An interview with author and Appalachian Trail hiker, Derick Lugo
Interview by Jeremy Lux, article written by Eric Z. Gasa
Life is sometimes about taking the path less traveled, but author Derick Lugo couldn’t have guessed that his journey would take him through the ruggedness of the Appalachian Trail. There are paths less traveled and then there is literally taking a year-long hike from Georgia to Maine. It sounds a bit crazy but it gets even more hair-brained when you find out that Lugo had never even been hiking before when he took on the endeavor. If there’s one thing you may learn about this guy it’s that he dives into everything headfirst. On the Life in Motion podcast, Derick Lugo chats with Jeremy Lux to discuss life on the trails, his book, and how he got the dazzling nickname of Mr. Fabulous.
So for someone who managed to traverse 2,200 miles on foot, you’d think Lugo would be this macho, outdoorsy person, but in reality he’s a voracious reader from New York with a penchant for cleanliness. But what pushes a Brooklynite to go from the streets of New York to conquering Appalachia?
Growing up in the city, Lugo didn’t have the same childhood experiences of camping, fishing, and hiking. Lugo says that his family grew up pretty poor and didn’t travel a lot. But as he got older he wanted to experience all those things he missed out on.
“We New Yorkers just don’t do those things!” Lugo admits, “The biggest wilderness we do is Central Park, we go to Coney Island. But anything outside of the city, out in the wilderness, I knew nothing about.”
It was this curiosity and feeling of adventure that led Lugo to the mighty trail. When he first told his friends and family, they all understandably thought he was insane and probably thought he would wind up on some missing posters.
“My friends were like, dude, you are the most metro-sexual black man in New York City. What are you going to be doing out there in the wilderness?” he recalls, “I'm like, I don't know, but I'm going to get it done. No one can change my mind. And I'm glad I was stubborn because it ended up working out.”
Armed with a backpack, some advice from random REI employees who sold him the backpack, and a couple YouTube videos, Lugo quite literally took a taxi out to the trail and decided to go from there. Sounds crazy but Lugo always manages to land on his feet.
But if there is anything to be said about Lugo it’s that he seems to be a very serendipitous and existential guy. Sure, he was going to get quite the workout and stunning sights from this year-long trek, but at the core of his journey was something much deeper; the man wanted a story to tell.
The great culmination of this story can be read in his book, The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey, an account that is chock full of lessons, observations, and touching anecdotes from the trail. Though Lugo made countless memories and connections on that trip there is one thing that will always stick with him for the rest of his life; his charming trail name, Mr. Fabulous.
Now for the uninitiated, a trail name is a nickname given to fellow hikers while on long treks. It’s often a great way to break the ice and is a rite of passage for newbies. Lugo admits that at first the trail names he was being given were not exactly hitting that well.
“At first, I didn’t realize that there weren’t a lot of people of color doing this…So I had people trying to call me New York or Brooklyn, or Marley because I have dreadlocks, this one dude was really pushing it,” he explains.
Yeah, so not exactly the most creative suggestions. But Lugo wanted something special. One thing that his fellow hikers noticed about him was his absolute penchant for cleanliness. It’s a year-long trek through the wilderness so there are plenty of weeks without showers, but the constantly groomed and manicured Lugo was not having that.
Lugo would bathe at every stream he came across which set him apart from all the grungy, bearded dudes in the bunch. That’s when one of the hikers decided to christen Lugo, Mr. Fabulous. At first, he wasn’t on board but after a few weeks the moniker grew on him. He says that folks would smile when they heard his trail name and ask for the story behind it which opened up a great conversation.
But there is one interaction that certainly sealed the deal for the Mr. Fabulous handle. While hiking by himself, Lugo came across an elderly woman on the trail.
“This woman must’ve been 150-200-years-old. She’s older than the Appalachian Trail!” Lugo says. Despite being so old the woman certainly had some gusto and asked Lugo for his trail name. “I answer ‘Ma’am, it’s Mr. Fabulous,’” he says. “And without missing a beat, she goes, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve been waiting for Mr. Fabulous my entire life!’ She reaches out, gives me a kiss on the cheek, and then storms off with a little more pep in her step!”
Lugo’s stories are the kind of wholesome tales that restores your faith in humanity. Just strangers sharing a fleeting moment on not only the hiking trail, but the metaphorical path that is life’s journey. Without giving the book away, Lugo’s impromptu trip through the Appalachians enriched his life in so many ways. And to think, if he had just given in to people’s qualms or even his own self-doubts he wouldn’t have these memories to cherish; hell, there wouldn’t even be a book!
It’s with this sentiment that Lugo crafts the crux of his message; just get out there and be free. Take risks, make mistakes, but don’t make excuses. Life is meant for living, not for being fearful. Or as Lugo puts it, “Give me an excuse and I have an answer for you.”
There was possibly no way to fit Derick Lugo’s full story into one article but you can find his book The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey on his website www.dericklugo.com. To follow Derick’s journey, check out his socials on Instagram and Facebook. And of course, to hear more about Derick’s Appalachian trek, hiking tips, and a touching story about his trail dog, Magic, be sure to catch his full interview on the Life in Motion podcast on Apple Podcasts and Spotify with Jeremy Lux.