Boulder author recounts how hiking the Pacific Crest Trail changed her life

Gail Storey on the next steps after the PCT

Author Gail Storey says she\'s still a tiara-wearing dinner party hostess after hiking the Pacific Crest Trail. What changed is her relationship to nature.
Lincoln Hauser



Boulder-based author Gail Storey’s nonfiction book I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail recently won the 2013 National Outdoor Book Award for best outdoor literature. In it, she recounts a summer of hiking the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) with her husband, Porter. Boulder Weekly sat down with Storey to learn more about the genesis of her adventures and what’s next on her agenda.

BW: How has your experience from the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT) shaped your life?

Storey: Hiking the Pacific Crest Trail completely transformed our lives on every level — physically, emotionally, even spiritually. Porter and I have, each in our own ways, been adventurers our whole lives, but setting out on the 2,663-mile PCT from the border of Mexico to Canada was a different order of magnitude. Porter’s adventures have been chiefly physical — skiing, climbing, mountaineering and biking, where mine have been emotional. I never met an emotion I didn’t like!

We hiked 20 miles a day up and down the steep mountains of California, Oregon and Washington; nearly died of thirst in the Mojave; kicked steps up icy slopes in the High Sierra; tried not to drown fording rapids; encountered a mountain lion and stumbled through lava fields and boulders as well as the landscape of our ever-shifting feelings.

The first line of I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail is “I never much cared for nature, or rather, thought it okay as long as it stayed outside.” The book is an exposé of how nature turned me inside-out to deeply understand how nature cares for us.

We had sold our house, my red RX-7, and most of our possessions to hike the Pacific Crest Trail, and as soon as we finished the hike, moved from Houston to Boulder to live in deeper harmony with nature and wilderness. I’m still the tiara-wearing dinner party hostess I’ve always been, but I hike most days, and Porter bikes to work an hour each way, even in snow on studded bike tires. We remodeled an older house according to green values — photovoltaic and thermal solar energy, with a meadow of native grasses and trees.

Many people consider the PCT a trip of a lifetime, yet it seems like you have more adventures in store. What’s next?

Sometimes it seems our lives are almost too filled with adventure. Most recently, the Boulder flood demolished our entire downstairs. We credit the resilience we developed on our hike of the Pacific Crest Trail with helping us survive under primitive living conditions and throughout our home’s reconstruction. Just as on the Pacific Crest Trail we carried only the gear we needed in our ultra-light backpacks, mine 11 pounds and Porter’s 12, fully loaded except for food and water, we used the loss of so much “stuff ” in the flood to pare down and simplify our lives.

We have two big outdoor adventures in our sights, but don’t have a timeline for them yet, since Porter and I are each at the peak of our careers. One is a self-supported bicycle trip on our tandem from Seattle to Boulder, the final leg of our “Butterfly route.” We’ve already bicycled three of the inner wings of the butterfly Porter envisioned as an overlay on the United States, and hiked the outer wings — the Appalachian Trail and the Pacific Crest Trail.

We’d also like to hike and bike the Continental Divide Trail, 3,100 miles from Mexico to Canada, in various combinations of our own devising. Porter may bike part of it on his mountain bike, with me as his support from various towns along the way. I envision it as a moveable meditation retreat, a self-guided pilgrimage from trailhead to trailhead, intermittently joining Porter to hike with him. We would sometimes be alone, sometimes together in our coupled solitude, but always in relationship with the natural world within and around us.

We’re big on planning and organizing, but we try to remain open to “what wants to happen.” We try to live consciously and to see what nature and awareness supports.

Would you mind explaining what makes you a fool for love? And how did your husband Porter influence your philosophy?

I met Porter at a small dinner party in Houston, where we both lived at the time. The only doctor at his hospice, he spent the entire dinner on the phone helping a dying patient with brain metastases, a gun and a freaked out wife. I figured if he could cope with that, he could probably cope with me. It was love at first fright! We had a turbulent courtship because of the perfect complementarity of our respective conditioning, detailed in my book.

We married because of an inner knowing that we were meant to be together.

In a crisis in his work as a hospice physician, he longed for profound renewal in nature’s cycles of birth, death and growth. Although I hadn’t hiked or camped before, I wanted to understand what drew him to the wilderness. It was on our hike of the Pacific Crest Trail, after 17 years of marriage, that we really fell deeply in love. Despite the extraordinary disparities in our hiking paces and abilities, we learned to trust each other in ways that crises allow.

Our love affair is constantly evolving to suit the needs of our work and our responsibilities to the community, local and global. Porter’s work as a national leader in hospice and palliative medicine has intensified in his role as executive vice president of the American Academy of Hospice and Palliative Medicine, as well as a palliative care physician for Colorado Permanente at Good Samaritan Hospital. I’m well-suited to be the wife of a man with so emotionally intense a life’s work. Porter is exceptionally capable as what we call my “full-service author escort,” traveling with me when possible to my book events all over the country, running the projector for our book trailer and slideshow, not to mention taking me out to dinner to unwind after our presentations. Bless his heart!

How have the people you met on the trail and at your book shows changed you, or what have you learned from them?

Most of us through-hikers don’t really care about money or status; we’re driven by a search for a truth that even as we’re seeking, is trying to find us. By going out into the wilderness, come what may, we’re making ourselves available to who we are in our deepest being. I cherish the connection, through my book, with kindred spirits — hikers and non-hikers, but lovers and pilgrims all. Through their questions at our book presentations, about how to go ultra-light whether in gear or through the world, I recognize them as my teachers. And I know Porter feels the same way.

At heart, I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail is a story not just about how Porter and I managed to stay married while hiking several months over so challenging a trail, but the inherent lovability of each of us and everyone we’ve ever known or ever will.

Finally, how valuable is travel and adventure for you now?

Adventure is woven into the fabric of our being. Wilderness adventure in particular allows for the deconstruction of the physical self and an emotional rawness that unravels psychological conditioning and spiritual concepts. What, or who, is left? Now that’s a mystery worth living.


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