Derick Lugo is a city boy, born and raised.
He will tell you that New York City is his “heart.” He loves its unique energy and personality, its ever-burning lights and limitless spirit. Yet he is also realistic about its costs.
“New York is a place where you come to achieve your dreams,” he said. “But New York makes you do what it wants you to do. It will take up a lot of your time. You are working even when you aren’t ‘working.’ The people around you are always in a rush. It’s a difficult place to make personal connections or find time for introspection.”
Derick was already looking for a change in his life when a friend handed him a copy of Bill Bryson’s novel A Walk in the Woods. He knew nothing about the Appalachian Trail (A.T.) or long distance hiking before reading Bryson’s book. Yet within its pages, Derick heard the call of adventure — something completely new and out of his comfort zone. He read it cover-to-cover, but he still wanted more. It sent him down a new path — literally.
When Derick showed up at Amicalola Falls State Park in 2012 with a 42-pound pack on his back, he was determined to get from Georgia to Maine, even though he admits that the trek to the top of Springer Mountain “nearly nearly did me in.” However, he quickly discovered the generosity of A.T. hikers when a few guys stopped to help him set up camp and stayed to give him a crash course on everything else he needed to know.
“I’m from Brooklyn and people just don’t do that,” he chuckled.
During his months on the Trail, Derick found that experiences like this one were common, with hikers and A.T. community members offering camping and hiking advice and asking if he had enough food or water — anything to make sure that his experience on the A.T. was the best it could be.
“Hikers look out for one another,” he said. “There is an openness between thru-hikers, a natural curiosity about each other and the wilderness around them. Once you meet someone on the Trail, especially a thru hiker, you are instantly friends with them because you are all doing the same thing.”
Hikers look out for one another.
Derick is now back in Hell’s Kitchen working on his writing career — he is currently making final edits to his first book, An Unlikely Thru-Hiker. Before filming with us, he hadn’t been in the backwoods since his thru-hike, but he still considers himself a hiker through-and-through. Thinking back to the sense of community, freedom, and wonder that that the A.T. provided him, he recently devised a new plan to introduce the Trail to another city boy: his brother, Carlos.
“He knows nothing about hiking,” Derick said. “He’s never camped out, he’s never pitched a tent. He’s maybe done a short day hike before. I want to get him out of the city.”
To introduce Carlos to the great outdoors, Derick put together a five-day hiking trip following the Long Path Trail out of New York City, a 50+ mile trip that converges with the Appalachian Trail in Harriman State Park.
“My brother doesn’t show a lot of reactions — he’s a pretty quiet person and usually keeps to himself,” Derick said. “But… I can tell he’s excited because he’ll call me or text me every day about stuff that he thinks he needs, or maybe he went to REI to pick up a couple of things.”
While he can tell Carlos is excited, Derick isn’t entirely sure how his brother will react to being on the Trail for several days in a row.
“I’m curious to see what happens when we finally get out there,” he said. “I definitely know that he’s ready to go, and it’s perfect timing because we both have time this week that we can spare and do this together.”
Derick definitely hopes that his brother will soon share his love for the outdoors. At the very least, he is anxious to recapture the magic of living day-to-day on the Trail.
“I’m looking forward to just being back out in the woods,” he said. “I want that feeling back of being a kid out in the woods, and I know that once I have my pack on and I’m out, it’s going to come back.”
Since filming this video, Derick has introduced six more people to the A.T. and is already planning several introductory hikes throughout the fall and winter.
“So many are curious about the A.T. and want to hike with me,” he said. “I say, ‘Bring it on!'”