Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Seeing is Believing

Monday, December 7, 2009
York Water District, Maine
Mount Agamenticus

I recieved an e-mail from one of my professors, Brent Bell, about joining him for a hike on Monday. It's not foten that a professor randomly invites me to hike with him so I was intrigued from the get go. After a little discussion I knew this was an opportunity I did not want to pass up as the company for the hike is both inspiring and honorable. So I agreed to go along, yet little did I know that Brent was making me a guide for a day to the top of tiny Mount A.

I met Brent at his house and we then carpooled over to New Castle where we met the rest of the group at Wentworth By The Sea. As we pulled into the parking lot, it was easy to recognize that this was our group. Randy Pierce was walking through the parking lot being led by his guide dog. Randy is 100% blind, the effects of a neurological disorder if I remember correctly. Quinn is his guide dog and best friend and they make a wonderful team. With them is Kara, one of Randy's friends from college. What also sets Randy a part in the crowd is that he was the 2001 Patriots Fan of the year. He is a current season ticket holder, seats given to him by Teddy Brushi himself. Randy is on a mission to climb the 48, 4000 foot mountains of New Hampshire.

And then there was Skylar.. Skylar is Erik's guide. An accomplished climber, Erik Weihenmayer became the only blind man in history to reach the summit of the world's highest peak - Mount Everest on May 25, 2001. On August 20, 2008, when he stood on top of Carstensz Pyramid, the tallest peak in Austral-Asia, Weihenmayer completed his quest to climb the Seven Summits - the highest peak on every continent. Skylar goes most everywhere with Erik, best friends of course as Skylar serves as Erik's guide. Erik also has a guide dog, whom we did not have the chance to meet. She slept all bundled up back at the hotel.

They all piled into their vehicle and Brent and I led the way over to Mount A. But before we left, we had a small introductory conversation in the parking lot in the hotel where I finally realized my role.. Brent had recruited me to play guide.. and I had no idea. The group was charged and ready to go and I was the one who was going to lead us to the mountain and then get us to the top. I had no idea what to expect.. but what I got in return was one of the most empowering experiences of the year.

We followed the directions Brent and I had dug up on the web before heading over to the mountain. I had no idea if we were going the right way or not... but as far as the rest of the group knew.. I was an expert on Mount A. I'd only actually been there once before when I ran to the top with my good friend Al. The drive over is all of 18 miles or so.. but its all Maine backroads, taking us a whole 30-40 minutes to get there. We turned onto an ice covered dirt road and soon came to a sign that said, "Road Closed in Winter." I looked carefully at the hiking map we downloaded and speculated our location on the map. The group turned around thinking we had arrived at the wrong side of the mountain. Based on my knowledge of the terrain on this side.. I agreed. Yet we asked some hunters what was up the road ahead.. we liked their answer. So we turned back around and parked just 200 yards up the icy path.

We got out of the vehicles and I watched everyone get ready. I was in rare sherpa form. I showed up in a pair of fleece pants, no poles, no pack.. just me myself and I. After all, Mount A is only 750 feet tall and the trip is not that strenuous. Yet it was enough for our group to enjoy a day in the out of doors. Erik and Randy had been pen palling for quite some time as Randy prepares for his tour of the 48. The purpose of this meeting was for he and Erik to finally meet and pick each others brains. Me? It was my job to get these guys to the top of a mountain. They are both blind, I'm naieve.. and my nerves are in rare form. I felt lost, concerned.. even humbled. And then we started hiking.

As we started off down the trail I gave as clear a description as I could. We're going to walk past a gate in a minute. There is about 2 inches of fluffy snow on the ground, beautiful powder. It's hanging from the evergreens so sprly and causing them to dip low. A set of ATV tracks mark the trail as we can clearly see that hunters are out and about. Randy smiles and thanks me for the fine description.. and we carry on. I march in front at a rather comfortable pace. Not too fast and certainly not too slow. And then... the climbing began.

From the map I knew what the trail ahead looked like. There were other ways to take but I was unsure of mileage and we were under a time window. I knew this trail, Vultures View, had plenty fo slab under the snow and ice. I wondered if the group would manage. I got nervous.. I even cringed, yet I continued forward determined to give these guys the test I felt they wanted and craved. I mean.. one of these guys at least had been up Everest... EVEREST... BLIND!

The trail got steeper and icy. I lead us off trail and slightly into the bushes or woods where I could to give the guys a break, offer some traction and some form of safety. The higher up the hill we got, the more impressed I became. Skylar wore a bell and Erik simply followed the faint jingle jingle with each one of his steps. The mighty Quinn led Randy expertly up the slope, stopping at low hanging limps and waiting at exceptionally steep sections. Yet in the entire way up the mountain, Randy fell but once, he got up, brushed himself off and let Quinn show him the way once more.

Upon reaching the summit we painted the picture for them as we hiked to the summit tower. We climbed the short set of stairs to the top and faced Northwest. Erik did an amazing job of pointing to where he thought Lake Winnepesaukee would be located. Low hanging overcast prevented us from seeing any peaks of considerable distance away. One a clear day you can see the Belknap Range in the lakes Region and even Mount Washington and the Presidential Range out afar. While those of us with vision enjoyed what limited views we had, I marvelled at the amount of joy exuded on the faces of these fine gentlemen who must rely on their other senses to enjoy the beauty on high.

We descended from the tower and walked over towards the summit house. This is an old ski lodge that we learned they were turning into a Conservation Center for families. Randy and Erik then asked about the history of the hill. We didn't know it, so we made something up about the idians seeing the american's and british fighting in the 1700s. And the I spotted an information board. I walked over and read what I could. It is speculated that John cabot himself spotted Mount A from sea back in the 1490's making this hill the first spotted land mass by an explorer. In the 1800's, Oak was harvested from the mountain to be made into Charcoal. And in the 1940's, the summit was clear cut to be made into an Army Barracks. Why? Because the first land radar tower in America was erected here during the war.

Now it was time to head back to the car. I lead the group down Witch Hazel to the Ring then down Goosefoot to the Cedar Trail. On the way up the mountain I hiked with Erik and Skylar. On the way down I enjoyed some time with Randy, Quinn and Kara. We talked about ultra-running, hiking the 48 and creating a non-profit. Randy wants to hike the 48 to raise money for a local foundation dedicated to creating better living for the blind. His project 20/20 has not yet gotten off it's feet but when it days I'll post more here.

Upon reaching the car back down at the base of the Mountain, I felt in absolute awe of these gentlemen. Two blind men, making the most out of life still engaging in what they are most pationate about. And even thought they can't enjoy the view beyond what lies behind their own darkness, they can suredly enjoy the view within. Randy and I talked about this in great detail on the way down the mountain, in how the journey one endures on the inside is much greater then the one experienced on the outside. For this, I was in a way jealous of their disability, perhaps if I was blind I too could see.

We got back into the cars and headed over to Kittery for Lunch. Turns out Erik and I have a few mutual friends and we enjoyed talking about them greatly. I also enjoyed talking with Erik about the Primal Quest he participated in, various other hikes and the joys of living in Golden, CO. I can honestly say that through this hike I was greatly humbled. To see that even when blind, these men have so much to see and even more to share. Did I guide them up a mountain? No.. they guided me. They guided me in much more than a hike up a silly little hill. It was a true joy to share some vision with others, both of the land and of the "landscape."
(Erik and I)

Believing is achieving.