Off the Clock: Journalism Professor Conquers the Appalachian Piece by Piece

Posted: December 17, 2002 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

By Tara Laskowski

Of the millions who visit the Appalachian Trail each year, few have the ambition to hike the entire trail. Those who do, thru-hikers, take on average about four to five months to complete the 2,168.8-mile trail in one undertaking. But when you hike the trail in segments, as Roger Mellen, visiting assistant professor in journalism and coordinator of the electronic journalism minor in the Communication Department, has, completing the trail may take a while longer.

For more than 30 years, Mellen has conquered different sections of the Appalachian Trail, depending mostly on where he was living at the time. He keeps track of the miles he’s covered–almost 2,000 so far–and the dates he hiked the different sections. He says that completing the trail has always been a goal, but one that he didn’t really focus on too much. In the past eight years, however, he’s gotten serious about his objective, setting a goal of 150 miles per year.

Roger Mellen
Roger Mellen on the Appalachian Trail

This past summer, the journalism professor hiked 145 miles in parts of Maine and Vermont, including the 100-Mile Wilderness in Maine, an isolated stretch with only one resupply station. In the past, he’s hiked other difficult sections of the trail, including its highest mountain–Clingman’s Dome (a 6,645-foot elevation) in Great Smoky Mountains National Park–and Mahoosuc Notch in Maine, which took him more than two and a half hours to hike a little more than a mile because of its rocky and, at times, treacherous nature.

Carrying 50 pounds on his back and making his way across narrow paths, over steep mountains, and through summer humidity, Mellen enjoys the escape even as his muscles ache. “I don’t get blisters though,” he says. He enjoys hiking with his wife, Carol (who does get blisters), but he also hikes alone or with people he meets on the trail. Throughout the years, he’s shared food and shelter with strangers, swapped life stories with fellow hikers, and met some very interesting people–from thru-hikers to people just out enjoying the day.

“It’s a highway,” he says, “a heavily traveled highway.”

Mellen has been hiking since he was a child. He worked for many years in television news, online journalism, and radio, and has produced several stories on hikers of the Appalachian Trail.

“It’s a different social structure on the trail,” Mellen admits. “You set your own rules.” Many members of the trail community use trail names instead of their real names when hiking. Mellen admits he first decided on a trail name two years ago, calling himself “Mooseless” because for as many times as he had been on the trail, he had never seen any moose. Of course, he ran into six moose on the day he chose that name. “Now, I’m called ‘Mooseless, No More.'”

Perhaps his most memorable trail experience was when he proposed to Carol on top of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Pennsylvania six years ago. After she gave her answer, a bear showed up to join in the festivities, Mellen recalls with a laugh. “I was glad she’d already said ‘yes.'”

One of Mellen’s favorite things about hiking is getting away from everyday pressures and experiencing nature, which may mean a mountain top, a lake, or the woods. He says, above all, his motivation for completing the trail is the escape.

“It’s a simpler life,” he adds.

Mellen hopes to complete the remaining miles in the next few years, although he is not in a hurry. “I like having the goal and getting out there,” he admits. “It’s a good way to get away from the trappings of our society.”

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