January 31, 2015

On walk through Chesterfield, man reminds people to ‘love life’

By Bill Gnade Sentinel Staff

Having begun his walk through the lower 48 states on March 23, 2013, Steven Leroy Fugate, of Vero Beach, Fla., made his way west on Route 9 in Chesterfield Thursday afternoon. He said he has walked in all of the states before but has not connected them in one journey.

So far he has made it through 37 states; his goal at this point is Kittery, Maine, where, he said, he will take a picture of the Welcome to Maine sign, turn around, and head in his favorite direction — south, where it’s warm.

The sign, “Love Life,” is a “suggestion,” he said, and is a message born out of profound pain.

In 1999, while Fugate was hiking the Appalachian Trail, his 26-year-old son, who was in Florida running the family business, took his own life just when Fugate reached the trail’s halfway point.

Having left the trail in the wake of such loss, Fugate said he returned to the trail eight months later and completed the trek in his son’s name. But during that second stage, while staying in the Hexacuba Shelter in Grafton, Fugate had an epiphany: he would hike to remind people to love life.

“I decided I didn’t want any other parent to go through the absolute horror I was in. And so I came up with this ‘Love Life’ sign,” he said.

Fugate added that his daughter, who had helped him organize his first Love Life treks, also passed away.

“I have lost both my babies,” he said.

Though Fugate pulls a wagon containing his camping gear, he said he would be looking for a hotel room in Keene, where he expected to remain a few days to wait out the cold weather.