Monday, February 24, 2014

I Promise Not to Suffer, by Gail D. Storey

It was interesting to read I Promise Not to Suffer so soon after rereading Plain and Simple. Both are stories of middle-aged people stepping away from their everyday lives to find meaning in new pursuits. In I Promise Not to Suffer, the searcher is Gail Storey's husband Porter, who had been taking on progressively more difficult outdoor challenges over several years and, when his job as a hospice physician became untenable because of management decisions, thought the time was perfect to hike the Pacific Crest Trail. Gail decides to make the trip with him.

Gail's memoir covers the extensive preparation they did for the trip--Porter designed their own ultra-light equipment--as well as some of the family challenges they were leaving behind. But at the heart of the book are her descriptions of their time on the trail--sometimes rewarding, but nearly always grueling, with the ever-present possibility of dying on the trail. About 900 miles in, Gail's body is simply too battered to continue, and she comes off the trail. Porter continues, with Gail acting as a support person from their home in Houston and from a rental car in Oregon. Then Gail's mother, with whom she has had a somewhat troubled relationship, becomes terminally ill. Gail travels to the East Coast to stay with her mother during her final days. At the same time, Porter has entered the final dangerous sections of the PCT. Somehow Gail is able to manage her stress and find comfort in the changes nature has wrought.

For someone whose mother often referred to her as a "house plant" in childhood, I would not choose the PCT as a way of finding myself, opening myself to nature. Nor did Storey's descriptions cause me to yearn for the experience--quite the contrary. While I respected both her courage in taking on the trail and the restraint she shows in describing the extreme experiences, Storey's account didn't move me in the way Plain and Simple did.

Of note: One of our book group members, Kendall, knows Gail Storey. Several years ago, we read Gail's first novel, The Lord's Motel, and she came to the meeting when we discussed it. She was delightful--but I never would have pegged her as someone who would hike the PCT!

Favorite passages:
. . . it was the word "pass" that began to glow in my interior lexicon. More ominous than the "switchback" of the previous 750 miles, a pass was our only route between thrill and fear.

I sat there reeling with stillness. Inside, I felt like the river, a wider, deeper version of myself. My skin tingled from the bracing cold, my eyes opened at the brightness of everything around me. Nature, much more powerful than I, let me live.

I had learned so much from the natural world about the deep silence of love. If my mother--silent about so many things--let me be with her when she died, might that mean she'd come to trust the woman I was now?

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