Monday, August 25, 2014

Simpsons Gap By Bicycle

When we finished the Larapinta track a couple of weeks ago, I am somewhat abashed to admit that our feet were so sore when we passed by Simpsons Gap that we felt quite unequal to the task of walking an extra kilometre along hard black top to see the actual gap. Accordingly, after lunching at the group campsite, we simply trudged along the track passing Simpsons Gap a half kilometre or so to the south. In this age of selfies, self-promotion, and general unabashed hubris, surely this bit of honesty will be seen as refreshingly simple rather than symptomatic of moral turpitude. 

There is, however, another way to visit Simpsons Gap that doesn't involve driving or staggering up as you travel past on the Larapinta Track and that is via the excellent and enjoyable Simpsons Gap bicycle path that runs from Flynns Grave (7 km west of Alice Springs) to Simpsons Gap. Australia really does do public facilities well. This is a bicycle path you would never find in a town of similar size anywhere in North America. 

I rented a bicycle from The Penny Farthing in Alice Springs - a shameless plug for this little shop on the north end of town who rent bikes for virtually half the price of the much better publicised competitor ($25 day versus $40 day, and you can pick a bike up much earlier in the day). The guy in shop gave me a bike lock, an inner tube, a pump and offered a helmet. I declined the helmet as legally they are not required in the NT unless you are riding on the road, and, legally, you can ride on footpaths. I wasn't really sure how I was supposed to change the tube on the bike should I get a flat as I was not issued with any of those little gizmos (the name of which escapes me) which you use to pop tires off wheels, but, I felt lucky as the entire time I rode my borrowed bike around Cairns (five months) I didn't get a single flat. 

 Looking north to Wallaby Gap

About 9.30 am I set off riding south to Larapinta Drive where a good bike path leads west to the Simpsons Gap bike path. The only thing of note on this section of the ride was a house with a big police sign affixed to the fence indicating it was a "drug house." I'm not exactly sure what a "drug house" is, but it seemed to allow the police to conduct random body cavity searches of the inhabitants, and, almost definitely does nothing to improve property values. I admit to feeling a certain frisson of excitement as I rode past the drug house. 

The bike path itself is fantastic. The entire 17 km is sealed and undulates pleasantly up and down passing dry creek beds, stands of ironbark and ghost gums, mulga and witchetty bush. There are many interesting interpretive signs and a few picnic sites with picnic benches set under spreading ghost gums scattered along the way. About 4 km from the east end, a side trip up another sealed track leads to a short walk up a granite boulder pile above Wallaby Creek and a spreading view of the Heavitree and Chewings Ranges.
The last kilometre or so is on a side-walk beside the access road to Simpsons Gap and this is likely the only place you'll meet anyone else. 

The waterhole at Simpsons Gap

By the time I got to Simpsons Gap, I had a butt that was sore enough to rival the sore feet I had endured on this section of the Larapinta Track. I was all too happy to park the bike for a half hour and stroll up to Simpsons Gap. Simpsons Gap is similar to the many other gaps in the East and West MacDonnell Ranges but the cliffs on either side are much higher. Apparently, 10 or 20 rock wallabies inhabit the area around the gap, and a few tourists were hanging out in the gap in hopes of catching a glimpse of these small and agile creatures. 

I wanted to have lunch away from any infernal combustion engines so I cycled back along the bike path towards Alice Springs until I came to a picnic bench in the shade of a beautiful old ghost gum and rested my sore butt while I had a thermos of tea and a big salad. At this point, I was wondering what, if anything could be done to relieve my butt pain, which was beginning to consume my thoughts. The only thing I could think of, apart from riding back sans any clothing on my lower torso (not legal in the NT on bike paths, side-walks or the road) was to remove my underwear which I did, riding the rest of the way home "commando" - although strictly speaking I guess women don't go commando. 

Back in Alice Springs I detoured to the old cemetery, along a "discovery track" and out to the railway station where The Ghan was in Alice Springs. I still had a couple of hours left on my bike rental and could have idled this time away riding out to the Telegraph Station but after 50 km round trip on what must surely have been the poorest possible design of bicycle seat available, I just wanted shot of the bike. "Great ride" I told the guy in the bike shop when I returned the bike, "but my butt is killing me." He claimed the seat was one of the best standard issue seats available, but I'm pretty sure he was yanking my chain. I drove back to the caravan and put my underwear back on.

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