alice to Uluru

Its been a while since I was cycling and typing so I’m going to travel through memories unprocessed and stretch tendons unused.

I left Alice Springs after almost 3 weeks of indulgence and recuperation. 3 weeks is about the amount of time it takes to firstly be aware of what luxury it is to be able to have hot tea at the click of a button, a bed that doesn’t need to inflated and deflated daily and the opportunity to wash on demand. It’s also enough time to forget hardship and what luxury those things are and to fall into apathy, time for muscles to weaken and fat to mass, and fear to build about leaving the comforts of the modern trap.

With all those thoughts swirling in my mind but also the determined though of reaching my goal, I pushed off from Emrys’ place knowing that I would see them again in a few days. It was going to take me 2 half days to get to a folk festival where some friend were playing. The first half day was a cruse, sunny but not hot and a tail wind. The next day however revealed the knee pain that I was expecting but hoping that 3 weeks wasn’t quite enough for my knees to become soft from the break from riding. So the next half day I cycled in constant but not terrible pain stopping every 10km to stretch and massage my knees. By the time I meet up with emrys I felt proud that I looked so disheveled after only 2 days of being out of his care.

Leaving the folk festival was a slight mile stone, it was going to be 3 days without water and some red dirt road, which would take me to the Kings canyon. I started out with 10 liters of water, which gave me 3 liter a day, which isn’t a lot so I learnt very quickly to become thrifty with my water and I developed some rules:

  1. no tea ( as hard as it was to bear, an essential necessity) and absence certainly makes the heart grow fonder, when I was able to have teas that were unexpected they were the best thing I ever drank.
  2. wash pots with water after cooking but drink the washed pot water, gives nutrition from the bits of food that a fork can’t get too and hydration
  3. always be completely focused when decanting water from one bottle to the next… no silly mistakes and never leave a bottle without the lid on tightly.

without having much to gauge my water consumption on 3 liters was a bit of a stab in the dark but it seemed to be pretty good, my theory was that a person could survive in the desert for about 3 days on no water at all so with 10 liters I wasn’t going to die, in fact I was 10 liters ahead of death… a comfortable place to be.

I had my first full day of dirt road and I soon learned to become very close friends with corrugations and red sand, but thankfully it was never bad enough to have me get off a push which I was told would happen. My first night of camping on what I would consider the beginning of my outback experience was worth a mention. I was comfortably in the lucid state before sleep kicks in when I was started by some grunts coming from outside the tent, they sounded very similar to deer and I assumed they were kangaroos but I felt like I should check it out. Outside in the pitch black I could see the reflection of a pack of kangaroo’s eyes, they are the strangest creatures, with a passive stupidness fixed on their face that is even obvious just from the reflection of their eyes. Being pretty sure that roos aren’t dangerous I got back in my tent. Tents can give you a false sense of security, you’re closed off from the outside world.. the symbolic closing of the zip which is nothing more than a symbolic gesture (I guess not in the sense of the small things keeps you safe there) and thought the many nights where I would be spooked by some noise or other or feel a bit scared I would have a mantra which was… if I wake up in the morning then I survived and everything was alright and every morning I woke up.

The area west of Alice Springs has energy and beauty that I can’t describe. I felt the age of the world there, and the wisdom of nature. If there were romantic poets living in Australia in the place (the marini loop) they would have written books of poems about the prehistoric beauty of the place. I felt like I was deeply connected to that place, but I had no desire to live there or spend any more time there than I planned I felt completely contented about everything there, I was aware of the fragile balance that I was becoming a part of and it felt right that it would be transient. Every corner or rise in the road would reveal another vista of sun bathed grass shinning but not bright, broken by desert oak trees which gave the scenery age and wisdom and all framed by the most incredible blue of the sky.

I had one more full day before I would get to the kings canyon, half way through the day a truckky working on  gadding the dirt road leaned out of his cab window and passed me an ice cold coke, I thanked him as much as you can from a 2 second meeting but he could tell from my eyes how grateful I was and he knows it’s his job to be in the desert on the road. I took the coke and sat in some shade and enjoyed dipping my toe into the modern world.

that evening I got to as close as I deemed respectable (about 2km) from the kings canyon camp ground and set up camp in the bushes so I wouldn’t have to pay for two nights camping. Helicopters were flying overhead fairly regularly and I was a bit paranoid they would spot me and get a ranger out to tell me to move on because I was in the national park. They didn’t and I was undisturbed all night. In the morning  I got up and check in to the camp ground and then realized I still had 10km to cycle to get to the canyon from the camp ground.

I set up camp and cycled on with a light bike which I  raced for the 10km. I did the longest walk you could do there wanting to get my money’s worth and gave almost complete disregard for the sighs warning us not to deviated from the path, figuring that it was good and right that people should stick to the path because then I would have the restricted areas to myself. I explore as much of the side canyons as I had time for. The prehistoric nature of the place was so overwhelming, huge trees and plants and this energy that just feels old. Spend most of the time there looking over my shoulder for a dinosaur.

From the canyon it was about another 4 days to get to Uluru (Ayer’s rock) I had about another day of dirt and then to the bitumen. Once I hit the paved road which goes exactly west out to Uluru the environment change slightly and I was very disappointed to have left the place where there was so much wonder, but I had bitumen and a tail wind and I knew I was close to a super market. The day before I got to Uluru I decide to camp on the top of a sand dune and that the view of the sun set would be worth the effort of dragging my bike to the top. And it was because that was my first sight of Uluru which was magnificent subtly dominating even from the distance that I was.

I camped again close enough to the camp ground (which is actually called Ulara resort and is more of a town than anything else, with a hospital, supermarket!, 4 hotels airport etc.)So that I would get there early in the morning and not have to pay for a nights camping. The first port of call was the super market which was incredible, a full supermarket with everything and more than I needed. I spend a while in there just enjoying being around all the food and price comparing looking for the best bargain and trading it off for the most culinary satisfaction. I spend a lot of money and got back to my camp and sat and ate until I felt sick. one luxury I allowed myself was cheese and from that moment on I always tried to keep cheese with me… a luxury being out of the tropics allows.

The camping was expensive and sharing it with more people than I had seen in the last 2 weeks was a little too intense but it was only option if I wanted to see Uluru. I wanted to see the sunset on the rock and also have a day walking around it, so after eating until my body could handle no more, I rested until a couple of hours before sunset and then started the 20km cycle to the rock. I had the plan of hitching a ride back because it was going to be dark and all one way traffic from behind me. The sun set was incredible, as the rock changes with the fading light from red to purple. I asked a guy who had a roof rack if he could take me back he took my bike and I got a ride with his friend which turned out to be a useful contact. The next day I woke up early and cycled the 20km to the rock and then did the 8km walk around the base. The view of the rock is stunning, it’s like nothing else. It’s smooth and steep and seems like it grows from the ground. Some people are disappointed with major landmarks, but not cyclists the feeling of accomplishment is so great that it could be anything that you’ve come to see. not only was this rock such an iconic image of Australia, one that I have known since I started to remember stuff, but it also marked the half was point of a continent, one that I had been the most nervous about and now was feeling more at home that ever.

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