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Largo Leader
Finding her way on the Appalachian
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Photo by NERISSA ROTH
Nicknamed “Pinata,” Nerissa Roth completes her journey hiking the Appalachian Trail at Mount Katahdin.
 
LARGO – She began her trek at Springer Mountain in Georgia in March of 2002, with only her backpack and her uncle in tow. Five months and five pairs of shoes later, she was in Vermont.

Nerissa Roth had hiked three-fourths of the Appalachian Trail, a 2,175-mile walking trail extending up the eastern United States, from Georgia to Maine.

Roth, a 30-year-old flight attendant and outdoors enthusiast, decided to hike the trail after September 11, 2001.

Business was down because no one was flying, she said, and her airline offered its staff the option to take a leave of absence. Roth took the leave and decided to hike the trail in 2002.

She finished her journey in Vermont because she felt she had hiked a good distance, and because after five months it was no longer fun, she said.

Not one to leave a project unfinished, Roth returned to Vermont this August to complete the trek into Maine. She finished in September 2006 when she reached the peak of Mount Katahdin, the northernmost part of the trail.

Roth said she chose to hike the trail because of her affinity toward the great outdoors. She first gained interest during her days at the University of Florida.

During this time, she went on an archaeology dig in St. Augustine. She joined a hiking club soon after, where she led students on numerous camp outs. Also, she served as a counselor at Camp Laurel, a summer camp in Maine that often hosts children of celebrities. Actor Dustin Hoffman’s children attended during her summer there.

Her activities didn’t stop after graduation. According to Marci Roth, Nerissa’s mother,

Roth spent two and a half months in Scotland, backpacking through the countryside.

“She’s very adventurous,” Mrs. Roth said, commenting on her daughter’s strength and independence. “The fact that she does these things amazes me,” she said.

According to the Appalachian Trail Conservancy Web site, the trail is 250,000 acres of greenway that boasts scenic views, clean air and water, wildlife and places for recreation. The conservancy is an 80-year-old, non-profit organization that works with federal and state governments to preserve the land.

The idea for the trail was conceived by Benton MacKaye in 1921. A Harvard graduate and employee of the U.S. Forest Service, MacKaye proposed a series of work camps and mountain communities, all connected by a trail running from the highest point in New England to the highest point in the South, according to the Web site. He called it the Appalachian Trail.

Workers began clearing brush and constructing and connecting paths. The trail was completed in 1937, but fell into disrepair during World War II. Once the war ended, maintainers went back to fixing the trail and it was declared complete again in 1951.

Roth said she enjoyed hiking the trail because it was a break from reality. Hikers give each other trail names during their travels to enhance the experience and forget about the world for a while, she said. She became known as “Pińata” because she would often sleep in a hammock at night. Her trail friends likened her to a pińata swinging in the breeze.

After her friend drank a jar of pickle juice on a dare, the name “Pickle” was chosen.

And Roth’s uncle became known simply as “Uncle Jeff” to other hikers. He accompanied Roth up to Franklin, N.C. From there, she continued on alone.

Before her hike, Roth packed all her essentials into her backpack, including dried foods, granola bars, a water purification system, a hammock, a tent and clothing. These items were not the only things Roth would require during her long journey, so she and other hikers would go into the local towns every few days and pack up their used belongings and food wrappers into boxes and mail them back home, she said.

Hikers would pick up packages from home as well. These shipments, called drop boxes, are planned ahead of time. Roth said she gave her family maps of the trail highlighting the places where she anticipated she would be every couple of days. Her mother would then send a package to the town adjacent to Roth’s location. Mrs. Roth said she would fill the box with clean clothes and fresh food for her daughter.

To get to town, Roth said she often hitchhiked, something that was very easy to do because the locals are very friendly.

“The people were great,” said Roth, who did take precautions, though. “I never hitchhiked alone – always with at least two people,” she said.

Roth mentioned the residents of the neighboring towns understood the hikers’ needs and were always helpful, offering to take hikers into town.

Roth said she didn’t worry much about her safety while walking the trail because the hikers were like one big family.

“Everyone takes care of each other,” she said. Whether a hiker is in need of food, water or medical attention, the others are willing to step in and help, she said.

One example is something hikers call “trail magic.” When a hiker comes across something he or she needs just at the right time – that’s trail magic.

“When you need something, it shows up,” she said.

Hikers will leave coolers of sodas or food for others.

On one occasion, Roth and her trail friends were hiking through Virginia and were very hungry. They had no snacks for the rest of the day. They came upon a road crossing and walked down one of the dirt roads.

At the end of the road, they found a family at a picnic table with orange juice, donuts and coffee. The family invited them to eat, she said.

They told Roth and her friends they were preparing for a barbecue that afternoon, and invited them to join in.

Roth cited another example of trail magic. If a hiker were to become injured, he or she would not have to worry about getting help because a fellow hiker will come upon them and assist them. Over the course of a day, a hiker can expect to see anywhere from five to 100 other hikers.

“Someone will find you that day,” she said.

When asked if she would do it again, Roth said that she would.

“It gave me a sense of accomplishment,” she said.

Roth said she met some great people and saw so much of humanity. Someone could ask a fellow hiker to share his or her food or water and that hiker would do it.

The experience left Roth feeling stronger as well.

“It has really given me a real sense of independence, not just to go to dinner by myself, but to catch my dinner,” she said.

For more information on the Appalachian Trail, visit www.appalachiantrail.org.
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