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The art of free travel (the homecoming leg – Warburton to Daylesford)

We probably should have spent the day at Maya’s swimming hole on the Yarra, 

as the second day of 2015 was a scorcher. But instead we travelled the relatively shady Warburton-Lilydale Rail Trail, coming across these osyter mushrooms (Pleurotus sp) growing on what looked like dead underground conifer wood.

Only we weren’t 100% convinced they were edible oyster mushrooms and as there was a tiny chance they could be the poisonous look-alike, glow-in-the-dark ghost fungus (Omphalotus nidiformis), which also grow on woody material (mostly eucalypts) we abandoned them before finding this great little Yarra swimming hole, near Woori Yallock.

The long hot evenings of summer have proven a little inconvenient for us weary, early-to-bed, early-to-rise campers, and daylight savings certainly plays havoc with our circadian rhythm.

In the past we have spoken about breast milk being one of the most important medicines in our medical kit, but another one we regularly resort to, and is equally free from the imperatives of capitalism, is good sleep. Patrick just couldn’t throw off the cold we all had over the past week and became really sick because of a relentless sore throat, which made swallowing almost impossible, thus cancelling out the possibility of the medicine of sleep for three nights. This was the result.

Not a happy camper! But we still had kms to cover if we were to get home to our chooks and ducks and garden, so wallowing in sickness was not an option. We had to push on, and on we travelled to Seville for another hot night,

followed by rain the next morning, a wet pack up and breakfast under the local footy ground shelter.

Zeph has been booming along during these last three months on the road. He has missed his mum and his mates and is eager to get to high school, but he is also present and bubbly and more than meets the challenges of each day, which are quite intense. Roadkill, aggressive drivers, rain, steep hills, healthy food (something he has an aversion to) and a dad who can be quite hard on him, have all been daily pressures that he has grown from.


Even though Zeph can be quite in awe of a certain motorbike or car that races past and will rib his ‘hippy’ parents about his love of these ‘cool’ motors (can something that goes so fast really be cool?), he will also, off his own bat, articulate his despair at what he/we see as the senseless mass death of animals brought about by an intransigent car culture in Australia.

Even though the endless roadkill has probably become progressively less shocking as our senses have hardened over 9,000 kms of cycled bitumen and gravel, we still have many moments that really choke us up. For the 2,800 kms we drove a rental car (our leg from Cairns back to Sydney), we didn’t produce any flattened fauna and drove with the utmost of care. But for all the 14 months on the road, bar those 11 difficult days in a car, it was really impossible to inflict much damage, even if we tried…

One of the few autonomous fruits we came across on this last leg, between Yarra Glen and Hurstbridge, is a species of passionfruit (Passiflora sp.), a prolific garden escapee that has taken up residence along the fence lines that run beside the roads in that region. Should be good bush tucker for locals in that area in a few weeks from now.

Having made up some kms we took up a stealthy residence in a park reserve in Hurstbridge and rested for two nights.

Zeph found a three-wheeled scooter lying around in the park and when Woody wasn’t on it he honed his mobility skills to the max.

A less significant but nonetheless useful medicine plant we’ve seen all over the country is petty spurge (Euphorbia peplus), otherwise known as radium weed.

It produces a milky latex sap that is good at ridding warts and liver spots. Be careful in applying this free medicine as it can burn the skin, and make sure you keep it away from eyes and internal parts of the body. Dabbed directly on the wart or sunspot over several days will generally get rid of these unwanted skin anomalies. They will form a scab and then disappear.

From Hurstbridge we rode a big day to Wallan, picked up some supplies and headed on towards Romsey. We found a little camp site along the way. The site sorely lacked water and thick shade and the heat of the afternoon prompted a nudist beach free-for-all to compensate.

We got away early the next morning after some bike maintenance where a tree branch and strap were used to make a hoist.

We’re going to miss the camaraderie of bike-camping life, although we will apply the lessons we’ve learnt to help each other in home and community life.

As we approached Romsey the land was tinderbox dry. It recalled for us the relatively recent 10-year drought and the feeling of becoming environmental refugees again as yet another extreme fire season develops.

Not far on from here a siren was heard and then the engine itself roared past and this uneasy feeling rendered itself concrete.

As we approached Woodend a fire raged near Kyneton and a storm brewed on the horizon. The effect was nothing but dramatic.

The rain soothed and cooled and came and went in a hurry, allowing a reprieve for our last night of our long trip.

After so many months, Zeph is a gun at packing up TJ (Tent Junior) and races Patrick when he packs up Big Bad Barry (the adults’ tent, named by three-year old Ruby back in Katoomba).

We stopped off at the Woodend Community Garden for a few breakfast berries,

and set off for our last day’s ride.

Near Tylden the rain was followed by a glorious rainbow.

And at Trentham we stopped in to Redbeard Bakery, where some of the best organic sourdough in Australia is made and where Patrick used to work and learned the art of sourdough. The delightful John Reid shouted us a beautiful breakfast and sent us on our way with five loaves. Thanks John! If all businesses were as green, ethical and generous as yours we wouldn’t be such ardent critics of monetary economics.

The loaves John gave were to share with some of our loved ones who gathered at the community garden (well, next door because of the rain) to cheer and greet us as we rode into our hometown of Daylesford.

We have been blessed by the countless folk who have followed our journey online and sent us well wishes for the entire way. Our dear friend Pete took us on a little tour of our beloved Albert St community garden,

life was brimming there, and the storm clouds were brewing so we hightailed it home with Cam, Tia, Jeremy, Arden and Jasper on their bikes,

to join other mates in our home garden that was lovingly tended by Matt and Yael and their kids while we were away. With such restorative rain, trees full of fruit and our teary, gift-giving friends it was such a smooth landing home.

After everyone left and the heavens opened for another deluge, we decided to set up our beds inside after all instead of setting up our tents in the backyard as we had planned. Then Patrick got to work cutting the legs off our kitchen table.

We’d been talking about doing this for months and it felt like a good first thing to do to bring into our home what we liked about camp life. Pete brought some crates over the next day as we’d mentioned to him we’re going to try to keep sitting on our sit bones and rid our house of the dreaded chair.

Another thing we came home with is a book deal with the Sydney publisher NewSouth Publishing, an imprint of UNSW Press. We are going to be busy beavers for the next several months getting a first draft completed of the book we are calling The art of free travel.

We really can’t thank you enough for your well wishes and positivity these last 14 months. It has been such a highlight and comfort to us to have you along on this journey. Although we are home now, we will still continue to do our work as community food activists and car-free advocates, only now from the one location instead of many.

From the Snowy to the Yarra (Orbost to Warburton)

We set out from Orbost with the prospect of travelling almost 100 kms along the East Gippsland Rail Trail, passing over the Snowy River,

and past an incredible hedge of wild lettuce (Lactuca virosa), an early relative of cos that is also called opium lettuce. Yes, it is mildly psychoactive taken in large quantities and is supposed to have a chill pill effect; good for people suffering from high blood pressure.

After about 10 kms on the trail we decided that the rough surface was better suited to mountain bikes and that our heavy bikes on touring frames and tyres were not really suited. We got back on the bitumen and rode with the noisy ones to a wonderful little caravan park in Nowa Nowa that sported this awesome open communal kitchen, and whose owners greeted us with just-picked strawberries and fresh eggs. Thanks Helen and Neil!

With more rain about we stayed a few wet nights, swimming during the sunny days in the creek.

While at Nowa Nowa we received an invitation to join some friends in Traralgon for Christmas. We had just a day to ride 170 kms, not quite manageable for us, so we took off early in the morning passing these roadside walnut trees,

noting the central problem of our culture: paid for food, or as Daniel Quinn puts it:

Making food a commodity to be owned was one of the great innovations of our culture. No other culture in history has ever put food under lock and key – and putting it there is the cornerstone of our economy, for if the food wasn’t under lock and key, who would work?

After 50 kms of riding we arrived at Bairnsdale station with a bright blue box to help smuggle Zero onto the train to make up the remaining 120 kms.

We hadn’t been separated from Zero the other times we smuggled him on public transport. He always kept quiet because he knew we were there, beside him. This time he whined for us from the cargo carriage and we were paid a visit from the conductor, who thankfully was delightful and explained that next time we travel we have to have a proper regulation travel box for our dog-kin. Even though this is absurd, we weren’t about to argue with this nice fella. He didn’t kick us off the train and we got to Traralgon, where our friend Ben Grubb met us and led us through the town and out into the outlaying fields to his parents’ home.

We all got to work preparing for the feast. Patrick and Ben killed and dressed a chicken,

Jaala and Shannon Freeman (friends of ours from Daylesford, and who are also Grubb family members) joined the festivities and helped Jim and Jeni (Ben’s parents) and Meg in the food preparation. It was a joyous collective effort using herbs, vegetables and fruits from the garden,

to deliver a delicious lunch. Thanks earth! Thanks chicken. Thanks Grubbs and Freemans.

The following day more food prep continued, turning cherry plums,

into fruit leathers,

until it was time to thank Jim and Jeni for so generously hosting us, and say goodbye, Zeph feeling pretty poorly with a cold. Ben rode with us for several kms showing us the back roads and short cuts, and

he also helped Zero catch a rabbit by blocking one end of a drain with sticks and his feet. It is a technique worth finessing…

Patrick butchered the rabbit, apportioned a share to Zero and we kept the rest for later in the day. Not far on from the rabbit catch we came across Aaron, a solo cycle tourer on his maiden voyage. Go Aaaron!

We farewelled Aaron, and a little later on Ben, and rode into the altered country of dirty coal.

About 70% of water in Australia is used by industry, a remaining 20% is used by government and a tiny percentage, less than 10%, is used in domestic use. As we rode past the old relic of old thinking that is Yalourn power station we listened to the millions of litres of water running through the cooling towers, reflecting on these figures.

We ate our free lunch a little further on, poaching the rabbit for 4 minutes in the billy and separating the soft and tender meat from the bone.

On another invitation, from an old Hepburn Relocalisation Network friend Liz, we visited Entropia eco-village near Moe. Liz is one of a number of residents who are about to live rent free on the 20 acre site for one year and be filmed for a documentary, which sounds a bit like Hippy Big Brother. Watch that space!

There are a number of small or tiny houses being built at Entropia, which came about after Samuel Alexander’s book of the same name.

Part of the land is bush and we found a few geebungs (Persoonia linearis) growing there. When the fruit is ripe it will yellow and fall to the ground. The skin and the seed was traditionally discarded when eaten.

Certainly Woody found utopia at Entropia.

But the dystopian road called us back, and the prospect of home.

Play fighting has been a fun part of our day to day. It gives the boys an opportunity to push back from we ever steering adults. It builds strength and body control and develops emotions that can cope under physical pressure.

Research is another thing we’ve all been learning: how to find out stuff that interests us and grow our knowledges.

By the time we reached Yarragon, Zeph was on the mend from his cold but Meg and Patrick were starting to fall apart. We’ve all been fit and strong the whole way and now in the final weeks our defences are crumbling. We nestled into this little wetland forest setting up our version of a MASH rehab camp,

but after another short leg we figured some hot water and a place to get out of the strong winds was needed in Warragul.

We were all sporting hacking coughs and rode up to Neerim South in blustery, wet conditions and again took refuge in a motel room. The next day the winds abated and the sun shone and we rode through the prettiest country, passing wild displays of the sweet flower of the coffee substitute chicory (Cichorium intybus),

and later moist valleys filled with giant tree ferns,

along quiet C roads with little traffic.

We rode 66 kms to Warburton in time for New Years eve,

to stay with our friend Maya Ward in her tiny house that she designed and helped build,

and to see in the New Year a festive picnic followed by fireside music and intimate chats.

The first day of 2015 saw Zeph gearing up for high school. Go Zeph!

Maya and her lovely man James treated us to delicious meals and restorative places. Thank you both so much, it has been a gentle few days in beautiful Warburton and now we are ready to begin our final leg towards home.

We wish you, Dear Reader, a peaceful and productive International Year of Soils, filled with great adventure, slow travel, encouraging friends and free, walked-for food.