It's not so unusual that the first time Daniel White, an electrician living in Charlotte, North Carolina, went hiking he was in his early 30s. After all, not everyone grows up in a family that spends time outdoors, or has access to parks, trails, and green spaces – especially if you're a young Black kid in the rural southern US.

But it's certainly out of the ordinary that just two weeks after that initial hike in Crowders Mountain State Park, White drove south to Springer Mountain, Georgia, where he started an epic hike most outdoor-types only dream of: the long north-bound trek up the Appalachian Trail.

How one first-time hiker conquered the Appalachian Trail

Despite growing up on the famous Blue Ridge Parkway just outside of the mountain town of Asheville, North Carolina, White's outdoor recreation resume was filled with a handful of fishing trips as a child. In fact, White had only just started traveling in recent years, taking time off work for a trip to Puerto Rico. Soon, however, his taste for adventure extended beyond beaches and white sands to wonder what else might be out there, and what else he could accomplish. His boss complained his uptick in travel was cutting into time on the job.

Still, White might never have set foot on the trail in 2017 if it hadn't been for a quasi-dare from a relative when he posted online musing about whether he could survive a night in the woods. His cousin responded, jokingly, "Go hike the Appalachian Trail!" It was the first he'd heard of the famous trek, but after 190 days en route to Maine, White proved he could not only survive outdoors, but make it up mountains and across rivers over a span of 2190 miles. 

"It looks romantic, but it's definitely not a joke," says White of the experience. "You have to have a crazy amount of belief in yourself to get it done."

Only 19-25% of the some 3000 people who attempt to thru-hike the Appalachian Trail each year succeed. The reasons people might drop out and return home are many – injuries, homesickness, an emergency, under-preparing when it comes to fitness, gear, or funds, even unexpected weather. But for many, the mental game is tougher than the daily beating your feet and legs take as you power up formidable obstacles like Roan Mountain or a section of steep ascents and descents known as "The Roller Coaster" in Virginia.

Staying focused and determined despite rain, wind, crowded shelters and the monotony of guzzling enough granola to power through about 15 miles a day isn't for the faint of heart, or head. "The most challenging part was just to stay motivated, for sure. Because you always know you can just pack up and go home, at any time," says White.

Not only did he face the obstacles endemic to thru-hiking, he also had to face down some of the fear about personal safety that keep many people of color, as well as queer and trans folk, from tackling trails of any length. 

“I think snakes, bears and racists keep Black people out of the woods," White told Asheville's Citizen Times newspaper in 2018. "You don’t go in the woods because you might not come back. After lynching in public was made illegal, they would take you into the woods. I think that fear is passed down through DNA. It’s called epigenetics.” 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The Blackalachian (@theblackalachian) on

During his whole six months on the trail, White saw only a handful of other hikers of color – making his trail name (thru-hikers traditionally go by "trail names" adopted along the way, rather than their given names) Blackalachian all the more apt. Still, White persisted from his first nervous miles out of Springer Mountain to the "One Hundred Mile Wilderness" in Maine that he describes as his favorite section of the whole trail. And he says that his positive experience "restored my faith in humanity."

Since returning from Maine, White hasn't lost his appetite for adventure – or the determination he picked up on the Appalachian Trail to demonstrate that Black people have a space in the outdoors, too. A year after his thru-hike, White got on a bicycle for the first time since his teens to tackle another journey nearly as long – the 2000 mile long Underground Railroad Trail that leads from Mobile, Alabama, to Ontario, Canada. It took him 49 days, despite setbacks like getting sideswiped in Alabama. 

In 2019 White completed the TGO Challenge, a unique outdoor trek that, rather than following a trail, leaves hikers to find their own way coast to coast across roughly two hundred miles of Scottish glens and wilds and led him up the highest point in the UK. White immediately followed up the Scottish highlands with 500-mile Camino del Norte trail in Spain. He was going to spend this summer checking off the next hike on the Triple Crown – that is, the Appalachian Trail, Pacific Crest Trail, and the Continental Divide Trail. But, like most other travelers on the planet, White had to scrap his plans due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by The Blackalachian (@theblackalachian) on

When he isn't hiking, however, whether because he's between treks or there's a global virus run amuck, White continues to advocate for everyone to get outside if they feel moved to. He's spoken with groups like Unlikely Hikers – a "diverse, anti-racist, body-liberating outdoor community" founded by Jenny Brusco of Portland, Oregon – as well as traditional outdoor organizations like REI and The Trek. White has led hikes for Asheville area families to help introduce kids (and their parents) to the pleasures of walking in the same landscapes he eschewed as a teen bound for trouble. And all that's in addition to regularly updating his own popular YouTube Channel and raising funds to start a diverse homestead community that would provide free housing for several families while also serving as a summer camp.

At thirty five, the Blackalachian is living a completely different life he was just a decade ago, much less two. And it seems like Daniel White is just getting started.

You may also like: These Black hiking groups are changing the outdoors
Meet the backpackers who cleaned up thousands of miles of US hiking trails 
A beginner's guide to backcountry camping

Get more travel inspiration, tips and exclusive offers sent straight to your inbox with our weekly newsletter.

Explore related stories