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Life-loving hiker caps trek in Oakland

Steve Fugate was hiking the Appalachian trail in 1999 when he received a phone call that would send him on a 12-year spiritual tour across the United States.

His only son had committed suicide by placing a gun in his mouth and, as Fugate described it, ended both men’s lives.

What was a grieving father to do? He hit the road as Forrest Gump did, and embarked on a walk that he calls “trail therapy.”

The Florida native, who has walked more than 30,000 miles, ended his journey yesterday afternoon in Oakland’s Montclair Village.

The 65-year-old has trekked the lower 48 states and crossed the country six times, with little more on his back than a two-sided white sign with red, bold letters that spell “Love Life.”

Fugate, who lost his daughter to an accidental drug overdose in 2005, hoped his message would help remind others who had also befallen tragedy to push on and embrace life.

“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,'” Fugate told the Merc.

Fugate’s harrowing adventure has caught the attention of many, including documentary filmmaker Erin Henning and Larry Massett of NPR’s Hearing Voices podcast series.

Yesterday morning, friends and supporters met Fugate at the Lakeview branch of the Oakland Public Library and walked with him to Montclair Village for the last 3.6 miles of his trip. Walking has become difficult for him with age, wrote Fugate on his blog, so he will continue his travels from the cushy seat of a van and spread his message through public appearances.

To help Fugate raise the funds for a van, a public benefit will be held at Montclair Bistro on Wednesday from 6:30-9:30 p.m. Buy tickets or make donations here.

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