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South County Independent: SK Native Fox Prepares to Take on Pacific Crest Trail

By Brendan Dowding

Sam Fox has been an athlete his entire life. He’s about to embark on a journey that will push him to the brink of physical and mental exhaustion.

Fox, a 24-year-old native of South Kingstown who currently resides in Berkeley, Calif., will attempt to hike all 2,650 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail, beginning on Aug. 25. He hopes to complete the entire trip in a little more than 60 days, which would break the current record of 65 days, set by Adam Bradley and Scott Williamson in 2009. For that to happen, Fox has to travel approximately 44 miles per day for two months.

“There are a number of factors that get people started on a ridiculous idea like this,” Fox said by phone on Tuesday. “I have a love for the outdoors coupled with a competitive spirit. I was an athlete as a young kid and through high school and college. After college track and field [as a high jumper at Yale University], there wasn’t anyone to compete against. I started competing against myself.”

But that’s not the only reason Fox has decided to take on this incredible challenge. As a member of Team Fox, the grassroots fund-raising network of The Michael J. Fox Foundation for Parkinson’s Research, Fox hopes to raise $250,000 to help find a cure for the disease. It’s a cause that hits close to home since Fox’s mother, Lucy, was diagnosed with Parkinson’s in 2000.

“My mother and my family as a whole have always been active – active is actually an understatement,” Fox said. “With my mom’s illness, things have changed for her ... We used to take big, long family hikes together. In the last 10 years, they’ve gotten shorter and shorter.”

Fox had hoped to raise $50,000 before departing on Aug. 25, but he has already reached $60,000 well in advance of that date. As his trip draws closer, he hopes the pot continues to grow.

“It’s going well,” Fox said of the fund-raising effort. “I’ve really only tapped into people that I know. My network has been the people I can access on Facebook or Twitter.”

And then there’s the issue of training and getting mentally prepared for the journey. Fox has gone on hikes for days at a time to gear up for his trip, but he’s never been out for the extended periods he’s about to endure.

“Anything less than 25 miles feels like an easy afternoon,” Fox said. “My body is getting used to that – I’m not daunted by a 30-mile day. But I haven’t done 10 or 15 days in a row. Nervous is the wrong word, but I’m anxious to see what it’s like on Day 32 after 44 miles a day.”

When he’s not out hiking, Fox has been a regular at the gym, getting in lengthy workouts that can last up to five or six hours. Even with all the hard work, though, he still feels like he’s going into the trip blindly.

“I think there is no way to prepare for this,” Fox said. “I went to the gym [recently] and spent four hours there. I ran five miles faster than I ever have, was on a rowing machine for a half hour and on the bike for an hour, and I felt like I had gotten a good workout. But the effort for that is a quarter of what I need to put in on any given day [on the trail].

“The current record holders don’t even have any advice,” he added. “They said, ‘I did it my own way, so good luck.’ Everyone gets into their own zone and everyone has their own method.”

Fox won’t be alone for the entirety of his trip. There are 38 support points along the trail – which ranges from British Columbia to the California border with Mexico – where he will meet up with a support director. Fox will be able to eat, gather clean clothes and equipment and sleep in an RV during his brief stops before continuing on. The average distance between support points is 70 miles. Fox will be out on his own for one particularly grueling stretch of 195 miles, however, during which time he will have to brave the elements and sleep in a tent.

“I’ll bring a tent and a thin waterproof bag and wrap myself up like a mummy,” Fox said.

Fewer than 100 people try to complete the Pacific Crest Trail each year, and between 30 and 50 actually finish what they started. Fox has upped the bar by also striving for a record time, but he knows if he doesn’t reach that goal, he’ll still be a success. After all, he’s raising money for an excellent cause, one that his family can be proud of.

“It’s nice to have something to push for,” Fox said. “There are a lot of things that are going to keep me going out there, but it’s going to be a real challenge to motivate myself on some cold, rainy day.”

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