Trail Tooth Fairies & Reflections From Virginia

I’m currently eating a banana in my hotel room bed, lazing away my last moments before returning to round two of my root canal.

I’m still in Virginia. I should be crossing into Tennessee soon. It’s funny that Virginia is around 500 miles, and still with taking multiple zeroes to ward off the Virginia blues, one due to injury, one visit with my sister, I’ll still be out of Virginia in the same amount of time it took me to get out of Maine which was a little less than 300 miles. Maines terrain is much more challenging than Virginia’s, and I was pretty green in regards to long distance hiking back then, but it’s awesome to look back and reflect how far I’ve come.

The past few days have been incredible mostly due to the miracles I’ve encountered on the trail. Shortly after my sister left me my mouth began throbbing pretty consistently. I think it actually started when she was there, but I figured it was just sensitivity to the cold then or maybe a beginning cavity. As the days progressed, the throbbing became the most excruciating pain I’ve ever felt, and soon it became so bad that I knew I needed to see a dentist as it would not go away and I could barely sleep due to the pain. The next day I hiked to the nearest road, thinking to call a trail angel friend with a car on the way to see if there was any possibility she could take me to the nearest dentist. She drove over 45 minutes to come get me and my injured friend. The dentist saw me almost immediately and confirmed my worst fears, that I needed a double root canal and antibiotics. The dentist even offered to drive me to the pharmacy when I said I was having trouble finding a ride to get my prescription filled. Coming from a girl who rarely medicates, only with severe pain, I was taking advil around the clock with only minimal effect, and taking hourly breaks to sob and wail out the pain when it got to be out of control. They told me the antibiotics would buy me time, but it was just too much. I managed to find a shuttle to get orajel, to the pharmacy, and back to the trail within 3 hours of leaving and I still managed to hike my 18.8 miles that day.

When I got to the campsite, the other hikers told me there was a man in the parking lot who wanted to feed me eggs and hot dogs. While I thought this was strange, I was too exhausted and worn down to care, so I went to check it out. Fresh Grounds, a traveling trail angel from North Carolina, had parked his Leap Frog Cafe near our road for the night and had come to surprise us with cooking dinner and breakfast for us, hearing about the huge bubble of SOBOs in the area and the water shortage. He begged to make me dinner and although not feeling very hungry from the pain, I let him cook me eggs, and they were the best over easy ones I’ve had on trail. The next day he fed us an amazing breakfast, I had a veggie omelet the size of my plate, and we headed out. I stopped at the creek to fill water and the pain began to consume me. My friends spoke sense into me and told me that I needed to take care of myself and that I might never have the opportunity to go get medical attention if I didn’t go with Fresh Grounds then, so I sucked up my pride and my fear of having to take more unplanned zeroes and get off trail and went with him into town. I had made plans with a trail friend to get a ride to have the procedure done the next week, but I just couldn’t take the pain any longer. The dentist office I visited was on the way to the next biggest town so I was able to stop and get a copy of my records, and driving down I called back the oral surgeons and dentist list my mom had called about for the next few days and found one that said they would take me as soon as I got there.

Within two hours of leaving the trail I was in the dental chair. Fresh Grounds helped me track down my box I would miss at a hostel another 35 minutes away, took me to Walmart to get food, and dropped me off at a hotel near the dentist office. The dentist office even offered to come pick me up the next morning to come get the remainder of my procedure done because I didn’t have a ride.

Flash forward a few hours and I’m back in Ohio. My tooth had too much drainage to be closed so I had to go in again on Monday. Instead of paying for a hotel room from Wed-Monday it was just cheaper to rent a car and come home. They told me the infection was pretty severe and if I had waited to come in I probably would have ended up in the emergency room instead, possibly septic and very ill due to the abscess being so close to my brain. I mostly have experience dealing with abscesses in my nursing career because of patients injection drug abuse, and having never used any drugs, I was a little shocked to find I had an abscess. However I suffered trauma to my teeth when I was younger in a sporting accident, and apparently that’s all it takes, along with some time.

I have Lost Cookie and Packaged Meat to thank for talking sense into me and getting me to be smart and make the right call about getting off trail to deal with the situation rather than trying to tough it out and hold off. If it weren’t for them, I might not be here now. This realization has jolted some sense into me, a kind of understanding I didn’t necessarily have before my mouth fiasco. I realize the trail is a gift. Although I’m frustrated and overwhelmed this experience has gotten me completely off schedule for my end date and off the trail for 7 days, im also so grateful. I remember I only have one body, and if I don’t take care of it, there won’t be any of me left to hike the trail. The trail isn’t worth dying over, and im not risking my wellbeing to go back out until I’ve been medically cleared.

Unfortunately, this means I will have to skip, also called yellow blazing, the section of time I missed. I don’t have to skip, but with trying to finish a month before my nursing job begins, and not wanting to kill myself with a more strenuous average of miles per day, I’ve decided this is the best option for my body, especially after fighting the icky infection. I want to enjoy my last 500 miles. I want to be around people on the trail, but mostly I want to be well and not taxing my body incredible amounts after this experience. I know this means I’m not technically a thru hiker, I’ll be a LASHER (long ass section hiker) in the AT world and I am disappointed. I’ve been wanting to hike every single last mile of this trail but it’s just not worth the trail purism if it’s going to cause further harm to my body. I won’t finish later than the 10th of November because I know my body needs a full month off to recover before beginning my job.

I went back Monday and had the abscess drained and irrigated and they wanted to let it drain once more on Tuesday (4th visit) since it still had a lot of pressure build up over the weekend before setting me out on the trail. The dentist office here has been amazing, however each visit has been painful and involved needles and drilling and all things my dentist phobic self is terrified of, but I’m facing the fear with each visit. I think if I can conquer this, I can really do just about anything. I’m also feeling very confident with how I’ve handled the situation and decision making and figuring out what was best to do for my body despite wanting so badly to be with my friends, feeling like I’m missing out, and just missing being on trail. I’ve come up with about a dozen plans, each of which have shifted as I go back for a visit and having to stay longer than expected.

I’m torn and exhausted and grappling with the reality of a hike that I didn’t quite expect to shift in this way, but I am doing my best to remain flexible within the circumstances. I keep reminding myself I’m doing a really hard thing. I look back and see myself screaming in pain on the trail just a few days back and I have a whole new level of respect for myself and my body. I feel tough. Strong. I know I can do this. I will finish at Springer. I will hike the remainder of the miles I have left and leave the trail with a sense of accomplishment, no matter how many I completed. While I really wanted to be a purist, to hike every single last mile, I know for me, after some serious self reflection, I acknowledge that my goals for being out here were never really aligned with that. Really, I just want to enjoy my last leg of my trip. I came out here to get a break after working my butt off for 5 years in school and the trail has been much like a hard labor job, with some added fun and amazing people and some crazy challenges. I just want to enjoy the time I have left with the people I’ve met out here. I’ve gained within myself the confidence in my abilities through my challenges and the knowing that I can truly persevere through anything, which is one of the biggest reasons I came out here. I think a major  thing for me has been releasing my expectations of myself and the hike I was “supposed” to have and honoring the amazing experience I have had out here, knowing every moment served a purpose in my growth and I knowing I’ve received exactly what I needed to even if it wasn’t what I was originally expecting. I will come back to the Greyson Highlands in better weather to experience them fully and bask in their beauty. It’s not just the miles now. It’s the knowing of all that I have endured, and kept persevering. I’ve been sick multiple times out here, had a near deadly asthma attack that took me to the hospital, combatted food allergies throughout the whole trail, and now this tooth trauma. I don’t care if I haven’t hiked every single mile of the trail, when I finish, I’m going to feel like a badass because I persevered and kept moving through it all. I didn’t let anything stop me from achieving my goal and getting to Springer. I didn’t let the fear, the pain, the illness, or the obstacles stand in my way. I overcame. Again and again and again. To me, that’s enough.

I may be down but I’m not out.


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Comments 3

  • Therese : Oct 10th

    Hi Nine;
    What a story!!!!! So glad you got help when you did. I’m hoping our paths will cross soon.
    In the meantime, do you have any contact info for Fresh grounds? He was the first thru hiker I met on my journey and I’d love to connect with him again. If so, you can text me at 206-914/4145 or email me.
    Thanks a bunch!!!! Hope to see you.

  • Rain and Sprinkle Katahdin 2016 : Oct 10th

    Ok, what am I missing? There is no need to skip anything. Get back on where you got off and drive on to Springer. You have plenty of time. Who cares about finishing with people you know? The real family are those that are out there struggling with you to reach an incredible objective. SO WHAT if you do not know them now. They and you have the same mission. You can do it and you have the time.


  • Ant : Oct 11th

    Hi Emily. Great post. I love that you were brutally honest. You do only have one body and im glad you stopped to take care of it. The plus side is you will get to go back and finish that section healthy. Very proud of you.


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