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Earlier this year, my husband and 12yo son spent a week hiking a 50-mile section of the Pacific Crest Trail near Mount Hood in Oregon. My husband called me on just the second day of the hike, blistered and in pain, full of discouragement. Despite months of planning, his gear was not working out, and he thought he would need me to come get him off the trail.
I’m thankful for the others hiking with my husband – they were the ones who shuffled through their gear to get him shoes he could wear with his multiplying blisters, they were the ones who encouraged him to keep going. My husband kept on the trail, and it was clear once they were home – tired, sore, with mosquito bites all over their bodies – that my husband and son had accomplished something monumental to them personally, and I was proud.
Because of this experience, I was particularly interested in reading Gail D. Storey’s I Promise Not to Suffer – her personal account as a “thru hiker” (someone who starts in Mexico and ends in Canada) on the Pacific Coast Trail with her husband.
Storey and her husband, Porter, had embarked on several grand, physically demanding adventures previous to the Pacific Coast Trail (PCT), including hiking the Appalachians and tandem-biking across country. But it was after Porter left his long-time position as a hospice doctor that he began exploring the idea of hiking the PCT. Storey, seizing the opportunity to have her husband all to herself, decided to join him.
I was particularly fascinated by the couple’s preparations, especially Porter’s fervor in building or sewing most of their gear by hand. I read with great interest as they strategized their nutritional needs, where to stop to resupply, and other tiny details that truly meant survival for them during their journey.
Once on the trail, I loved Storey’s descriptive travelogue of the various areas they passed through – mountain, meadow, dessert, snow. The topography comes to life through Storey’s words.
I also enjoyed the peripheral characters in this book – the “trail angels” who helped Storey and her husband along the PCT, and the other hikers they frequently met either on the trail or at pit stops.
I knew through just my husband’s brief experience on the PCT how exhausting and emotional the trail could be, and Storey spends a good deal of time explaining how both she and Porter were emotionally “undone” by the rigors of their hike. The literal switchbacks she mentions are figuratively paralleled by how often she stops to reminisce mid-narrative about her childhood, relationship with her dying mother, exploits as a young woman, and more. I felt a bit disoriented by this story-telling approach, and I can see how this flow-of-conscious method would border on rambling to some readers.
I was also disoriented by an abrupt shift in the story about 3/4 of the way through the book. It was a rough transition in the novel, as I’m sure it was in real life. I had to read back through a few pages to make sure I understood what had just happened.
The cover copy for I Promise Not to Suffer describes the book as “lighthearted” and hilarious; I didn’t find it to necessarily be either, though I will credit it having a certain amount of irreverence and snark. I felt more a sense of unknowing and anxiety, peppered with peace and understanding. This book has a lot of emotions rolled into one.
Overall, I Promise Not to Suffer was a fascinating read about an experience I’m sure I’ll never share, with nuances I never would have thought to imagine. I feel like I learned much about the Pacific Coast Trail itself, Storey and her husband and others who hike it, and was grateful to have been carried along the journey.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.