Suffering on the Pacific Crest Trail
I Promise Not to Suffer was one of the compelling titles that caught my eye at our last Literary Orange event. It was Gail Storey's account of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, a hiking trail which spans 2663 miles along way from the Mexican border all the way to Canada. And she intended to accompany her physician husband while he was taking a midlife crisis break hiking both this and its eastern equivalent Appalachian Trail, as well as cycling point to point paths from the four corners of these trails to a midpoint in the U.S.
This might be a realistic goal for an athletic type, but Storey tells us right away that she was neither athletic nor a lover of the outdoors. In fact the book opens with the statement that she thought nature was "okay as long at it stayed outdoors". She describes herself as a slight person who wore a cross-bar brace for bow legs in infancy and did not even walk until after the age of two. But she loved her husband so much that, after a failed attempt to join him on the Appalachian Trail, this time she would really do it. And her purist "maker" husband had designed as light a load as possible. They would be minimalists. They would sleep with a tarp rather than a tent. They were middle aged, the author in her late fifties.
OK, hiking. How hard can that be? Just put one foot in front of other, right? But as Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods recounts hilariously, these "walks" mean mountains, snow, storms, being lost and joining wildlife such as bears, poisonous snakes, mountain lions and more. And in this account of the Pacific Crest Trail, the terrain was a never-ending series of scaling treacherous mountains or crossing scorching deserts. Where were the carefree walking paths in pleasant weather? Almost never. Where the joys of all systems go on a spring day as they had to average about twenty miles a day before being late-spring snowbound in the High Sierras or caught in the early fall blizzards of northern Washington. Rarely.
But beyond being an extreme journey of physical challenge, Storey recounts how it transformed into a path of great spiritual change as well. She laces in her history of an often sordid childhood, troubled young years, and the very imperfect parent relationships that haunt them in past memories and in the present as they check in along the way. Beyond the hardship, the sense of family that develops among the select group of "through hikers" adds a whole additional level of interest. Philosophical, full of suspense and humor, I found this to be a book that I could not put down until the end. This book was the 2013 winner of the National Outdoor Book Award and Gail Storey was recently interviewed on our local public radio station, KPCC.
Besides Bill Bryson's A Walk in the Woods, among other titles about such hiking or other adventures include, Wild: From Lost to Found on the Pacific Crest Trail, The Cactus Eaters, Ultimate Adventure: a Rough Guide to Adventure Travel, or A Hike For Mike: an Uplifting Across the SierraNevada For Depression Awareness.