Before Gail Storey set out on a quest to hike the Pacific Coast Trail with her husband, Porter, she had never hiked or camped before.
“At first, I just thought, no way, this was definitely not something that would appeal to me,” she said. “We are long-distance tandem cyclists, and I would actually pedal 100 miles a day to avoid camping, so that’s an indicter of how ill suited I was to camping.”
Storey said her husband was in a crisis in his career as a hospice physician, and one evening while enjoying a killer bottle of wine, he threw out the idea to hike the trail.
“I knocked back the rest of my Malbec and said, ‘Why not,’” Storey said. “I didn’t want to be without him for six months, so I decided that it would be worth it for me to just kind of figure it out — do as much training as I could and get out there — and he was willing to take me, which was extraordinary in and of itself.”
The couple’s experience was captured in Storey’s memoir, “I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail.” She and Porter will present the book at an event at The Next Page bookstore in Frisco on Saturday, Dec. 7.
Storey said she learned many things about herself and her relationship with her husband by hiking the trail and writing the book.
“First of all, I did become much more of an athlete than I ever was,” she said. “It was an odd thing because our body is getting stronger and it’s also breaking down at the same time. I looked at it as a deconstruction of the physical self: Your physical body wears down and then your emotions are really raw. Then your emotional self goes to pieces and then gets strong in some ways and then the physiological self … and your spiritual self. So I felt like I learned something about myself on all of those levels.
“And ultimately, it comes down to love. I really love the wilderness and I loved my husband even more than I even dreamed of; it really deepened our relationship.”
“I Promise Not to Suffer” is Storey’s first foray into memoir, her first two books having been novels.
“I really didn’t plan to write a book about this while we were hiking,” she said. “I did write in journal pages. We had waterproof paper and that’s so if the pages get wet in the rain or snow, they don’t fall to pieces, but mine were tear-soaked more often than not.”
Porter kept a journal, as well, Storey said, and when she began comparing the journal pages the story that emerged was an interesting account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail from two very different perspectives: that of an outdoorsman, Porter, and that of Storey, who had never been on a hiking or camping adventure.
Storey said there was a lot more writing involved to connect the pieces — “journal entries do not a memoir make,” she said — and though the on-trail scribbles did help with chronology, the story became much more personal than the day-to-day of trail life.
“As I wrote that, I found that there were deep resonances with other parts of my life, from before I had met Porter, from my childhood, from my complex relationship with my mother and my father,” she said. “My father was a violent alcoholic, and my mother was a very reserved Bostonian woman, and there were resonances with past relationships and my relationship with Porter.”
Along with reading brief excerpts from the book, the Storeys will present a five-minute slide show of photos from their hike set to music and field questions about the wilderness part of the experience. Gail said the passages and the video “will illustrate the physical adventure and the emotional, interior adventure.”
“There were all these different things that seemed to just lend themselves to being woven into the story of the hike, the ups and downs of the mountains — it’s a great metaphor for life events,” she said.