There comes a point in travel when you let the budget be damned. For
me, that point comes at the Qantas ticket counter after a day delay
from L. A. and a 17-hour flight when faced with the prospect of
headaches finding a 6-hour bus from Alice Springs to Ayer's Rock.
This bullet comes in the form of a ~$270 AUD ($200 USD) ticket, and it
bites but gets me directly to Ayer's Rock.
But things would be too easy if I could find my buddies immediately. Not seeing them at the campsite, I drop my bag and pick up a bike rental. It's shitty and without suspension, but it gets me to Ayer's Rock and into appreciating the outback. Not only is the climb to the top of the rock closed, but there's a $5,000 AUD fine if I'm caught attempting it. That hurts more than the prospect of a fall.
I bike the ~9 km around Uluru, aka Ayer's Rock. I can't express how cool this large stone is; it's really something one must experience to appreciate. Basically, it's the second-coolest thing I've ever seen (after the Taj Mahal). I've wanted to visit Australia since I realized that there were different countries, and the outback's always seemed particularly exotic. As I bike away from the world's second-largest natural monolith (what's the biggest?) through dark red soil interspersed with plants I've never seen before, I'm so content that I literally have tears in my eyes.
It's been ~40 km by the time I get back to the campsite, and lo and behold: I find the tools. I must be maturing: seeing old people nearby, I change the "fuckers" in "I've been looking for you fuckers all day" to "guys." It's good to see them (= Mud, Erik, Riad, and Mike), and we kill the rest of the night catching up and drinking beer. 6 quick and I'm out for the night.