Tuesday, February 24, 2009
Stuart Highway, Australia
Emily, the British voice inside my GPS, chirped the directions. Turn Right...Continue...636 miles.
If I’m going to make Ayers Rock, it’s going to be a long day.
I take a look at the seemingly endless highway, the red sand and scrubby brush, and step on the accelerator. In the absence of authority figures or the judgment that age is said to bring, I take the car up to 130 and keep it there. Okay, it’s kilometers, but still.
Eighties all-hit weekend and classical music fade, leaving only Aussie Rules Football scores burbling into the static. I punch the scan button and numbers roll through the entire radio spectrum again and again. In the shimmering distance, a mirage appears, taking the form of a monster road train, 189 feet of truck and three trailers barreling down the highway. As we pass, we give the outback salute, a single index finger wave. A sudden buffeting of wind and noise, then I’m alone.
Around noon, I pass Coober Pedy. Opal mining dreams are heaped in a thousand piles of tailings and dust. I once stood in front of a line of passengers boarding the day’s only departing plane with a $100 bill in my hand, trying to buy a seat out of there. For three long days I couldn’t find a taker.
I keep the engine running as I fueled up. No sense taking chances.
After eight hours, I hit my left turn signal. Emily says it’s 147 miles to the park entrance. If I step on it, I might still make it before sundown.