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Beginning our slow descent south (Blackheath to Gerroa)

We loved visiting the Blue Mountains again, giving book events,

taking foraging workshops in Blackheath,

visiting next-gen food producers Erika and Hayden,

bumping into and then staying with an old school friend, Zoe and her family,

visiting dear poet friends Pete and Kate and their kids Ruby and Felix,

housesitting for 10 days, taking many a bush walk, contemplating life,

and having time to consider what being human means.

Restored by the mountains we zoomed back down to Sydney to house sit again, finding a very rare strip of safe bicycling bitumen in Centennial Park.

We skipped on Christmas, but Boxing Day’d it with fam at Bronte.

Took a roll or two at Bondi,

and jumped a train to Moss Vale, again smuggling onboard the only family member disallowed by the transport authority.

We gathered up cherry plums on leaving Moss Vale,

flew down the escarpment with steaming breaks and faced down a bull in Kangaroo Valley,

where we were invited to stay at this wonderful permaculture farm,

with Peter and Vasuda.

After taking an edible weed workshop on the farm and after a fun, shooting-star kind of New Year’s Eve with Peter, Vasuda, Zoe and her friends Andy and Paddy, we climbed up Bellawongarah,

where we spotted great swathes of Ginger lily (Hedychium gardnerianum), a non-edible garden escapee from the Himalayas that is apparently part of the lung cancer solution.

We rocketed down the mount to Berry and spoke at the local bookshop,

before setting up camp a few kms out of town on Broughton Creek.

We’ve been on the road for over two months now and most days have been fairly sweet, but on leaving Berry for the coast…

At the end of the day we came and stayed with Claire Wilson and her bike polo friends in Gerroa. Claire is a Warm Showers host, writer and gardener who lives without a car, and she offered the perfect antidote to our first day on South Coast roads.

We’re off to Nowra today to speak at DeanSwift Books at 3pm. If you’re in the neighbourhood, please come and say hello.

Thanks for joining us here again, Dear Reader. We hope that wherever you are, your soils are moist, your food is freshly-picked and your legs are feeling strong up the hills.

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.

Preserving fruit, extending kin

We made it to Moss Vale! 929 kms from our home in Daylesford, Victoria to the Southern Highlands of NSW, averaging a leisurely 24 kms per day.

We joined kin from far and wide to become artist as extended family for a lovely, warm but nonetheless strange little timezone between Christmas and New Year.

We caught up with some old friends and reunited with Zeph so that finally all our bike seats are full.

It feels good to have onboard again what Zeph brings to the gang.

We have yabbied and swam in the Wingecarribee River,

and foraged for wild cherry plums to turn into fruit leather.

Although not all reached the bag…

The ones brought home we squashed and mashed with our hands,

and then pushed the pulp through a sieve

leaving all the pips and skin.

We spread out the pulp over grease-proof paper on a large-sized pizza tray

and dried in a low oven for about 8 hours. Alternatively you can dry the paste in the sun over several days.

The result is a delicious, sweet and nutritious fruit leather which is preserved for many moons with no additives or added sugar.

From we five here, we wish you a happy and health-filled year ahead.

Beneath the sunny sky

When we first started talking about a year of travelling we went through all the ecological modes we might employ to move around. Our humble pushies became the most obvious choice. And so too for Jeff, an American we met briefly on the climb to Batlow, who is on his fourth bike tour of Australia. Jeff is the first bike tourer we’ve met since we pushed off a month ago.

We made the decision to stop flying four years ago and made ourselves carless three years ago, wanting to see if it was possible to live well with such seemingly radical restrictions. These decisions have paid dividends in terms of the money we no longer need to earn and have given us more time to do what we want to do.

Before we left Tumbarumba we met Adam, camped at the caravan park for the next few months picking blueberries (Vaccinium spp.) on a nearby farm. At home in Tumut, Adam grows heirloom vegies organically turning his political energy into rich friable soil, knowing that the way to abstain from participating in corporate damage is to be accountable for one’s own resources. On our last night Adam brought us back a bowl of delicious blueberries he’d picked from the farm and in return we were able to pass on to him a little paperback edition on the uses and benefits of dandelions.

As an antioxidant, blueberries (eaten raw) fight free radicals that are damaging to cells and DNA. They rate low in terms of their glycemic index (GI) and therefore are considered slow-release energy food. They are high in vitamins K and C, and manganese and fibre. Thanks Adam!

Being on the lookout for local produce and exposed to all the elements as we ride may appear a tad utopian, but the reality at times is not so pleasurable. Our two most dreaded things to come across on the road are pesticides and big trucks. Coming into Batlow we copped a mouthful of what tasted like Mortein as an apple farmer was mass spraying on a windy day, and since Tallangatta we’ve had to contend with streams of heavy trucks.

Many of the trucks are carrying wood-chips or logs from the extremely damaging pine plantations that are rapidly destroying soil and water ecologies in this beautiful region of two thousand springs and creeks.

How our culture behaves is truly saddening, but it is land and the people we are meeting that counter much of this negativity. We arrived in Tumut and this lovely family greeted us in the street with the proposal of a warm shower and a place to camp for the night.

This portrait (sans Anthony who’d left for work) was taken just after Valerie had cooked us a delicious pot of breakfast porridge. Rose, Lily, Jasmine and Dom (Zeph would have loved meeting you all) shared their personal stories before they headed off for school and we headed off to the park to meet another colourful local family.

While recharging in the park we spotted what looked like a pretty interesting workshop being conducted. Waradajhi (Wiradjuri) ranger Shane Herrington was holding a ‘men’s honour’ workshop, teaching the art of making traditional hunting tools at the Tumut-Brungle Community Centre.

Shane immediately included Patrick in the workshop and got him helping to heat and layer with wood dust the maleable gum of grass trees (Xanthorrhoea),

which was used traditionally to help bond the spearhead, in this case red gum (Eucalyptus camaldulensis), to the spearshaft. This one was made from native hemp (Gynatrix pulchella).

Shane then demonstrated how to turn various fibres (stringybark, grasses and reeds) into multiply string. No polluting machines necessary, only hands and thighs, a skill used by both men and women but according to Shane was exclusively taught by the women.

After meeting some of the Tumut-Brungle community we were eager to head out to Brungle situated on a relatively truck-free road about halfway between Tumut and Gundagai. This is truly magical country.

As we arrived we were startled by an incredible display of light. Is this what an animistic welcome to country looks like? It certainly seemed to speak of the same warmth and welcome we were offered back in Tumut.

Then after almost a month of travelling and observing unripe cherry plums (Prunus cerasifera) all along the roadsides, we finally cycled into country that offered up this free delicious food, ripe and ready for the picking.

Such gifts of the autonomous gods were true blessings and Woody hoed into the red ones too, fitting several in his mouth at once.

But not everything goes the way one might like it and after Brungle we had an exhaustive climb to Gundagai. Because Patrick’s motor has given up (again) his knees have been giving him grave troubles. Cursing expensive but poorly made Chinese technology he struggled in the afternoon heat, making for a long afternoon’s ride with a heavy load along the track winding back

We arrived in Gundagai in the early evening, crossed this lovely old river on a ricketty old bridge,

set up camp, collapsed into bed and breakfasted on these magnificent figs (Ficus spp.) found in the town.

Time now to rest for a day, plan our next leg along the dreaded Hume (little choice but to ride along this noisy highway for a while) and attend to the fruitful smells emanating from our clothes.