Last year, Daniel White set off hiking the Appalachian Trail to get a new perspective on life. Feeling frustrated and stymied by his day-to-day grind in Charlotte, he looked for something new, fresh and invigorating to experience.
“I was seeing so much negativity on social media — there is just so much of it, and you take too much of it in, being aware of it at all times,” he recalls. “It was weighing down and killing my spirit. So, I randomly put out on Facebook that I wanted to learn to survive in the wilderness, and my cousin said I should hike the Appalachian Trail.”
Although he’d never backpacked before, the gold-toothed rapper was game to try.
“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.”
Chronicling the journey via his YouTube channel, the Blackalachian (the trail nickname Daniel chose for himself) ended up hiking the entire 2,200 mile path ofthe 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 returns 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.”
In July, Daniel plans to lead a few hikes and activities for youth groups in the Asheville area.
“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 also feels compelled 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.”
He intends to keep hiking and is looking forward to his next big adventure – biking the route of the Underground Railroad, from Alabama to Canada.
On Thursday, July 26, Daniel will share his journey “Love and Light: The Blackalachian on the Appalachian Trail” during a public speaking engagement at 6:30 pm the Arthur R. Edington Education & Career Center. In addition to his experiences hiking the Appalachian Trail, he will discuss gear, tips to getting outdoors for the first time, and plans for his Underground Railroad bike ride. Sponsored by Everybody’s Environment organizations – Southern Appalachian Highlands Conservancy, Appalachian Trail Conservancy, and the Center for Diversity Education at UNC Asheville.
To support his ride, click here.
Find out more and connect with Daniel @TheBlackalachian on Facebook & Instagram.