VAN BUREN — The sun was just creeping over the hills of St. Leonard, New Brunswick, located across the St. John River from Van Buren, when Paul Fuller took his first steps Thursday morning across the international border.
Fuller was starting a 395-mile walk from Canada to Kittery to raise awareness for Maine’s Feb. 10 citizen referendum on gay rights. Voters will be asked to block the implementation of the 1997 law banning discrimination based on sexual orientation.
It was 8 below zero at 7 a.m. Thursday at Van Buren, and a brisk wind whipped the wind chill factor to 30 below zero.
Fuller and his six-man entourage were up early at Van Buren putting a wooden platform atop a van covered with posters urging Maine voters to vote no on Feb. 10. His fund-raising walk is being done in support of Maine Won’t Discriminate.
“I figured it would be at least this cold,” said Fuller, standing near the Van Buren Port of Entry just before starting on his walk. “I am used to cold-weather hiking, and I am fully prepared. I have the experience to do this or I would not have started.”
Fuller was scheduled to walk to Caribou on Thursday, through Presque Isle on Friday and be at Bass Park in Bangor at 4 p.m. on Jan. 24. He expected his walk across the state will take 20 days.
Fuller was wearing insulated walking boots and pants, a loose jacket over insulated underwear, gray knitted mittens, a Polartec face shield and a gray-knitted bonnet.
“I’m doing this as a challenge for freedom for everyone in Maine,” said the hiker. “Maine is the last New England state to discriminate against gay citizens. It’s very important to raise the awareness of people across the state and to have them vote no on Feb. 10.”
Fuller, who lives in Waldoboro, is a sixth-generation Maine native who has hiked more than 10,000 miles. He has walked both the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail in the western United States to raise $25,000 for Maine-based AIDS service organizations.
“I am not very proud that not everyone in Maine has the same rights,” he said. “There are a lot of people helping me out on this.”
For more information on Fuller, call “The Friends of `From Canada to Kittery: A Step in the Right Direction,’ ” at 273-3989.