Rankin County News, Brandon, MS

Wednesday, March 2, 2005

Castlewoods teenager aims to traverse Appalachian Trail

Adam Moore, Journalist

For 19-year-old Alan Lovett, the steps he took in Georgia Sunday morning were the first of many.

The Castlewoods resident and Mississippi State University sophomore has taken this semester off of school to hike the Appalachian Trail, a more than 2,100 mile trek from Georgia to Maine.

After driving to Georgia Saturday, he took off on Sunday morning for the five-month trip that will see him returning in August, shortly before the MSU classes start back.

"It's just something I wanted to do," he said.  "I figured if I don't take a semester off while I'm in college, no job would ever let me off for the time it would take to hike the trail."

"I might as well get it out of the way."

But the hike isn't just for pleasure.  In order to maintain his status as a full-time student, and his academic scholarships, the engineering student will be keeping a detailed journal of his experiences, the weather conditions, and even using equipment to monitor the physical changes in his body.

The work will culminate when he returns and completes a series of essays for the honors and kinesiology departments at MSU.

"I'll have to do some work on the trail," Lovett said, "but when I get back it'll really kill me.  I'll have to do a semester's worth of work in one month."

The fact that he is embarking on a 2,000 mile hiking trip by himself doesn't unnerve Lovett; he has already hiked a couple of hundred miles of the trail, and daily running and biking has given him the endurance for the trip.  The biggest challenge, he says, was simply knowing what to take.

"I've hiked a lot, but when it comes to preparing for five months of hiking, I'm as clueless as anybody else," he said.

Sitting around his mother's living room Friday after noon were boxes  and boxes of food that will have to be shipped to drop boxes along the length of the trail.

His father has provided him with a satellite phone and plenty of other gadgets that will allow him to keep in touch with his friends and family.  Alan will even be able to post pictures from the trail on a web site, www.justlovett.com.

"I won't just drop off the face of the Earth," Alan said.  "I'll be able to talk to people every once in a while."

And even though most of his family won't get to see him for five months, they say they aren't worried about him.

"I wouldn't see him for five months anyway, because I would be away at school," said his sister Anna Lovett, who attends Furman University.  "When I pray for him now, it will just be for different reasons."

His mother, Charlotte Lovett, plans to meet up with him on the trail some, but just for her own enjoyment, not because she's worried about him.

"A lot of people ask me if I'm worried about him,"  Charlotte said.  "I'm more worried when he's at Starkville."

"He's at home on the trail. I'm just as proud of him as can be."

That kind of support is something Alan said he knew he would get when he decided this past summer that he wanted to hike the trail.

"Most parents would freak out,"  he said.  "But she's always hiked, and I knew she would support what I wanted to do."

So when his mother dropped him off in Springer, GA Sunday morning, Alan just got out of the car and started walking.  He'll keep going for about five months, but it's something he has no regrets about.

"I feel like I'm missing out on part of college," he said.  "But I know as soon as I get back it will be same old, same old."

"I don't mind leaving behind my friends.  They understand it's something I've got to do.  I'm pretty bummed about leaving, but hiking the trail is something I'd never regret and they understand."

Besides, at this point, it's too late to turn back -- even though about 90 percent of the 1,000 or so people who attempt the  hike each year don't finish it.

"If I turned around half way, I would never forgive myself,"  Alan said.

"I don't worry about the physical part of it.  Once you get out there, if you've got the determination to make it, you will.

"That's all it takes."