Claire Thompson, MT
Claire studied magazine journalism at Northwestern University and went on to write for the environmental news website Grist before quitting her desk job to pursue a more restless life of seasonal work and travel. Over the last four years, she’s worked on trail crews in some of the most ruggedly scenic corners of the West, waited tables, relearned how to ski, and lived on the road for months at a time. She believes the world is full of compelling true stories—if you know where to find them.
As a Story Terrace writer, Clarie interviews customers and turns their life stories into books. Get to know her better by reading her autobiographical anecdote below.
San Luis Peak
For nine days, my backcountry trail crew got to call one valley in southern Colorado’s sprawling San Juan mountain range home.
Our task was installing log check steps—used to prevent erosion on particularly steep stretches of trail—on the route to 14,022-foot San Luis Peak. The section of trail that needed work was above the tree line, so we’d have to prepare the logs down below and carry them over a mile to the work site.
I hoisted one into my arms and started up the trail. I hadn’t gone more than ten paces before the log started to feel heavy and awkward. I tried balancing it on one shoulder, then the other; across my forearms like a pile of firewood; behind both shoulders like some Gortex-clad martyr. I tried teaming up with another crew member, each of us on one end of a log, but that proved even more awkward, slowing our pace and dragging out the misery.
So I slogged on solo, switching my grip on the log absurdly often, counting steps and giving myself a break every twenty, then every ten. Meanwhile, a couple of my crewmates charged up the mountain as if the logs on their backs were foam pool noodles. I’d thought I was strong, but now I wondered if I even belonged here.
Finally, my composure slipped from my grip like another heavy log, releasing a sudden storm of tears at the same time. Mercifully, there was no one nearby, so I gave in, submerged myself in this salty torrent of my own misery. For all the camaraderie my crew had developed over a summer of living and working together in the wild, at that moment I felt utterly alone.
I pulled myself together and continued. The worst had happened—I’d let the log get the better of me—and maybe that loss of pride lightened my load. When I finally caught up with the rest of the group, I threw the log to the ground and announced, “That was maybe the hardest thing I’ve ever done.”
My crewmate, Kelsey, agreed. “I thought I was going to cry,” she said.
Without missing a beat, I answered: “I cried.”
That made Kelsey laugh, and I laughed, and the whole crew laughed like it was the funniest thing we’d heard since we left civilization. The comedic timing of the exchange had been too perfect. And just like that, my moment of shame and failure was transformed into nothing but another silly trail mishap, the kind of shared story that makes you feel anything but alone.
In the end, it didn’t matter how I got there, or that I’d cried along the way—I was standing in the shadow of San Luis Peak, and I knew by the laughter that surrounded me that I belonged there.
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