Meet The Unlikely Thru-Hiker

Photo: Derick Lugo

Derick Lugo discusses his journey to long-distance hiking and his work educating others about the power of outdoor adventures.

Known on the trail as Mr. Fabulous, Derick Lugo is a Black New Yorker who, on a whim, had a cab driver drop him off at the beginning of what would be a 2,200-mile hike along the entire Appalachian Trail in 2012—with no previous camping or hiking experience. Recounting the transformational experience in his 2019 book The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey, he’s a storyteller at heart, as well as a sought-after keynote speaker, adventurer, and host of the Unlikely Stories Podcast. He now inspires others to have their own unlikely adventures in the great outdoors, helping them break stigmas, throw caution to the wind, and pursue their own bucket lists—even if they think they don’t know enough, won’t fit in and aren’t sure where to start.  

And he’s far from finished. This summer, Lugo was right back at it, thru-hiking the Continental Divide Trail through New Mexico, Colorado, Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, completing the journey at the end of September 2022, with plans to write another book on that adventure. Public Lands caught up with Lugo this fall—after he peeled all the Dr. Scholl’s pads off his blisters—for his take on getting outside and motivating others to do the same. 

PUBLIC LANDS: Why is getting outside and pursuing adventures like this so important? 
DERICK LUGO: When I pursue all my adventures, it’s always about educating others about the greatness of the outdoors. People will gain knowledge on how to do similar adventures of their own and see how much it can benefit and improve their lives. 

What all did you learn from your two trips?

I learned that with perseverance and an optimistic attitude, I can reach my goals, the big ones, and even the smaller ones along the way. I also learned that I adore the outdoors, that the outdoor community is amazing, and that the word ‘love’ is easier to say when you are out in nature. 

What do you think are the biggest barriers preventing people from pursuing such goals?

Probably the lack of outdoor knowledge, which they can overcome, as well as finances and the lore that ‘bad things can happen in the woods.’ 

Were you nervous when you first set out?

Not really. On such a long-distance adventure, I somehow knew that I was doing something that would enrich my mind, body, and soul.

Why are our public lands so important?

The outdoors is a healing place. I say this from experience; whenever I go for a hike, after a period away I feel something positive coursing through me; there’s a shift in my attitude, and how I approach my busy day. All is good. 

Were you more prepared for the Continental Divide Trail than you were the Appalachian Trail?

Yes. I was an experienced thru-hiker. But it’s hard to truly prepare for such an endeavor. Only the act of starting the long journey can help develop the skill and body strength to get you through the trail. 

How do those two trails compare?

They’re both long and hard. But they also both have an amazing outdoor community. There are trail angels everywhere on both of them to help you along the way. 

What are you doing to help people get outside?

I educate others about the outdoors with my stories, either in person or virtually. I’m also a keynote speaker at outdoor events; I visit schools and libraries with stories of my thru-hikes. I’m also the host of the Unlikely Stories Podcast, where I feature stories of individuals achieving greatness in the outdoors, stories that may not have been heard before or need to be shared over and over again. 

What’s next?

I’m currently writing a second memoir, this one about my Continental Divide Trail thru-hike. A children’s picture book is also in the works. I continue traveling the country sharing my love of the outdoors. In 2023, I have plans to thru-hike the Long Trail in Vermont. 

— Follow Lugo’s adventures at

All articles are for general informational purposes.  Each individual’s needs, preferences, goals and abilities may vary.  Be sure to obtain all appropriate training, expert supervision and/or medical advice before engaging in strenuous or potentially hazardous activity.