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.

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Across Borders

[We now return you to your regularly scheduled programing. And now.. LIVE from Louisville, CO it's...]

Last weekend I finally graduated from The University of New Hampshire. In the days surrounding graduation, I was charged with the task of packing up all of my worldly belongings, stuffing them into a 14' U-Haul truck and then attaching my vehicle to tow-dolly. Then, at 12:30 AM on Monday Morning, we pushed off from The Granite State of New Hampshire on a 3-Day journey to the Centennial State of Colorado.
Day 1:
We pushed off from my mother's house at 12:30 AM on Monday Morning. It was bitter sweet leaving Derry; a town we moved to so that I could attend high school at Pinkerton Academy. under the darkness of night, we began our trek west. My step-father took the first shift in driving the u-haul. He usually works nights so the night time drive wasn't an issue for him. Mom, she drove the Carolla with Sarah mainly because she doesn't sleep much especially not lately. Through the darkness we made our way through New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York and the sun would eventually rise in Pennsylvania. I took over the u-haul and Sarah the car somewhere in Pennsylvania. An accident on I-84 forced us to take a 30 mile detour through amish country where yes, we did see a few amish folks. Yet from here we soldiered on pushing through Pennsylvania and through Ohio.

It was in Indiana where the nations recent fight with mother nature caused some concern. Here we were with all of our belongings in a truck when reports of severe storms and tornados surrounded the area we were in. Rather then sweat it out, we enjoyed the fantastic rays of sunshine that dropped from the heavens.. leading us home. After dinner in Sturgis, Wisconsin; we crossed into Illinois and settled into a Red Roof Inn in Lansing, IL for our first nights rest after 22 hours and 1000+ Miles of driving.
Day 2:
We woke up leisurely on Tuesday, ate breakfast at an East Chicago IHOP, then pushed off once again for our shortest day of travel. I drove with mom to spend some needed quality time with her. I'm really glad she's helping us move because she'd never been across the Mississippi River, seldom goes on vacation, she gets to see our home and new town and she gets a long good bye. I really enjoyed my time in the car with her, reminiscing about people that had come in and out of our lives over the years. It was well worth having her come along.

After crossing the Mississippi we entered Iowa. After driving for what seemed like forever through the flat stretches of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois, Iowa offered more variety. The hills were long and broad often times topped with Wind Turbines... and at times we saw hundreds laced across the country-side. This certainly is farm country, rich black soil with tiny green sprouts shooting up from the ground. I actually really liked Iowa.. that is until the severe weather paid us another visit. As we forged across I-80 we came to a wall cloud. Torrential rains and straight line winds were in the forecast. The radio is calling for those in the area to seek shelter immediately yet.. we continued to drive forward. We saw a funnel cloud and frequent lightning, fearful of our stuff, nervous behind the wheel yet we came out the other side fresh as daisies.
As we entered Omaha, NE; we made our way to the Motel 6 which was an experience in itself.  Our kitty hated the hotel room and the thunderstorms crackling outside so she chose to sleep behind my pillow.
Day 3:
The alarms went off at 3:30AM and we pushed off at 4 AM, central time, for our final day. The rain came down in sheets in Omaha and it would for the next 5 to 6 hours as we pushed across Nebraska. People told us Nebraska is the worst, we couldn't see it. we were under low lying clouds, socked in as the rain came down in buckets. In the 5 hours we were in Nebraska, we received some 4" of rain. We watched the swollen North Platte River rise even more and the 50mph cross winds tossed our truck.. AND the car left and right as we tumbled down the highway. The wind was so fierce that at one point, the wind blew enough rain up and under our truck that it soaked the ignition and the U-Haul came to a stop under an underpass. So nervous that we had broken down, in the middle of no-where, during and epic storm.. I hunkered down next to the bridge pillar to relieve myself. Yes darlings.. I was so nervous I was shitting myself. Ce la vie. However, after 20 minutes on the side of the highway, we managed to let the ignition dry out, the truck re-started, and ran like a top. We were on our way again.

We finally turned off of I-80 and headed south on I-76. The sun had come out and the winds subsided as we entered into Colorado. We stopped at the border to take pictures at the sign. So many emotions came over me. I was finally here, Colorado. It's always an amazing feeling when your dreams come true. After I got back into the truck and we started down the highway again, I cried and cried. I was crying and laughing, so happy that we'd made it... we were Home.
At 1:30pm Mountain Time, we'd made it to Louisville, CO. Signed the lease to our new apartment, and began unpacking. We were home, 2000+ miles later, 3 days of driving.. and we loved it. From our balcony we can see the Flat Irons of Boulder and Mount Meeker, Lady Washington and Long's Peak up on the continental divide. I feel like I'm living in a dream.. or maybe this IS the dream

Tourists
We took a break from the moving on Thursday and took Mom and Howard up into the Rocky's. They couldn't leave here without seeing the mountains up close and personal. So we drove through Boulder and made our way up into Boulder Canyon where we took them to Boulder Creek Falls. Then we continued to Nederland and Allenspark. In Allenspark we stood at the base of Mount Meeker where we showed mom the Stone Church, visited by Pope John Paul II in the 1990s. Then we made it into Estes Park where we had lunch. This is my office, and it was a real joy to share it with my family before they flew home to New Hampshire.
Welcome Home!

Friday, May 20, 2011

Graduated

Before I started this adventure in capturing my Bachelors Degree, many people told me how fast the time would fly by. Tomorrow, I'll walk to Pomp and Circumstance one more time as I received my Bachelors Degree. I can tell you now.. that time did not fly by. Education is not something that has ever come easy to me. Truth be told, I'm an awful student. I have ADD tendencies, I have a little fits of dyslexia.. I hate school. It was 1999 when I was told I'd be lucky to graduate high school and would never receive a college diploma, certainly not a Bachelors. It was 2005 when I graduated with an Associates in Radio/TV Production and Broadcasting. Even then, the thought of returning to school for a Bachelors was blasphemy. I wanted nothing to do with that conversation and those thoughts quickly escaped my mind.

Though truth be told, I've had some great mentors in my life. Both of them women. Growing up, I watched my sister Ann put herself through college and work towards her own Bachelors. I always looked up to her through the years. Though I guess for part of it you could say it was a bit of a sibling rivalry. But, she was always "the smart one." I always saw her as the best, the one with the degree and I very much doubted for many years that I'd ever be as smart or as good as her. And then there's Sarah who in 2007, Graduated from UNH herself with an Associates and a Bachelors. As I listened to Pomp and Circumstance that day and joined in on the celebration, I was incredibly jealous of her. However, this time I had been accepted into UNH all ready and my journey for a Bachelors would soon begin.

Four years later I'll walk down the aisle at graduation after putting myself through school. I'm broke as a joke. Aside from the student loans I owe, I'm another 10 Grand in debt easily, all accrued from my own personal struggles (in other words: medical bills) I dealt with along the way. This journey over the last four years has been harder for me then any ultra I've ever run or any mountain I've ever climbed. Though I guess you could kinda compare the journey for a Bachelors as climbing a mountain or running a long race. I'm tired... yet proud.

Tomorrow, I'm graduating with a Bachelors in Outdoor Education with a Concentration in Hospitality Recreation Management. On May 31st, I'll begin my internship in Boulder, Colorado working for a guide company. For work I'll be backpacking, hiking, climbing, biking, running and rafting.. my dream job in my dream location. It was 2006 when I stood in Boulder looking up at the Flat Irons knowing I wanted to live there and knowing what kind of work I wanted to do while there. I'm not a chaser of some-days, I'm a doer.. and I'll be doing once again what I set out to accomplish.

There are many I need to thank for their support though, here is not the place to do this. For now, the celebration will commence followed by the long journey West. With luck, and safe travels; I'll be posting to you next week from my new home in Louisville, CO. In the 10 years that Sarah and I have been together, one of us has always been enrolled as a full time student at the University of New Hampshire. I don't think we can get far enough way but in traveling 2000 miles west, we've picked a hell of a location to plant our roots. Though I'll say it now... the real lesson in all of this.. is that once again I sought out a goal which I was told I could not do. I sincerely hope that at some point in my life... the words of doubt will be silenced for good...

"Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn't do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover."
- Mark Twain

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)