JULIAN, Calif. — Two men on solitary quests to cross the U.S. on foot. One was heading east, the other headed west, and on Tuesday they crossed paths by chance in the mountain town of Julian.
“I saw this old guy running practically naked and my jaw dropped,” said Fugate, a Vietnam veteran in his late 60s.
The man in running shorts headed in the opposite direction was Ernest Andrus, a 90-year-old man on his own cross-country trek to Georgia.
“I said, ‘Hi there. Where are you headed?’ and he said ‘West, where are you headed?’” Andrus said.
The two men decided to stop at Grandma’s Kitchen in Julian to warm up and swap stories.
They quickly found that they have much in common. Both are former Navy men. Both are driven by personal loss and hope that traversing the continent will help them heal. Both men have suffered the loss of a child to suicide.
“I want no young person to miss out on loving life like my little boy did at 26 and my little girl did at 36,” Fugate said.
“And I can relate,” Andrus said. “My oldest daughter committed suicide.”
Andrus is also mourning the loss of his wife, who died only a week ago.
“I held her hand and stayed with her about a week as she was in a coma, and then we had a memorial service for her last Thursday,” Andrus said.
Andrus plans to take his time, running several miles a day.
“Running is my best medicine,” he said. “It will take me years to make it to the Atlantic Ocean, and if my calculations are correct I’ll be 94.”
Fugate said he is walking to spread the message that life is precious — something that should never be thrown away.
“You don’t have the right to take your own right. It doesn’t belong just to you. It belongs to your loved ones,” Fugate said.
Fugate’s journey is almost over. Andrus’ journey has just begun. But both men left Granny’s Kitchen believing that they had made a new connection that would last the rest of their lives.