I’ve hiked the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain in North Georgia to Mt. Katahdin in Maine. A distance of 2,167.3 miles when I did it. I started March 28, 1999, on a thru-hike. And a little over halfway, on July 17, after I was finally located, I was told my handsome 26 year-old son had taken his own life two days before, on the 15th of July. Eight months later I went back on the “AT” and finished on July 15, 2000, exactly one year after my son’s death.
While out there finishing the “AT” screaming and crying most of the way, something happened to me. Somewhere along the way, I realized I did not want any other parent to suffer the horror of horrors I was facing. In seeking relief from my intense pain of losing both my beautiful son, I took to the road walking with a message over my head, “LOVE LIFE.” Giving a message of Love and Life, helped to heal me as well as some others. I began calling my endeavors, Trail Therapy, for, like all trails, it was going both ways.
In 2001, I walked the American Discovery Trail from Point Reyes National Seashore on the Pacific Ocean in California to Cape Henlopen State Park at the Atlantic Ocean in Delaware, 4,858 miles.
March 8, 2003, I left from the northern edge of the Everglades, Big Cypress Swamp, near the Miccosukee Indian Reservation in Florida to walk around the United States. I walked back to the exact spot where I started from in Florida. However, about four weeks before finishing, I received word I had lost my only other child, my beautiful little girl, my angel, to an accidental drug overdose at age 36. I went back out and finished my walk around the United States, just as my little girl who was helping orchestrate my walk, would have wanted. I finished on March 25, 2005 and covered 9,752 miles.
I hiked 314 miles of the Appalachian Trail from Springer Mountain to Irwin, Tennessee in spring of 2006. Also in 2006, I walked from Blairsville, Georgia to Cincinnati, Ohio, to help with my Alzheimer’s stricken mother. On March 23, 2007, I left Cincinnati and walked to Surry, Maine and then to Yuma, Arizona. From Yuma, I walked to Four Corners, California and then to Blaine, Washington. From Blaine, I walked to Key West, Florida, a distance of approximately, 10,348 miles, finishing in December, 2009. I called this corner to corner walk of the United States, my “Shelly Walk” in honor of my daughter.
In 2011, I walked from Vero Beach, FL, to Surry, Maine, and then to Cincinnati for a couple weeks to see my mother for the last time, and then on to Oakland, California, 5,317 miles. I called this walk, my Joel Kody Walk, in honor of a young man who lost his battle with depression and took his own Life.
On March, 23, 2013, I left Vero Beach, FL to walk into all the lower 48 states in one continuous walk. I called this 10,492 mile walk, my “Zigzag Walk.” I completed on June 20, 2015.
I have worn out 50 pair of shoes covering approximately 43,148 miles crossing the United States eight times. With the exception of my first hike of the Appalachian Trail, I carried over my head a large sign, “LOVE LIFE”
At 14 years-old, I lost my twin sister to a rare kidney disease. I lost both my children, enduring twice, pain which I can only call, the horror of horrors. I walked across the United States alone, eight times. In spite of the fact, after a motorcycle wreck in 1969, I had to have my right foot reattached and was told I would never be able to do anything extremely physical with that leg. I’ve been forced to fast many times, having come to realize that one can make good of nearly any situation, I simply told myself I was fasting intentionally, instead of feeling hunger unintentionally, when I had no money to purchase food, or, there was just no food available. I once deliberately fasted for 34 days. I have never asked for anything other than water. Later in my walks, I would ask to charge my electronics. In Utah, I was once followed by a mountain lion, for several minutes. Horrifying! I’ve walked in 112 degrees. I’ve tented in -12 degrees. I’ve suffered serious dehydration three times. Twice, I’ve had individuals deliberately try to hit me with their cars. Numerous times, I’ve had to jump out of the way of oncoming vehicles whose drivers were on cell phones, and never saw me. The wind has blown me into oncoming traffic at least twice, and once while trying to put away my tent, the wind caught it and lifted me to my tiptoes, nearly dragging me off a cliff. In Georgia, I was hospitalized seven days for a staph infection. I’ve had things thrown at me from passing cars; in West Virginia, I was hit right between the eyes with an empty Copenhagen can, an experienced squirrel hunter, no doubt. As near as I can figure, I’ve nearly lost my Life, at least thirty times during my walks. None of those times was as horrifying as the deaths of my two babies. I also estimate, during my time accumulating over 43,000 miles and eight crossings on foot over a period of 16 years, I have spent most of the 16 years in complete solitude. During which, I found my own innate unique individuality, and learned to depend on only me, and to think outside the box. I learned to be just me. And I truly Love being me and I truly do Love Life.
What I Have Found:
Life became my mentor in my solitude walking America, following the death of my beautiful son, Stephen (Stevie) Lee Fugate and my beautiful daughter, Michelle (Shelly) Lynn Fugate Morgan. Life can teach us all we need to know to survive our particular environment, our particular circumstances if we allow it to do so. I am ever learning, to Love Life.
The pain of losing both my children is the horror of horrors. I cope now because of seeing that my constant grief kept me from loving life. My children loved their daddy with all their hearts. They would never want to see me unhappy even a moment. I owe it to my children to love life with all my heart. I must be respectful to their memory, get my eyes off me, off my pain, and give them what they would want, my peace within.
Had I allowed constant grieving to persist in my life after the deaths of both my children, I would either no longer be on this earth or I would have gone completely insane. Such pain will never go away, and can easily control us if we do not learn to convert the energy of our emotions to go outward instead of inward. The single hardest thing I’ve ever had to do in my life other than bury my babies, was to convert my heart wrenching pain into a positive energy directed at others and away from myself. The world is changed each time one of us gets our eyes off ourselves and allow our real purpose in life, love and concern for our fellow human being, to come forward.
During those 16 years walking America, most of it was spent in complete solitude. I had to face me and learn about me. I learned I was not the good person I thought I was. I learned there is a power outside of me. I learned that, because we are born individually and not created collectively, that Life does not, and cannot, do group therapy, it is strictly one on one. We are all too uniquely different one from the other for Life to conduct group therapy. Lessons which stay with us, hit us individually, usually, in our hearts or our pocketbooks. I learned that enlightenment was simply finding my own unique innate individuality. The one I was individually created to be, and had to discover, individually. I made the most profound discovery I’ll make in my lifetime, my own innate unique individuality. My true individuality, not the one I once thought to be real, the one created by my onetime adherence to our modern man-made society. The one in which I followed modern society’s herd mentality with all its diversions of man-made religions, politics, creeds, parties and doctrines, created by someone other than myself, somewhere in time, instead of following my own heart.
I was not only walking America’s highways, I was walking toward the center of myself. And walking toward personal freedom. Such freedom comes with inner peace. There is but one person in my life I am able to change, me. It is a difficult task indeed, to find fault not in others, but in myself. In solitude while dealing with the pain of losing my babies, I found something. Something I cannot teach anyone else to find, it came from inside me, an inside job. That something is peace of mind. I sometimes falter momentarily, but I continue moving toward an inner peace. The strength I have found there is unequaled to any other sense of contentment I have ever known.