Living vicariously through the written word

Living vicariously through the written word

I Promise Not to Suffer

Some things are best experienced firsthand, but there are some adventures I would rather experience vicariously from my comfy spot on the couch, cup of tea in hand.

Thankfully, a good book can help me do just that.

I just finished Gail Storey’s memoir I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail, and I’m adding through-hiking the PCT to the list of adventures I’d rather read about than experience.

This isn’t the first time a memoir has talked me out of something: Michael Ruhlman killed my romantic dream of attending culinary school; Jon Krakauer convinced me that guided tours aside, climbing Everest is anything but easy and definitely not for me–unless we’re talking about the literary version.

I knew little about the Pacific Crest Trail when I began I Promise Not to Suffer. The PCT has only been around for twenty years; it was completed in 1993, a western counterpart to the Appalachian Trail. Through-hikers–those who cover the entire trail–begin at the Mexican border in Southern California and cover 2,650 miles before reaching the trail’s end at the Canadian border. Hikers can’t depart until California’s late spring storms are over, which leaves only six months to make it to northern Washington before the blizzards begin.  Hikers need to cover more than twenty miles a day to make it in time.

Storey didn’t want to hike the trail in the first place. But her husband, a hospice director, was desperate to hike the PCT while he was in a major career transition, and Storey couldn’t bear the thought of spending six months apart. “The problem is,” she told him, “if you hike the PCT, I have to go too,” I said. “And I’m not.”

But she does, eventually won over by the promise of spending six months together on the trail, far from the demands of everyday life.

This is not a typical adventure memoir, but Storey is not typical PCT material. Most of the through hikers who tackle the 2,650 mile route each year are twenty-something males. But Storey and her husband are 56 and 52, respectively, when they decide to take on the trail; she calls her adventure her “two-thirds life crisis.”

Adventure is no under-statement. I’m a city girl, and was genuinely surprised at how harrowing their journey was: they endure summer storms, pick their way down icy slopes, encounter a mountain lion, and nearly drown crossing a river. It’s no wonder that only half of the hikers who start out each year make it to trail’s end. The hardships of the trail make a community out of the hikers, and my favorite parts of the story involve these friends and the “trail angels” who make their journey a little easier.

No spoilers here, but I wasn’t expecting Storey’s journey to unfold the way it did. 900 miles in, something unexpected occurs, and the turn of events improved my opinion of Storey–who had seemed a little self-absorbed up to that point–and the story itself.

What’s a great memoir that inspired you to go on an adventure … or not? 

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.

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  1. Carrie says:

    I just finished reading Dreams of Trespass: Tales of a Harem Girlhood. I definitely would not want to grow up in a Muslim country, or in a harem. But the book was absolutely fascinating. It was really about happiness and what it means.

    • Anne says:

      I know a ton of people who have the AT on their bucket list, so it really surprised me that only a few hundred start out on it’s western counterpart every year. Reading about someone’s actual experience convinced me that even though I think it sounds cool, I don’t want to do it. 🙂

  2. Jillian Kay says:

    Oh, this might be a good antidote to Cheryl Strayed’s PCT book. I’ll have to look for it. Thanks!

    Unlike climbing Everest, long distance hiking is not something books have talked me out of yet. My dream is to hike the Appalacian Trail. I’m doing a kind of test in 2 weeks when I do a 30 mile hike/race with a friend.

    Have you read a Walk In The Woods by Bill Bryson? He’s a little stuck up, but it’s funny in parts.

    • Anne says:

      I started Cheryl Strayed’s, but abandoned it at page 32. Too much heroin talk, as I recall. But now I’m kind of wishing I’d stuck with it so I could compare the two (although that’s the only reason why.)

      I’ve never read anything by Bill Bryson. I started At Home last year, but I gave it up after a few chapters.

      (I’m surprised at myself: the girl who could never bring herself to abandon a book has apparently changed her ways. 🙂 )

    • Esther says:

      I read both Cheryl and Bill’s books. Most definitely interesting, but not I will still pass on the actual hiking. 🙂 Jillian, good luck with your upcoming hike!

  3. Corrie Anne says:

    Now you have me curious about the book, but I’m sure I would pass on the trail. Reading about those types of adventures definitely makes me even more sure that I wouldn’t want to go on them! MWF Seeks BFF inspired me to work on making friends — still working on it!!

  4. Erica says:

    I do eventually want to hike the Appalachian Trail. There’s a piece of the trail near my hometown, and we have a very old home video of my granddad and his brothers goofing around at the top. (And by top, I mean they were clinging to a rock protruding out over the valley below!)

    However, given how much I panicked just running into a small bear out in the woods, I think I had best learn some survival skills first…

  5. Leigh Kramer says:

    I added this to my To Read list after you mentioned it in a post. I hadn’t heard of the PCT before reading Strayed’s Wild and wondered how it would compare. I don’t know if any memoirs have inspired me to go on an adventure but some of the food memoirs I’ve read have changed the way I cook.

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