Tyler Lau is the first person of color to thru-hike three major U.S. trails in less than a year. He completed the Appalachian, Pacific Crest, and Continental Divide trails—known as the Triple Crown—in fewer than 365 days.
Only nine other people on record have traversed the 7,900 miles in one calendar year. The Prodigy (inspired by Lau’s trail name) chronicles this remarkable accomplishment. Created by filmmaker Lewis Rapkin, it shows the mental and physical strength required for such a journey.
“The most challenging part was the mental aspect of hiking alone in inclement and less than ideal weather for much of the Appalachian Trail,” Lau says. “Long trails are a physical challenge, absolutely, but people who’ve never hiked one need to be mentally prepared for challenging stretches.”
Those challenging moments reminded Lau why he started the hike—and that’s what inspired him to keep going.
“It wasn’t just about me,” Lau explains. “I made a choice to support more diversity in the outdoors and to help my cousin. So when I thought about how fortunate I was to be out there to live in the outdoors, to breathe in the outdoors, to walk in the outdoors, it brought it back to reality, and I knew I couldn’t stop.”
Lau’s connection to conservation goes back nearly a decade. He served as an SCA corps member in New Hampshire and was a long-time field leader. “Growing up in California, I always had a passion for the outdoors,” Lau says. “From the first day I joined SCA, I knew many new adventures were ahead.”
His favorite moment with SCA over the years was his last day teaching environmental education to 4th graders. “At the end it was so great to see their excitement and enthusiasm for the environment,” Lau says.
A signed card from every student and teacher made the moment even more touching. “It means a lot to be able to help Inspire the next generation of conservation leaders. We are all stewards of this planet and it’s up to us to continue to be and help others find their calling.”
Now, he’s using his passion for the outdoors to raise awareness for diversity. “One thing that has always struck me is the lack of diversity in a lot of the jobs and fields I’ve had the pleasure of working in,” Lau says. “I want to help change that image and the status quo.” Each step of his Triple Crown adventure raised money for local organizations in Missoula and raised awareness for diversity in the outdoors.
As for those who want to advance diversity in the outdoors? Lau has this advice: “Do not be afraid! There are a lot of obstacles and challenges ahead. Go out find organizations that have missions that align with your goals. Work with them, volunteer, and help anyway you can.”
“The first step is the scariest and I want to encourage people to take it. It’s alright to be afraid, but don’t let it consume you. We have a lot of work to do to make the outdoors more inclusive, more diverse, and more accepting. It’s up to us to take that first step together.”
There’s no telling where Tyler Lau’s next steps might lead the world. You can follow Lau’s adventures on Instagram at @hikingprodigy.
Looking to jumpstart your career? Browse SCA internships at national parks, forests, and other protected lands across the country.