I exited a monthlong drug study with $5,000 in hand then drove to the dented can grocery store. It’s a cement shop in San Antonio cluttered with a hodgepodge of borderline inedible items. From industrial tubs of beans to smashed packs of diet microwave meals. The space is tight and full of odd boxes, prices marked in bright stickers and black marker. Out back cardboard and crates lay wet and scattered beneath an industrial dumpster.
I stepped on a plastic tote and peered in. Wind swept across the skip. Thrust up a cascading wave of fetid smell. Cardboard cut with a rancid cousin of cat piss. A new breed festered to life by time and sun. I faced the storm and bent in further. Took note that the dumpster teemed with unopened lice kits.
This cancer-grease insecticide was bundled in packs of plastic. Dozens of bricks. I scooped one to snap a photo. The wrapping left my fingers sticky. It seemed coated in a film of dumpster cum. Some mingling of unknown elements both rank and gummy. Syrup and sweat boiled on high in a microwave.
I picked through the skip and found hundreds of expired bottles of knockoff Tylenol. My near future held a month or more of daily hiking. A rolling trip through the American Southwest and its accompanying national parks. A solitary life lived out of a car and across desert campgrounds. One fueled by a need to sprawl. Sun and nature by day, hot vodka under stars by night. All on a gutter-bum budget. Despite fresh cash I remained as frugal as ever.
I fantasized about this trip throughout my drug study. Ten parks, monuments, and forests across five states. A car ready to bed me along the Pacific on its pullouts and overlooks. I planned hikes and camp spots. Places to swim and drive-in theaters to frequent. This trip would signal the start of many long sprawls across the vast public lands of the western US. Would act as the kickoff to a new phase of life where I emptied my all into nature. It was welcome but came unexpected.
Each day in lab rat world I swallowed pills in the morning. Had blood drawn all day. Ate on a schedule timed down to the second. I was locked up with dozens of strangers in a medical facility for almost a month. Lived a life of routine. I didn’t mind. This embodied the existence I drew a target for then honed in on. A slipstream of ease. Of getting paid to read all day. Time blasted forward as I gobbled untested drugs. As I walked the same small space for weeks on end.
Now I was free and full of an itch to move. To stretch my legs and kick dirt across America. To soak skin in both sun and hot springs. I had many miles of desert treks ahead so pocketed pain relief from the grocery store dumpster. I’d let lactic acid infuse my muscles then wash it away with expired pills. An endless supply of knockoff Tylenol. I tucked these sticky bottles to my trunk but left the lice kits to fester.
I had two days to kill before returning to give blood for my study so popped up I-35 to Austin. It was late May and Texas turned hot. Too scorching to sleep in a car. I thought of the woods, of the off-trail hobo camps I stumbled upon while hiking. They were littered with trash. Showed signs of a long, contiguous habitation. I figured this forest a safe place to sleep with no bother. So I decided to stealth camp down on the Greenbelt, a seven-mile path lining a creek and swallowed by trees.
I bummed around Austin then hiked a beat-dirt and rock-stubbed trail to Sculpture Falls. Sculpture is a swimming hole two miles downhill that I swam and swilled booze at often. Its strip is flat but forms no more than a narrow valley as hills of trees rise on either side. Other sections of the belt are marked by towering limestone cliffs, by boulders and scrub brush intermingling. It all made for the perfect cloak. For a life fed by and infused with nature.
Each step downhill tucked the sun a bit more beneath the treeline. As I arrived a few people packed up as the earth dipped off to darkness. I sat cross-legged on pocked-rock cliffs and listened to wind. To rushing water threading into rivulets through rock fins then crashing over boulders to the stream below. To the emerald waters I swam so many times.
I trotted the dirt belt to find a spot in which to disappear. A private space to cowboy camp and call my own. I chose a faint path that cut to the creek through a thicket of low-slung trees with wide-fanning branches. Perfect camo. No way to get there without scraping skin. This no-rent bedroom formed a fortress.
I found the water level low which revealed a gravel bar beside the creek. Just a few hundred feet upstream at the swimming hole it was so much deeper. One could jump from cliffs to water there. Bomb crash to current, sink deep, then swim off. I thought of the river I grew up on. How some summers it dips to reveal a secret beach for me to kayak to and camp on. How nature’s cycles are a wonder cloaking infinite mysteries.
This gravel nook on the Texas creek worked well for my needs. I stripped naked and unrolled my sleeping bag. Set it just off the water. I lay prone then supine, sweeping away rocks that poked to back and ribs as I turned over. I shined a low-flow flashlight on the opal green stream then slipped off to squeaky bugs, to night sky uncloaking itself before me.
Come morning I woke to the grating shrill of an early bird. I picked lime-sized stones and while still on my back flung them at trees. With each throw I hoped I gave enough arc so it wouldn’t fall back and crack me open. No matter how many projectiles sent, how many trees hit, the bastard bird chirped. I wished for late-onset deafness to drown this discordant song of nature. In its stead I stuffed napkins in each ear, closing the accompanying eye as paper filled me.
Tiredness took over and I slipped off once more. After some period I woke, this time to more light and the murmur of others on an opposite side of the creek. I was still naked so donned shorts then sat as if in morning meditation. After they disappeared I walked in the creek, splashing my face with cool water to wake me. My feet rubbed smooth rocks as soft current ran across skin. I heard more birds sing out to earth. Their screeches turned to song as my brain came back online. This moment was a preview of the month ahead. Of a long sought soak in nature.
I shit blood in the woods then plowed back up to city streets to bum around Austin. That night I returned to my stealth camp, enacting the old routine, this time with proper plugs. The next morning I drove to San Antonio. They took my blood and now my duties were done. No more drugs to ingest in my system. I had enough money to stretch into fall. To fuck off for as long as I wished, so long as I ran a rolling pin across each dollar.
I returned to the dented can grocery store. Stocked up on bottom-shelf supplies long expired. I skipped another dumpster run. Just prayed I stayed lice free. I plugged in the first coordinates on my GPS. Big Bend National Park. My car had no AC so I peeled off my shirt then shot into the Texas sun, en route to the Mexican border. To a monthlong journey of self-discovery, fucking off, and fun. Those three pieces formed the holy trinity upon which I hung my being.
Summer was the time to be alive and so I drove and dove into the season. Into unending lands of infinite joy and mystery. Untapped pockets holding all the moments in which life is lived. A space to spark my soul. I was thankful for the experience. For each opportunity I forged for myself. For five grand in hand and a trunk full of dumpster pills.
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