Gail Muller Takes on Chronic Pain and Outdoor Adventure in “Unlost”
Gail Muller is an adventurer and author on a mission—both on and off the trail. For years, she struggled with the hidden disability and chronic pain of muscular-skeletal issues. Sometimes the pain was so severe and debilitating that she couldn’t even leave her house. Yet, with hope and grit, she eventually took on the Appalachian Trail at age 41.
In her debut memoir, Unlost: A Journey of Self-Discovery and the Healing Power of the Wild Outdoors, Gail recounts this trek and inspires others to heal through nature and find what works for them to keep going.
Interview With Gail Muller on Chronic Pain, Healing in Nature, and Her New Book, Unlost
We caught up with Gail to learn more about her background, healing chronic pain, and how she’s using her experiences to encourage others to get “unlost.”
Gossamer Gear: Can you start by telling us a little about yourself and how your book Unlost came to be?
Gail: Hi! I’m Gail, I’m 43, an avid hiker, and Cornish, which means I grew up in the county of Cornwall in the United Kingdom (UK), and have therefore lived surrounded by beautiful nature in the form of the wild sea and coastal greenery for most of my life. Cornwall sits on the most south-westerly peninsula of the UK, and it’s been a gift to grow up here feeling free and in touch with the natural world.
I’ve spent much of the last few years thru-hiking and writing, but I’ve actually worked in a variety of fields in my life. My profession is predominantly within education, but have also worked on yachts as crew, and within media, too—print and film. I’ve loved barreling through my life and pushing my limits to see how far my brain and drive could take me, but alongside these passions and enthusiasm for life I was also battling terrible chronic pain and illness in relative secrecy for over 15 years.
These two elements of my life—my excitement to be part of the world and be active in it, and the crushing pain I dealt with in silence every day—pulled me in opposite directions for nearly 15 years. The limitations and struggles of disability took me to a very dark place. The book Unlost comes from that conflict and my determination to challenge even the most difficult odds—a doctor told me at 15 that by age 40 I would likely lose the ability to walk. So, the story of Unlost is a memoir set along the Appalachian Trail, which I hiked southbound in 2019 after seeking a resolution to my illness, finding it, and rehabilitating myself to the point that I could take on a long distance hike. The book looks at those moments in life where we feel defeated and stuck, but shows that with the right mindset, and if you can keep hope alive, you can push through one more day until life eventually looks very different than it did at its bleakest. Acceptance of where we are today, working with the hope that tomorrow can be better, form stepping stones into a brighter future that’s possible for each one of us.
Image Credit: Morgan Cartlidge; Tin and Copper
What is it about nature that you think is so vital for mental and physical healing? In what ways has it helped you recover?
I believe nature helps remind us that everything happens at differing speeds. That healing or growth isn’t linear and it’s totally ok to have a winding path in life. There are seasons for all things. When I was really unwell, I found myself feeling left behind. Like I had fallen out of pace with the life that should have been mine. I rushed at wellness again and again, and every time I did so, I set myself back because I’d pushed too hard or too fast. Being in the natural world helps you see healing and regeneration happening in real time; the leaves fall and they grow again, the trees that are scarred heal over months, green leaves sprout from burn areas in the spring sunlight. It gives you confidence in letting things move at their natural pace and that there’s beauty even in things that seem hard or ugly. Nature is adaptable and seems to move with adversity—the boughs that don’t bend with the wind end up breaking and being lost. Knowing and seeing this taught me that I needed to apply these lessons to myself, to work with my body, accept its limitations, and believe that in time it would heal. It set me on a path of moving towards seeing pain and my chronic illness as my friend, and not an enemy I was fighting. In the fighting I was becoming tired and further broken, but you can’t resist the storm, you can only move with it and understand how it affects you in order to limit the damage. Then, once you understand it you can start moving within it. I tamed the storm inside my body and it was when I worked in this friendly way with my illness that I started to see real improvements and recovery.
Being in the outdoors also helps me heal in other, less metaphysical, ways. Just being away from gadgets and buildings, people and noise. What a relief! The peace and the green spaces are so restful and restorative for my busy (probably ADHD) mind. And the communities that surround the great outdoors are unfailingly kind and supportive. I’ve met wonderful people and lifelong friends by stepping outside—be it on my doorstep to the local park or deep into the Appalachian Mountains!
How do you hope this book impacts your readers by the end?
I would love for my story in Unlost to help show others that there is always hope. That things can change and improve, whatever obstacles we face. There is joy out there, and good things are moving towards us. My past prognosis was really quite grim, and my mental health suffered hugely as a result of chronic illness and disability, but on the other side of those dark days was a future worth holding on for.
We can all feel stuck, whether it’s being in the house with young children, in a job we hate, or being unwell. What’s important is to accept where you are, but also believe that just a little down the road are better, different days. And today, you can start making tiny incremental steps towards those better days, even if it’s just reading an article that gives you more knowledge about your goal (like learning a knot for a rope or how to pitch a tarp), or walking for a few minutes more every day to build stamina.
Unlost, and the story of my journey from a place of agony to a place of joy, could be any one of us. I hope it helps people believe it could be their story, too. Of course, I also hope it entertains and makes people laugh, because it made me laugh often when I was both living it and writing it!
What is the #UnlostWalks challenge and how can folks get involved with that?
September is International Pain Awareness Month, and with my book’s release on September 7, I am launching the charity campaign #UnlostWalks that I hope will raise awareness for unseen chronic pain conditions.
#UnlostWalks is a way to encourage people to go outdoors and take a stroll or a longer hike, share it with the community, and make a donation in support of the pain charities, Pain UK and the US Pain Foundation. These walks will build a community of support on Instagram where people can take pictures and share the challenges of their weekly walks. I’d love everyone to share their progress with the hashtags #UnlostWalks and I can then share them on my channels, too!
I’m also using the fitness app Strava to get people together. I’ve put the challenge #UnlostWalks on my Strava account and would love people to come and join so they can add their miles (and hopefully their donations!) to the total.
I feel like the beauty of this challenge is that it is accessible to all, with folks choosing the distance that they think they can achieve, as well as the route. We’re all in this together, and are hopefully making a difference by raising money to tackle invisible illness.
Ok, and we have to ask... What Gossamer Gear product is your personal MVP on the trail and why?
For me, it’s always the Gossamer Gear Mariposa 60. I used my GG pack through my entire Appalachian Trail southbound thru-hike and absolutely loved it! I also then used it for the 630-mile South West Coast Path here in the UK, and for the almost 250 miles I did of the Continental Divide Trail southbound this summer before a range of things took me off trail.
The Mariposa is light but robust, roomy but compact, and has all the pockets and pouches that a person like me (who likes to keep things organized because I have a very busy brain!) needs to feel on top of my gear. It’s also good for me being a curvy, shorter woman—I can reach my bottles and it sits on my hips like a dream! I miss it when it’s not on my back. Saying that, though, I also love my GG trekking poles and my The One tent, too! Lots to choose from.
Order Your Copy of Unlost: A Journey of Self-Discovery and the Healing Power of the Wild Outdoors Today
We hope you’re as excited as we are to read Gail’s tale and find the joy that gets you through. If you’d like to follow along with Gail’s work and learn more about the #UnlostWalks challenge, check out Gail’s website and make sure to follow her on Instagram.
You can order a copy of her new book here, and anywhere books are sold. We hope to see some fun photos of the Gossamer Gear community out reading it on the trail!