Well, today marks my thirty-third year of sobriety. So it’s fitting, I guess, that Alice and I should attempt to hike the six-mile perimeter of Uluru. This will be one of those ‘because it’s there’ endeavors. Uluru is a stupendous monolith though not the biggest in Australia; that’s Mount Augustus in WA. Photos give you some idea how solitary this colossus is, but in life, its immensity is so abrupt and discombobulating that the only solution is to abandon our adobe-encrusted Kluger in the parking lot, take couple deep breaths, and start walking. It’s a matter of adjusting to the scale of the thing.
In 1985, ‘ownership’ of the Rock was ‘returned’ to the aboriginal people. We look with scorn at the stream of white folks climbing the sandstone face of the Rock after being asked over and over again not to. I wish they’d rip out the cables and forbid those heedless fuckers from tromping over this ancient territory. And this October, they will.
Our pace is brisk as we round the first third, but we quickly realize that we got a late start. The day grows hotter and hotter and the path edges closer to Uluru itself, a sump of incandescence. Ali had filled her backpack with what I thought at the time was an excess of water, but she was so right. We’re rapidly evaporating. There’s only the weediest shade, which we cleave to at every opportunity. Along the way, various spots have been designated by the aboriginal people as sacred, sacred specifically to men or to women, or even to grandmas. Hikers are requested not to trespass and to refrain from photography. I aspirate one – two – three goddamn flies. Ali, not being a mouth-breather, is spared.
We are beginning to assume every distant juncture of rock, desert, and sky to be a major turn; perhaps the HALF-WAY POINT! Scoffing at other hikers is one way to buoy our spirits, and so is drinking water. Look! There’s a shelter with shade and a fucking map. We ARE half-way. Rejoice. It feels breezier on this side, though our path is much closer to the Rock. It’s hot to the touch. By the time we’ve determined that we’re in the final third, our asses are both dragging and sorry. Do we crawl across the parking lot to the car? No, but we’re completely glassy-eyed and wobbly in a jubilant way.
I can’t speak for Ali, but I collapsed on my bed. It took a supreme act of will to bend down and untie my sneakers. Supreme Act of Will #2 – shower. And then a nap. There’s a knock at the door. I rise from my horizontal, semi-comatose state and in bursts the mini-bar guy. He takes one look at me naked and vanishes. Oh, I’m awake: so awake in fact that only doing laundry could modulate this state of high alert. The front desk apologizes for the intrusion when I complain. They send us a plate of cheese.
After dinner, we are privy to the Outback Sky Journey, which is a pat description for two guys with powerful telescopes in a dark corner of the resort property. The Milky Way unfurls across the southern sky. The Centauri, Alpha and Beta, two bright stars in close proximity to one another, point to the Southern Cross, the North Star of the Southern Hemisphere. The constellation Orion’s visible, tilted in a crazy way, but Jupiter, the coy gasbag, remains hidden by a tree. Through the telescope, we are offered glimpses of nebulae (the middle point in Orion’s belt), star clusters, and the Large Magellanic Cloud and the Small one, two small, irregular, nearby galaxies. The show is wonderfully entertaining and, like, cosmic.