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From Ride the Breath by Gerry Roach

Chapter Six – Odyssey

Australia, 1973

When the train finally left us in Alice Springs in Australia’s Northern Territory, I immediately wandered into a dim bookstore on the edge of the Outback to pick up some Dreamtime reading. I bought Lasseter’s Last Ride by Ion Idriess, and the book kept me company for another dusty day on a westbound bus. It told the story of Lasseter, a white man, who traveled into the Outback in search of gold, but feared for his life when things went badly. The Aborigines took him in and Lasseter lived a new life that had nothing to do with the gold. His beliefs and spirit morphed into a Dreamtime as he better understood the harsh environment into which he had placed himself. With his time up, he had only his thoughts—and his diary—as the desert took him. Lasseter’s partners recovered his diary years later, and the message was poignant—Dreamtime may not be easy or safe.

When I closed the book, there it was. Locals just call it ‘The Rock.’ This simple appellation captures the monolith’s elemental power, and I blinked trying to understand its size and scope. Ayers Rock was beautiful, but I did not yet understand it since I did not know its scale. For starters, we knew that a prerequisite for Dreamtime was time, which we had, so we planned to spend at least a week here on our Dreamtime. Perhaps, understanding would come later.

That night, while Barb and I lay exposed on top of our double sleeping bag hoping for a breeze to carry away the oppressive heat, it struck me that we had traveled 1,200 miles overland across some of Earth’s flattest land to see a rock rising 1,200 feet above the drifting sands. We processed a mile of flat land for each vertical foot of rock. This ratio of more than 5,000 to one was a simple measure of the Rock’s power. As I drifted toward Barb, and into dreams, I started to understand.

Barb on the beach at Cottesloe, Western Australia Barb on the beach at Cottesloe, Western Australia

Unlike a serious and often highly visualized climb, our Dreamtime would define itself.
Gerry leading on Bluff Knoll's Northwest Face Gerry leading on Bluff Knoll’s Northwest Face

Our new friends liked to rock climb, and we did a multi-pitch climb on the northwest face of 3,520-foot Bluff Knoll, the Stirling’s highest peak. It felt good to be on high-angle rock again, and to touch a range highpoint.
Gerry on Toolbrunup Gerry on Toolbrunup

That evening, a spectacular sunset framed the peaks, and two with Aboriginal names fascinated me —3,450-foot Toolbrunup and 2,570-foot Talyuberlup. They were tiny, but full-featured. I wanted them.
Western Australia's Stirling Range Western Australia’s Stirling Range

I chose the summit. Battling brush and broken rock in the blasting wind, my 2,570-foot peak with the romantic name became a trial. Scuttling up the ridge like an escaping cat, I reached the summit in a violent rainstorm. Shivering and slithering across Talyuberlup’s highest point, I felt the Antarctic’s proximity and power.
The Rock The Rock

At sunrise, I said, ‘Let’s touch the Rock!’ We grabbed our packs and started jogging, but it was farther than it appeared. As we approached, smooth sandstone arched overhead in a sweep that was hard to comprehend. At first we gingerly touched it, then put the full length of our bodies against the Rock and embraced it.
Dreamtime Awake Dreamtime Awake

Moon held Cloud and Rock while they caressed, until Cloud gave Water to Rock. I propped our camera on the tent pole to photograph the dim, fleeting scene, but realized that I could better photograph it with my mind. I put the camera down and stared, as Cloud and Moon became new Dreamtime elements.
Gerry starting up Ayers Rock above Mutidjula Gerry starting up Ayers Rock above Mutidjula

We chose a summit route, but it was steeper than we wanted. If we fell, we would slide down into Snake’s pit. Would Rock consume us or just cradle us? I carried our rope on my back, but we could not use it here, since there was no place for an anchor. I looked up at the barren slab then down at my wife, and said, ‘Lover! I can’t belay you. We have to climb Uluru unroped.’
The Olgas The Olgas

We stood in a natural reflector oven as Sun cooked us. Uncertain, we started up the wall, until Lover cried, ‘My hands are starting to burn!’ After a hundred feet, we realized that we could not negotiate a thousand feet like this. Flinging sweat from flesh to rock too hot to touch, we retreated to Chevy’s shade, and I added Hot to my list.

Photos from the Gerry Roach Collection



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