- Associated Press - Sunday, September 14, 2014

SOMERSET, Ky. (AP) - From Southern Belles to Bad Mama Jamas.

That’s what Sarita “Sam” Gibson and Lee Redmond are aiming to become by launching a daunting hike along the famed Appalachian Trail. The two local women - Gibson is 49, Redmond 56 - are both sisters and longtime travel buddies.

Gibson came back to Somerset after living abroad to live with husband James and daughter Cassandra, while Redmond served in the Air Force and worked as a journalist and career counselor for decades, lives in Europe and Asia before returning to Pulaski County.

Both work for local company Somerset Recycling Services. The taste for adventure has remained in their blood, however.

“Over a year ago, I grew bored and needed adventure, so Sam and I thought hiking might be fun,” said Redmond. “Although it was completely new to us, we found that we loved it.

“The early days were a little scary and very funny, but we debriefed after each hike, so we would know what to improve next time,” she continued. “As our experience and confidence grew, we started thinking bigger. When Sam came up with the idea of hiking the Appalachian Trail, of course, I said yes!”

One of the most famous hiking trails in the country if not the world, the Appalachian Trail spans an approximate 2,200 miles between Georgia and Maine on the eastern coast of the United States. It winds through North Carolina, Tennessee, Virginia, west Virginia, Maryland, Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York, Connecticut, Massachusetts and the other New England states - Vermont and New Hampshire - before winding up in the nation’s northernmost state on the Atlantic Ocean. In short, it’s a long haul.

“During one of my more challenging hikes, I began to think of what it would be like to experience the enormity, both physically and mentally, of the Appalachian Trail,” she said. “(The hiking distance of) 2,180 miles and 5 million steps appealed to me. I longed to really step outside my comfort zone. The next day, I said, ‘I’m doing it’ and I’ve never wavered. The two women have made their share of trips - Italy, Germany, France, China - but all were distinctly more metropolitan in nature than the Appalachian Trail. Gibson’s husband James said the two might go someplace like the Beverly Hills Supper Club (a historic nightclub in Southgate, Ky., involved in a famous fire) in their youth. “I’ve been so lucky to travel and experience different cultures,” said Gibson. “Sicily spoke to my Italian roots, while Germany’s Christmas markets will never be forgotten. Traveling alone through France taught me self-determination.”

Added Redmond, “I’ve danced on the Great Wall of China, learned to ski in Switzerland, shopped in Paris, and painted in Venice. … A place very dear to me is Jamaica, where I also went with my sister Sam many years ago. We were young, wild and brave.”

Now, to take on the challenge of the Appalachian Trail years later in life, even more bravery is needed - and preparation. The two women are getting in shape by doing Zumba and “lots of walking” - and lots of hiking.

“Lee and I have hiked on a weekly basis for over a year to prepare,” said Gibson. “We have hiked on dozens of different trails throughout Kentucky. It has gotten easier as our endurance, strength and knowledge have grown. That’s not to say that a few of those trails didn’t take their toll on us … Many falls and lost toenails. Our distance has increased, and the trails we choose have become more challenging. We have had bear and snake encounters as well … some scary, some thrilling. I truly learn something every time I hike.”

Redmond said that early on, the two hiked five miles every weekend, then increased the distance to 10 miles. They’d take turns carrying a five-pound day pack, and are now able to each carry a backpack seven times as heavy.

“In the beginning, we would have to stop midway to catch our breath as we climbed black rated trails. Now, we laugh and talk the whole way up with no stops.,” she said. “… Our lung capacity, biceps and quads are much better than a year ago!”

Redmond added that the women have practice trying different types of knots, filtering water, setting up tents and boiling water, among other survival trick and techniques. It’s definitely a change of pace for them.

“I never considered myself outdoorsy. We camped as kids, but the amenities weren’t too far away,” said Gibson. “… So when I became passionate about hiking, it really surprised me. It gave me a sense of serenity unlike anything I have experienced.

“Unfortunately, our society is inundated with social media, the onslaught of ‘selfies’ (how sad), and reality TV. So, when it’s just me and nature on the trail, all of that fades away,” she continued. “Not only has my philosophy about adventure changed, my philosophy on life has changed.”

The two have done their research. The goal is to make a first hike this month, and over time, complete the whole trail. The first section they’re hiking encompasses the entire state of Georgia, starting at Springer Mountain and part of North Carolina, ending in that states Indian Springs Campground. This section will consist of about 90 miles.

“In 2015, the goal is to do several more states,” said Gibson. “Needless to say, we will hike all 2,180 miles of the Appalachian Trail.” The physical challenges include a ferocious 13 mountains in the first 42 miles, with many more beyond that. The tallest mountain is 4,461 feet high - and they’ll be climbing with everything they need to survive strapped to their backs.

“Staying hydrated will present a challenge since it will still be hot and humid when we go,” said Redmond. “We must search for streams to replenish our water supply, then filter the water and hope it tastes decent.” Along the way, however, the two women plan to stop and enjoy the glory of the nature they’re in.

“The gorgeous scenery is what I am most looking forward to and the chance to test myself, mentally and physically,” said Redmond.

The two women said their families have been a big help to morale and hope to inspire others with success on their journey and the drive to get out there and try something new and challenging. Those who wish to follow along can visit the “Gypsy Blaze” Facebook page in October, named after the “trail names” the new hikers have adopted.

“Our family and friends have been extremely supportive and encouraging,” said Gibson. “My daughter Cassandra says. ‘Mom is a beast!’ I take that as a compliment! My husband, James, is even more excited than I am! He’s been my trail angel from day one.”

Added Redmond, “Many people have expressed interest in going with us on our next trek. So, to all the wild, wonderful women out there … who is ready to go with us next time?”

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