Getting Off Trail

I leave Silver City with a 5-day course of antibiotics, a persistent infection in my toenail, and a tentative exit plan from trail. While in town, I try everything to speed the healing of my foot (short of staying off my feet and staying out of my shoes, of course). Somehow, multiple Shirley Temples from the brewery in town do little to help the infection, but they do wonders for my morale.

Addressing the Infection

My sister— a medical professional!— FaceTimes me to walk me through draining the abscess under my nail myself. Armed with a sewing needle, iodine wipe, and lighter, I sit in the corner of the Silver City Visitors Center and do my best to puncture through the necessary part of my toe, but find the abscess too deep and hard to reach to have success on my own.

Huge shoutout to Kelly at the Visitor Center who was very unfazed by the crying girl on the floor in the corner trying to drain a toe.

I decide to hike on from Silver City to Doc Campbell’s, about 60 miles ahead, in the hopes that the antibiotics work their magic and my toe miraculously recovers. The two pieces of advice my sister leaves me with are “keep the toe as clean as possible” and “do everything you can to keep your foot dry”. The cleanliness aspect may be hard to follow but, if the previous two weeks of burning hot sun and no water were any indication, keeping my foot dry would be a piece of cake.

I probably should’ve checked the map before leaving Silver City.

The Gila River: Land of One Million River Crossings

About 40 miles north of the town, the trail reaches the Gila River. In some ways, this river feels like salvation. For the first time all trail, I have consistent and reliable access to water, and the towering canyon walls surrounding the river provide a wonderful barrier to the intense sun. However, once the trail meets the river, the whole “keep your foot dry” thing sort of goes out the window. My first day after reaching the Gila, I cross the river 56 times. And, no, there are no bridges.

For the first time, I woke up with frost on my sleeping bag– I’m very happy I slept with my filter. 

Contrary to the previous mornings on trail, I wake covered in frost and am grateful I slept with my water filter. It’s hard to get moving this morning, as I’m already cold, and I know I’m about to spend the day with wet legs and feet. Nothing better than consistent, dirty, cold water for an infection… right?

Of course, the sun stays behind clouds and temperatures stay low well into the morning— another first for the trail. Multiple river crossings are tedious on the warmest of days, but 56 crossings in a chilly canyon leave us shivering, silent, and in terrible moods. Thankfully, the sun peeks out around the 40th crossing.

The novelty wears off after around the 5th crossing, I can promise you that. 

The trail— if it can be called that— between the crossings demands significant bushwhacking across uncomfortable, rocky terrain. By the time I climb out of the canyon to reach Doc Campbell’s, my shins are sore from pushing against the river’s current and the arches of my feet are killing me. I find it incredibly gratifying each time I push through tall grasses and sharp bushes and find a set of footprints. Even if I’m going the wrong way, at least someone before me also considered this a reasonable way to go. Sweet, sweet vindication.

I’ve never been so happy to be back on a paved road before!

Leaving the Trail

At Doc Campbell’s, after peeling off my wet shoes and socks, it’s clear to me that continuing deeper into the Gila Wilderness would be a uniquely stupid choice to make. The trail becomes even more remote, I’m on my final day of antibiotics, and the infection in my nailbed continues to grow. I have the hikers around me look at my toe and receive a very mixed bag of advice. Huge shoutout to the man on the banks of the Gila who offered to “pop that nail off” and “drain the bad boy” himself with his Swiss Army Knife, after offering me a free shot of whiskey for the pain.

Thankful for the eventually sunny day for those final 20 or so crossings.

While very close to taking that deal, I instead got a ride to Albuquerque with Elise, a truly wonderful trail angel. Everyone say “thank you, Elise” for driving 10 hours round trip to pick me up and letting me stay with her for a few days while I got my toe situation under control at a nearby hospital. Truly, I have no words for the intense kindness I’ve been shown while on this trail, and I know reaching Canada would be an impossible feat without the generosity of those around me.

No one be shocked when I name my firstborn after Elise.

So, for now, I’m off trail in Albuquerque, eager to finish my round of antibiotics and continue hiking north. Once I get back on trail I’ll be down one toenail. I’m looking on the bright side by considering this a reduction in my base weight so, by some metrics, the trail is about to get easier!

Affiliate Disclosure

This website contains affiliate links, which means The Trek may receive a percentage of any product or service you purchase using the links in the articles or advertisements. The buyer pays the same price as they would otherwise, and your purchase helps to support The Trek's ongoing goal to serve you quality backpacking advice and information. Thanks for your support!

To learn more, please visit the About This Site page.

Comments 6

  • Professor Jellybean : May 17th

    I kid you not, I was thinking about you just this morning: “I wonder how Katie is. I hope she’s okay. Her BFF posted just a couple of days ago. Why hasn’t Katie posted anything?” (No, we’ve never met, I just really enjoy your posts!) 🙂 So glad to hear you’re on the road to recovery! And if it’s any confirmation of your first-born’s name, one of my all-time favorite students after 43 years of teaching was named Elise! 😀

    • Katie Jackson : May 17th

      Aww this is so so kind to hear! I’ve been trying to delay my updates a bit so no one has my exact location (a woman of mystery!!). It’s been great to be back on trail the past few days. Not to spoil anything, but the toe is doing great now 😂

  • Lori : May 17th

    Katie I’ve been a longtime Instagram follower and I’m so happy to see you’re doing well!! Sending you thoughts, prayers, and finger guns all the way from Baltimore!!

    • Katie Jackson : May 17th

      Thank you, dear friend ❤️ I think about you a lot! And talk about you a lot! Everyone is sick of hearing about the famous Lo** Ba***r

  • Swisscake : May 19th

    Rooting for you, sister! Hope to see you in Chama. Glad you opted for the licensed professional.

  • Jeff Greene : May 25th

    You didn’t go for the mountain man with a knife and a bottle of whiskey? Where’s your sense of adventure? But seriously, glad you got it handled. I can’t imagine how miserable that must have been.


What Do You Think?