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I Promise Not To Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail Paperback – March 14, 2013
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Of the many books that I have read about hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, none have captured the trail experience from so many different perspectives. Single hikers, couples, and those who stay behind will all enjoy Gail Storey's account of the challenges, the beauty, and the PCT community found along the way."---Liz Bergeron, Executive Director and CEO, Pacific Crest Trail Association.
At times wrenching memoir, at times hilarious, I Promise Not to Suffer pulls no punches and has a wicked sense of fun. Storey reminds me again of what is possible with a big imagination, a dose of scrappy courage, and a lot of love. ---Peter Heller, author of The Dog Stars and Kook
Some have called Gail Storey the Nora Ephron of the wilderness. With her own unique wit, Storey shares Ephron's commitment to creating and tending a long, nourishing marriage. I Promise Not to Suffer is a portrait of a union that does not fray or break under pressure but is forged, toughened, and tenderized. - --Sara Davidson, author of Leap!, Loose Change, and The December Project
Witty, wise, and full of heart, Gail Storey's winning memoir of her hike on the Pacific Crest Trail at the age of fifty-six is a book for every one who ever dreamed of taking the road less traveled. I Promise Not to Suffer is as inspiring as it is hilarious, as poignant as it is smart. It's one of those oh-please-don't-let-it-end books. I'd carry it in my backpack anywhere ---Cheryl Strayed, author of Wild
About the Author
Gail D. Storey is the author of I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, Winner of the Barbara Savage Award from The Mountaineers Books (2013). Her first novel, The Lord's Motel (Persea Books, NY), was praised by the New York Times Book Review as "a tale of unwise judgments and wise humor." Her second novel, God's Country Club (Persea Books, NY) was a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers Selection. She has won many awards, and her fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have been published in numerous magazines. Her literary papers are archived in the University of Houston Libraries Special Collections. Formerly administrative director of the University of Houston Creative Writing Program, she is now a hoopdancer and comic performance artist. She is married to Porter Storey, MD FACP FAAHPM, a national leader in hospice and palliative medicine. Together they bicycled on their tandem from Maine to San Diego, and now live in Boulder, Colorado.
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In the chapter “What’s the Meaning of your Pilgrimage,” at a moment of exhaustion and clarity on the trail, she describes the before and after states this way: “I was still alive, but oddly more so than before. Mist rose from the lake and I saw through it as if through myself, through light, air, flowers, trees. Beetles and ants scurried in the dirt and joined us in our silence. It seemed so long ago I believed they were out to get me, that dirt would kill me, that heat, cold, water, and ice were problems to overcome. I’d come so far, these nearly nine hundred miles” (168). In this moment of acceptance and transcendence, she feels at one with Nature.
Though she had to drop out of the hike shortly after this epiphany (her husband continued on), she returned to her Houston apartment as a person changed by the spirit of acceptance. She discovers the she has opened up to a new level of selfless love: “At a loss with myself, I felt soft with others. Everyday kindnesses came easily—helping a neighbor carry groceries from her car to her apartment, righting an overturned plant in the hallway, kneeling down to speak with a child. Like sun warming cold mountain air, fierce tenderness pervaded the air we breathed” (175). When she learned that her mother had taken a turn for the worse with lung cancer, the author finds she has finally shed the emotions that formerly made her relationship with her mother difficult: “I loved her as she was. I saw her quietude as softness now, instead of distance. She was as much a mystery to me as she had always been. But initiated into mystery—by my strange peace at not completing the trail, by the unfathomable love within and around us, I loved the mystery itself. It drew me close to Mother Earth, my mother, Nature, my own nature’” (178). This is as good a way as any to describe the mystery of achieving stillness and harmony with the universe at it is, the goal of mindfulness. After reading this book I found a clear statement of this theme in Suzuki Roshi’s book, A Beginner’s Guide to Meditation: “The purpose of studying Buddhism is to study ourselves and to forget ourselves. When we forget ourselves, we actually are the true activity of the big existence, or reality itself. When we realize this fact, there is no problem whatsoever in this world, and we can enjoy our life without feeling any difficulties. The purpose of our practice is to be aware of this fact.”
In this book, Gail Storey makes hiking the PCT a literary symbol for overcoming obstacles and coming to terms with one’s self and one’s place in the universe, a very high-order literary challenge. She develops and employs this symbol with consummate skill. I Promise is a deep and powerful narrative, beautifully thought out and beautifully crafted. Highly recommended for anyone interested in the PCT or in mindfulness.
As a physician (Gail's husband is also a physician), I can understand the disillusionment he felt in his career. That understanding likely draws me in more than I might be otherwise. But marital issues, parental issues, self-doubt issues are felt by many. And Gail Storey voices these in this book. I told my husband this book might be more about relationships than the PCT itself... But then I think through-hikes tend to be a lot about relationships... family relationships, relationships with hikers met on the trail, relationships with the trail angels that support hikers on their way.
If you are looking to read about a woman who pulls herself up by her hiking bootstraps and triumphantly walks 2650 miles end to end, look elsewhere. If you want to see the personal struggle of an individual on a journey, this might just be the book for you.
If you are only looking for a detailed description of what it is like to hike the PCT (gear, people met along the trail, trail stories, mileage, weather, mishaps), this may not be the perfect book for you. There are many books written about thru-hiking that offer that (and I have likely read them all). As an aspiring thru-hiker who is plagued by a debilitating illness that won't allow me to physically do a hike like this, I have thoroughly enjoyed living vicariously through other hikers' experiences.
This book, however, is different. It offers less in the way of those kinds of detail, more in the descriptions of what the trail has imprinted on the author and the meaning behind it all. If you are searching for a book like that, this one is for you! Happy Trails!