Home > Travel > Backpack America > Backpacking Austin – Chapter 9

You wake up because you hear car doors slam and the hiss of air brakes as city buses roll past.

Roll over and try to go back to sleep despite it being light out.

The morning northbound train rolls in and I don’t even care if the conductor saw me or not. They had to have seen all those tents around Highland, what’s a guy in a sleeping bag?

The morning is the kind of cold that makes you want to stay in your sleeping bag. Instead you pack it up, long before sunrise, jam it in your backpack and limp towards the train station. Ten minutes before the next southbound train is due to arrive. Some of the same faces from the night before crowd the platform. A couple of them even show signs of recognition when they look down at my long johns and shorts combo.

I read my worn paperback book the whole ride, happy again that the trains are heated, kind of dissapointed that the entire time I had spent on the trains not a single person had been asked for their ticket.

I limp towards the library, meeting people’s eyes with a smile and saying good morning. The short security guard with thick glasses looks away in disgust and shakes his head, refusing to otherwise acknowledge me. Construction workers look down and away. Is it the limp? The shorts? The huge backpack or the hood and hat combo? I laugh because it is all funny. I’m not human anymore, just homeless.

If they knew how much my stomach was grumbling would they care?

Tragedy of tragedies the library doesn’t open for a few more hours. So I keep limping, keeping the blood flow going, down to Whole Foods for wifi and a plastic butter knife to spread the last of my cream cheese on at least two of those bagel thins I had been hoarding. Filtered water in small 5 oz paper cups and a table with wifi in a heated, relaxed atmosphere? I’ll take it.

The people laughing at the next table about having to scrape frost off of their windshields using a CD because they didn’t have ice scrapers. Meanwhile I’m trying to get the feeling back into my toes and nose. While they eat their big paid for breakfast and I eat week old bagels with the last of my cream cheese. Not really knowing where my next meal would come from.

My plan had been Barton Creek Wilderness Park for another potential place to stay, but with the limp so bad I decided to pass on that option. Everyone’s eyes vote for a new pair of pants. How to do that?

Sally’s, Salvation Army, for a free lunch and a request for pants?

“The nights have been cold in just shorts ma’am.”

Or out to Goodwill and hope for something?

Paper money. The last two dollars go into the bus for another all day pass. Goodwill has one pair of jeans in my size and that I might wear in the real world. I marvel at the Asic’s and…. and other brand name trail running and hiking sneakers on the shelf for just $5.99. If I’d only had that selection back home. The jeans are enough, maybe too much, and I keep my fingers crossed after I hand over my credit card. Silly superstition, if it goes it goes. And it does. A new pair of second hand Levi jeans and I’m singing a new tune. Literally singing, “I’ve got my love to keep me warm.”

No more looks from the regular people, and they try to keep the looks at my limp discrete. Maybe I’m just handicapped, there is no way for them to guess that I’m homeless anymore.

I bus back to Lamar and Whole Foods again but find myself wandering over to REI, trying on backpacks again.

The Kestrel has more loops and collapses pretty nice. I could go with the 38 liter… but for 4 more ounces I could just get the 48 liter and be prepared for any trek, anywhere and never have to skimp like I would with the 34 liter Stratos. I’m trying to think about the future. About forever.

I still have no plans when I walk out and wander over to Duncan Park. I should be in the library finishing that book before I leave. Only it is so nice out I take my shoes off for the first time in days and sit in the sun and read the book in my pack. How long ago was it that I was here? My first night, when was that? Seven days ago? Already?

Watching the homeless move into the park, staking their claim to spaces well before dark, I wondered if I should be looking for a place to sleep. Instead I read until the shadow of a building blocks out the sun and the heat. Without the sunlight a chill runs through my body. SOcks and shoes back on I trudge up to the library. Third floor, usual seat against the window, the setting sun making it so warm that I consider taking off my long johns, even if it is only while I sit here reading.

Isn’t there something that I should be doing?

I plug in my cell phone to charge.

No, something more. Shouldn’t I be working on something, being more productive?

I read until after the sun sets. There is no rush. On the way out of the library there is a new sign for a cold weather shelter for the homeless.

Below freezing tonight, the sign warns. Let someone else have it that needs it I think to myself. I walk out the front door without having a destination in mind. Or a care for that matter. Actually I am damn happy. Maybe it’s the optimism but my knee feels better. I only limp when the pain starts shooting up my leg. No matter how sharp or how long it lasts the pain can’t touch my smile.

Man I feel great.

I walk up towards 29th thinking about looking for that park that Henry mentioned and am drawn by the Taco Cabana sign. Tacos sound great but the money? All you can drink soda I see walking up to the window, salsa bar. I’m at the register handing over my debit card before I know what I’m doing.

Amazingly it goes through. How much money is still left on this thing?

Two tacos and a bowl of rice. The salsa verde is the only thing with any hint of spice so I pile it on, along with jalapenos and pico de gallo from the salsa bar. That alone doubles the size of my meal. Soda refill after soda refill. It all feels so good, like I am doing everything exactly right. There is no tension or worry, no useless thoughts or noise. Everything just flows from one moment to the next.

I walk through the capitol building past the Christmas tree and music, down light covered, tree lined Congress St. to the bus stop where my still valid pass takes me back towards the hostel and my gazebo for the night.

I go out to the end of the peninsula and a fly fishing kayaker floats by in the dark. I walk back inland and his boat rocks back and forth, startled by my presence.

Unroll the sleeping bag and stretch out on the wooden bench watching the occasional shooting star and fall asleep.

Voices wake me up at 1 am, a couple out for a walk. They continue past me, wrapped in each others arms, unsure if they even spotted me as they walk out towards the end. Half an hour later they walk back, still chatting. Maybe I should have moved, the moon is so bright that I feel like I am on display. They chat and laugh and walk by and I wonder if they’ll tell anyone. I wonder if they saw me.

It doesn’t matter.

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Backpacking Austin - Chapter 10
Backpacking Austin - Chapter 8

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