Hiker to bring life-loving message to Montclair

OAKLAND TRIBUNE: February 24, 2012

What prompts a man to walk across the United States six times? Moreover, why would he wrap up his 12-year journey in Montclair?

When Steve Fugate, 65, enters the Montclair Village Saturday, he will have walked more than 30,000 miles with a singular theme: to love life. It’s an amazing mantra for a man who has had more than his share of tragedy.

It began in 1999, when Fugate was hiking the Appalachian Trail and got a call that his son had committed suicide. Telling the story on the NPR show “Hearing Voices” he says “I shot back from the phone maybe 10 or 15 feet. I could not stop screaming.”

Fugate described the death of his son as nothing short of having someone “carve your heart out of your body with an ax while you are breathing.” As he dealt with the loss, his daughter said something profound. She asked her dad why he hadn’t passed on his love of life to his son. It was a question Fugate would never forget, and it spurred him to go back and finish the hike.

“I was able to grieve out there,” he says, remembering how he’d cry in the evening and the coyotes would cry with him. “It was one of the most peaceful feelings. It just got into me.”

Tragedy struck a second time with the accidental death of his only daughter, who succumbed to a drug overdose.

In response to these two heartbreaking losses, Fugate did what he was driven to do — he started walking. Donning a sign that said simply “Love Life,” he launched out on ajourney across the United States, spreading a message of hope and resilience.

“People would see that “Love Life” sign, and if they were hurting I guess they were thinking ‘Hey, this guy must know something about loving life — maybe he can help me.’ ”

But Fugate’s message was resonating with more than just folks who were coping with tragedy. Montclarion Ray Karno heard the NPR broadcast and was immediately taken in.

“I was blown away by Steve’s story and his persona that came through my car stereo. I contacted him and told him I wanted to be a member of whatever team might exist that supports him.” Karno started sending Fugate $25 a month for expenses and then arranged for a meeting in Fugate’s hometown of Vero Beach, Fla.

“Steve told me he really needed to stop walking because he was getting close to 65 and his legs were giving out.” They worked out a deal where Fugate would wrap up his final cross-country walk in Montclair.

“I told him I would throw him a party, help promote his amazing achievement, (which has included saving many lives) help him obtain a van to live in and help him get speaking gigs in the future.” Karno says the world is a better place because of Fugate and he hopes that the public will participate in the final leg of this journey on Saturday.

Fugate and supporters will start walking at 9 a.m. at the Lakeview branch of the Oakland Public Library and continue up Park Boulevard for a noon arrival in Montclair Village.

The public is also invited to a fundraiser for Fugate from 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. Wednesday at the Montclair Bistro. Tickets can be bought at www.stevefugate.eventbrite.com. Fugate’s blog is www.trailtherapy.com.


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