Monday, May 30, 2011

Exploring

I find myself thinking quite often, "What will happen to my blog after I move?" There's no question that there are a collection of things I could talk about on here. Thoughts, opinions, reviews, stories.. but it's different now. I'm in a new location. Gone are the woods I knew so well. Well, I mean, they're still there just more than 2000 miles away now. So here I am in a new place, with a new history to learn, new thoughts and opinions, new stories to tell. I'd like to think that right now is one of the most exciting times on this blog. Mainly because as I continue to explore Colorado, I get to take you on the journey with me. I also get to share this new journey in my life. It's so exciting. I still cannot believe that I did it. I packed up everything I own, and moved thousands of miles from "home." Most people dream of doing something like this, only thinking about it, I actually did it. But I guess that's my nature. Whenever I think of something and make a goal, seldom do I not achieve it.

Coalton
So it is with curiosity that I went out for my first run and first hike in Colorado. The first place I went was to the Marshall Mesa just over the bridge and in Superior, CO. The Coalton Trailhead is a measly 3 miles from my front door. I decided that I wanted to run 6 miles across the treeless hill, a Mesa.. aka.. Flat topped hill. However, I'm still not adequately acclimated to the elevation here. My new apartment sits at 5,500' elevation. Still, I took off down the Coalton Rd running pass free range cattle. The cowboys were out steering them to the appropriate pastures for grazing. I walk briskly up the trail to the top and fail to realize that I'm all ready 1.5 Miles from the car.
It's incredibly hard to judge depth perception here. I take a left and run a few more clicks down the trail deciding to turn back at the third power pole given my shortness of breath. Maybe I'm just out of shape. As I run back down the trail I run back into Sarah who agreed to come out for a walk. We walk together back towards the car and I convince her to run for a bit.
As we bound down the trail we run past Prairie Dogs and Bobtail Rabbits. Many new birds we don't know the names of yet though their songs are new and intriguing. It's early in the morning yet and we're thankful as cool temps still hang over the prairie. In the heat of the day, this place I'm sure, is an oven. I ran 3.5 miles today yet it felt like 1.

Mesa Trail
My former professor and now colleague, Mike Gass, recommended to us that we hike the Mesa trail once we get into town. In fact, many other people, magazines, online reports etc. also recommended that we take to the Mesa Trail. The MT travels under the Flat Irons of Boulder. We started at the Chautauqua Meadow and head south. The place is packed with holiday weekend hikers and runners alike. I'm talking... a few hundred people clog the meadows trails. But soon we leave the meadow and head south along the Mesa Trail. We still struggle a bit on uphill battles. Stairways to heaven that lead us to the top of the ridge lines then long winding single track that winds us back down into the next canyon. As we march along the Mesa Trail, red dust billows up from our feet as we shuffle across the arid land. The sun is hot above as we marvel at the many curiosities of the Flat Irons. The Irons themselves, the Devils Thumb and another precariously hanging boulder.

After while we make it to our bail trail. Because of a Road Bike Race called, The Morgul Classic, we were forced to park at another spot other then the South Mesa Trail Trailhead. Instead, we parked at the South Boulder Creek Trail. Our final miles of the 8 mile hike were through open pasture. The sun beating down on us while we navigating around a few hundred cow patties. They come in many shapes and sizes for sure. It was another prefect day for exploring as many more are sure to come.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Owls Head Sensation

We arrived at the Lincoln Woods parking lot at precisely 7:30am. Myself, Sarah and Robby were ready to rock n' roll all ready. As we pulled in we saw Randy, Quinn and Tracy excitedly sitting in the car raring to go as well. We made our final preparations while Vikky and Tim showed up to join us as well. This small team had assembled in this tiny parking lot off of the Kancamagus Highway, uncertain in the initial moments of this expedition what story they were about to help write. However, upon our return to this lot some 38 Hours later, the pages would be written forever on a trip that in this hikers opinion will forever go down in infamy.
Bonding
After I signed our group into the hiker log book next to the front door of the rangers station, our group descended the short flight of stairs and rocked our way onto the suspension bridge that spans the mighty Pemigewassett River. Below us is a raging torrent of water, obviously full from a combination of spring rains and late season snow melt. I rocked the bridge back and forth while everyone crossed and sent a few jitters up the spines of those whom were unsure of the bridges strength. After we all planted our feet on dry land, we took a right and began our trek down the Lincoln Woods Trail and heading towards the wilderness. It was during these early miles that everyone in our group took some time to introduce themselves to those we didn't know, time to commune and create our early bonds as a group. Based on the many smiles present on all of our faces, I knew this trip was going to be pretty special. Though, I knew that before we even showed up.
It was some time in 2010 when Randy Pierce asked me when we were going to hike Owls Head. When he first asked I thought he was joking. I knew Randy has had grand plans to hike the 48 four-thousand footers in New Hampshire and Owls Head is on that list. I guess at the time he asked me, it was one of the first moments that I realized that he was pretty damn serious about taking on this monumental task. So when he asked again months later, with excitement at finding a date for it to be done, I wasn't as surprised anymore and took the idea pretty seriously. Yet still, in all honesty, my expectation for this trip was that I would plan two days for us to hike into the Pemi. We'd never summit Owls Head yet we'd enjoy a few days camping along the shores of this storied river. 
 
 
Yet as we took the left turn onto the Black Pond Trail, I started to feel that magic hit me. Our group was hiking true to the pace I predicted we'd need to carry if we were to have a serious shot at even attempting for the summit. I felt bad, here I was, a cynic deep down and unsure of if we could actually do this yet.. trying like hell to make the magic happen. Maybe this is entirely possible, maybe we will see true human potential on this trip. We rambled through the woods enjoying the many rolling ups and downs of the Black Pond Trail. Randy making great time across various early brook crossings. Quinn was in top form and the pace was brisk yet comfortable. As we arrived at Black Pond and enjoyed the vast views of the bonds over this black swampish looking puddle, I looked at a watch and determined that yes, we were right on time.

Our group was an amalgamation of characters. Some who had been to this peak before, some who never have. Some of whom it'd been years. Some who just a month ago doubted they would even make the trip given their level of fitness. A diabetic. A cancer survivor who had had 2/3 of her lungs removed. And Randy.. a visually impaired man with high hopes and gutsy determination. As we ate orgasmic pineapple on the shores of Black Pond, I determined that yes.. yes we could make the summit of this dirty bird and we were going to try like hell to do it with this rag tag bunch of stubborn ramblers.

Whackin' On
After a brief break at Black Pond we headed off into the woods and began our bushwhack. So named, the Black Pond Bushwhack, I began by leading Randy off into the woods. This proved to be quite the challenge. I was the only person in the group who actually knew the route of the bushwhack and it became increasingly difficult to guide the entire group in the right direction and guide Randy. Randy was hanging onto my pack as he went into tank mode. His sunglasses on and a Headsweats Hat on his head angled down, nothing was going to graze his face. Yet as he tussled through the trees to the left and to the right, so too did I tussle with each jerk of Randy's arm. I was growing every more tired as we carried on through the woods. There was no trail, just the 7 of us navigating a sea of blowdowns, re-growth and swampy water.
 
Eventually I had to relieve myself of the duty in guiding Randy which I passed on to Robby. In that moment, I was quickly able to reconfigure our course of direction. With the Bonds to my right, the hill side to my left and the "Owls Ears" straight ahead; I managed to lead the group back out onto a hit or miss herd path, down a steep embankment and out onto the Lincoln Brook Trail. Upon emerging from the thick woods, we saw first hand why we had taken this bushwhack. In doing so, we avoided two dangerous and bone chilling river crossings. Each 50 to 75 yards in width with raging frigid waters about waist deep. Yet, as we sat beneath a blazing sun, listening to the water rage on by I checked a watch once more. We had completed the bushwhack and were eating an early lunch at the best case scenario time I'd set pre-trip. I was in early disbelief at what I was seeing yet, elated by our progress.

Business
Quinn took over once more and we continued our journey towards Owls Head. The Lincoln Brook trail follows along the banks of the mighty Lincoln Brook which eventually feeds into the East Branch Pemi. The trail varies between wide and narrow. At it's narrowest points it's also the most treacherous. A steep drop off to the right carries the errant hiker 10-15 feet down into the icy river below. Quinn remained cautious and nervous for his friend Randy yet he guided him safely, yet slowly along the rivers banks. Those in our group who had yet to see these two work as a team, are all ready hiking with their mouths wide open.
After 2 miles of brisk walking we reached the first of 3 tributary crossings. This first one is about 20 yards wide. The water crashed over as a small waterfall to our left as it feeds down into the Lincoln Brook to our right. We could see a downed tree to the right that was too small and slick to cross upon. We all put on our river shoes and prepared to wade through the icy waters. Robbi crossed first, being tall afforded him the opportunity of a rock hop. I took Quinn by the leash and led him across the same rocks which got him safely across. Then, after the rest of the group had crossed, I guided Randy to the waters edge and then led him into the water. He used his poles and found his way across while Robbi yelled "Over here Randy! Over Here!" from the far side of the bank. Randy followed Robbi's voice and safely made it to the other side. All told, I had criss-crossed the stream 4 times while here; each time more painful then the last as the frigid sting of the water robbed my body of it's breath and caused almost instantaneous bowel movement at the same time.
We continued along the trail, working our way through mud and muck before eventually reaching the second crossing. This crossing was followed up some 300 yards later by the third crossing. After crossing this time, I prompted Randy to leave his Teva's on until after the next crossing. It was at the third crossing however that we were invited by a new challenge. Still clinging to the sides of the river are a 2-3 foot thick remnant glacier that rests 5 or so feet up from the river. First, we had to descend off the glacier then walk along side it using it has a hand rail. From there, we once again trudged across the now thigh deep water and to the other side of the river bank.

Delayed and Frayed
As one could imagine, it was evident that by now the group was growing a bit exhausted. The river crossings had added a challenge unforeseen by many in our group. We wasted a fair amount of time with the taking boots off and putting water shoes on then boots back on.. only to repeat the process again and again. That and the crossings wee frigid and brisk, causing us to utilize more caution in their crossings. We went from being right on schedule to two hours behind. As we finally reached the base of Owls Head slide, much of the group was out of water and in need of a rest. Vikky and I forged ahead to scout out a camping site however past the Owls Head slide entrance was nothing more then trail still covered by knee deep snows. We returned to the group and decided to set up camp very near the slide and then we had a group meeting.

After much painful thought, I came to the decision that ascending Owls Head at this time would be the wrong decision. What if someone got hurt? We'd be hiking down in the dark. I was almost certain that there was amble snow up high and some are visibly tired. If I could choose a time for anything to go wrong while heading up and down Owls Head, not to mention that some of what lay ahead was a dangerous rock slide where we'd climb some 1100' in less then a mile... if I could choose a time I'd choose the morning as opposed to very late in the day. As much as many of us were ready and willing to give it a go, we all also were easily swayed by the decision not to. Yet we agreed that we'd try for the summit in the morning providing we were engulfed by the impending driving rain storm.
 
With this in mind we set up camp and cooked our dinners. As the sun set we watched as the alpine glow illuminated the side of Owls Head. We listened to the rivers raging waters whisk on by our camping spot. The more relaxed our group got, the more we were joyed with the decision to not try for the peak today. We had plenty of down time yet by 7:30, many of us were ready for bed. Some retired early while others of us stayed awake until the sun finally set and the moon had risen brightly to the south. We enjoyed great conversation, many jokes and some of that memorable camp time that's easy to cherish. Yet, as I lay awake in bed this night, I couldn't help but whisper to Sarah how impressed I am all ready by our adventure. "I can't believe I got Randy this far into the Pemi in one day.. this is a huge victory and I'm not sure how I'm going to feel if we actually hit the summit tomorrow. Our victory is all ready large. I'm thrilled.. but I'm still unsure if we can actually do this." I dose off to sleep with these thoughts of uncertainty filling my head.

THE OWL
We all awoke at 5am, ate breakfast and broke down camp. While most of the crew continued to pack their packs for our later departure, Randy and I sat amongst the rocks of the river and filled everyone's Camelbak's and water bottles. The sky was now over cast. Having been on the slide in stifling heat, I know how much of a god send overcast skies really are. However, even though it's not raining, we had no idea when it would actually start and we hoped it wouldn't be until much later. Would we take the risk of hiking the peak only for it to start raining while up on the ridge. Hell yes we were. This group was very much on a mission this morning. With Quinn off lead and venturing up the mountain on his own, I took the early task of guiding Randy up the steeps of the slide. This being my seventh ascent of the mountain, I felt I knew it's nooks and crannies well. We all hiked with slack-packs on or our packs emptied of the heavy gear. We figured up and down would take 5 hours at best but who really knew.

As we began the climb we immediately felt the steep grades of the mountain and quickly, Randy's feet slid and his ankles rolled over the loose jumble of rocks that has accumulated near the slides base. As we began to climb, it was my job to find the best way to get Randy up the mountain. While some in our group were fearful of heights and conquering their own challenges, Robby was tending to Quinn. At times, Quinn didn't know his options to climb the mountain at which points Robby picked Quinn up and placed him atop of the cliff edges. Randy and I? We soldiered on at a break-neck pace. At times I simply told Randy to feel the route with his hands and follow with his feet, while I sang inappropriate and ridiculous songs which allowed Randy to follow my voice up the mountain. When he asked me to silence myself I did, and I found new ways for him to hear his way behind me. I wished we had the bells we used on Lafayette. Instead, I tapped trees for him to cling onto.
After conquering the slide, we let Quinn lead for a bit however Quinn was nervous and unsure of the environment. He was being stubborn and unwilling to guide Randy over the now icy terrain. They made a decision to have Robbi lead Randy to the summit while Sarah and I confirmed the route up Owls Head Path. The higher up we got the icier the path became until eventually we were kick stepping into the icy monorail. Upon reaching the ridge, we made our way round various blowdowns until eventually reaching the "old" summit of Owls Head. I asked the group what they wanted to do from here, "Do we go to the new "true" summit or call it a success here." After short debate, I made the executive decision that we were going. I'd lead Randy this far, I was finishing the job. We began our trek over to the top of Owls Head, all the way to the tip top. Along the way we made our way around many blowdowns and maneuvered through knee to thigh deep post holes. The woods up here are a mess and the walk is now taxing, and drenchingly chilly from melting snow.

Yet, I made it to the summit first having found the way for the group. I heard them call my name as I waited. They were some 50 yards back and contemplating turning around. I yelled over and told them I had reached the top. Robby brought Randy and the rest of the crew over and he passed Randy off to me. Randy placed his hand upon my shoulder and I lead him over to the pile of rocks, a meager cairn that marks the top of the 48's most isolated peak. I grabbed Randy's hand and together we placed our hands atop the top piece of the cairn. A wash of emotion flowed through me. The entire group was ecstatic. We'd really done it. We led Randy Pierce to the summit of Owls Head. When I took on this challenge, I wondered if we actually could do it and right up until last night I doubted we could. However, human potential reigned supreme and achieving a vision beyond our sight was realized. Yet, in the moments where we felt ecstasy, we also felt fear. The real work was just ahead of us. Descending the dangerous and steep slide safely and then walking the 8 miles out to the car.. all today!
 

Down and Out
Robby took over once again and agreed to guide Randy down to the Spring. The spring is at the very top of the slide. There, I took over and guided Randy the rest of the way down the mountain. What we accomplished here in these moments would prove to be some of the most inspiring and moving moments of this entire trip. I stood below Randy on the steep slope of the slide and instructed him to turn around and face the mountain. Then, he crawled down the mountain, in reverse, feeling his way with his feet and hands while I tapped his legs to the left and right directing him in the direction I wanted hi to go. At times, it was hard for me to move quick enough to get out of Randy's way. During moment's where I could guide, I stood him up, he'd grab my pack and we walked carefully across the slide landscape. When we came to steeper sections, I once again had him face the mountain and lower himself backwards and in reverse. We blazed down the mountain and reached the base of the slide in a time which was unfathomable in any of our minds. Randy and I embraced in victory before I turned him over to Quinn. We finished our trek off by arriving back at our camping site and we rested while waiting for the rest of the group.

Once everyone arrived at camp, we huddled around and ate lunch. We all sat around with huge beaming smiles on our faces. In disbelief at what we just saw and participated in. We did it! We accomplished a major victory for ourselves and for 2020 Vision Quest. Randy Pierce had just become the first blind man ever to climb Owls Head and he did it with a conviction, a style and an unmatched determination. We were in awe as words such as inspiring, incredible and unbelievable spread around camp. Tim said it best, "I wouldn't believe it unless I'd have seen it with my own eyes." Amen to that! Once again however, we still had work to do.

The Real Challenge Begins
At camp during lunch, Randy bumped his head hard on a tree. Fearing migraine and vertigo, we tried his best to gather himself for our hike out. As we started the adventure back to the cars, Randy was still uneasy and definitely not steady. Quinn was guiding him yet knew Randy was not ready to go. Being stubborn and electing to go on strike, Randy relieved Quinn of his duties for the day and I took over the guiding once more. As I led Randy to the first river crossing, he stumbled about. He rolled his ankles and bashed his shins and knees into a variety of rocks and downed trees. I tried my best to guide Randy appropriately but was not ready to guide him myself.

Down at the first crossing, Quinn refused to cross through the raging waters. The waters are up higher then they were yesterday and traveling faster still. There was only one way to get Quinn across. I picked him up in my arms and began marching across the brook. Tim met me half way and grabbed him from me and completed the task while I returned to my side of the bank to guide Randy to the Waters Edge. Once on the other side, I led Randy to the next crossing where I once again carried Quinn across and returned to assist Randy.

After the second crossing, Robby took over the guiding duties and we had set up a plan. Robby would lead Randy to the next crossing and then I'd take over and bring Randy down to the start of the Bushwhack. Then, Robby would take over for the whack while I found the route. This is exactly what we did. Robby guided Randy with brisk precision and when I took over, we continued the pace. Back on the top of Owls Head we had figured we'd reach the cars for 10/10:30pm. Now we were looking at 8pm. We were moving at a great clip. After leading Randy on the last section of trail before the 'whack, we moved so briskly and with such precision that Randy found himself exhausted at the resting place we'd chosen before the whack.

As we sat around and all snacked one more time before entering the thick woods, the rains finally came. It began to rain more heavily and we all put our rain covers on our packs. Yet Sarah, was the only smart one who put her rain pants on. We entered the bush whack with Tim and I in the lead. As we entered the woods he told me of some of our group members tire. "Not too many uphills John.. they're worked." It was after 5pm and we were all indeed tired and hungry. With this caution in mind we followed a herd path up hill until I got nervous. I thought the herd path was going to high and to far to the west. With that in mind, I ducked down off  the path and into the woods far too early. I carried our group across the hill side and got even more nervous. I thought we'd over shot Black Pond and we bailed off of the hill side and down into the valley. Then... I was clueless.
I weaved back and forth through the woods before leading the group into a thick and vast fir stand. The bush whacking got thicker and tougher. I felt awful. I knew everyone was tired, hungry and now soaked. How could I screw this up!? I began to well up with tears and swallowed by now injured pride. I asked Tim for help and with his compass in hand we determined I had undershot the pond and we were not where we wanted to be. However, I remembered the old fishermans path along the rivers edge and we agreed to walk to the water and hope to locate it. After 35-40 more minutes of tough bushwhacking I found it. I was so over joyed and at the same time, totally apologetic to the group. For the next hour or so I'd run ahead to locate the trail, then double back to make sure Robbi and Randy were ok. Then, I'd run ahead and repeat the Process. All the way to Franconia Falls where we hopped onto the popular trail and then eventually the Lincoln Woods Trail.

The rain continued to pour down, however we were finally on the home stretch. I took over for Robby and guided Randy down the Lincoln Woods Trail. As the sun continued to set, and the fog saturated the woods; a weird illusion took over the landscape. As we looked ahead down the trail, it looked like the pancake flat yet slightly downhill pitched trail actually looked like a steep uphill. Puddles filled the trail and I began to shiver. My hands so cold they were swollen and red. My feet were encased in water and I was tiring now. Yet, with a mile to go, Sarah and Robby turned on a head lamp and helped guide the way. Soon, Randy and I crossed the swinging bridge, made our way to the Ranger station porch and embraced once again. I couldn't believe it.. we actually did this thing from beginning to end in two days.

In the days following this magnificent adventure I am saddened by my own thoughts heading into the hike. I didn't know if we could do this or not and I very much doubted we could at all. Yet, I think that's what drove me out there, what led me to the Pemi with Randy Pierce and our group. It's what motivated me and inspired me to rise to the challenge. At the end of this weekend I know now that in my mind there is no doubt that Randy Pierce will summit every one of NH's 48 peaks. However I'll say that it's the bagging of the peaks that isn't the remarkable part of Randy's Mission or the aspect of him being Blind. The real magic in Randy's Adventure is within. It's within his soul and the souls of the countless others who are sure to join him on this incredible journey. Achieving a vision beyond their sight... think about that... then meet Randy in the woods. The Pemi has a new story to his hallowed past now. One that includes a man of incredible fortitude, guts and desire. The story of a man who tamed the wilderness and reached a peak.. the story of a man.. who see's more within himself in one day then many of us ever will. And it all happened beneath the canopy of New Hampshire's magical forest. J.E. Himself would only believe it if he saw it himself.

Happy Trails.... Happy Trails
SJ
[To learn more about Randy Pierce and his 2020 Vision Quest, ways to donate or how you can join him on a hike visit: http://www.2020visionquest.org/]


PS... not bad for a shmuck!

Monday, May 16, 2011

The Pemi-Part 2

[The following is Part 2 of a report based on a trip taken in May 2010. The trip was conducted under the guise of The University of New Hampshire Outdoor Education Option and with the cooperation of 2020 Vision Quest. The enormity of this trip coupled with the amount of energy taken to complete it and various life events following prevented me from writing a proper report. The story continues..]

Day 3: Guyot Shelter to Galehead Hut 

We woke up rather early on Day 3 and began hasty preparations in order to make use of our time today. Quinn is walking very gingerly. We notice a red rash and swelling has become visible on his under-carriage. As a group we’ve all ready discussed making our way to Galehead Hut as planned and we’d re-assess our situation there. With that, Randy took off with Brent rather early as they began their ascent out of the Guyot Shelter and back up to the ridge. Though we all slept like rocks within the confines of the shelter last night, we are all very much exhausted and still reeling from the day before.
 
At the junction of Bondcliff Trail and the Twinway, we sit down as a group and discuss everything that transpired the day before. It quickly came to light that much of the class had feared for there lives while hiking along the Bondcliff Ridge, Randy with vertigo and a migrane, Quinn limping, the class out of water. I was quick to remind them that we had all of our provisions for a week upon our backs and death was the furthest thing from reality. This eased the pain some, but the group was still having a tough time coping with the mental stress of this trip. 
We come up with a plan to make it to Galehead Hut today and then spend a night under the roof of the shelter. Then tomorrow, a zero day for Randy and Quinn to allow them to regain their health while those who so choose will go out and back to Garfield. With the plan in mind, we began our journey to South Twin, the class taking turns guiding Randy, serving as his eyes, warning him or near every single rock and root under foot. The job we were taking over for Quinn is one of incredible patience and remarkable skill. To think, a dog without a voice, leading his master through these woods without being able to say a nary word.. shocked us all and at the same time, the job was now ours while Quinn continued to nurse his wounds. 

Atop South Twin we sat beneath a blazing sun while a small breeze danced across the summit, just strong enough to keep the black flies at bay. Many of us were sporting thousands of red welts all amongst our bodies from the nibbling of their little teeth. As we ate lunch and gazed out across the 360 degree expanse, I stop up high and grabbed Randy’s arm. We spun in a circle with his finger pointed out while we traced the outlines of the many peaks we could see from our vantage point. When we finished Randy looked towards Mount Washington and then down at me. He asked, “Sherpa, I want you to be honest with me. Do you really think it’s possible that I can climb Mount Washington and the rest of these 48 peaks based on what you’ve seen so far?” After brief pause, I looked up at the man who was tired and slightly fatigued from a solid 3 days work and I said, “Randy, I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. You can do anything you put your mind to and I believe that from what I’ve seen here, you’ll do that and more.” Randy welled up with tears and with a crack in his voice he thanked me foe the encouragement.
I then welcomed Randy’s hand upon my pack as I began to lead him the eight-tenths of a mile down to Galehead Hut. In this short distance we’d drop around 1,000 feet in elevation. This section of trail is some of the steepest and rockiest in the Whites. This stairway to heaven would today be our stairway to hell. For the next three-and-a-half hours I’d guide Randy down the mountainside, describing to him every rock and root and with it every hand and foot placement. The further down we got the more exhausted we became. Both of us are incredibly stubborn men, unwilling to give up our fight as a team to the hut. As many students would try to take over for me, I’d wave them off and stand tall on my feet continuing to guide my new friend to our destination. As the class tried to remove his pack and carry it for him or take some of the weight from it, he waved them off and elected to carry it all himself. As we neared the hut, dark storm clouds blew in from the west while thunder rumbled in the distance. We kept our poise, pushed ahead, and made it to the hut before the rains finally came pouring down. Once inside we all cozied into our bunk rooms. We made dinner on the huts stoves and settled in for one of two comfortable nights upon high. 

Day 4: “Zero Day” to Garfield 
We woke up in the morning and made sure Randy and Quinn were set for a day of rest at the hut. Two of the other students elected to stay back and keep him company, tired themselves from 3 taxing days in the mountains. The rest of us took day packs with us over to Garfield. The section of Garfield Ridge from Galehead hut to the Garfield summit is lauded by most as the toughest miles on all of the Appalachian Trail. As a class we agreed, after seeing it first hand and given Randy’s current condition, that there was no way we’d succeed in making it to Garfield Tentsite on this trip. After hearing Brent’s clown story, we sat upon the old fire tower foundation on the top of Garfield Mountain and soaked in the sun and magnificent views of a perfect day.
Upon returning to the Hut, we enjoyed group games before heading in for dinner. And after dinner, I provided the group with a historical journey of the Pemi while they painted their own Picasso’s of the story I depicted for them. As a group, we had come together in ways unimagineable, thanks to our steadfast approach to adversity. We knew that tomorrow we’d hike down into the valley to complete our evacuation of our trip. No longer looking to complete the Pemi-loop, though happy we’d completed half of it. 

Day 5: Galehead Hut to Gale River Road. 
I woke up this morning in the zone. I agreed to take on the task of guiding Randy once more. I packed my bag meticulously, finding every way I could to lighten my load and arrange it in a way that maximized comfort. When Randy was ready, we walked off of the porch and back out onto the trail. With our communication in sync and with an idea of how this was going to go, I led Randy across a portion of the Garfield Ridge trail and then we headed down the Gale River trail. He trusted me to be his eyes, once again telling him of every rock and root along the way, every duck every bob and weave. We were a tadem of perfection, ticking off the yards and miles as if both sighted, making our way down off of the mountains and into the valley below. Once we reached the first major crossing of the Gale River, I gave up my guiding to others, but not before receiving thanks and much praise from Randy for what he described as “Better guiding then does Quinn himself.” Proud yet tired, I still reluctantly gave up my duties to another and fell to the back of the line of the hiking group.
After a few more hours of brisk hiking we made it out to Gale River Road. This is where our ride home would pick us up the following morning. For now, a few of us scouted through the woods for a stealthy place to camp. We asked a camper if we could sneak into the woods and camp amongst the trees just past where he’d set up his camper. He agreed to let us. It was here amongst tall grasses along snowmobile trails and old skidder roads that we camped for the night. I swung one last time in my hammock but not until after we debriefed our trip and spoke about the many lessons learned amongst these hills. After one last nights slumber, we packed into the UNH vans and headed home; forever changed people whom had achieved a vision beyond our sight.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Pemi-Part 1

[The following is Part 1 of a report based on a trip taken in May 2010. The trip was conducted under the guise of The University of New Hampshire Outdoor Education Option and with the cooperation of 2020 Vision Quest. The enormity of this trip coupled with the amount of energy taken to complete it and various life events following prevented me from writing a proper report. This is the story now..]

It was the spring of 2010 when I had the privilege of serving as the Teaching Assistant for the Kin: Spring Backpacking class out of the UNH Outdoor Education program. However, this class was like no other. Back in March I was introduced to Randy Pierce and his dog Quinn while guiding him and Eric Weihenmayer. Eric is the first blind person to have ever climbed Everest and Randy was an aspiring peak-bagger. After April’s shake-down weekend, a lot of discussion was conducted about whether to bring Quinn to guide Randy or not or if the role of guide would rest on humans. And, coming out of a tumultuous time in my own life, I was unsure I was psychologically available to lead on this trip myself.
 
Day 1: Lincoln Woods to The Wilderness Trail/Bondcliff Junction 
Regardless of these concerns, I was ready to roll as was Randy and Quinn in the Lincoln Woods parking lot on a very warm late spring morning. The temperature was all ready soaring up into the upper 70’s-low 80’s and the black flies were out in force. Our group of 10 plus a dog was ready to tackle the Pemi-Loop, consistently rated as America’s toughest, yet most scenic, backpacking adventure by Backpacker Magazine. After a quick morning check-in from our leaders of the day, we all paused for photos on the suspension bridge leading us into the Pemi and our adventure had begun.
Our group made amazing time on the way towards our primitive campsite. We were all very quickly thankful for our decision to bring Quinn in seeing how he and Randy were able to work together on the old rail bed. We were making magnificent time, far in advance of what we anticipated. Upon reaching the Franconia Brook where the bridge welcomes us to the wilderness area,, we dropped packs to practice our river crossing techniques. The water was frigid as we practiced going back and forth. Brent guided Quinn over the river by way of the bridge while Randy joined the students in the river crossing. After practice was over, per my tradition, I stopped to dunk my body underneath the frigid waters of the Pemi as my yearly baptism. These waters definately can cleanse the soul. 
From here, we continued our brisk walk to the junction of the Bondcliff and Wilderness Trails. Here, I took one of the leaders off into the woods to locate a primitive campsite down along the river. Of course, we managed to find flat ground 200 yards from the rivers edge. The rest of the class filtered in and we began our camp preparations for the night. The bear hang was hung, water was retrieved and I hung up my ENO Hammock. After wonderful dinner and evening activities, we all met for our nightly meeting. 
It was during this meeting where the LOD’s from today handed the torch off to tomorrow’s leaders. Tomorrow’s leaders had a plan.. not a very good one. As they told us of our insanely early wake up of 5:30am followed by an on the trail time of 8; I couldn’t help but laugh out loud then they told us we’d make it to Guyot Shelter for 5pm the next day. In my heart of hearts I felt terrible but at the same time, they knew not what they were about to undertake. The terrain up and over the Bonds is vastly different then what they had experienced today. Yet, at the same time, none of them conferred with their local expert about what they would experience. After I voiced my concerns in an educative manner, I sat back quietly before heading off to bed. As I lay awake in my hammock for a few hours, I blew some soul into my harmonica while thinking deeply about what I would experience tomorrow. I knew it was about to be a day from hell, and I’d have to remain strong if I was to lead this group for the extent of it. 

Day 2: Wilderness Tr./Bondcliff Tr. Junction to Guyot Shelter 
After waking up insanely early, we all ate our breakfast and packed up camp. With packs on and ready to roll we began the trek up the Bondcliff Trail. Randy did his best with his 35+ pound pack and with Quinn. I really feel that the idea of carrying such a heavy load uphill for so long was quite shocking to Randy and his ole’ boy but the enormity of the slowed pace was even more shocking to the 8 others in the group. Patiently I hiked at the back of the pack and let the leaders do there thing while Randy did his. By the time we reached the second stream crossing on our ascent of Bondcliff, we had travelled a total of 2.5 miles in more than 4 hours. Our group had run out of water while the sun blazed down upon us. We stopped for lunch here while we soaked in the rays and filled all of our bottles, a task which took almost 45 minutes to complete.
 
 
Around 1pm we put the backs on once again and continued our trek uphill. It continued to be slow and the longer into the day we got, it was evident that the group was growing more and more concerned for what was happening. Randy was giving everything he had and it was becoming ever more clear that his energy was draining. The time ticked by incredibly slowly while the group’s mental status ebbed and flowed. Finally, at 5pm we crested up and over the Hillary Step and emerged above tree-line and onto the summit of Bondcliff. It’s 5pm, the time our leaders predicted we’d be at Guyot and we’re still 3 miles away. The 4 miles to the top of Bondcliff took us 9 hours and the rockiest terrain of the day was still ahead. 
After pictures and a minor celebration, we saddled up and took off for Bond. I decided to cruise ahead of the group and along the way I moved every loose rock I found from the trail and placed it upon the scree walls. I kept looking back to monitor the groups progress and all seemed fine. Me? I was in a bad place emotionally and I opted to hike to the top of Bond to get some rest and watch the sun set over the mountains. That’s exactly what I did. I made it to the top of Bond where I layered up and felt the cool breezes flowing over the mountain tops. Without a road in sight, I watched as the sun set to the west. The mountains turned black against the orange sky and I had no idea what was taking the class so long. I must have been up there for over 2 hours before a few of them came running up the trail. 
 
 
The students scolded me for leaving them. They were exhausted and reported that Randy had banged his knee on a rock, Quinn was limping after having rubbed his pads raw and Randy was also suffering from Vertigo. The slow moving group only got slower. After the rest I had gotten, I jumped into action all the while feeling terrible for my selfish decision to leave them. I ran down the trail and immediately began hauling their packs to the summit of Bond. Everyone continued to assist Randy. On the summit of Bond I learned that everyone had once again run out of water. I looked at Kyle and he agreed to run with me down to Guyot shelter to filter water from the spring. We took the brains off our packs and filled them with bottles. We then took off running across the still snow covered and icy ridge, slipping and sliding off of the monorail and at times post holing into the deep snow. We filled the bottles and immediately turned around to meet up with the class. With our headlamps on we ran through the now frigid darkness. We found the class and dumped all the water off on them before continuing back to the summit of Bond. We retrieved our packs and then gave chase to the class. 

We finally made it to Guyot shelter around 10:30pm. The group was a mess. Both physically and mentally. We decided to finally cook dinner and save our debrief of the day for some time in the morning. For now, our main mission was food and sleep. In the morning, we’d wake up and figure out our plan for evacuation. Quinn is injured and our group was significantly drained of energy. Our plans to finish the entire loop of the Pemi were now dashed away.
(To Be Continued)

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Interview: Randy Pierce


This weekend I'll be the lead-guide for 2020 Vision Quest as a small group of us conduct an over-night experience out to Owls Head in the Pemigewassett Wilderness. This will likely be my last expedition with Randy Pierce for quite some time and before I said good bye, I wanted to conduct an interview with him for the blog. We've mentioned him from time to time here on Human Potential and we've shared in many of our previous adventures together. Now, It's time to hear some of his thoughts in his own words. There is no other person I can think of that best exemplifies the terms of Human Potential, then does Randy Pierce. Achieve a Vision Beyond Your Sight... is a very telling phrase of his adventures.

SJ:
Thanks for taking the time out of your busy schedule Randy, to talk to us about your mission and your upcoming hike out to Owls Head. It's been a little over a year since you and I first met. It's been an incredible honor of mine to know that you've put so much trust in me guiding you on a variety of hikes. I'm very excited about our up-coming weekend in "The Pemi."

RP: The trust was well earned Sherpa. We've come a tremendous distance together in many different ways. Your passion and appreciation of these mountains is infectious and there's nobody I'd rather have lead me on Owl's head in particular.

SJ: Randy, Essentially you got serious about hiking in the Spring of 2010. Tell us just a few of the things you've learned over the past year and what changes you've made based on your lessons.

RP: The hardest thing for me to learn was the type of terrain to let go of Quinn's help, for the benefit of the entire group, and use a human guide for a short stretch. As a team, Quinn gives me the feeling of full independence and while I very much appreciate the full human teams with which I hike, the loss of independence is difficult. As a good team member it is necessary to make decisions for the good of the team at times and I've come a long way there.

Now obviously I've learned a lot about the technical details of hiking from pack weight, foot gear to poles and nutrition. Still the most important lessons I've learned are in ways to appreciate the experience more fully. As you learn to know the mountains and the trails they become more personal. I've started to feel a sort of friendship and comfort on these trails which is unlike anything else.

SJ: If there was anything you could change, or if there is anything you strive to change, for the coming year what would it be?

RP: I don't tend to invest much time or thought to changing the past but I'm always looking for the right means to adjust the present or future. As a slow hiker by the need of my footing challenges, I've been giving a lot of thought to the ability to become more frequently a weekday hiker. This would have me impact fewer folk on the trail and simultaneously give me a bit more solitude to appreciate. This is difficult for the various folks with whom I hike but I hope we do find ways to work it into future plans.

SJ: Tell us more about your mission, why are you hiking the 48?

RP: I'm hiking them first and foremost for me and the Mighty Quinn. The time I spent in the wheelchair made the simple act of walking a treasure to me. As I brought myself to new summits real and metaphorically I do not believe I can ever express the elation I feel. That said, I'm sharing our experience as a method of awareness and attention for the 2020 Vision Quest. I love the hiking in all aspects of which the summits are only a part. I do not suggest it is right for everyone by any means but I do suggest everyone should find something which is meaningful to them and pursue achieving despite any obstacles perceived. Believe and Achieve is a message I share with many schools and I live that life daily - especially on these mountain hikes!

SJ: And how many peaks to you plan to summit this year?

RP: Many! Your question is a bit of a trick in that for many they think of the summits as part of the 48 and of those there are 16 on our schedule. I am likely to climb many other mountains as well for the sheer enjoyment of the experience and those aren't scheduled as I simply take advantage of the opportunities as they arrive - sort of like our Belknap explorations not so very long ago!

SJ: Owls Head being your next mountain on your list and the first official mountain of your year; what are you worried or nervous about heading into this trip? Do you have any concerns?

RP: Truthfully I'm not nervous at all. I'm very confident in our safety approach in advance and the judgment we'll use on the trails. Concerns on the other hand exist for certain. We'll dodge the more challenging water crossings where my concern for Quinn would be very high. I'm never certain whether we'll achieve a summit, there are too many variables for that, but we do have a long trek and some new experiences in both the bushwhack and the slide. As an overnight my gear will be a little heavier and that has an impact on me for certain and this will be our longest mileage to date so we'll have plenty of challenge to go with the experience. One thing for certain is I'll have my hiking legs back under me by the end of the trip.
SJ: What are you most looking forward to about the trip?

RP: This is easy for me, thanks for the softball! When we have pitched our tents and we are deep into the solitude of the Pemi to just share the company of those on this trip I believe we'll achieve a community amongst ourselves which is tremendous. I cannot wait to sit out there and share stories about what we've experienced past and present as well as our hopes for the future. This is one of your favorite mountains Sherpa and that's part of why more than anyone I wanted you to lead this particular trip. I want to hear the reasons you love this mountain and the entirety of the Pemi while we are sitting right there. That group in that moment on that mountain will likely never come together again but because of this choice I'll have that moment to recall forever and there's just so much power in that for me.

SJ: Now.. many people hate the mountain you're about to venture to. What is it that you truly hope to learn on your journey out there? What are you most wanting to take away from the trip when it comes to the mountain itself?

RP: Just dealing with the Mountain. I have my longest mileage and that's plenty of distance to savor. I think the project has put a slight tendency and awareness of 'peak bagging' but for me there is so much more in every step. I wrote about my "Sense of the summit" as a blind man and certainly the feeling of vast is pretty incredible even blind. Still the treasure is in the woods and along the trails. The sounds, the smells and certainly the solitude all have power for those who reflect enough upon them to appreciate the individual moments along the way. I've actually been told that due to my need to hike slower many discover the hike along the way in ways they'd lost when hiking through more quickly. It's sort of a twist on the old expression but perhaps most powerful on Owl's Head. The challenge is not to see the forest through the trees but rather to experience the moments along the way; not just notch another summit off the list. All that said, remind me of this on mile 17 of our more than 18 mile round trip effort, will ya?!

SJ: What message would you give the every-day hiker as they monitor your progress throughout the weekend?

RP: (laughing) Well I hope some folks are following our progress throughout Friday and Saturday because that would mean something we are doing has captured their attention a bit. Ultimately though I hope they in some ways realize the symbolism of my simply following my own dreams here and maybe find the inspiration to set their own goals and set about experiencing them! There's a notion of "Pursuit *AS* Happiness" which I find very meaningful. It's not the destination as much as the journey for me.

SJ: Beyond Owls Head.. what's your next adventure?

RP: I get a ten day break from hiking before I return with UNH to undertake the part of the Pemigewassett Wilderness we left off last year! In the itnerim there's a host of adventures with a couple of school presentations, my continued pursuit of my third degree black belt and the training to work Quinn and I towards a marathon. We keep pretty busy and life is full of adventures of which these glorious mountains are just a part, a fantastic part for sure.
SJ: You are obviously a very resilient soul Randy Pierce. You have an amazing message that you've been sharing with the region's school children. Tell us more about that?

RP: Thank-you for the kind words Sherpa, I feel very blessed with my awareness and appreciation of the value in striving forward towards the positive options available to those willing to make the choices necessary. I think the challenges I've faced and the choices I make give me some credibility to all the people with whom we share our presentations and stories. We all have challenges but it's ultimately always more about the choices we make in response to those challenges. So while we have a host of messages to share about teamwork, communication, achieving through adversity and more; the most powerful message I always want to provide are two things.

1) Believe and Achieve - set your goals, find the challenges in achieving, solve those challenges and there you are ready to follow your dreams!
2) We influence much of what happens to us in this world and yet some things just happen to us beyond our control. We always have the complete control to choose how we are going to respond to those and the choice we make will impact our life more than any challenge ever could.

SJ: Really looking forward to this weekend Randy and helping you achieve that vision high atop Owls Head. Before we let you go is there anything you'd like to share?

RP: Absolutely but I'm not sure your readers want the 540K words bursting in my mind. How about I leave it at this thought regarding my experience with Sherpa John. I've learned a tremendous amount from you about far more than just the hiking knowledge you have to share. I hope to always find the means to be open for the learning and experiences so that I'm growing and hopefully improving myself steadily. All of us are going to fall short of the ideal at times and you've put yourself in the celebrity spotlight such that you've given some tremendous lessons about Human Potential (Sherpa tm!) and more. Some however will always want to point to the failings which come from the choice to share so much and those people may close themselves to all the positives as well. I personally want to thank you for the strength, courage and perseverance which not only allows you to accomplish so much personally. That same approach also allows you to work through the naysayers and deliver the messages you have for all of us to appreciate. Thank you John and keep up the great work!
SJ: No.. thank you Randy. That was all very kind of you to say. Lastly.. how can folks make a donation to your causes?

RP: Donations come in many forms for certain. Our website (2020visionquest.org) provides many of those. Beyond the much needed monetary donations, folks can share our message through social media, friends, family and even employers. They could offer time to help us on hikes or to reach schools and companies with our presentations. Definitely the best way they can help is to join our community and be a part of the process of appreciating "Ability Awareness" as we undertake the journeys together.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

An Owls Knowledge

[The following was originally posted on the 2020 Vision Quest Blog. It is a pre-hike post or "Preview" post of next weekends hike to Owls Head in the Pemigewasset Wilderness with Randy Pierce, Quinn and the rest of Team 2020. It is my hope that on Wednesday I'll have a great interview with Randy to share, followed by the hike and a trip report next Sunday.]
An Owls's Knowledge

Owl’s Head, at 4,025 feet, serves as a white whale to many a New England peak-bagger. Its thickly wooded summit sits quietly amongst the storied trees of the Pemigewasset Wilderness, some nine miles from the nearest road. There are many reasons why many peak-baggers save their long walk to Owl’s Head until the end of their pursuit of the 48. Words such as long, misery, boring, tough, and no view are, in my opinion, hardly a fair set of adjectives to describe the mound. I prefer to use words to describe the hikers who whine, words such as weak, tired, capricious, and missing.




Owl's Head from West Bond
Owl’s Head is a peak that carries with it more speculation and debate then a New Hampshire town hall meeting. From the summit sign wars between hikers and the Forest Service, to the scrubbing of paint blazes from trees, to the removal of cairns, to the re-discovery of a new highest point, Owl’s Head is a mountain that gets the least amount of love of all the 48 four-thousand-footers.

I’ve enjoyed all six of my previous journeys to the summit of Owl’s Head. A peak I’ve summited in all four seasons and a peak that, when asked which of the 48 is my favorite, gets serious consideration if not the choice of the day. The walk to Owl’s Head is long, but it’s also amazingly gorgeous. Along the Pemigewasset River and the Lincoln Brook, through an amazing re-growth forest priming with beech wood, birch, and fir, it is a shame to think that any hiker could fail to enjoy the immense beauty of a forest that was a barren wasteland by the late 1800’s and a raging inferno in 1907. It’s because of the torn history of this place and its steady revitalization that one of our nation’s most important conservation acts, The Weeks Act, was passed in 1911.


The trail leading to Owl's Head

All history aside, this mountain could very well prove to be the white whale of 2020 Vision Quest. However, on the weekend of May 13, it is the goal of a partnership between 2020 Vision Quest and Team Sherpa to prevent that from happening. For Randy and Quinn, hiking on the trail during the more summery months has proven to be a real challenge. A challenge they have risen to repeatedly on previous expeditions. The first peak of the 2011 season, Owl’s Head will offer up a new challenge to Randy and his trusted companion, and that new challenge is the challenge of multiple bushwhacks.

Along the nine-mile trek to the Owl’s Head summit are two incredible river crossings that challenge even the heartiest of sighted hikers. During this time of year, those crossings carry with them a level of risk that would be foolish to take on under less than ideal conditions. With a hearty snow pack still clinging to locations of elevation, and warmer temperatures causing swollen rivers from snowmelt; this expedition will choose and all but require the challenges of a bushwhack.


I am humbled by the idea that Randy trusts me to lead him on this incredible hike. A two-day expedition that will allow us to camp primitively near the base of Owl’s Head Path, I hope to enjoy the fruits of our labor at the summit of mighty Owl’s Head. There, I will bring Randy to the viewing spot to describe a most remarkable view of Lincoln Slide and the Franconia Ridge to our west, and the Bonds to our east. While the challenges before us are large, they are not impossible. With good faith, teamwork, and a vision beyond our sight; it will be done.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Belknaps With Bruschi

Forward
It was January 19, 2002 when my brother, his wife, myself and Sarah bailed out of the truck and out onto Route 1 in Foxboro, Massachusetts. Snow had been steadily and unexpectedly falling all day long and we had been stuck in the sea of cars for far too long. We could see the lights of the stadium up ahead on the hill, Foxboro Stadium was a meager place, definitely a relic in present day NFL standards. It was the first time in my life that I was attending a New England Patriots Football game. I had been a fan for a long time, through thick and thin, good seasons and bad. My childhood hero, Drew Bledsoe was down and out and all of our hopes and dreams rested on a young quarterback named Tom Brady.

I'll never forget what I experienced that night in Foxboro, Mass. What many would forever know as "The Tuck Rule Game" and those who were there would always remember as "The Snow Bowl." We watched a miracle that night as snow fell throughout the game, more than 5 inches accumulating on the ground, and Vinatierri kicked two impossible Field Goals. I have yet, in my entire life, to remember a time when I'd seen more grown men crying at once. Our team had won and were on their way to the AFC Championship against Pittsburgh and later their First Super Bowl Win.  Playing Middle Linebacker for our New England Patriots was one Tedy Bruschi. It was his 6th season as a Patriot, the heart and soul of the defensive line. An unselfish player who played a majority of his 13 years without the use of an agent and always choosing the love of the game over money.

This past Monday I had the honor and extreme pleasure of guiding one of the most memorable hikes of my entire life. Randy Pierce, the 2001 Patriots Fan of the Year, asked me to be the trip leader of a once in a lifetime opportunity to hike with Tedy Bruschi himself. And so it was...
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Sarah, Kyle and I met up with Randy Pierce and his wife Tracy at the Tilton Diner parking Lot in Tilton, NH at 7:30 AM. Randy was the 2001 Patriots Fan of the Year and is the proud captain of the 2020 Vision Quest. An organization dedicated to raising funds for Guiding Eyes for the Blind and The New Hampshire Association for the Blind. It was a week ago when Randy called me to ask me to guide this group of hikers which included a very special guest. He trusted my knowledge of the area in picking the perfect hike as a way to have an amazing time, while showcasing Randy and Quinn's many challenges while on the trail and still maintaining a White Mountain feel. I immediately said yes, without hesitation, yet didn't hold my breath that this would actually take place. Not many people are afforded the opportunities to go out on a hike, and guide, their childhood/adolescent heros. So it was at 7:30am that our special guest, Tedy Bruschi himself, showed up at the diner that I finally pissed myself with great joy that yes.. it was going to happen.

This past Friday, Kyle and I pre-scouted New Hampshire's Belknap Range. A mountain range settled along the shores of New Hampshire's Lakes Region that truly is the hidden gem of New Hampshire hiking. A talented and dedicated group of volunteers maintain the trails in this range with very little fan fare and by far a lack in use compared to the over-used and abused White Mountains. I knew this would be the perfect place for us to venture out and on Friday Kyle and I proved it so. With no snow on the trails and minimal mud; a wide range of moderate challenge that would surely work us all and showcase Randy and Quinn's abilities, Kyle and I were confident that the right choice had been made despite Randy's preference for an above tree-line adventure in the still ice coated whites.
With Tedy in tow, we all drove to the trailhead at the Carriage Rd. just off of Belknap Mountain Rd. We pulled into the tiny dirt parking lot while one hiker was all ready taking off for his day in the woods. We all poured out of our vehicles and took the time to lace up our boots and get ourselves comfortable. I was all ready teasing Tedy who had drove up in the perfectly clean, bright, white pair of Nike sneakers. He replaced them with a brand new pair of Vasque hiking boots and dished some guff right back my way with a classic Tedy Bruschi smile. While everyone talked about, I had the pleasure of helping Tedy adjust his pack straps to his comfort preferences and showed him how to stow his hiking poles until he needed them. Once we were done with this, our group began our hike into the woods after a quick pre-hike photo in the parking lot.
We started up the Piper Mountain Trail where those of his hiking along side Tedy himself, (all of us) remained awe-struck by his presence. Never in a million years did I think I'd have the honor and privilege of meeting Tedy, let alone have the opportunity to help organize a hike with him and then serve as his guide. While Sarah smiled from here to ear and Kyle engaged in some great conversation with the man, I remained humbled while joyfully present. When we reached the top of Piper Mountain, the entire group was wowed by views none-of the truly expected. From the backside of the mountains where we parked, the Belknap range looks like nothing more than feeble humps. On the top of Piper, we sat amongst the stone benches, took pictures, ate snacks and enjoyed the unexpected views of the rest of the Belknap Range. Tedy was the musher in the group, getting us all up and ready to roll for some more. Of course, Randy wouldn't budge without the ceremonial Tug-O-Quinn performed on every summit.
Our walk over to Whiteface was full of more regular conversation. It was important to all of us that we treat Tedy like the average Joe. Of course, we talked to him about football. His job at ESPN, his more memorable moments, what inspires him, what he thinks about certain other players and football analysts. Tedy was super candid and engaging and left nothing out for fear of the wrong interpretation. He was honest and sincere with every answer and forced you to engage his eyes when speaking to him. But beyond what we discussed, the guy was as big a kid as I. Horsing around on the slab sections on the downhill, enjoying his new found toy in Black Diamond hiking poles, and of course taking pictures of each other.
On Whiteface we all sat around in the grass and enjoyed an early lunch. Another Quinn tug of war and the usual suspects were quite impressed by Randy and Quinn's ability to really cruise across the terrain. Randy and his pal have come an exceptionally long way over the last year and those who saw him perform then as compare to now can't help but be thoroughly impressed. It was here that Randy announced to us that he was donating two gifts of $54 in myself and Kyle's name in honor of our help with today's hike. I was both humbled and gracious of Randy's gesture. Tedy thought 54 was a pretty special number. ::wink wink::
We headed back up to Piper from Whiteface. Along the way we pointed out the various types of animal scat out to Tedy. I spent some time with him teaching him a few of the various hiking terminology that exists. Col, cairn and waterbar; I taught Tedy about the incredible work Trail Maintainers take on and all that is involved. From painting blazes to clearing blowdowns... and what a blowdown is. Next week, Tedy will be hiking Mount Kilimanjaro in Africa. A far cry from this tiny range in New Hampshire however we knew that of the  4 NFL players who will be present, he'd know more then they will. Today however, he was the rookie and we offered to shave his head.
Along the way to Belknap Mountain, Tedy scared a few grouse out of the trees. The loud noise these birds make upon take-off tends to scare any hiker on the trail. Tedy was no exception, quickly stopping and jumping back followed by the raising of his hiking poles in ready defense. We got a great chuckle about this. As Tedy continued to lead the group through this section, we started to hike the wrong way. I corrected him and told him the trail went to the right (where the grouse went) and he simply smiled and said, "I just learned what a camelback was! Why am I leading?!" He continued to do a great job leading the group down to the next trail junction where a mish-mash of the group would take turns leading. The basic idea between all that we've hiked today is that everyone in our group had time for one on one discussion with everyone in the group. I got to hang with Tracy and talk to her, I had private time with Randy and Quinn, again with Sarah and of course more with Tedy. Everyone had time just as this which really helped bring our group together and of course enjoy the trek that much more.
Along the way to Belknap we stopped on a small cliff where Tedy was excited to see that we were high above two turkey vultures whom were circling around below. He snapped many pictures before Randy asked him to describe the view. Tedy took his best shot at telling Randy about what we were looking at. Once we made it to the top of Belknap, we took our packs off and headed up into the fire tower. Quinn, quietly rested below. Up on the mid-platform we enjoyed the 360 degree views of the region. To the south/southeast we could see the Atlantic Ocean and to the north, The White Mountains where I was able to locate and name almost half of the 48 four-thousand footers. In the meantime, I recognized Hal Graham who was working in the tower. Hal was the first to summit the Trailwrights 72 peak-bagging list and the oldest. This is significant because I am the youngest and two falls ago I was honored to help his group with some trail-work. We followed him up into the tower where we all looked around and signed into the visitors book. As Tedy began to walk down, Hal grabbed his arm and said "Hey, If I didn't know any better I'd say you were Tedy Bruschi." Tedy replied with, "I get that all the time." I sat back and waited for Tedy to leave and it was just Hal, myself and another ranger in the tower. "Hal.. go look at the book, he signed his name.. that was Tedy." "NO SHIT!"
Down below we rested more and ate more snacks. We did an activity where we interviewed each other. I figured that there are so many times in life where Tedy and Randy are bombarded with interview questions. When this happens they might feel over worked while others are ignored. I left the floor open to everyone to ask anyone in the group ONE question. We went in a circle and it was here that Kyle asked Randy what one piece of advice he would give a 23 year old. Kyle, a graduating senior of the UNH Masters in Education Program listened intently as his childhood hero later chimed in as well and gave him some of the best life advice he'll likely ever receive. The rest of us sat back and enjoyed the very real moment. Then Hal came out of the tower and snapped a group photo for us all then convinced us to make the trek over to Gunstock. We weren't planning on heading over there but Tedy was jazzed up and wanting more. So off we went.
We had a blast on the way to Gunstock. Tedy was looking for more furry coyote poop for pictures to share with his kids. He took pictures of birch bark, more droppings and whatever else. We had a great time, laughing and whopping it up as I would with any other person I hike with. That was the real feel of this entire hike; everyone just enjoying each others company and feelings free to be real, be themselves. Near the summit of Gunstock, we used what little snow was left fromt he snow-guns and had an impromptu baseball game. We then sat in the ski-lift chairs and enjoyed the magnificent views of Lake Winnepesauke and the Whites.
From here, we backtracked to the blue trail and headed back down to the Carriage Rd. With rain in the forecast, we could finally see the high dark clouds moving in from the west. On the way down the final trail, Tedy had the opportunity to give Quinn and break and act as Randy's guide. Watching the two work was nothing short of magical and Tedy quickly learned how tough it is. Randy and Tedy have been friends for a long time now and the magic of their relationship truly shined through this tough section of slick rock and rock steps. We snapped one more group photo down at the top of the carriage road before finally strolling down to the cars on the paved road.
What an intensely magical day. Back at the cars, Randy asked Tedy to break it down one time for us all. We raised our hands as a group and then Tedy broke it down. "WE HAVE TWO PEOPLE TO THANK FOR TODAY'S HIKE SO HOW DO WE FEEL ABOUT SHERPA JOHN AND QUINN?! AWWWWW YEAHHHH!!" One of the true highlights of my life. And then as we turned to thank our special guest and say our goodbyes, I noticed that he had been so moved by the entire experience and enjoyed himself so much that this gentle giant was wiping away tears. Words cannot truly describe how I felt at this moment. Having spent 9+ hours with one of my heros, guiding him through the woods and then of course the presence of another one of my childhood heros, Tedy Bruschi, across New Hampshire's hidden gem. I was both humbled and star-struck. One of the true highlights of my life and the perfect way to celebrate graduating from UNH and moving on into the world of real professional guiding. Thanks to the entire group and thanks to our guest Tedy. Kyle said it best over dinner, "It's nice to know that your childhood hero's, really are worthy of being called hero's."


Cheers!
SJ