Charlotte, North Carolina
Trail Name: The Blackalachian
2017 Appalachian Trail Thru-Hiker
Daniel White—trail name Blackalachian—had completed nearly half of his Appalachian Trail thru-hike when he stopped to camp overnight with a fellow hiker at Pen Mar Park, just south of the Maryland-Pennsylvania border. As darkness fell, a group of white men who were uncharacteristically quiet and unfriendly considering their proximity to the trail left the pavilion—only to return on bicycles with blinding spotlights before being joined by some friends with large dogs. When the intimidating group began howling like wolves, Daniel knew it was time to pack up their gear and hike off into the night. They were less than a mile from the Mason-Dixon Line, the unofficial cultural demarcation between the North and the South of the United States. During the entire seven-month trek, Daniel encountered only one other Black thru-hiker.
For the native of Asbury Park, New Jersey, a city ripped apart by race riots in the early 70s, the completion of all 2,190 miles in 2017 was even more extraordinary considering that he hadn’t started hiking until that year. After moving to his parents’ hometown of Asheville, North Carolina as a young boy, Daniel managed to immerse himself in nature by occasionally fishing with his father and siblings. “To get back to those little backwoods ponds I always had a love for the woods but growing up in Asheville an hour away from the Appalachian Trail—I never even knew what it was,” Daniel told me. It was also a quick drive to Pisgah National Forest and the scenic Blue Ridge Parkway, but they might as well have been a thousand miles away. The life Daniel knew was in the historically African American neighborhood of Shiloh.
Not immune to the pitfalls of city life, Daniel became involved with drug dealing and spent eight months in prison at the age of 25. Following his release, he moved to Charlotte for a fresh start, became an electrician and made the fateful decision to fly to Puerto Rico. His first trip on an airplane was the result of years of the daily grind and labor-intensive work that led to arthritis and other ailments. Enjoying some quality time on the beach not only gave Daniel the physical and mental recovery he needed but put thoughts into his head about venturing out into the wilderness. When a cousin suggested he thru-hike the Appalachian Trail, Daniel began to learn everything he could about backpacking and taking on the world’s longest hiking-only footpath. He tried out some of his newfound skills on a local trail before heading out in April 2017 to the AT’s southern terminus in Georgia.
Over the next 27 weeks, the self-described “first gold-mouth rapper/hiker on the Appalachian Trail” made his way from Springer Mountain to the northern terminus at Maine’s Katahdin. Daniel recalled, “When I first started everybody told me I was crazy or like, what are you doing? What about bears and snakes and what about racists in the woods?” They are questions he gets to this day. Fortunately, he found nothing but love and “trail magic” along the way, including a family that warmly welcomed Daniel and his fellow hikers and provided them with shelter, food and a shower. Back home, Daniel’s family was sending him care packages and gear, and self-made videos documenting his journey drew more and more subscribers to his YouTube channel. He was one of only 1,138 people to finish the trail that year.
Despite becoming one of the most recognizable figures in the backpacking community, Daniel finds himself taking precautions to alleviate some of the potential microaggressions BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, People of Color) hikers often experience in the outdoors. “I have Pokémon pajama pants that I wear when I hike,” Daniel revealed, “and I have a pair of ‘Golden Girls’ pants (featuring the faces of the classic television show’s main characters, Dorothy, Rose, Blanche and Sophia). “These are subconscious safety measures so when someone sees me walking down the trail—the Black man with the Pokémon pants on—it’s way less threatening. It eases their mind.”
Given recent civil and racial unrest over police brutality and systemic racism, he considers enjoying the great outdoors and vacationing in places far from home a form of protest. “I can travel as a Black man to show people a different way and hopefully inspire people to get out and see the world,” said Daniel. As for others, he believes they can be an ally by getting to know as many diverse communities as possible and to allow BIPOC hikers to simply enjoy the trail. While he appreciates people wanting to learn more, Daniel often found himself having conversations as one of the few Black hikers on the AT when all he wanted to do was cook his Ramen noodles and summer sausage without having to say, “Look, I’m just trying to survive out here like you. I’m trying to figure it out like you.”
These days, Daniel is doing a lot more talking as an ambassador and mentor, especially to young people of color who have not been given opportunities to explore the outdoors. Part of his message is the important but sometimes overlooked history of prominent BIPOC adventurers such as Matthew Henson and J. Robert Harris, and the rising prominence of organizations like Outdoor Afro, which has been around for more than a decade. While achieving true diversity on the trail has a long way to go, Daniel wants to make it clear that the Blackalachian is not an anomaly. “Don’t get it twisted. It’s a lot of Black folks out here.”
As for what’s next, the man who has conquered the AT, the Underground Railroad Bicycle Route (UGRR), The Great Outdoor Challenge (TGOC) in Scotland and Spain’s Camino del Norte sees no limits to what he can do and where he can go. And Daniel continues to draw inspiration from the most unlikely of places. In observance of Father’s Day in 2020, he posted on social media a video of his late father. It was the first time Daniel had ever seen the clip, in which his dad declares, “If I’m gonna live, I’m gonna live free. And if I die, I’m gonna die free.” It seems the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. The trail has brought Daniel a sense of peace and a sense of freedom, and he has no plans to stop anytime soon.
“As long as my body holds up, I’m going for whatever.”
You can follow Daniel White’s adventures on Facebook, Instagram (@theblackalachian), Twitter and YouTube. Daniel is also raising funds for a sustainable community homestead. You can donate at his GoFundMe.