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.
David Letterman may have retired but we can still have a little summertime fun while reflecting upon the top things 2020 Vision Quest has meant to me. Perhaps you’ll have a different order or a few new items to share with us?
10. “Watching” fireworks on July 4, 2010…
…from atop Mt. Washington on our first hike of our quest!
9. The Peak Potential event of 2012
My Dad died that very morning and I needed all the love and support given to me by our community to get me through that night. We had so much to celebrate from the year and folks helped me do that while barely holding it all together.
8. Our final steps to the summit of Flume for our All-Season 48 finish
This was all the more special as Tracy, John, Quinn, and I shared the moment and those final steps together!
7. Ringing the bell for Oberto’s Hero of Summer at the Tough Mudder in LA!
A slightly selfish moment of appreciation for an accomplishment and experience which only happens when you are willing to truly reach beyond comfort zones with all that you can give to the experience!
6. National Championship at the California International Marathon
Really? This takes sixth? It might even be lower except the teamwork and pride with Jose elevated the experience tremendously as did Tracy’s finish on the same day.
5. Atop Cannon Mountain for the final peak of my single Winter 48 completion I still hear “Beautiful Day” playing and the cheers and laughter of a perfect winter day.
4. The Boston Marathon
Not just the finish but the entire experience leading to it, through it, and even the aftermath. I worked very hard for the goal and with a purpose well reported elsewhere. The pinnacle moment for me was cresting Heartbreak Hill but I applaud the entire experience.
3. Quinn’s legacy of achievement, dedication, and devotion
Hard to believe this isn’t number one as the boy is certainly top in my heart always. His impact to 2020 Vision Quest will always be integral to our success.
2. Feeling the steady growth and considerable support of an inspired community of friends old and new
I did not have the vision to fully appreciate how many people and places would find our work resonates so well for them.We’ve accomplished so much together and for me the lesson is clear that it’s always the people who matter the most… and for me pups are people too!
And the #1 aspect of 2020 Vision Quest for me thus far has been:
1. Knowing the positive impact of our school presentations on over 42,000 students and counting!
I never realized how much this part of the quest would positively impact our world and me personally. It is the heart of our entire mission to me. When the work is overwhelming in various ways or other challenges emerge, I always come back to the letters from students and teachers to build my strength and my belief that what we do is worth every bit of effort and more.
The truth is there are so many other worthy moments from learning to ski with Brent Bell, Century bicycle rides, Owl’s Head slide, Mt. Welch, Ms. Autumn’s arrival, and so many more. Hiking with Tedy Bruschi didn’t make this list? Winning an Emmy Award with Willem Lang and Windows to the Wild? What about the release of “Four More Feet” and the incredible friendship of Justin and Dina? Well, that’s why maybe all of you might share a different moment or aspect of what we do. I can tell you that handing a donation to Guiding Eyes and NHAB every year is an important foundation of our mission and one from which I take a great amount of joy as well.
The reality is we are now over half way to the year 2020 from our inception and I could not be prouder of the team and community helping us to reach for and achieve this dream every day. Thank you and Happy Independence Day to all of us celebrating our independence in so many varied ways.
For 2020 Vision Quest, it all began with a desire to walk, then walk in the woods, and finally to take it to higher summits still! For the AMC (Appalachian Mountain Club) it began with a desire to ease a burden on the most accessible and often over hiked summits while gifting the community with a richly rewarding series of majestic mountains previously overlooked. That was a significant part of the motivation behind the AMC creating the “NH 48 Club.”
Since that time, just over 10,000 people have joined the all-season version while just 550 have achieved the feat in winter. They do not recognize the much smaller list who have accomplished this in a single winter.
On April 12, 2014, the AMC holds their annual Awards night to celebrate the newest members of the club. Five members of 2020 Vision Quest will officially celebrate this accomplishment as John Swenson joins the Pierce family (Tracy, Randy and the Mighty Quinn) in having completed the achievement. This quartet reached the summit of Mt. Flume on August 24, 2013 for their 48th and final All-Season, although Randy and Quinn had their single winter summits already under their feet. Fellow Volunteer Rick Stevenson joined their ranks on November 9 with his final peak of the list. Congratulations to the many who have reached this goal and to those many somewhere along the path!
For my part, I hope and expect that hiking will remain a treasured opportunity to appreciate a little mountain therapy with cherished friends. There’s an allure to the majestic mountains which calls to all of us in various voices. I chose to hike as the gift of walking was freshly returned to me. I chose to share it with the world through 2020 Vision Quest because it allowed us to support the higher mission of our charity work. Having bid so very sad a farewell to the Mighty Quinn, I may not ever know whether Autumn or any other Guide Dog will lead me up peaks. I’m sure the many incredible friends past, present, and future may have a role in my journey just the same… but… the early signs with Autumn have shown some promise and as I’ve learned well, it’s all about the journey, not the destination – even for a part-time Peak Bagger like me!
What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals.”
Henry David Thoreau
I completed an epic 37-month quest with my final step off the Liberty Spring Trail. Originally, this dream to summit all 48 of the mountains in NH which rise over 4,000 feet was simply a choice to celebrate my return to being able to walk and the joy of sharing life with my wife Tracy and my incredible Guide Dog Quinn. It blossomed into something far more than all our expectations.
We chose to share the goal and process through the charity we founded, 2020 Vision Quest, mainly because we thought that an ever-growing belief that spreading the idea of “Ability Awareness” might enhance and transform the lives of others. I did not understand the full measure by which it would transform and enrich my own life.
One of my first lessons was how very many paths and approaches would lead me to failure. The physical aspects of this challenge for each totally blind step was obvious and has been reasonably well discussed throughout our journey. The need to grow and learn from each experience was essential. A community of support had to choose to invest their own efforts into this process for me to reasonably succeed. “Believe and Achieve” is absolutely a fantastic mantra but one should not forget how much physical, mental, and emotional effort is likely required as well. The very endurance nature of this experience over years of life scheduling requirements is enough to challenge success, as commitment and perseverance must be continually reinforced.
Anyone who has not seen the interaction between Quinn and myself on a treacherous mountain trail may never fully understand how absolutely incredible that bond is and how its potential can progress. Similarly, there are many human guides who forego the experiences which might normally bring them to the wilderness so they may put their focus 3-5 feet in front of their own feet and transform their personal experience to one tending my safety and ability to navigate this terrain. It is a sacrifice and a gift which has many powerful rewards for the giver and myself as we build life altering bonds of our own in the process.
While no blind person had ever managed to summit all these peaks before this quest and while I’m absolutely proud of myself and those who provided the instrumental support to help this goal be achieved, the real meaning of the quest is yet to come: how we all use the experiences to demonstrate what each of us as individuals might achieve despite the various adversity we are certain to all face throughout our lives. It highlights how much greater a positive community interaction can help us all rise to individual and group peaks of realized potential.
I will forever be changed by this quest and I am sure I will be sharing the experiences for many years to come. For now, I wish to share this one thought and hope for all of you. This quest isn’t about hiking, mountains, nor even the accomplishment for which I am so very proud. This is about the choice each and every one of us could and should make personally to reach out for our own “peak potentials.”
I wish for all of you the rewards which will come from finding something in your life deserving of your appreciation and passion. Seek the ways to achieve that with all the effort it deserves. Do not limit how high a goal you may choose to set. Be aware of how to build higher and higher steps towards this goal. The reward is in the journey more than the destination and yet the destination is yours to reach. I’ve touched the sky too many times through this journey to not realize the fundamental truth in that. Better still, I’ve been touched by the inspiring stories of many who helped me reach the sky either directly or through the examples they have set in their own pursuits.
“Believe and Achieve”… and then savor the rewards you will deservedly earn!
During rare moments, we may make a decision which will play a significant role in transforming our lives. On even rarer occasions, the power of that choice may create ripples well beyond our expectations. Such was the nature of my 2009 decision to undertake climbing “the 48.”
I decided to do this in celebration of the gift of Quinn, my return to walking, the wonder of the wilderness, and my hope that through the choice to share this process I might make a positive impact for anyone who faces a little adversity in their lives. The challenges, rewards, friendships, personal growth, support, and most definitely the broader positive impact is well beyond any expectation or hope I might have initially held.
There have been both losses and triumphs in the formation of 2020 Vision Quest, which is about so much more than just our hiking these peaks. Through it all, we have created an organization that adds a value that I’m tremendously proud to be a part of supporting, and which will continue to accomplish beneficial actions and have positive influences well beyond the hiking portion of our Quest.
It all began with the choice to hike those incredible trails and summit those peaks in full awareness that each totally blind step would be potentially perilous and decidedly difficult. So they have been–but despite the adversities we’ve faced along the way, August 24 at 7:00 am we will depart the Flume Visitor’s Center in Franconia Notch and begin climbing the Liberty Springs route towards our final summit: Mt. Flume. Given all that we’ve learned and experienced, we hope to take our team over Mt. Liberty, out to Mt. Flume and back to the trailhead by 5:00 pm where several friends are already committing to be present with coolers and grills to refresh our weary team.
I fervently hope still more friends will be present whether they’ve hiked some mountain trails, leisurely toured some of the many tourist options showcasing some of the wonders of the White Mountains or simply bringing their own gas grills and supplies to celebrate with us. Without a community of support, my hikes would have been so vastly more difficult and it would be unlikely I’d be finishing this year. Without community, the worthy results of 2020 Vision Quest would not have reached so many people and lives with such a positive message. Even without community, I will still celebrate the final part of our original quest, but with each person joining us live or in virtual support, my celebration and our greater goals will be enhanced with the motivation and inspiration such extensive efforts need.
So please, do consider joining us live to experience some of the magic and marvel we’ve found in these majestic treasures of New Hampshire’s Wilderness. Do share our Facebook community as we strive to spread our message further each day. Do share our website and the messages and possibilities it helps to create in schools and communities where we deliver our best outreach steadily.
The end of the official hiking is far from the end of our real quest, but we are poised on a marvelous pinnacle of accomplishment. From this vantage, I have a vision of just how much more we might accomplish–and as it has been throughout, much of that accomplishment hinges upon those who share a belief in our mission and message. How much can you help share our message, support our cause and join our team?
We have already met our tagline many times and in many ways: “Achieve a Vision Beyond Your Sight!” Vision did not end with the loss of my sight nor does it end with the accomplishment of this Quest. It begins with each choice that help us grow our community of support and as such it begins with you all for what you have done and what you do next to be a part of our team. Thank you for sharing this vision!
Our winter hikes on the “NH 48” have begun in earnest and have been very successful so far. We have already traversed a number of peaks, with our most impressive achievement this winter to date being our climb of seven summits of over 4000 feet in four days. More than 40 miles and over 10,000 feet of elevation gain is simply a respectable challenge for most people; we have accomplished this and significantly more as winter has barely begun to overtake the White Mountains. Our challenges have been significant–the trail-heads are generally bare ground or icy coated rocks, which makes the hikes more difficult. They transition above 2500 feet to several feet of snow with a narrow snow shoe trail broken through where other hikers may have passed. While the snow often makes the going easier, that transition has some steep and slippery points with hidden foot traps throughout. These are not the ideal conditions to make climbing easier for me or my guide dog Quinn.
Quinn’s fame is growing both along the network of trails and in the cyberspace network which carries the tale of the tail-wagging wonder who is guiding a totally blind man to the top of peak after peak during the White Mountains winter 2012 season. To be certain, the accolades are well deserved as our speed and efficiency continue to increase and the number of peaks begin to fall beneath our feet.
In that four-day span, Garfield, Tom, Field, Willie, Liberty, Flume and Moosilauke were added to Tecumseh, Jackson, Hale, and Cabot on our winter season’s summit success stories. An assortment of different hikers have joined us on the various hikes and we’ve met an significant number of fantastic people upon the trails. Many of those who witness the marvel of Quinn’s work are astounded by the dedication and ability he possesses. What many may not realize is that in our group, there is a battle for top dog.
It is not with Dusty, the recent rescue pup of Bob and Geri Hayes, though he is admittedly a little marvel in his own right. His boundless energy in surging ahead on every trail to the extent of his 20-foot leash or his near-constant darting into the side woods to plunge his rodent-sniffing nose after every squirrel scent with rarely a moment delay in our progress.
It is in fact Bob Hayes who is battling it out with Quinn for “top dog.” Not only does Bob bring a fair bit of hiking experience and motivation into our undertaking, he also brings a supportive human guide element to particularly tricky areas and many of the descents when we need or want to increase our speed.
Bob’s and my teamwork has continued to improve our communication and efficiency. Using techniques such as putting my hand upon his pack so I can follow along behind him have helped us traverse vast sections of trail in times better than the AMC book suggests for those regions. We have developed an endurance of work which has far surpassed any prior guiding efforts, and in the case of Mt. Hale actually involved virtually jogging the entire descent of the trail for a summit-to-car travel time of an incredible 2 hours and 15 minutes!
Each person accompanying or encountering us for any length of time upon these wilderness excursions will undoubtedly catch a different part of our experience. Many have provided me with encouragement and inspiration in various ways, for which I am incredibly appreciative. As for who will be “top dog”: the simple fact is that both Bob and the mighty Quinn share honors as my guides, both outstanding in their own ways. They have my full gratitude for their willingness to team up with me and make this incredible journey possible.
How many thousands of feet of elevation we climb, miles of trail we cover, or simple number of peaks we achieve this winter will be determined as the winter unfolds. I already know full well how much I love the experience and celebrating our joys and accomplishments together!
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