I just finished reading “I Promise Not To Suffer” by Gail D. Storey about her adventures with her husband, Porter, and their time hiking the Pacific Coast Trail. Quite frankly, I’m almost at a loss for words — something rare if you know me. I want to preface this review by letting you know this book made me think about who I am, my life and I’ve felt a profound change during my reading of it.
The Pacific Coast Trail opened in 1993 and is a long-distance hiking trail. It is 2,663 miles long, taking you from the California/Mexico border to Canada. Most people take from April to September to hike the entire trail. Any longer, and you risk catastrophic weather conditions. Before reading “I Promise Not To Suffer,” had someone told me, the novice hiker, they were going to hike the PCT, I’d have questioned their sanity.
Storey and her husband encountered a series of events that led to them hiking the PCT. He is a respected hospice and palliative care doctor, who’d just resigned from his position due to a board filled with corporate suits, and even bigger corporate politics, interfering fiscally with care his patients needed. She is a writer who was between books and freelance gigs. Porter’s life long dream involves hiking the Appalachian Trail, the PCT, and tandem biking the country in a route shaped like a butterfly. This Butterfly Route sets the tone of the book and is featured throughout. Gail would support him, joining him biking from Houston to Maine, yet leaving after only a few days on the Appalachian Trail. She dutifully met him throughout his expedition to refill his supplies.
“All I knew for sure was that I loved him. I’ve never been able to explain it, even to myself. I came into his presence and never left.”
However, the adventure to hike the PCT would cause irrevocably change their entire life, setting up challenges that would shape them, and their marriage, in ways they never expected. They sold the house they bought when they married 17 years before, he quit his interim job at a new hospital. Their aging parents, one who had breast cancer, thought they’d lost their minds. But what drew them to the trail was something primal. Keeping them there would take sheer will, determination, and digging deeper into themselves than they ever thought possible.
During their time on the PCT Gail’s mother “postponed” dying, while Porter questioned his time there. “I thought hiking the PCT would help me regroup after leaving the hospice. But now, I can’t stop thinking about how I could have saved it.”
“What’s depressing is that our cultural fear of dying makes it worse than it should be. It’s actually a meaningful part of life, especially if you’re not in pain or tormented with needles and tubes.”
At one point, during their trip, Gail and Porter were on a resupply trip and had a chance to email their family and friends. What resonated strongly with me was her comment, “We’re getting what we came for, even if we don’t know what that is.” Hiking for many is a form of meditation and every time I sit on the mat to meditate, I don’t know what I’m going to receive. I just know I have to open up and allow the process to work.
“I was learning that pain wasn’t the same as suffering — I could hurt and still be okay.”
Even when Gail has to leave the trail, they each are still opening up and receiving the trail. While Porter finishes the route, Gail recovers from severe exhaustion in Houston, and then travels to Boston to be with her mother as she dies. During the entire time, they are receiving lessons from the trail, from the solitude they’re experiencing, healing and growing in ways they never expected, until the profound, separate, realization: “On the trail, there was no “inside” to go to except one’s own.”
Storey is a talented writer and her easy prose kept the flow of the book moving, without any pages where I felt I needed to prod her to pick up the pace. I took away a lot of meaning from her time on and off the trail. Notes have been made in the book, and pages bookmarked, to remind me during my own journey. Day to day life on this giant rock is never easy, and it’s not meant to be. We’re meant to learn about ourselves and how to push through our self-imposed limits, whether we’re hiking 20+ miles a day, or going through the mundane repetition of daily life.
I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.