Review and Giveaway: I Promise Not To Suffer, by Gail Storey

The Campsite Reviews I Promise Not To Suffer: A Fool For Love Hikes The Pacific Crest Trail

By Gail Storey
The Mountaineers Books, 2013
ISBN 978-1-59485-745-4

Reviewed by: Meghan Ward

I Promise Not to Suffer by Gail StoreyThe cover of I Promise Not to Suffer gave me a lot to think about before I began reading. A pair of bare legs, cropped at the hip, peek out between a blue pleated skirt and a pair of worn hiking boots. All I could envision was a girly-girl too prim and proper to get dirty, afraid of ants or eating out of a pot. It’s a cute image, but turns out to be a bit misleading. And I’m thankful for that because I wasn’t interested in reading the story I was imagining. Instead I was treated to a superb read worthy of all the accolades and awards it has received to date.

Though author Gail Storey claims a lack of experience as she sets off to hike the 2,663 miles of the Pacific Crest Trail with her husband, Porter, (the first chapter is even called “I Never Much Cared for Nature), I would hardly call her naïve, as the book cover suggests. Nor would I call her unprepared, thanks to Porter’s obsession with planning, experience with long expeditions and knack for creating lightweight, homemade gear. In many regards, Storey knows exactly what she is getting into even if she struggles to come to terms with it. Through it all the 56-year-old has much to learn about herself, her past, her relationship with Porter, and her relationship with her mother.

Perhaps more fitting for the cover would have been a pair of hikers, properly dressed for the trail, hand-in-hand atop a mountain ridge. Or in the 14A version, spooning lovingly under a tarp. Because to me, I Promise Not to Suffer is more of a love story than a thru-hiking story, even though it also warrants its position within the genre of outdoor literature.

Storey’s last name is fitting of her skill as a writer. She is a superb storyteller, weaving the present in with vignettes from the past, and pulling the reader in alongside her journeys – both the internal and external ones. Thanks to her vivid descriptions we walk alongside her on the trail, through the dryness and heat of the Mojave Desert and the remote wilderness of the Sierra Nevada. Her honesty and self-deprecating commentary brings us into her inner world – her struggle, pain, triumph, discovery and healing. And walking with her throughout it all is Porter. With a long career in hospice care and serving the dying, his own backstory provides another underlying set of questions for the reader. What does it mean to truly live? What keeps you going?

In Storey’s memoir we follow her path to redemption – if only in her own heart – and watch her come full circle, go from not caring much for nature to becoming one with nature. In one of many poetic passages she writes about her motivation for being on the trail:

“I wanted to be with Porter, yes, but even more, I felt inseparable now from the vast green and blue and white of the wilderness. I looked out on the lake, shimmering under the moon. I was as sturdy as the trees. I flowed over obstacles like water over rocks. I was as solid as the mountains, as clear as the sky.” (Pg. 166)

Just as she becomes one with the natural world around her, she is forced from the trail. Facing dangerous weight loss, Storey must wrestle with the tough reality that her time on the trail may be over. No matter where she ends up, however, the journey is far from over. In fact, one of Storey’s most poignant chapters takes place well off the trail, at her mother’s bedside.

I think what I appreciated the most about Storey’s memoir is just how deeply she allows us into her world and into both her outward and inward journeys. As she explains in I Promise Not to Suffer, the landscape has an ability to change us. She gives us a window into her own experience and, of most importance to me, makes us care. I found myself cheering for her many times, feeling that roller coaster of emotions as she climbed and descended high mountain passes, and grieving with her as she dealt with her mother’s terminal illness.

Weaving the whole book together is a wonderful adventure story, a classic tale of perseverance in the great outdoors. There’s a reason why this book won the 2013 National Outdoor Book Award for Outdoor Literature. Storey has an enviable combination of gifts: an obvious writing talent, natural likability, humour, grace and wit. I highly recommend I Promise Not to Suffer. 

Learn more about Gail Storey at gailstorey.com.

Giveaway

Win a copy of I Promise Not to Suffer! Tell me about a trail, mountain park or wilderness area that has given you opportunity to do some work on the ‘inside.’ You can do so by commenting below! I’ll randomly choose a winner on Christmas Eve at 5pm MST. Merry Christmas!

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Categories: Giveaway, Lousy Day Literature

Author:Meghan J. Ward

Meghan J. Ward is an outdoor, travel and adventure writer based in Banff, Alberta. Her work has been published by a variety of magazines throughout North America, including IMPACT Magazine, Highline Magazine, Kootenay Mountain Culture and Alpinist.com. She specializes in creating marketing materials and web content for the tourism industry and beyond. You’ll also find Meghan exploring the transition to parenthood at adventurousparents.com.

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21 Comments on “Review and Giveaway: I Promise Not To Suffer, by Gail Storey”

  1. December 19, 2013 at 3:22 pm #

    My backcountry trip to Shadow Lake last fall left a lot to be desired (for me anyway) and gave me great opportunity to reflect on why I do some of the crazy stuff I do.

    • January 3, 2014 at 2:13 pm #

      Tanya, your comment is great, and made my brother ask me why I do some of the crazy stuff I do!

  2. December 19, 2013 at 3:28 pm #

    I did the Grand Canyon R2R2R with my husband for an anniversary celebration. It showed me anything is possible with determination and strategy.

    • gaildstorey
      January 3, 2014 at 2:16 pm #

      Wow, that’s sounds like a fabulous anniversary celebration, Jenni! Early in our marriage, Porter and I went to the Grand Canyon to celebrate Valentine’s Day, but mainly we just looked over the edge and wondered what the rest of our marriage would be like. ;-D

  3. December 19, 2013 at 8:20 pm #

    I did the Chilkoot trail with my family as a teenager – it opened my eyes to my love of backpacking and my desire to do it with my own family someday (which is now! ;))

    • December 24, 2013 at 5:15 pm #

      Congrats, Amelia! You won the book! I’ll be in touch about getting it to you. Merry Christmas!

    • gaildstorey
      January 3, 2014 at 2:18 pm #

      So wonderful that you got such an early start backpacking as a teenager, Amelia! I hadn’t even heard of backpacking until I married Porter, but better late than never, right?

    • gaildstorey
      January 3, 2014 at 2:19 pm #

      CONGRATULATIONS for winning the copy of my book, Amelia! I hope you have a great time reading it!

  4. December 20, 2013 at 10:24 am #

    I decided to do a climbing course when I was just 21, despite having a big fear of heights! After 23 years of active rock climbing, I still have my fear of heights but I simply love the mountains… (So, as you can see, fear didn’t stop me!)

    • gaildstorey
      January 3, 2014 at 2:20 pm #

      I’m in awe of rock climbers, Helena. You rock! ;-D

  5. December 20, 2013 at 6:25 pm #

    my husband and I hiked the circuit (a 7 day trek) in torres del paine earlier this year. it isn’t as frequented as the “W” which is much more popular and being so far from civilization, in such a truly amazing place helped us grow, both individually and as a couple. we do a lot of backpacking and hiking more locally (Alaska and the pacific northwest is home for us), but something about being so far from home and so in our element helped us connect in a way we hadn’t in our previous 6 years together.

    • gaildstorey
      January 3, 2014 at 2:23 pm #

      Sarah, I can so relate to how backpacking and hiking in the wilderness helps a couple connect. Isn’t it a great way to get to know each other in deeper ways?

      • January 3, 2014 at 2:48 pm #

        I know this is very true for me and my husband. We went on hiking dates for the first little while!

  6. December 21, 2013 at 4:31 pm #

    I’ve skied up mountains and hiked for days, but nothing rivals the introspective opportunities offered by five summers of planting trees in the not-so-wild corners of Ontario, Alberta and B.C. I think those great years taught me the value of perseverance. Even when the whole world seems to be against you, things can always get worse!

    • gaildstorey
      January 3, 2014 at 2:25 pm #

      I’m inspired by your planting trees, Sean. I agree, things can always get worse, but thankfully they can also get better, and you’re obviously doing a lot to make it a better world!

  7. December 24, 2013 at 5:20 pm #

    Congrats, Amelia! I just sent you a message so that we can get a copy of the book to you. Thank you to all who entered. I loved reading your stories of inner journeys in the outdoors.

  8. December 24, 2013 at 7:03 pm #

    Backpacking the AT through Virginia, Maryland and Pennsylvania has always been the best therapy for me.

    • gaildstorey
      January 3, 2014 at 2:28 pm #

      Hike Maryland, those parts of the AT are particularly beautiful. I especially love the Shenandoahs. By the way, I lived in Annapolis, MD for a few years. And thanks for your recent retweet on Twitter!

  9. January 3, 2014 at 10:54 am #

    Thanks for all your amazing entries, everyone! I am so inspired by your stories!

  10. gaildstorey
    January 3, 2014 at 2:30 pm #

    Meghan, I’m deeply inspired by these stories too! Thanks for your wonderful review and for hosting the giveaway of I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail. I love your blog so this was especially meaningful to me.

    • January 3, 2014 at 2:47 pm #

      Thanks, Gail! That means a great deal to me coming from you!

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