The Unlikely Thru-Hiker

An Appalachian Trail Journey by Derick Lugo

Published by AMC Books, 2020

Review by Kathy Kelly-Borowski

Since finishing the Appalachian Trail in 1989, I have read many books on Appalachian Trail hikes. Just some of them include Walking with Spring, Grandma Gatewood’s Walk, A Walk for Sunshine, A Walk in the Woods, Just Passin’ Thru, AWOL on the Appalachian Trail and The Barefoot Sisters Southbound.

It would be no surprise to anyone that I would pick up The Unlikely Thru-Hiker, especially because of its epic cover.

This is the story of Derick’s thru-hike in 2012. What makes Derick an unlikely thru-hiker? Derick is of Puerto Rican and African American heritage, placing him in a distinct minority among thru-hikers. He grew up in New York City, never camping or taking a hike before stepping on the AT.

On March 19, Derick started the Amicalola approach trail, a strenuous 7.8 miles to Springer Mountain, the Southern terminus of the AT. (When I started my AT hike I opted to start at the Springer Mountain parking area and walked one mile south to the trailhead to avoid the approach trail.)

A few days into the hike, Derick is given his trail name ”Mr. Fabulous” because on the trail, as at home, he liked “to stay groomed, fresh and well dressed”.

Mr. Fabulous was the 438th hiker to start the season. He was given the number 438 by the ranger at Katahdin Steam Campground six months later signifying the 438th hiker to finish the trail that season on September 17.

He started his day by touching a white blaze, “showing gratitude and respect for the markers that guided” him through the wilderness.

Mr. Fabulous was true to his thru-hike by hiking every mile of the trail with his backpack and hiking poles. Most hikers including me leave their backpack and poles at the ranger station before the last 5.2 miles to the northern terminus of the trail.

“Free food and showers is definitely the way to a thru-hiker’s heart” is what Derick says about the hiker feed given by the First Baptist Church in Damascus, VA. How true is this statement?

While hiking in PA, Derick gets a text message from his hiking partner for the day, “Can you drown in rocks? Because there is an ocean of them before me!”

Can anyone relate to this? Mr. Fabulous received advice from a guy he meets attending Trail Days in Damascus; “Be kind to all, don’t take your friends for granted, and be memorable.” This is great advice for all of us especially during the current lock down.

This book is well written and entertaining. I had a hard time putting it down. It is a series of short trail stories instead of covering every state he walked through.

Derick remained positive during his trek north. He signed the shelter journals with the phrase “Peace, Love & All That Good Stuff.”

The question the book left me with: Did Mr. Fabulous ever see a moose?

Kathy Kelly-Borowski has led DV Chapter trips for more than three decades. She thru-hiked the AT in 1989. You can read more of her reviews and many other book reviews at

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