Man Who Traveled 48,000 Miles Across America Stops In Lake Wales
by James Coulter
He has walked 500 miles, and he has walked 500 more, just to be the man who walked a thousand miles to fall down at your door. Actually, Steve Fugate has walked more than 43,000 miles, traveling on foot across the continental United States eight times.
With his cart and personal possessions in tow, and a portable shade sitting atop his head, Fugate traverses down the highway from sunrise until sunset during his journeys. His travels recently took him through Lake Wales, where he stopped to celebrate his 74th birthday with a dinner at the Crooked Bass.
Having ventured from off of US Highway 27, he stayed the evening at Prince of Wales Hotel. Staying in a hotel is a treat for him. Oftentimes he sleeps outside in a tent.
Through rain and snow, through sleet and hail, Fugate has strived through good weather and bad. The shade he wears on his head protects him from the heat of the overbearing sun, while a light raincoat protects him from the rain and cold.
He has survived both extremes of the outdoor elements. He has been dehydrated while traveling through the desert, soaked while traveling through three days of heavy rain, and covered head-to-toe in ice while traveling through Tulsa during one of the worst snowstorms.
“I cannot afford to sit still,” he said. “I have to walk through hail and storms you wouldn’t believe…[Even then], I keep walking. If I can find shelter, I take shelter.”
The small portable cooler in the cart he tows helps keep him hydrated. Every day he fills it with 12 pounds of ice and cold water, and takes several sips as he marches down the road.
“It is like getting an air conditioning from the inside,” Fugate said. “When you suck on that thing for seven or eight gulps, it last for 15 minutes and cools you down. It is incredible what ice water can do.”
Often, he relies on the charity of strangers. While heading to Lake Wales, he was stopped by a man riding from out of the orange groves in an ATV who gave him a $20.
“He said I don’t know where you are going, but I want to be a part of it,” he said.
Overall, what keeps him trekking is the sign on his head: “Love Life.” He travels across the country to help other people gain appreciation for their lives so they can love it as much as he does.
Fugate’s happy travels began with an unhappy start. In 1999, his son, Steve, committed suicide. Fugate was hiking the Appalachian Trail when he learned the sad news. His son had been looking after their business in Vero Beach while he was away in Appalachia.
Tragedy once again struck his life when his daughter, Shelly, was diagnosed with Multiple sclerosis. She later passed away from what the doctors claimed was an accidental overdose, Fugate said.
Having lost both his children, Fugate resolved to inspire other people to love life and live it to its fullest. He felt the best way to accomplish his goal was to travel across America and enjoy its scenic beauty. Traversing such great landscapes and meeting even greater people would not only allow him to enjoy everything life had to offer, but hopefully inspire others to do the same.
“I realized I didn’t want any other young person to do what my son did,” he explained. “I didn’t want another parent to go through that horror I was going through. And so I came up with this idea. If you love life, that is the opposite end of the spectrum to where you will take your own life.”
Since then, Fugate has walked across the United States eight times, traveling approximately 46,000 miles. He has worn out more than 50 pairs of shoes, but the shade over his head and the cold water siphoned from his cooler keep him marching forward. His biggest inspiration, of course, will always be the memories of his two children.
“I call what I do trail therapy,” he said. “I am trying to make my children proud of their daddy. That is the way I look at it…There have been many testimonies of people who did not take their life [because of me], there are many people who lost their child and [my story] helped them.”
Aside from Florida, his favorite state to travel through is Maine. And of the sights he has seen, some of his favorites include Bent’s Old Fort along the Santa Fe Trail and the Catskill Mountain along New Jersey, which he considers to be the most beautiful mountain ranges aside from the Smokies.
During one trip, he walked to the point where he was 27 miles away from the Grand Canyon. Though he had the opportunity to see one of the Southwest’s greatest natural wonders, he decided to forgo the experience, as it would have been a 54-mile round trip.
While walking from coast to coast would allow anyone the opportunity to see the country’s many sights, Fugate doesn’t travel for the mere sake of tourism. To him, the greatest sights this country has to offer isn’t its natural landscapes or its towering monuments: it’s the many people he gets to meet along the way.
“The sights are the people,” he explained. “I am not on tour. The beauty is when I get to talk to someone and they are having a problem and I can help them. I have a knack for it.”
His journey has caught the attention of many other media outlets such as CNN, the New York Times, and even the Weather Channel. He has detailed his adventures in his own book “Love Life”, available on Amazon. During his travels, he has stopped at many places to speak. He even had the opportunity to address the troops in Alaska.
Fugate hopes to continue traveling for as long as his feet can carry them. Even when he is finally long gone, he hopes that his story can serve as an inspiration for people to “love life” and live every day to the fullest. For him, that love of life comes one step at a time.
“I want everyone to love life,” he said. “I am trying to get people to not be afraid. When you are afraid, it causes you to be angry and generates hatred, and there is so much going on right now it is so opposite of love life, and that is what I am trying to get across.”
To learn more about Steve Fugate and his travels, visit his Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/LoveLifeWalk/