Book 7 of 52: The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey by Derick Lugo

Around the holidays, with COVID exacerbating already elevated levels of stress, I started reading about hiking the Appalachian Trail, a 2,198-mile foot path from Georgia to Maine. About 750 people hike the entire length every year, according to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, out of around 3,000 who attempt it.

I’d read two books about it already: the classic A Walk in the Woods by Bill Bryson (twice), and Called Again by Jennifer Pharr-Davis, about an attempt to set a record in how long (or short) it takes a person to complete the whole thing. I didn’t want to revisit those books. Instead, I fell into a Reddit group about it, and found a discussion of books about regular folks who became thru-hikers.

First up: The Unlikely Thru-Hiker: An Appalachian Trail Journey by Derick Lugo.

By “regular” I mean people who aren’t top flight athletes like Pharr-Davis, or already well known writers, like Bryson. Lugo is a runner from Brooklyn who decided to give it a go in 2012, almost on a whim, despite having never hiked or camped before. The book is a spiffed up version of his trail blog/diary, where he shares his worries and qualms, his successes and flubs, and the friendships he made with both other fellow hikers, and those who provided “trail magic” by providing things like rides into town or water or just food along the way.

It’s also a different point of view than both Bryson and Pharr-Davis because Lugo is Afro-Puerto Rican, and believes he was the only Black hiker that year (I only say it that way because I couldn’t confirm it on my own). Diversity stats haven’t gotten much better since. In 2022, 93% of thru-hikers were white, according to The Trek’s annual Thru-Hiker survey. Only 3% were multi-racial, 1% Hispanic/Latin0/Latina and 1% Black or African American. At one point, someone asked Lugo if they could touch his dreadlocks. White people, I am begging you: don’t do that.

Anyway, I loved this, and was sad when the journey ended, even if I was just reading instead of hiking along. I’ve hiked parts of the Appalachian Trail in my travels, but never really thought I could do the whole thing. Maybe, if stars (and finances) align, I could do this in a few years. But I also keep reading books about Italy and saying I’m going to Italy and I haven’t been back to Italy yet (though, to be fair, some of that is COVID-concern related).

Even if I don’t do the entire thing in one year, it’s fun to think about it. And if I do? Lugo’s book gives me a bit more confidence that I can.

Nail polish: Viva Antigua! by Essie.

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Jen Miller

Jen Miller

Jen A. Miller is a an author and freelance writer. Her memoir, Running a Love Story, was a Philadelphia Inquirer best book of the year. Her work has appeared in the New York Times, Washington Post, SELF, Buzzfeed and the Guardian, among others.

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