Excerpt from I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail

Excerpted from I Promise Not to Suffer: A Fool for Love Hikes the Pacific Crest Trail

by Gail Storey, Winner of the National Outdoor Book Award

I never much cared for nature, or rather, thought it okay as long as it stayed outside. Instead of 550 miles into a 2700-mile hike of the Pacific Crest Trail with my husband, Porter, I wished I were home throwing a dinner party. A hospice doctor in search of renewal in nature, he was an experienced mountaineer. The differences in our abilities were already a problem.57454

For days, from the black-oak forests along the crests of the Sawmill and Liebre mountains, we’d caught glimpses of the Mojave Desert below. Its western edge, the Antelope Valley, stretched so wide and flat it was inconceivable we’d cross it to the Tehachapi Mountains on its other side. Thru-hikers feared it as one of the hottest, waterless, three-day stretches of the Pacific Crest Trail.

Frustrated by my inability to keep up with Porter’s pace, I dashed, for once, far ahead up the trail.

Help me, I cried to the emptiness of the sun-baked landscape. My heart was a rock I wanted broken open, my thoughts a tangled underbrush I wanted scorched to the ground. I ran until out of breath, out of space and time. I forgot who I was, or where, until rounding a switchback—I stopped.

Sauntering toward me was an enormous cat, tawny gold as sunlit sand. Her muscular shoulders rose and fell, her haunches swayed side to side against the solid rock of the mountainside. Her long tail flowed behind her, catching flecks of light. The world slowed to the rhythm of her movement.

Suddenly she saw me. She raised her sculpted head, looked through me with her green-gold eyes.

We contemplated each other.

Gaze, rest, gaze. Rest, listen, rest. Listen, wait, listen. Gaze, listen, be.

Finally, she didn’t so much break as dissolve our gaze. She turned her massive body gracefully in the narrow space of the trail, back toward the way she came. Then she was gone.

In the absolute quiet, everything was light and clear. The mountains fell away. All there was was the loveliness of silence. I existed to listen. I was the listening.

The wind moved through the absolute stillness. I was as supple as wind, as still as the sky.


After a while, Porter rounded the switchback, straight into me. My feet rerooted in the soft dusty earth, life flashed up through my body.

“I saw—an animal,” I managed.

“What kind?” he asked.

“A big cat,” I said. “With a really long tail.”

“How big?”

I motioned to the middle of my thigh.

He took the baskets from the bottom of his trekking poles, to turn them into spears.

“What are you doing?” I asked.

“Mountain lion,” he said.

“Mountain lion?” I echoed faintly.

“We should make lots of noise,” he said, a job he left to me.

“I’ll sing.” I regressed to the first song I’d learned as a child. “Take me out to the baaallgame,” I sang at the top of my lungs.

Shivers ran up and down my spine. I felt her lingering presence more palpably than my own. She seemed unutterably real, where I myself seemed magically imagined.

I wasn’t afraid, because I had seen her, where Porter was because he hadn’t. True, she was solid muscle in her top-of-the-food-chain saunter. We wouldn’t stand a chance.

“She won’t attack,” I said. “But what a way to go.”

What a way to go. Once again the world fell deeply silent. I didn’t need protecting from anything but my small, imagined self. Let that self die into love out here.


Gail Storey discusses nature writing on Thursday, June 12, during the salon Au Naturel: Finding the Provocative, the Deep, the Wild, in Writing about Nature. And she'll be reading on Thursday, June 19, at 5:30 PM in the Speakeasy tent