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Dreaming up a bicycle utopia; eating non-privatised foods

We woke early and left Gundagai, the town of long timber bridges, before the sun got too hot.

We made a quick obligatory stop,

before really finding out how the Hume Highway was going to shape us.

We were surprised. Despite the noise and the speed of the traffic, the wide shoulders really helped us ride in relative peace. It was a cruisy ride from Gundagai to Jugiong (helped along by our first tail wind of the trip) where we parked our bikes in the shade beside a green grocers run by the very frinedly Gino. We (dumpster) dived into his compost boxes and produced some lovely stone fruit.

While buying some local veg from Gino he asked if we needed a good camping and swimming spot.

Thanks Gino! A perfect free camping ground. The next morning we harvested some stinging nettle (Urtica dioica) beside the Murrumbidgee River.

Nettle is high in iron and great for relieving painful muscles and joints. Just the thing for weary bike tourers. Lightly blanching the nettles takes away the sting, produces a healthy tonic to treat urinary and prostate complications and leaves a perfect fodder material for making an excellent pesto with almonds.

After our free medicinal hit we cycled up the road to the very bourgeois The Long Track Pantry for a breakfast cup of tea and a loaf of yummy bread,

before easing our way into the heartland of wool country.

Since leaving Daylesford over a month ago our nostrils have flared wildly and our hearts have sunk deeply with the roadkill we have passed.

We counted 81 killed animals between the left verge and left lane of the north bound Hume Highway between Jugiong and Yass, a distance of 60 kms.

This massacre included a myriad of birds, three tortoises, a dozen wallabies, several blue tongues, countless kangaroos, flattened foxes, rabbits, a wild pig, two echidnas and numerous snakes including this young copperhead.

Given there are four lanes and four verges on this dual highway one could surmise as many as 324 roadkilled critters for every 60 kms of highway. That’s a staggering 5.4 deaths per kilometre. The Hume, according to Wikipedia, is 838 kms in length which means, if you average it, there are quite possibly 4,525 corpses along this highway at any one time.

But it wasn’t just the sickening aspects of this road – the senseless massacres, the climate changing and packaging pollution that proliferated – we found worth observing,

the Hume offered up sweet moments of beauty and surprise, especially when we got off it (in this case in Bowning) and found some roadside fruit to forage and help restore our battered senses.

Then when we arrived in Yass we were welcomed by an avenue of not-quite-ripe publicly accessible almonds (Prunus spp.),

some heavenly ripe plumcots (Prunus spp.) overhanging a fence,

and were given some Leeton grown oranges by a God’s Squad bikie. Thanks Glen!

We camped, fished and slept under a balmy summer’s night sky before facing the Hume again.

Imagine this road as a sea of bicycles…

After riding about 40 km we arrived in Gunning, a town that boasts a free caravan-camping ground with hot showers at Barbour Park, and found we were just in time for the monthly Sunday market.

We bought some regional produce,

picked some free herbs (gave them a drink),

took a swim and lunched on some delicious bush tucker at Barbour Park.

The starchy bulb of cumbungi or bullrush (Typha spp.) offers an excellent raw or cooked vegetable at this time of year. Cumbungi is ecologically beneficial for capturing silt, creating habitat for diverse species and stabilising banks. It can also become ‘weedy’ so it makes a great food where we are the biological control or, as Russell Edwards would say, ‘ecological participants‘.

Stay tuned for more free food and other low-impact resources as we inch towards the Christmas lunch table in Moss Vale,

keep safe on the roads and if you’re driving, please think bike and think critter!

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.