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Prepping to pilgrimage – our next year-long bicycle adventure

Life is good at home. We have a thriving productive garden, beautiful friends and neighbours, a magical nearby forest, daily ritual, goodly water, air, food and special country and community in our lives. But it’s time for a shake up, another really big shake up. There is so much fear encircling the world, crippling motivation and stifling spirit. We want to ride straight into that storm from this place of gentle settled sanity.

Seven years ago we rode our first big cycling adventure, and crawled up the east coast of Australia at a speed suitable and desirable for five mammals on two bicycles. Now we again have itchy pedals and a thirst for permaculture pilgrimage – to take neopeasantry to the road for a second time, to further test our resilience and embrace uncertainty, to travel in right story relationship, write a bunch of new songs, seek ways to be in service, and expand once again our foraging, fishing and hunting knowledges. This is us back then after we returned home and wrote a book about our journey:

Woody was 14 months old when we set off last time. He was 28 months old when we returned. Half his life on the back of a bike! That trip imprinted significantly on him in innumerable ways. Now he is eight. He is knowledgeable and adaptive, creative and up for anything. We adults have had timely and important bouts of pre- take off fear and anxiety, and have been busy preparing ourselves since we made the decision to journey a few months back, packing up all our various libraries at The School of Applied Neopeasantry.

So where are we going? We have no definitive plans. We are thinking we will decide on the morning we leave what direction we will travel, which will be some time in the next week. We’re going to leave on the warmest day. Yes, it is kinda crazy to be heading out in mid-winter just after solstice, which will certainly throw more than just cold water over us. We are once again ready to be slapped and trammelled, whacked and winded to feel the full force of freedom. At least we think we are…

On this trip we are taking with us many new skills and processes. Tummo or fire pranayama breathing technique for one (via Wim Hof), to help with exposure to the cold and for general disease prevention. We will also trial other breathing practices that we read about in James Nestor’s Breath: the New Science of a Lost Art, such as taping our mouths shut while riding, a hack we already use during sleep to promote nasal breathing. Hauling heavy bikes with our mouths taped is no easy thing, but we’ll give it a crack anyway.

We have had a remarkable seven years, which also brought a fair dose of familial grief. We’ve survived this time by going deep into it, by keeping our hearts open, by holding monthly fire circles in the nearby forest commons, and discovering that grief is given its full form in the company of community.

Tyson Yunkaporta recently referred to Artist as Family processes as ‘creoling’. We like this. It speaks to emergence and never arriving. Being in an ever-rearranging flow state is why we are seeking life on the road again – to intensify the processes.

At the outset of this trip we will take away with us a deeper sense of the spirit of Djaara Mother Country, and a deeper practice of being in country. Acknowledging the mothering of the worlds-of-the-world we travel in, and taking with us daily rituals to honour the land as we seek food, camping ground, water, good company and days of easy transit. A big fear is having to face the industrial food system again, so we’ve been dehydrating goat, rabbit, various vegetables, fungi and fruits to take.

All of this food from summer and autumn’s harvest has been carefully dehydrated, bottled, stored and will be packed into reclaimed ziplock bags to fill one of our ten panniers.

This really feels to us like a pilgrimage of errantry. As Jim Corbett writes, “The first decisive step into errantry is to become untamed”. We are open to the uncomfortable encounters that we will ride into, as we are open to the freedom, uncertainty and grace of the road. We will be four mammals on two bicycles this time, and each of us will have our own story to carry, along with our collective song kit.

While the last big journey focussed on extending our knowledges of food outside the locks and keys of capitalism, this one will be more about songlines, and Woody and his fiddle teacher, the talented Adam Menegazzo, worked hard to prepare a bunch of Artist as Family songs to take with us.

There has been a mountain of preparations for this journey so far, such as emptying the house of no longer required things at a garage (garden, really) sale,

taking surplus things back to the local opshops and to the tip from where many of them came,

finding, with Goathand Brad, a year-long home for our herd,

retrofitting the old tandem (Merlin) for Patrick and Woody to ride, with the expert help and generous enthusiasm of local bikesmith Eric the Red,

selling Meg’s trusty old longtail bike (farewell intrepid ten-year old friend),

to help buy herself and Zero a new freedom machine (Cosmo), which we promptly de-branded with retroreflective tape,

receiving help from legendary bicycle tourer, Mick ‘Permaculture Pedals’,

repairing old touring equipment – thanks local zip fixer, Matt,

and giving out some home-stitched, wild-shot flavour – thanks for your sewing skills Blue Wren,

lighting a fire with scratched-for dry bark tinder, wet wood and a flint and steel on a practice ride,

preparing Tree Elbow University’s house and garden for our dear friends Ruth, Tyson, Apollo and Solaris to move into, and for a French film crew to shoot an interview with us and David Holmgren at the School of Applied Neopeasantry.

So many things to put in place, handover, store, accept, cross off, reconcile, process, pull out and celebrate before we ride off in the direction of the pointy end of a feather – a feather we will fling up into the air, watch spin around and land, and then steer our rigs accordingly. Letting go like this at the very start of our journey – not being in control of the direction we will first head – will join our extensive medicine kit. This kit includes the obligatory bandages and home-made herbal salves along with singing, dancing, breathing, bicycling, cold-water plunging, rapturous-eye hunting, being together, foraging (eating origin-known food), sharing story with people we meet, and fungal medicines such as these dried-ground Turkey Tails (Trametes versicolor), which were growing on cankerous wild apple wood that we pruned in the nearby common a few years back.

We recently had a hearty chat with Morag Gamble on her podcast Sense-Making in a Changing World, where we spoke about our forthcoming travels, decolonising time and re-culturing earth-positive lifeways.

We have no idea what we’re doing, where we’re going and what will happen to life in the next year. Charles Eisenstein recently spoke about the necessary naïveté required to walk the new story. Yes naïveté, and a kind of foolish trust – to throw caution at a head wind, to deliciously flow with a tail wind, and to belong in the dovetail join of grief and praise. We hope you’ll join us in this wild ride.

Much love,

Artist as Family

Keeping it mostly hillbilly with a brush of face powder in Sydney Town (Goulburn to Katoomba)

We hung around Goulburn until the evening, cooked dinner in the town’s central park,

before boarding a quiet, off-peak metro train where our big bikes would be less in the way and Zero less likely to be discovered. Hello little patient dog under there.

We haven’t been so hardcore on this book tour. If there’s the prospect of a day of riding beside heavy traffic and there’s a train line running near to our route, the train option has been fair game. While we climbed up to Marulan, Meg fed Woody by standing on her helmet. He was dead tired. So were we.

We arrived in Bundanoon and made camp in the dark, waking to this little idyllic park environment. Oh sleep, you magical medicine.

We headed to our favourite Bundanoon bike cafe,

and after reaquainting ourselves with the friendly crew there, Woody found a little scooter, dumped in some bushes. We got to work to make it a going concern again.

Not surprising, wheels have always fascinated our youngest, as they have our eldest. Back at home Zeph has become a madkeen downhill mountain biker and stunt dude.

Patrick’s brother, Sam, rode out to Bundanoon to meet us and we all rode into Moss Vale and unpacked our gear before the afternoon book event at The Moose Hub in Bowral. Our talk there was part of the Southern Highlands Green Drinks, where various different green groups merge once a month and share their different projects and approaches. Thanks for snapping some shots Uncle Sam!

Woody thought all his Chanukahs had come at once when our delightful host Nicole brought out the fruit spread. Thanks Nicole!

It was a short visit to the Southern Highlands. We had a full plate of things in Sydney to get to, including guerilla camping at a fine little harbour free camp (surrounded by billion dollar dog box apartments and poisoned harbour fish), picnicing with the Milkwood crew and their lovely garden produce which included fennel root, carrots, zuccinini, saw-leaf corriander, parsley, basil and capsicum all wrapped up in reusable beeswax cloths,

and visiting Lucas, John and Diego at Big Fag Press.

Diego Bonetto is a consumate communicator. Above he is showing off the Big Fag printing press to some local punters, below he sings the virtues of the plants that plant themselves.

Diego invited us to collaborate on a walk with him, and about 20 kindred spirits joined us along the Cooks River.

Wow, it still amazes us how much food can be found growing on a municiple lawn. After we finished our walk and cooked up a weedy horta dish for everyone to try, a group of landcare volunteers come in with plastic bags and trampled all over the precious sandstone ecology pulling out weeds. It was a remarkable spectacle of nativist ideology in action where an environment is stripped of the plants holding soil and sand from ending up as sediment pollution in the river.

We left this tragic expression of eco-purity and rode on a little further to hook up with the Bicycle Garden: a group of volunteers that regularly sets up a pop-up bicycle repair station in public areas to teach people to fix their own bikes. What an awesome social collective! We had lunch with these generous and knowledgeable folk,

before heading to SNO where Patrick spoke about his and Artist as Family‘s practice of permapoesis.

Then it was TV time. So many diverse communities. We were lightly powdered and went on the record at Channel 9 and Channel 7. We had to be on set at the Today Show at 7am, luckily Patrick’s sister Hen and her family live just around the corner making our early morning tent pack-up and ride a breeze. Thanks Hen and Ant and girls!

Our Sydney book event occurred at the delightful Florilegium book shop, owned and operated by the charming plant lover Gil, who generously loaded us up with books after our talk, read and Q&A.

It was a media circus in Sydney. An excerpt from one of Meg’s chapters was published in the summer issue of Slow Magazine. The theme for this bumper issue is resilience.

After Sydney it was rest we needed to pursue, so we hopped a train to Katoomba and headed for our infamous camp site where on the last trip we were visited by the Federal Police. The story appears in The Art of Free Travel.

Just a wee walk down from the camp is this little hidden billabong, a source of great pleasure and restoration.

This afternoon we speak at Gleebooks in Blackheath and then more rest and riding and visiting old and new friends until the new year and we point our two-wheeled caravans south and coastal. We wish you much rest in the coming weeks, Dear Reader, whether you’re a hillbilly, city-dweller, coast rider or other.

Mixing it with the northerners (from Lawrence to Iluka)

We had three wet, windy but nonetheless restful days in Lawrence.

Our tents took a battering from two large storms but we remained fairly dry and warm. We fished catching only undersized bream (Abramis) from the Clarence,

and we learnt about these relative newcomers, cattle egrets (Bubulcus ibis), which are the smallest species of egret that live in this region.

This country is blessed with a diversity of bird life no longer seen in most parts of the world, and every morning we wake in some bird-rich neighbourhood singing their praises. But this region around Lawrence is even more exceptional for its bird life. Hundreds of feathered species live here as permanents or seasonal migrants, and all day their activity is pronounced in this quiet little town.

We made long leisurely walks and picked a belly full of guavas,

from this guy’s paddock,

which we woofed down with grunting rigour.

We tried some local cumbungi (Typha), from a roadside bourgie café, but found it was a little stringy at this time of year.

While in Lawrence pecans and guavas were our greatest finds,

and with local bananas and farm gate cucumber they made a fine start to the day.

After breakfast and after drying out the tents we departed Lawrence by catching the ferry punt across the Clarence.

We passed a barn that seemed to be in hiding, or was it just shy?

We passed houses that were being retrofitted for the aggregating effects of climate change – people are preparing even though their governments, who could greatly help mitigate the effects, are not.

We spotted a Black-necked Stork (Ephippiorhynchus asiaticus) that, like the beginnings of the sugar cane monocultures just south of Lawrence, signifies we are entering the north of Australia.

We arrived in Maclean to a spot of op-shopping (undies for Woody and some local pickles),

and looked for a place to camp. But none availed in Maclean so we rode on to Yamba, found a site on Hickey Island and moved in.
Looks magical doesn’t it? Don’t be fooled by the frame you’re peering through, this image doesn’t reveal the millions of tiny predators that all vied for our blood from the moment we arrived. This is more the reality:

If you’re not used to them, like us, sandfly bites are extremely itchy. Mozzies are definately preferred. We tried to forget both despite their large numbers in Yamba and headed along to the mid-weekly farmer’s market where we bought garlic, corn, zucchini, capsicum and a few of these old variety cucumbers.

In the public park where the markets were held we discovered pandanus fruit (Pandanus tectorius), parts of which are edible when roasted and parts can be eaten raw. A fruit we’re eager to try once we come across a ripe one.

Yamba also boasts edible community gardens throughout its streets, encouraging people to pick the herbs, fruits and vegetables growing there.

We like Yamba but felt we couldn’t camp another night because of the insect life, and so we decided to catch the ferry over to Iluka and ride 15 kms north to Woombah, where Deanne, the sister of the delightful Sonia who we met back in Avoca, was offering us hospitality. We had a few hours before the next ferry, so we set up a Woody nap tent in a local park (to say the mozzies swarmed here is no exaggeration),

while Patrick visited the local bike shop, as the tandem was having problems again. Bill from Xtreme Cycle and Skate took the rear wheel axle apart but didn’t have the right size cassette pawls to replace the ones he discovered were damaged. The tandem was still rideable though and we thought it could make it to a bike shop in Ballina. Despite his time and effort, and giving us a place to charge our phone, Bill refused payment. Thanks so much Bill!

We rolled onto the ferry and were greeted by the effervescent Linda, who accommodated a family on extra long bikes with great enthusiasm.

By the end of the ferry trip Linda had offered us her granny flat in Iluka. We were extremely grateful because the tandem didn’t last the short ride to Linda’s before it became unrideable. We were grateful too for a warm shower, something we hadn’t had for a week. Thanks for ferrying us to your sanctuary, Linda!

So, we were in Iluka, being hosted by a lovely lady and her son, Nicholas, with everything we required

except a particular bike p