Alex Flynn Completes Trans-America Challenge

Alex under the towering spire of Mt. Whitney. -photo: Sam Fox

British born Alex Flynn will complete the adventure of a lifetime today in Battery Park at the southern tip of Manhattan in New York City. Alex, who was diagnosed with young onset Parkinson’s disease 4 years ago, is first and foremost, a 40-year-old father of three young boys. In his free time though, he may as well be superman. For the last 37 days, Alex has biked, hiked, climbed, run, and paddled his way across the United States, from Los Angeles to New York City following anything but a direct route.

In covering more than 3,000 miles cross-country in a little more than one month’s time, Alex averaged nearly 100 miles a day on his bike. But this wasn’t just a bike trip. Along the way Alex summited Mt. Whitney (14,496 ft) via the Mountaineers route, ran 125 miles across the scorching Death Valley, and kayaked across a portion of Lake Erie. His body and his mind never had a day off as he forced himself to keep to a strict schedule in order to finish in time for his wife’s birthday next week. Alex spent 10-15 hours either on foot or in the saddle every day for more than a month, a daunting task for even the most physically fit among us, but Alex did all of this while battling his own Parkinson’s symptoms and the side-effects from his daily medications. This is the kind of challenge that many of us should consider ourselves lucky we cannot comprehend.

Back in early September I had the privilege of joining Alex on his Mt. Whitney climb. I was expecting him to be tough; no one would plan an adventure like this if they weren’t. Yet I was still blown away by what I witnessed. Fresh off a two-day, 220 mile bike ride from Los Angeles to the Eastern Sierra (more than 5,000 ft in elevation gain) Alex was tired from the very start of our climb. I could see it in his movements, and hear it in his voice. But somehow he never slowed his pace. An inexperienced climber, Alex had to put trepidation out of his mind for hours as we scrambled up smooth granite faces and boulder strewn couloirs. He also had to put hand tremors and leg dystonia out of his mind. Seeing Alex push through such obvious pain and discomfort was empowering, especially because there was never any doubt, in my mind or in his, that he would stand on the summit.

After our climb, I hopped in a car and headed to San Francisco while Alex enjoyed a restless 5 hours sleep before beginning his run across Death Valley the very next morning. And for the following month he pushed himself just as hard, every single day.

Alex will finish his adventure by running down Broadway in New York City, from Central Park to Battery Park. He plans to arrive at Battery Park at 2 PM. If you’d like to congratulate Alex, learn more about him or donate to his fundraising efforts please visit his Team Fox page. As always, Alex, keep moving!

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NYC Marathon

Remember Chloé? She’s my girlfriend and one of the most important characters in the RWYC success story from 2011. Without her, none of RWYC’s donors would have received those awesome postcards – her persistence, energy, and organization are major reasons that Run While You Can raised more than $150,000 – she was also one of the only reasons I ever had a positive thought while plodding down the PCT. You may also recall that Chloé joined me on the trail near Crater Lake and Lake Tahoe, logging nearly 40 miles by my side. For almost a year she made sacrifices to support my efforts and to ensure that I succeeded; from accompanying me on training hikes, to addressing thank-you-letters, to giving me something to look forward to during some of the roughest, darkest miles of the PCT. I’ll be in debt forever, though it’s a debt I’m happy to bear.

Chloé is yet again putting my interests ahead of hers. On November 4th, 2012, she is running the NYC Marathon with her best friend, Morissa. They are running to support Team Fox, and raising money for Parkinson’s disease research.

Chloé and Morissa have been friends since High School and are completely dedicated to each other. Morissa convinced her entire extended family to give to RWYC simply because Chloé was involved and had faith in me. We had only met once, Morissa and I, before I started last year’s trek, and I can’t be sure that I made even a decent first impression. So, it’s a testament to her loyalty (and her family’s generosity!) that she was willing to so blindly get involved with RWYC.

These two are at it again, taking up a cause that is so near to my heart (and wallet, considering I work for the Michael J. Fox Foundation now) and I cannot thank them enough. I have made it a mission to help them reach their fundraising goal – because Morissa lent her support to me with no hint of hesitation last year, and because Chloé worked tirelessly to see my dream realized (and I love her). So please, help me help them by donating to their Team Fox efforts. Thanks again to everyone who has stuck with us for this long!

Chloe on the right, Morissa on the left. 20 miles in the rain.

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In My Own Words: Intro

Mornings were tough. Understatement of my lifetime. It’s also a confusing statement. For 2 months I didn’t really have any conception of what ‘morning’ was. At least not one that others were also operating under. For me, morning was the time immediately after I had woken up from limited, fitful, sweaty and shivering sleep. My first thought after hearing John’s alarm go off in the front of the RV was always; ‘you’ve got to be kidding me. I’m going out there again?’ ‘Out there.’ It seemed so separate from my time in the support vehicle. It was windy, unpredictable, cold, hot, dry, wet, but most of all relentless. There was no true rest on the trail because life was measured in miles, not in minutes. Sitting still never got me closer to my goals. Even after just 4 hours in the RV, I was healed sufficiently to dread another block of miles, and another period of unpredictability.

My body never really allowed me much time for my internal, mental struggle. Each ‘night’ I re-hydrated so intensely that come ‘morning,’ I suffered the effects of a re-booted metabolism. Hours of mild dehydration, mixed with lots of food, mixed with dense over hydration, equals gross in the morning. I’ll spare you those details for now. Anyway, I was never able to postpone my rise and shine moment much. I rolled out of bed, into the tiny RV bathroom, then stumbled into the sitting area. Eric and John blearily prepared breakfast. Coffee, tea, too much oatmeal, too much soup, too much chili, too many cookies, way too much water. I left the RV for the trail bloated, slow, and stiff every single day. I also left most days without saying ‘thanks for the grub.’ I’m sure my thoughts were elsewhere, but I did appreciate it. Certainly my body did (at least after a few miles). After all, I always showed up at the next support point for more, right?

Eating had lost a lot of its joy to be sure. My tongue was usually so dried out that I could taste very little, plus it was all so regimented, such a calorie/numbers game that it didn’t feel like a hobby (my favorite hobby), rather a job. But it was no different than other aspects of my life. Scratch that, my preparation, the trail was my life. Eric would lay out my clothes for the day. Short tights, long tights, T-shirt, half-zip, toe socks, wool socks, gloves, head band, shoes, warm layer, outer jacket. The same pile every morning. I would pick and choose what to wear each day. My preferences rarely wavered; I wanted it all. John would lay out the other essentials. Multivitamins, anti-inflammatories, anti-bacterial foot cream, tape, knee braces. I would slowly apply my ‘accessories’ without even giving thought to whether this was all worth it.

Though it is almost impossible to see my run from any perspective aside from my own, I would often wonder (usually while climbing a steep snow field, or trundling down a dusty, overgrown, cactus slope) what it all looked from your perspective. Was my daily mileage just a number? Today Sam ran 43 miles… What did that mean? Did people picture me running around a track 172 times? That wouldn’t take all that long. I’d have time for a nice dinner, a long sleep, before I started that again the next day. Maybe people pictured every mile as exactly the same. A parade of shady, rolling mile after shady, rolling mile. My experience was simply nothing like that. In fact that may have been why I found my task so difficult. I spent weeks, months, forcing my body and my daily reality into a structured and organized mold. It took me all 61 days, 12 hours, to figure out that the mold itself was ever-changing.

It will be almost impossible for me to fully convey my experiences ‘out there’ to you all. But I can detail some of the seemingly unimportant minutiae. The things that changed, but stayed the same. Perhaps these were the things that kept me level, kept me human, and indirectly, kept me walking. So, first up. Details about my diet, the schedule, the specific foods I ate, and most disgustingly notable, its effect on my body, and thus my pace, throughout my trip. Stay tuned.

A lighter support moment in Death Valley. Before I went to sleep, and thus, before I had to wake up. Photo: C. Mauran

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In My Own Words: More to Come

Happy Halloween. Exactly one year ago today I stood in the corner of a Brookline (MA) basement dressed as ‘insert-your-favorite-long-haired-soccer-player-here,’ mind racing, intent on finally telling someone my crazy plan. My friend Corissa was there too, so, through sips of flat keg beer I talked her ear off. Wait…how many miles is it? How many days? Why do you want to do this? Oh, well that’s cute…but this sounds a little bit like a Halloween joke. I mean, you really think this is possible?

I guess at the time I didn’t know what to think. My thoughts were bouncing between mile/day averages, beautiful scenery,my Mom, rain gear, hiking boots, and who the hell I could talk to that would help me accomplish this crazy task. At a time of night when I would normally be trying to decide what kind of pizza to get, I was running through fundraising tactics and potential training regimens. It was apparent to me that this was no Halloween joke; I really did think this was possible.

For 10 months, starting the next morning when I sent my first e mail regarding Run While You Can (to the fine folks at the Michael J. Fox Foundation), I trained and planned and procrastinated and often beat myself up for not doing more. Many of you followed my slow, borderline-unorganized progress from the very beginning.  Through it all I started to wonder, ‘what would RWYC become?’

Then, Marion Mauran and her crack film crew got involved. One dreamlike training weekend in the Grand Canyon (and a lot of editing hours) later, RWYC had an incredible trailer video. More months passed. I tried to keep people interested in my daily tasks. My writing focused on the pain of my training runs, dehydration, sun burns, and other such uplifting topics. Friends and family told me to lighten up, but they couldn’t feel the deadness in my knees after a long weekend in Yosemite…I tried to appease them, but began to worry about the future. How will I keep people interested in my run? How will I broadcast it? Not to mention, behind the scenes, things seemed to be falling apart. Corporate sponsors were dropping out, RVs were breaking down before the first mile, my calf muscles were ripping in half, basic stuff. I was about to have my 24th birthday. Maybe I was simply not ready for all of this.

And then I got my birthday presents. Miranda Lanzillotti and Stephanie Paddock, plus a whole team from the Michael J. Fox Foundation saw our incredible video trailer. They began to do all the thankless work of cause promotion. I had been trying to drum up publicity for months with little success, but after a week with these two on board, RWYC was showing up in newspapers, on the radio, and on TV across the country.

A few days later, John Bernhardt came aboard. He answered a want-ad on face book and within a matter of weeks had transformed my support plans, sending me maps, elevation profiles and updated schedules. I went from worried to prepared with a single hiring.

And finally, mere weeks before I was scheduled to depart from the Canadian border, Eric DePalo called me from the midst of his own journey. He was 100 miles from the northern terminus of the Appalachian Trail, and wanted to be a part of RWYC. We are thankful he got on a plane just days after a 5 month hike.

From PR, to support logistics, to written word (not to mention the development work from Chloe, the hands on support from my Mom and Dad, and the countless thousands of inspiration sources from all of our followers), I arrived at the Mexican border on the backs of so many. 2,400 miles, the top of Mt. Whitney, 61 days, and $153,000 to date. For all of that, I thank you. All of you.

For two months you have heard my story through others (mostly the expert stylings of Eric DePalo), but now it’s time to hear about my journey from my perspective. From daily musings to emotional breakdowns I’ll attempt to relay the highlights, and some of the lowlights, from the last 2 months. Stay tuned for more, and feel free to send in any questions you may have about my time on trail to sfox@runwhileyoucan.org. I’ll answer as many as I can!

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The Journey Continues

There it is. Thousands of miles, dollars, and inspired witnesses. From the clearcut of Canada to the dirt swath of Mexico. From one edge of the country, to another.

I’ve been your trusty narrator, Sam has been your stoic hero, and the scores of other characters have been a sort of family – every one precious, as necessary to the story as each muscle cell, capillary and neuron in Sam’s body.

When I first put pen to paper, this thing was a humble project with a grand vision. Now, as that seemingly impossible vision has spun itself into reality, I’ve been in just as much awe as the rest of you. Every time I open the keyboard, my wonder gets the best of me – how can I translate this huge tale, larger than life, yet unfolding right in front of my eyes? As my task ends now, I can only hope I’ve done this story some justice.

At 10:40 am yesterday, Sam reached the border, surrounded by friends and family, arm and arm with Lucy, exactly how we’ve pictured it for so long. With the sprawling Mexican landscape spread out before us, the whole yearning thing was consummated in one last strike of the foot.  One step out of 6 million, one scene I’ve witnessed out of hundreds and hundreds.   All the bustling, starlit nights, from the top of the mountains, to the bottom of desert valleys, all the emptiness, all the fullness, all the emotions etched in dust and vapor.  I’ve been lucky to surround myself with a host of amazing people, really truly, I am a better person for being part of this journey.

Yet, I know this journey will never truly be done. Run While You Can will endure, not only to raise the remaining money but to continue on to other projects. If we’ve inspired you in the last couple months, keep checking back with us.  And always – remember to run while you can!

Thank you, thank you.

Signing off,

Eric

[Eric DePalo is a hiker/biker/adventurer/freelance writer. If you like his prose (or want to give him a job!) email him at ericdepaloericdepalo@gmail.com.]

CLICK ON THE POSTS BELOW TO READ THE STORY FROM THE BEGINNING!

The Endeavor Begins (Initial Fruition) (…And off into the night Sam went, our lonely blonde soldier out to chase demons and test himself against the limits of synapse and sinew…)

School Starts (…a healthy foot-stank was a’wafting and dancing with the delicate garlic/onion of my spaghetti sauce on the stove, and we were happy…)

Cashing Checks, Paying Debts (…The reason to worry about Sam is not because he lacks knowledge or ability or determination – it’s different than that.  The problem is he’s like a border collie who doesn’t know when to quit playing fetch…)

Pain (…Sam’s on-call doctor diagnosed tendonitis, an overuse injury.  The cure, of course, is to stop walking.  Instead, we called it the Fat Ankle – “Christ, Sam, why don’t you go for a run and lose some of that Fat Ankle, fatty”…)

Space, Time and a Dash of Human Potential (…In the eyes of Mt. Rainier, all of our lives are trivial.  In the end, we must all remind ourselves the importance inherent in our daily routine, and how to spend our miniscule window of time in the landscape that passes us by…)

Day to Day (…“Come on-n lets go fe-e-et.  You can do-o this-s-s.”  He runs his hands up and down the spandex on his legs and in a sing-song voice exclaims, “Long-tights, long-g tights, so-o good, dee dee deeee…”)

The Strangest of Detours (…At the roadside only the occasional pickup truck passes by, kissing us with a gust of air and rocking Loretta gently. The atmosphere smells eerily like a campfire and through the slate of smoke only the upper tier of snow is visible on Mt. Hood…)

Togetherness (…When we lift one man up to reach for the human potential, we also wish to see what capacity lies dormant within ourselves.  As Lucy told me, “Sam is both supportive and supported, that is the beauty of his run…”)

The Zen of Resupply (Pt. 1) (…Speeding hell-for-leather up the highway and bombing the hills back into Ore-not-so-gone, we called everyone we knew for their thoughts on angry red rashes…)

The Zen of Resupply (Pt. 2) (…I think problem with the pain is that the memory of the damn thing evaporates the moment you turn your head.  Perhaps that is why some of us humans are so capable of putting ourselves through voluntary hell – we’re too stupid to remember how much it hurts, and too stubborn to quit once we get halfway into something…)

Type Two Fun (…I followed the fog of dust from Jim’s car down the mountain, the serpentine gravel roads rumbling beneath Loretta’s tires like a summer thunderstorm, the potholes and undulations obscured in the headlamp…)

Decisions, Decisions (“…A WINTER STORM WARNING MEANS SIGNIFICANT AMOUNTS OF SNOW…THIS WILL MAKE TRAVEL VERY HAZARDOUS OR IMPOSSIBLE…)

The New Plan [Written by Sam]

Nuts and Bolts (…There is nothing out here, nothing to listen to but the occasional passing car or the ratchet of crickets in the creosote, nothing to watch but the surreal hills that loom around us and the gnats that dance about our face…)

The Ascent of Rum Whitney (…This lofty passage is called the mountaineers route.  It’s a world-class climb, culminating with a huge granite chute strewn with boulders and steepness and vertigo and, as always, the handsome, the yearning bravado and the youthful vivacity you’ve come to expect from us at the RWYC blog…)

The Mojave Begins (…It’s an adventure in itself articulating the washed-out and boulder-strewn Mojave county back-roads just to get to Sam…)

The Countdown Begins (…After five miles, we crest over the top of the ridge and the silken lights of Los Angeles are pooled before us, the whole sprawling cityscape shimmering, an orange oasis.  We sit and eat beef jerky in the moonshadow of a desert bush…)

The End Begins (…The landscape is nothing but scrub, the nights are cold and the days are hot, but the dust in the sky makes for a dazzling sunset. It is a story that was unraveled a single day at a time, and now is strong enough to speak for itself…)

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Thanks to everyone for getting me here!

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12 Day total: 601 miles! Hikin with dad

samfox
Latitude:32.92315
Longitude:-116.47511
GPS location Date/Time:10/24/2011 05:12:08 PDT

Message:12 Day total: 601 miles! Hikin with dad

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11 Day total: 551 mi. Just 101 to go

samfox
Latitude:33.22702
Longitude:-116.59886
GPS location Date/Time:10/23/2011 05:02:01 PDT

Message:11 Day total: 551 mi.  Just 101 to go

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The End Begins

You have to wonder at times what you’re doing out there. Over the years, I’ve given myself a thousand reasons to keep running, but it always comes back to where it started. It comes down to self-satisfaction and a sense of achievement.

- Steve Prefontaine

Now, the trip that took on a life of its own finally allows us a glimpse at the end, to consider what we have almost accomplished.  The landscape is nothing but scrub, the nights are cold and the days are hot, but the dust in the sky makes for a dazzling sunset. It is a story that was unraveled a single day at a time, and now is strong enough to speak for itself.

As the dusk assembles on this project and the boulders strewn across the landscape collect their shadows, a peace settles upon the three of us. I find myself with a heavy absence of words.  My voice no longer matters in this, what matters instead is the communal voice – all of YOU, who have given yourselves to this project, all those who have supported us along the way.  I only wonder, how could we have done it without you?  I sincerely do not know.

Keep watching, keep reading, keeping running.  There are so few miles left to cover…

-Eric

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10 Day total: 501 miles. On trail 4 more!

samfox
Latitude:33.56379
Longitude:-116.57689
GPS location Date/Time:10/22/2011 04:50:52 PDT

Message:10 Day total: 501 miles. On trail 4 more!

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