Unlikely Thru-Hiker

04 Apr 2024

Following the Footsteps of “Mr. Fabulous”


Moving from novice to natural, Derick Lugo discovered a passion for outdoor adventuring that would eventually transform his savvy New York swag into experienced thru-hiking confidence. Completing the 14-state Appalachian Trail (AT) in 2012 quickly launched Lugo into a world of bear cables, backpacks, and blazes. Now, with a presence as an outdoor influencer, Lugo hopes to educate and inspire others with his motto of “Peace, love & all that good stuff!”

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, approximately 3,000 people attempt a thru-hike of the AT each year, but only about 25% reach completion. Additionally, annual surveys report that more than 90% of AT thru-hikers identify as white. How then did Derick, a Black Hispanic more at home navigating the city subway than following trail blazes, complete the longest hiking-only footpath in the world? Lugo’s 2019 memoir The Unlikely Thru-Hiker chronicles his journey from Derick to “Mr. Fabulous,” establishing his identity as an author and athlete.  From the beginning chapters, readers understand Derick’s willingness to learn from and accept what is to come supersedes his inexperience. Lugo admits he was determined to remain optimistic despite his lack of expertise, “I had so much going against me, so the one thing I knew I had to be was positive.”  He approached each morning focused on his goal, “Katahdin, nothing less.”

As someone who lived in the vibrant diversity of New York City, Derick was unprepared for the surprise and delight his dreadlocks would initiate on the trail. “The realization that I may be somewhat of an anomaly on the Appalachian Trail gives me much to ponder.  Moreover, it sparks in me a strong desire to share my experience with those who have never heard of this long-distance trek.  If more individuals like me, the backcountry-challenged and the urbanites, were aware of this astonishing trail, then perhaps there would be more outdoorsy types of all colors–and fewer unlikely thru-hikers.” (The Unlikely Thru-Hiker). From hosting his 2021 Unlikely Stories Podcast to his most recent accomplishment of the Continental Divide Trail (CDT) in 2022, this time as a sponsored athlete, Derick continues to inspire other “unlikely” adventurers.  In the ten-year gap between his two long-distance treks, Derick shares that his presence as a person of color was still an exception.

With this in mind, Derick concentrates his attention on finalizing his recent children’s book and his second memoir with the working title The Good, Bad, & the Fab: A Continental Divide Trail Journey. Although both projects demonstrate Derick’s enthusiasm for the outdoors, the children’s book reflects the heart of a younger Derick through the eyes of “Dex” a kid growing up in Harlem.  Since Derick plans for “Dex” to grow along with his audience, fans can expect a multitude of adventures in what Derick hopes will be a popular book series.  As for his latest memoir, Derick reveals that “Fab” was a natural transition from his original trail name.  Thru-hiking camaraderie begs the question, “What’s the meaning of your trail name?” Lugo’s reply speaks purely to his well-known wit, “It’s short for ‘Mr. Fabulous,’ but we don’t need to be formal out here.” So, what do “The Good” and the “Bad” represent?  Did Derick, the AT adventurer, lose his trademark optimism while traversing the Rockies on the CDT?

Even on the Appalachian Trail, Lugo admits there were days he struggled to smile through the harsh weather and terrain.  Whether it was the unexpected snow in the Smokies, the unrelenting rocks in Pennsylvania, or the uncomfortable drenching rain, Derick never denied the intensity of the journey.  He simply decided to accept it: “The most essential tool I have is acceptance.  Rain will be part of my thru-hike, no matter what.  I will have to trek through areas that may have significant snowfall early in spring and endure thunderstorms that can hit with little warning. This journey will go better if I don’t dread and curse the things I cannot control.” (The Unlikely Thru-Hiker).

Derick carries this lesson with him as he prepares for his next adventures.  First, he is planning a “redemption” hike of Vermont’s almost 300-mile Long Trail this coming September. Derick had attempted an earlier hike along the trail but had to abandon it due to illness.  In the months before he begins The Long Trail, Derick will split his time between putting the final touches on his manuscript, hiking along nearby trails, and traveling for speaking engagements.  He has a new appreciation for “protecting your peace at all costs” as he avoids outside distractions that threaten to suffocate his artistic creativity.  Derick strives to build connections and relationships more than accumulate things, understanding that it is the people he meets who provide the “stories behind” his adventures.

Once Derick returns from hiking The Long Trail, he will set his sights on earning his status as a “Triple-Crown Thru-Hiker.” This distinction is for hikers who have completed the Appalachian Trail, The Continental Divide Trail, and The Pacific Crest Trail (PCT). With more than 100 mountain passes and a significant portion of the trail classified as wilderness, the PCT usually takes about five months of dedicated hiking to complete.  Undoubtedly, Derick will meet those challenges with his signature mantra, “Peace, love, & all that good stuff!” Lugo plans to tackle the PCT in the Spring of 2025, and fans can once again expect him to bring us along in a third memoir soon after. In the meantime, you can purchase Derick’s first memoir The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey at all major bookstores.  For a signed copy, as well as a list of Lugo’s upcoming events, visit www.dericklugo.com.

Prev Post America’s Most Beautiful Drive
Next Post Raise a Glass to the Plateau
Mountainworks Custom Homes