When we called Steve Fugate, he was organizing his materials in a friend’s garage. The 67-year-old is in the midst of his eighth walk across the United States. He started on March 23 of last year. Unlike previous treks, Fugate is zigzagging across the lower 48, reaching both coasts while setting foot in every state. How much progress has he made so far? 21 down with 27 to go. The miles and stories he has accumulated are unfathomable yet have all actually happened.
In 1999, Fugate lost his son to suicide. A few years later, his daughter died due to a drug overdose. The tragic events prompted the Vero Beach, Fl. resident to give up his business and begin walking across the country. It started as both a form of therapy and a means to raise awareness for depression and suicide. At one point, Fugate also set-up a non-profit organization. But 14 years and 34,000 miles later, any time someone attempts to post a PayPal link to help him, he asks for it to be removed. His journey has grown in to something much deeper, and perhaps more infinite.
“I say, ‘When I get what I want,” Fugate responded to Cyrus Sutton in a short documentary done by Korduroy.tv after he was asked when he’ll stop walking. “They say, ‘What do you want?’ And I say, ‘I don’t know. I’ll know when I get it.’”
In an upbeat mood when we reached him via telephone, Fugate joked about finding what he is seeking.
“I’m really hoping I get it this time!” he exclaimed. “My feet swell, my knees hurt, my legs hurt. I do not like walking. But I do it specifically for a reason.”
His reason now is to spread the message of “Love Life” while mending broken hearts. Fugate shares his message and the stories of people he encounters through social networks and walking.
“I go on Facebook and I give everyone a barrage of truth and a barrage of acts of kindness,” the 67-year-old said. “People say, ‘I’m glad there’s still good people out there.’ Still good people? What do you mean? They never went anywhere!”
Fugate blames the media in part for the imbalance between the positive and negative but notes that it’s because “the good far outweighs the bad.”
“I am in a very unique situation to see it all,” he said. “I’ve lived in solitude for the last 14 years and I’ve learned a lot about myself. I apply that to other precious human beings.”
He says he encounters these acts on a daily basis, sometimes two or three times a day. With people now following his moves in the media and on Facebook, Fugate is discovering just how many people he is truly touching.
“A young man reached out to me and said, ‘I went to school with your son,” recalled Fugate of one particular incident that happened this week. “He just wrote me and said he was in his 40’s now, and had gotten into drugs and a few other things. He thought that killing himself was the only way out.”
The man, who Fugate would not name, was a friend of his son’s in school. He is now two years sober, clean, and free of suicidal thoughts.
“He didn’t do it because it would have made him feel rotten to do that to me,” Fugate said of the man’s message. “He didn’t even know me.”
Fugate has said for years that the next walk “would be his last one.” Yet, he continues to move forward. He admits that those stories and meetings are what keep him on his feet, as swollen as they may be.