It’s very easy to envy Steve Fugate. After all, he walks alone almost every day through remote roads, hills, deserts and mountains, putting his 67-year-old body at risk against the elements, exhaustion and attack while dragging a heavy cart and sleeping in a tent. He has very little money and can’t call his children, because they’re both dead.
It’s very easy to envy him because when you call him during his latest walk across America – he’s already done it seven times – he can’t sound any happier to be doing it. Fugate, known as the “Love Life guy” because of the sign he carries, is like a traveling muse to the heartbroken, helping others overcome extreme sadness the way he did.
OK, maybe not quite the way he did. What Fugate calls his Trail Therapy has taken him 34,000 miles by foot since 1999 – the year his son committed suicide and six years before his daughter died of an accidental drug overdose. Since making his first walk along the Appalachian Trail, he’s gone from coast to coast seven times and now he’s on his eighth walk – the wrinkle this time is that he’ll be stepping in all lower 48 states.
When Yahoo Travel reached Fugate via phone Monday – he published his cell number for all to see on his website – he was enjoying a rare motel rest day in Truckee, Calif., because of the rain. He’s 22 states into his trek, which began March 23, 2013 in Vero Beach, Fla., with 26 more to go. Oregon and Washington are up next.
It doesn’t take much effort to get a touching story out of Fugate. You really only have to ask what he did yesterday. This time, what happened yesterday was being approached by a 21-year-old man who a month earlier had tried committing suicide with a butcher knife to the chest.
“He stepped right in front of me and pulled his shirt up,” Fugate said. “The first thing I said was, ‘Why in God’s name would you do such a stupid, self-centered thing?’ Then I grabbed him and told him I loved him and held him. He just kept hugging me, the young man.”
Fugate has received plenty of media attention and acclaim over the years, including the key to the city in Oakland, which “don’t fit in anything,” Fugate joked. He’s getting renewed interest in part because of his different route, and because of a recent documentary by Cyrus Sutton. Maybe it’s also because he doesn’t seem to know when to quit walking and meeting people.
“Every single one of them, I’ve called my last walk,” Fugate said. “I’m like the Rolling Stones, man.”
But Fugate isn’t doing this for the attention. This is simply how he’s been able to deal with the crushing losses of his 28-year marriage and two children. It took giving up his possessions and a successful car-detailing business to do it, but two minutes after talking to him, it’s apparent he’s found the peace he was looking for.
“You’ve got it, it’s inside of you,” Fugate said. “It’s just finding it. I know 90-year-old people who never find it. But I found mine. I don’t have these young’s people’s answer or anyone’s answer but my own. But what I do know that when I’m confronted with this young man or woman who’s going to take their own life, I know they have the answer within.”
He’s not running out of supporters, that’s for sure. Thousands of them follow him on his Facebook account and website, or approach him in person. Everywhere he goes, Fugate gets offers of help – he’ll take things like water, a discounted room or electricity to recharge his devices, but he refuses large sums of money.
For someone who’s been through all kinds of storms and slept countless nights outdoors, it’s surprising Fugate has come through it all unscathed. He recalls once being stalked by a mountain lion in Utah – “that scared the bejeezus out of me” – but he’s never been seriously hurt.
Fugate recently unveiled his refurbished cart, with a new harness and backpack. The cart was originally made for bicycles and broke down on him often – “I’m not going to name the company because they suck,” he said. He estimates the entire thing weighs 100 pounds, with much of that weight owing to two heavy sleeping bags.
Fugate’s goal was to step foot in 48 states, and the Four Corners region of the Southwest, where four states meet, made that easier. Fugate said some people criticized him for not actually walking across each state.
His response? “I said, you know what … when you walk across the U.S., you do it any way you want.”