I met Randy Pierce through work and was thrilled when he invited me to hike Mounts Liberty and Flume in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I was enthralled watching Randy work with guide dog Quinn; they shared an intrinsic connection incomparable to anything I’d seen before.
That hike was the start of a friendship with not just Randy, but the incredible group of people in his life. Liberty and Flume led to countless additional hikes, to emceeing the Peak Potential fundraiser three times, and ultimately to serving on the 2020 Vision Quest (2020VQ) Board of Directors. Among my favorite adventures – our trip to Africa to climb Mount Kilimanjaro in the fall of 2015.
Some highlights: guiding Randy on a mountain for the first time, on the other side of planet, in terrain new to all of us; poignant after-dinner conversations that quickly connected and united our group; celebrating my birthday in the Serengeti, around a campfire under a big sky, with a bowman standing watch nearby; practicing yoga with our team and having several Tanzanian guides join us, learning that my beloved yoga easily defies language barriers.
And of course, there was a big peak to climb. We started our bid for the summit at midnight on September 26th, tired from travel and several days of hiking. It was only three miles from the 15,531’ elevation of Barafu Camp to the 19,341’ of Uhuru peak (Mount Kilimanjaro’s highest point), but it was windy and cold, and the elevation made many of us ill. It was a beautiful night sky, but I’d get really dizzy whenever I looked up.
Throughout that week but particularly that night, my travel companions – all part of the 2020VQ world – provided kind words and motivation, shared water and hand warmers in the cold, and cracked jokes whenever possible. It was a challenging mountain, but we all did better because of having a built-in support system of the greatest cheerleaders around.
At a book signing following the publication of her memoir, Wild, author Cheryl Strayed reflected on her arrival at Crater Lake. The destination was the end of her Pacific Crest Trail hike, an undertaking after tragically losing her mother. Cheryl shared the notion that life can fill us back up, that horrible things can happen and that it’ll never be okay that they did, but that intensely beautiful life experiences — such as reaching Crater Lake and the birth of her children — helped her to rediscover joy and to feel whole again.
2015 was a challenging year in my world; I lost two people for whom I cared deeply and I left a job I loved. However, I had my own Crater Lake moment while climbing one of the Seven Summits, alongside some of the greatest people I’ve ever known. That trip eased a heaviness, a burden I wasn’t aware I was carrying, and paved the way for a return to living in and enjoying the present moment.
I have so much love and appreciation for our Kili crew – Cat, Frank, Greg, Jen, Jose, Kathy, Maureen, Randy, Rob, & Tracy – for our shared Tanzanian experience. I’m thankful to the 2020VQ community for many Crater Lake moments outside of Africa. And I’m profoundly grateful to Randy for inviting me along for the ride.
– Michelle Brier