Appalachian Trail thru hiker Daniel White grew up in the Shiloh community of Asheville and now lives in Charlotte. Last year, he set off hiking the AT to gain a new perspective on life. Unlike many who make the trek, Daniel started his journey without any backpacking experience. Now he’s become an ambassador for outdoor recreation.
“I hadn’t slept in a tent until three days before I started,” he says. “Growing up in Asheville, the trail was there all the time, but nobody introduced me to it. Once I got started, it was a learning experience. I was only planning to hike for a couple months, but then I really got into it and didn’t want to stop.”
Daniel hopes to use his own experiences to encourage others to get outdoors and enjoy nature.
Hiking the Appalachian Trail
Chronicling the journey via his YouTube channel, The Blackalachian (the trail nickname Daniel chose for himself) hiked the entire 2,200 mile path of the Appalachian National Scenic Trail, from Springer Mountain, GA to Mt. Katahdin, ME. His viewers, from all over the nation and world, galvanized him to keep trekking. Now, he’d like to share that inspiration. This summer, Daniel returned to his hometown to share stories about his journey and hopefully inspire others to try something new — whether fishing, hiking, camping, biking, or maybe woodwork.
“We have to show kids that it’s okay to step outside the box, to be different and not get sucked into the group think,” he says. “There is so much outdoors that inspires creativity! Social media is a great tool, but it’s being misused – it’s becoming a way of living. We have to look for any way we can take kids outdoors to ignite and excite them. I learned to love reading from comic books; you just have to start somewhere.”
“The point is to get them to just enjoy what they are doing and have fun,” he says. “I didn’t see myself as being a role model, but I do have a unique story to tell. When I was growing up, I remember activities that we did at the community centers, and those memories have stuck with me till this day.”
Reflecting on challenges faced along the trail, Daniel says wildlife was one of the main concerns for his family members.
“There are bears, snakes, etc,” he says, “but I don’t think it’s any more dangerous than walking out of your door every day. I think you’re more likely to get hit by a car. With people, you run into some of the same things you face anywhere — sexism, racism, microaggressions — but I wouldn’t let that stop me. Getting started can really be a challenge — having enough money for the gear and being able to take off work for 6 months — or running out of funds on the trail. And then there’s the physical terrain. No matter how good a shape you’re in to start, hiking the mountains and being on the trail day after day really toughens you.”
“But there are lots of rewards, too,” he adds. “The peace, that’s the most important part. It’s so peaceful. And you meet a lot of people on the trail that help each other out. Those unwarranted acts of kindness really restore your faith in humanity. On TV you just see division, division, division — but when you get out on the trail and see people showing you love, that’s a real faith restorer. The experience opens you up, lets you meet people from all walks of life, make connections, and keep in touch. Completing something like this, you build momentum for yourself.”
Daniel feels it’s important to open discussions about access to trails and outdoor recreation.
“It was a great hike and experience, but sometimes I felt like a novelty,” he shares. “We really need more diversity out here. I only counted one other black hiker when I was on the trail, and in general it seems there are more black women hikers than men. I think we should have more conversations about why. I have a theory – I think it goes back to slavery and stories passed down through the generations, about people who went into the woods and didn’t come back. I think it’s a safety issue, a survival mechanism, and I wonder what other people think.”
This summer SAHC, the Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville invited Daniel to visit the Asheville area to connect with youth and community groups this summer, to promote outdoor recreation and share his AT hiking experience. Over the course of three days in July, he met and hiked with a variety of summer camps, organizations, and Everybody’s Environment partners. Almost 100 people attended his public speaking engagement at the Arthur R. Edington Education and Career Center.
Daniel’s visits culminated with a group hike along the Snowball Mountain Trail, overlooking public lands and SAHC conservation properties in the Black and Craggy Mountains. The hike was joined by interns and partners from Asheville Greenworks’ YELP program, the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Conserving Carolina, and Pathways to Parks.
As part of his visit, Daniel also met with local outdoor gear specialists, preparing for his next big adventure — cycling the 2,000-mile route of the Underground Railroad from Alabama to Canada.
We are extremely grateful to REI for donating the bike which Daniel is using on his Underground Railroad trip this fall, and to Liberty Bicycles, Trips for Kids, and Patagonia for donating gear to help support his ride.