Outdoor classroom: MSU student to hike Appalachian Trail

University Relations
News Bureau (662) 325-3442
Contact: Maridith Geuder
February 14, 2005


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MSU student Alan Lovett in training.

STARKVILLE, Miss.--Five million steps, five months and the most innovative academic experience he's ever had are among challenges facing a Mississippi State sophomore.

Alan D. Lovett of Brandon, a mechanical engineering major at the university, embarks later this month to hike the entire Appalachian Trail. The 19-year-old has been preparing for months to endure the physical demands of the more than 2,000-mile ramble from Springer, Ga., to Katahdin Mountain, Maine.

He's also preparing for some intellectual challenges.

To maintain his academic standing, the fall semester Dean's Scholar will take along course assignments. Working with the University Honors Program, he's developed a rigorous program that involves intensive analysis and writing.

"He's proposed an innovative way to integrate his academic and personal goals," said UHP director Nancy McCarley. "Perhaps one of the most rewarding aspects of working with high-achieving students is helping them follow their passion."

The former Boy Scout and son of Charlotte Lovett acknowledged that "nothing about this will be easy," but quickly added, "If it were easy, I wouldn't want to do it."

To build physical capacity, he spends at least two hours daily running between eight and 16 miles. He also rides 20-30 miles on a road bike, and he's built a climbing wall at his Rankin County home.

To prove he can complete the walk-through, he's already hiked 400 miles of the trail. "I started in the eighth grade and did 50 miles," he said. Since then, he's been reading, planning, and organizing for his ultimate dream.

While trekking, McCarley said Lovett will complete a demanding range of assigned essays that culminate in what she describes as "one of the rarest of term papers." She emphasized that the assignment, like the physical undertaking, "is no walk in the park; both are daunting tasks that few would undertake."

Lovett also is working through MSU's kinesiology department to document all aspects of the trip--from the weather to his daily physical condition. "His academic subject will be himself," said assistant professor Trey Hoyt, an exercise physiologist who is directing an independent study for Lovett.

Extensive testing before the trip has documented Lovett's physical fitness, ranging from cardiovascular endurance and muscular strength to body composition, resting heart rate and blood pressure. He will record his daily heart rate while keeping a detailed journal that documents the terrain, elevation, distance hiked, rate of perceived exertion, and number of steps taken.

He'll also write an overall statement and summary of each day and keep a daily food log.

"This will give Alan an idea of what he can accomplish physically and the demands of a long journey," Hoyt explained. Once he returns to campus next fall, Lovett will share his conclusions with kinesiology majors.

"Alan will be a valuable source of documented information for others who may be considering the undertaking," Hoyt observed.

Lovett, who's leaving cell phone, showers and convenience foods behind for the journey, said he expects to return a changed person. At the very least, he'll be older, since he turns 20 on June 3.

"One level of growing up is understanding that you can't be caught up in unimportant things," he said. "This experience will test my determination."

While acknowledging that a person's character can't truly be measured, Lovett said, "I expect to return a better person, a better student, a better friend, and a better son."

NEWS EDITORS/DIRECTORS: For more information, contact Lovett at al103@msstate.edu.