in belaying.

Waypoint’s mission is to “…help youth and adults with disabilities discover their purpose, talents, and strengths through the transforming power of adventure.” They believe that all people, regardless of ability, should “…have opportunities for adventure and through them realize their personal value, strengths and abilities. These experiences will help people become stronger individuals and community members.”

Access is, almost literally, about leveling a playing field. It’s also, thankfully, about pushing the envelope of what was previously thought to be impossible, so that people of all ages with disabilities can keep having new, exciting, stimulating experiences. Problem-solving. Creative thinking. Often that’s all that stands between a person with a physical disability and a challenging, thrilling, life-changing adventure, and here’s where some of the similarities between Waypoint Adventure and 2020 Vision Quest become most obvious.

Randy Pierce, as an adventurer who happens to be blind, has a need and a strong desire for access. Access to mountain trails, road races, ski slopes, a martial arts gym, a tandem bike. He’s solving challenges every day of his life, either in teamwork with his guide dog or human guide or on his own; whether training for a road race, hiking a trail, getting around his house or around Nashua, or running 2020 Vision Quest. And in turn, one of 2020 Vision Quest’s many value-adds is helping other vision-impaired people gain access–to whatever is most special in their lives.

Then there’s Waypoint Adventure, the creator of the two events mentioned above and pictured here. Run by co-founders Adam Combs and Dan Minnich and program coordinator Julia Spruance, (one of whom, I’m proud to say, is my daughter, but I won’t reveal which one), they not only create adventure programs but also invent and fine-tune unique “access methods” that allow individuals with disabilities to enjoy many of the same adventures as others. Methods and tools like the “sit-ski” (photo above left), an off-road wheelchair, an adaptive kayak, or an adaptive rock-climbing harness. You could say they’re in the access-creation field.

A final story that helps define and illustrate access: at a 2013 indoor climbing gym event run by Waypoint for teenagers from the Perkins School for the Blind, one of the boys, after some training and a few exhilarating trips up and down the wall, asked a Waypoint volunteer if she worked at the gym.  Hearing that no, she was with Waypoint and this was a gym open to the public, he asked, “So is this a gym for blind people?” The volunteer explained that no, there were sighted people there too. Final question: “Then am I climbing on a special wall?” Upon hearing her final answer, that “…no, you’ve been climbing on the same walls as everyone else,” he lit up with a wide grin. His biggest thrill of the day—perhaps the week or month—was realizing that he had been climbing on the very same walls as everyone else.  There’s that access again. Behold and marvel at the difference it can make!

Learn more about Waypoint Adventure.

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