A week and day had passed since my crash when we arrived at Ayer’s Rock. You could feel the milieu changing as soon as we got within 100 kilometers of the iconic monolith. The washboard road that claimed one of our rider’s license plates turned into glassy-smooth bitumen. We were passing rental cars and tour buses instead of sand, sand and little specs of camel grass poking through more sand.
But until you get within 30 kilometers of the rock, the new road and signs seem like the result of pork-barrel government spending. “Bridge to nowhere” kind of deal.
Then you round that last dune and boom; it’s just there. Hanging on the horizon like the spaceship in Independence Day.
I had a much better view than the bikers from the cockpit of the Isuzu- one minor advantage to my “benched” status. And what a view it was. Even from miles and miles away I could tell this place was special.
I’ve seen a few of the world’s icons, but for some reason this stands out as one of the most astounding things I’ve ever had my eyes on.
“Fucking Ayer’s Rock, man!”
Magnus looked over from the driver’s seat and cracked a smile- he wouldn’t bother feigning enthusiasm, he had seen the damn thing almost fifty times.
We rolled into Yulara, the miniature city dedicate to serving the hoardes of Germans and Japanese that fly in, take a few peace-sign photos, and make tracks for Sydney to tick the next box on their itinerary. Mags told me it was shaped like a crocodile when viewed from the air, but since I’ve learned to take everything he says with a bowl of salt I’ll have to let you look that one up for yourself.
The team had a day off at the campground, which meant Mags and I would be running around all day provisioning and fixing bikes.
The day drew to a close and I still hadn’t been within 10 kilometers of the rock. “Looks like you’ll have to see it another time, just like my last drivers” Mags said as we spun wrenches into late afternoon.
We finished up as the sun was setting, throwing the most incredible range of colors across the sand and sky. There wasn’t a cloud visible and a full moon was due up.
“I wish there was some way I could get a better look before the sun goes down,” I said, ogling our row of freshly tuned DR-Z 400’s.
“Ehy, take a ticket and ride over!” Mags replied.
“Yeah! Take my helmet. Just, please, don’t hit any roos,”
Saw that one coming.
“I won’t!” I said as I scrambled into the truck cab for Mags’ lid.
Ayer’s Rock. I was going to see it, up close, alone, and on a motorcycle. This is as good as it gets sportsfans; my first ride since the crash would be a triumphant one indeed. I hopped on the first bike in line. Fired it up, mounted and clicked into first. No gloves, thin jacket and work boots. Totally appropriate riding gear for a place that would drop to 0 degrees C in less than an hour.
I poked the throttle.
God is there anything better than that sound?
Before I could take off Mags walked over to offer one last piece of advice.
I really needed to work on my reputation. “Starting tonight” I vowed.
I powered out of the campground and toward the rock. Passing more than a few Watch Out For Wildlife signs, I kept the bike 5 KPH below the speed limit.
I had seen how incredible Ayer’s Rock looked from 30 kilometers away. But as I got closer, the magnitude of the thing completely bent the throttle on “wow” factor.
10 kilometers; “Holy shit.”
5 kilometers; “Ho. Ly. Shit.”
You’ve seen photos of this thing since you were a kid but I promise you it is way, way bigger than it looks on that Qantas ad in the subway.
By the time I got to the last viewing pull-off I had to have a photo. Low light, hand quivering in the cold, and a bee’s dick worth of battery power left… perfect conditions for a photoshoot.
Since I knew I could Google-image way better pictures of the rock than I could ever take, I allocated the last of the electricity to a self-shot of my helmeted-mug with the rock behind.
I squeezed the button to collect a few images and then beeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeep; the all-too-familiar cry of a stone dead power source.
So all I got was this shithouse picture of myself flouting the “No Stopping” sign, and one DR-Z glamor pose.
Orbiting the most iconic pile of sandstone on Earth with my spare battery in the truck was a minor buzzkill, but being just a kilometer away from this thing was too awesome to have me worried long.
I had to get closer.
I followed the road as it continued on to the rock. Finally I was skirting the base less than 100 meters away, and a wall of sediment occupied the entirety of my view.
Absolutely unlike anything I had ever seen. Old Ayer must have pooped his pants right off when he found this thing on his way to the pub… or wherever he was going in the middle of Australia a hundred years ago.
I had to touch it.
Pulled into the parking lot where two Land Cruisers were sitting, waiting for the Germans who rented them to bring them back to the hotel.
Walked up to, then a few meters up the rock, sat down and surveyed the landscape. Even from just a short distance up I could see the Olgas (another striking landform in the middle of nowhere) a few hotels and a whole lot of desert.
The setting sun threw an intense orange-fading-to-dark-blue light that reminded me of a JIC Magic titanium exhaust pipe.
I had to get a little higher.
I scrambled up the rock to the point where you have to start holding a chain to climb. This thing is steep.
The owners of the two 4WD’s passed me on their way down; both families with tiny kids who could barely walk. Damn those Germans and their fitness.
Looking up the rock was pretty intimidating. It was clearly a long way, and it was getting dark.
On the other hand, there was a full moon out. And if those kïnder-climbers could do it, surely I wouldn’t have a problem.
So I went for it. Charging at first, then slowing down, then stopping, another charge, then a slow and steady trudge.
Man I was getting tired. My shoulder, which had faired well on the motorcycle, was starting to remind me I had torn it in a few pieces as the climb got to hands-and-knees grade.
I thought I would text my team to let them know I’d be a minute, as one of the nearby resorts had a tower and even my Chinatown Special cellphone was working.
That would have been a great idea, if I hadn’t left my phone in the truck.
Hmm, I had kind of been counting on that as my flashlight as well.
But at this point I was so close to the top…
I pressed on. It was a sanctioned park-path for christsake, not Everest.
When I could finally stop climbing, the now-substantial pain in my shoulder and soreness of legs paid for themselves a hundred times over.
I felt the same intense absence of noise I had experienced in the Swedish Arctic as I took in a boundless desertscape frosted in moonlight. The wind breathed all around me and I was sure the ghost of Mustafa would manifest itself any second.
Unfortunately, all that manifested was the realization that I was cold as hell. Time to bounce.
Looking down the path I had just crawled up I was griped by another unpleasant realization; while the moon was beautifully illuminating the desert to the east of the rock, my path forced me down the west side… which was pitch black.
I climbed, slid, and crab-walked the entire face of Ayer’s Rock until I reached the bottom of the chain.
I headed for the parking lot. I could barely make out the glint of my motorcycle’s wheel, but seeing it was reassuring.
As I made my way toward the bike I encountered my next obstacle- a massive gate locking me behind a fence with the rock.
I put my shoulder through one last gauntlet as I scaled the stupid thing. While pain seared through my upper left I read the sign on the gate; “Do Not Enter After Hours. Penalties Apply.”
That wasn’t in place when I started, I swear.
I powered up the bike and headed home, feeling colder every meter. I shook my head at myself- even I’m not usually dumb enough to take off without gloves.
But I had, and now I was paying the price for my haste. I was puttering down the dark road at 40 KPH with my left hand in my pocket, right hand scrunched up in my sleeve, and balls about to solidify and shatter on the pavement behind me.
What felt like hours later I rolled into camp to the expectable comments of “we were about to send the search party” and “we thought the ‘roos had the last laugh after all.” But Magnus had saved some excellent dinner for me, and had even taken care of the dishes in my absence- a true champion move.
I wolfed down my grub, washed down a few painkillers with a finger of scotch and crawled into my swag. Hundreds of kilometers to cover the next day, and we were already halfway to Perth.