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From Gerroa to Genoa (Wet days, warm people, dangerous roads and Dark Emu visitations)

We left Warm Showers Claire, who was busy hosting a number of sodden cycle tourers, such as this jolly soloist Angus,

and rode out of Gerroa to begin our coastal descent. In Nowra we bumped into more fellow pedalist comrades who were riding around the world from France to raise awareness about climate change,

before our book event at Dean Swift ABC book shop, where we spoke to the possibilities of climate changed economies and societies of regard.

More rain and more barely ripe public stonefruit in southern Nowra,

and we were off on another wet leg,

to Huskisson, where booksellers Noela and Jill greeted us for a little signing event,

and Jill and her man David

put us up for the night, avoiding another soaking from the tricky gods of acummulating clouds. We’d had enough of things by now. Dangerous roads, anti-cyclist drivers, unrelenting rains. So we mapped out the alternative (option 2 Huskisson back to Albury),

and even though we thought it would be easier to cancel the remains of the tour and ride back to Nowra, train to Sydney, train to Goulbourn, ride to Albury, train to Melbourne, train to Woodend and ride the last 40 kms home, we didn’t. Something in us wanted to see this through.

Our decision was confirmed by this sweet family, who had read about us in their local paper a year earlier, got in touch and invited us to stay a night.

Ah, the comfort of strangers! Thanks Jo, Bren, Lucinda, Sam and Eliza. Even more gifts awaited us when we returned to one of our favorite guerilla camping spots south of Mollymook.

Last year we ate limpets and speared fish on coals at Collers Beach. This year Zero caught us a big rabbit,

and Patrick speared another bag of fish, including this leatherjacket and red mowrang for one of our meals.

We poached the rabbit in the billy for 25 mins and the flesh just slipped off the bones onto our fingers and into our mouths. For we hungry locavores it was a near perfect moment.

Living on Collers Beach for a few days further nourished our decision to complete this tour.

Further south in Batemans Bay we bumped into Justine and Pat, who like us were perfecting the practice of very very slow travel. When we all met up at about 3pm one afternoon, they’d travelled a whooping 2 kms for the day. We congratulated their efforts. It’s a momentous achievement to go that slow in such a savagely fast world.

While they headed north, we trundled several kms down the road to Batehaven and set up camp on some marginal land beside a little creek inlet.

On the gentler coast road to Moruya we stopped to chat to northbound rider Rapha el, a French tourist.

We picked up supplies from the wonderful bulk wholefoods store when we arrived in town, and rode on as our event had been cancelled at Moruya Books due to a boating accident in the business. We pedalled on to Old Mill Road Biofarm and kept the boating accidents at bay while we cooled down in Kirsti, Marlin, Pickle and Fraser’s luscious dam,

before feasting with this awesome lot — the brains and brawn behind one of the best market gardens on the south coast. As you can imagine the food was exceptional, cooked up by French chefs Nina and Elsa, who may well come and stay with us in Daylesford.

Southwards we rode, on and on our legs rotating, water in litres emptied down our throats, making the brief transit through our varied metabolisms out onto our clothes to transform into what we call cyclist stench. We stayed with this lovely family in Narooma (thanks Barry, Jimmie, Goldy and Em!),

rode on to Tilba,

with the kind promise of a lift to avoid the death trap 10 kms north of Cobargo where Meg and Woody had a near miss thirteen months earlier on our big trip. The kind offer came from Ronnie and her super family of Norris’s, where we got to spend a few days, sit out more rain, swim with them at Bermagui, drink real cows milk and speak on air to one of our favourite ABC presenters, Ian Campbell.

When the sun poked through we hightailed it to Bega, our bikes hitching a ride with Ronnie’s sweet folks in an empty trailer that was predestined for the southern coastal city, and climbed 10 kms west to Autumn Farm to stay with Annie and Genevieve and their kids Oscar and Olive (AKA Jo). They cooked us a beautiful meal in their stunning radical homemakers’ kitchen.

The next day we were greeted by 45 enthusiastic Bega-ites who came to our foraging workshop and/or our book event at the wonderful Candelo Books. All the crazy summer traffic, physical fatigue and rain was rendered totally worth it by this enthusiatic mob.

The Princes Highway is a national road with many signs warning drivers of oncoming petrol stops, beach spots, drowsy driving, narrow bridges, overtaking lanes and wildlife. The highway provides, more or less, a safe lane for both northbound and southbound cars and trucks. But despite the daily use of this road by cyclists, almost nothing appears that aids our safety. This is what a typical lane looks like for a cyclist.

We’re supposed to stick between the dangerous loose gravelly bit and the far left white line (intersecting on Zero’s head in the photo). Now marry the above image with this one below and you’ll get a fairly accurate assessment of just how much work there is to do to create safe transit ways for non-polluters in Australia.

Respite from the terror of this highway was found once more when we stopped in to visit Dale and Jenni in Eden again.

These two lovelies put us up last time we rode through Eden. They cooked up a beautiful feast of their home-produced chicken and veggies,

and the next morning Dale offered to drop us 25 kms down the highway where he had to drive to work.

Despite all the generous and wonderful people on the South Coast we didn’t enjoy cycling down this highway on the first big trip. And this time has been little different with few opportunities to get onto quieter roads, so getting to the Victorian border signalled a kind of home coming, a kind of relief.

About four months ago, before we left on our tour, Patrick had contacted Bruce Pascoe to see whether we could visit him at Gipsy Point near Mallacoota. Bruce’s book Dark Emu is a remarkable work of Australian history written by an Aboriginal writer concerning the profound and little known agrarianism that existed in Australia pre-colonisation. His book opens the door to a completely alternative history. We spoke in his nursery,

where he is growing yam daisies (murnongs), which were once a big part of the Aboriginal economies of regard in south-temperate Australia pre 1788. He gave us some seed to plant out in April. Dr Beth Gott, an ethnobotanist from Monash University, claims that a murnong tuber has nearly 10 times the nutrient properties of a potato and was an important part of the health of Aboriginal people.

It was in Mallacoota, Gipsy Point and Genoa that we hooked up with our friends Maya and James, who came with us to meet Bruce and his partner Lyn. Bruce offered us his boat to go fishing in and we cruised the gentle waters of the Genoa River, fishing for tailor, speaking of our river loves without, of course, the use of a motor.

We hope, Dear Reader, that whatever propels you forward into your days this year is just as enjoyable, thrilling, frightening and vital as what has been casting us forward. Thank you for accompanying us on this leg of our journey.

Coming of age: love and illegitimacy from Newcastle to Diamond Beach

Before leaving Newcastle and riding on the worst road of our adventure so far, there were a few things we needed to do. The first was to sing the praises of Lilly Pilly (Syzygium) fruit that we collected daily from the abundant street trees in Newcastle.

They were a particular favourite of Woody’s.

The second was to catch up with an old mate, Chris Brown – a fellow artist, community gardener and super-fermenter. Here Chris is pouring us a glass of his awe inspiring home brew made from ingredients foraged within 500m of his home: dandelion, ginger, nettle, sugarcane and bramhi (Bacopa monnieri).

Thanks Chris! The third was to celebrate Zeph’s twelfth birthday, with a cake he made himself,

and tickets to his first big concert – Macklemore and Ryan Lewis – who just happened to be in Newcastle on Zeph’s actual birthday.

The next morning it was away to the Stockton Ferry for we concert-weary folk, bidding adieu to all the sweet peeps we met and stayed with, high from the gig and the generosity of Novacastrians.

And we rode northeast away from the city, along a loud and crazed Nelson Bay Road stopping for respite after forty odd kms at the beautiful Noamunga Reserve where we brazenly pitched our tents,

much to the chagrin of one local who took exception to Zeph rabbiting for dinner with our fold down bow. He’d obviously been watching far too much tele and mistook a boy’s joyous quest to live off the land for something dark and threatening. The two policemen who came to our camp told us rabbits are protected wild animals and we were in a National Park. Really? We thought rabbits were considered an environmental menace and therefore the sort of animal we should be hunting. Silly us. We were also challenged for camping on public land, and in no uncertain terms were told by the policemen they had the interests of the nearby property owners to protect. Oh boy, even what’s left of the commons is subject to private property policing. We’re obviously so naive regarding the imperatives of the state. We were however allowed to stay the night and woke up to this beautiful morning for our troubles.

A little rattled by the previous day’s ride and the previous night’s interrupted hunt and camp we headed to Nelson Bay to find a permissible place to spear fish, which was not easy in a marine park.

Ah, now we’re starting to get it. We’re illegitimate on public roads, on public land and in public waters. I think the law makers are trying to tell us something: don’t move around without causing shit loads of pollution; don’t free camp, you’ll piss off the legit land owners and caravan park operators and don’t try to eat off the land and be accountable for your resources, we don’t want to upset Woolworths, Coles, Monsanto et al. Feeling a little depressed and feeling the strain of all this illegitimacy we turned again to the self-governing Warm Showers website and found this lovely couple, Brian and Doris, not far from where we were.

At very late notice Brian and Doris put us up for the night and we all slept soundly in their beautiful treetops home. Recharged and with a bag full of their home-grown produce, we rolled down to the ferry that was to slowly take us across Port Stephens to Tea Gardens.

We asked one of the crew if they knew of anywhere we could free camp. Try Winda Woppa Reserve, there are always free campers there. Great, a community of illegitimates, sounds like home, we just need to get across the drink to Hawks Nest.

So we crossed the Singing Bridge on our day’s song cycle and travelled for several kilometers around to Winda Woppa past Hawks Nest where we put Woody down for a sleep among the freeloaders and mosquitos.

We found a camp site just in the bush from this gentle beach, perfect for spear fishing flathead and playing in the sand.

We camped a few days here as predators eating fish and as prey being eaten by sandflies and mosquitos. Inadvertently we became textile makers too. Zero and another dog found a recently killed rabbit and brought it to us.

By the smell of it this little being had been dead for quite a few hours and its death was quite a mystery. It was a good opportunity to give the boys an impromptu rabbit skinning workshop. Zero lucked in on the meat and offal as we skinned and scraped, washed and hung the pelt out to dry. After a couple of hours drying a labrador came onto the beach, found the pelt and gobbled it whole. That put an end to making a little fishing tackle pouch, but it certainly enlivened our thoughts about the value of such skins.

For our last breakfast at Winda Woppa we had porridge on the beach. With cooler autumn days, camp fires will become more and more possible. We packed up camp in a crazed shooing sandfly dance and legged it to Bulahdelah along the Pacific Highway.

It was in Bulahdelah we found a great little public park with BBQ facilities, so we cooked dinner with some locally bought produce and we set up the Artist as Family correspondence office,

before making camp at what we thought was a legit free camping spot on the Myall River.

However,  it turned out that this was a free camping ground for RVs and caravans only. Our legitimacy was a momentary illusion derived by refusing to read the prohibition signs. We can’t have tents messing up the town, geez, we might attract unwashed types. Terrible stuff! We camped there anyway.

This anti-tent fascism sent us a clear message to move on. We had only come to this inland town because there was no coast road to follow. We left Bulahdelah, 12m above sea level, and climbed east up and down to this point of The Lakes Way, 165m asl, where we stopped for a fruit break.

Coming down the hills by the heavy weight of our bikes was exhilarating and we rested for the night at Boomerang Point at another sneaky camp spot that we found. The following morning we got chatting to a mum and her kids who were on their way to school. She asked us where we had stayed and we didn’t beat about the bush. She then told us she was the local ranger and kindly invited us to camp at her place next time we were in the area. Thanks Katrina, you could have thrown the book at us, but instead you showed compassion and encouraged our travels.

A gentle flattish morning ride from Boomerang Point brought us to Forster. We hung out at the library for the afternoon putting Woody to sleep under a desk before heading down to the beach for a swim.

While at the library we met Glenn, a fellow cyclist and (we found out later) the council’s general manager. He kindly invited us back to spend the night with himself, his wife Maryanne and son James. They cooked us a bonza meal, provided us with beds, showers and laundry and an opportunity to discuss the not-so-meritorious history of Monsanto from DDT to Agent Orange to GM foods. There’s change in the air and it’s no longer infused with Roundup. Thanks for your generous hospitality Glenn and Maryanne!

James, who is a student by correspondence, told us about The Tank, a place his older brother goes to spear fish. Despite an empty catch bag it was a snorkeling treat with a multiplicity of marine life all responding to the dramatic effects of waves and their tidal gods.

We liked being in this town and decided to spend another night in the area, so we crossed the exceedingly long Forster-Tuncurry bridge in search of a place to make camp.

We swam and fished and cooked up dinner before setting up our sneaky camp behind some bushes in a municipal park near to this very convenient public BBQ.

Everything was going swimmingly in our hidden camp spot until 1am when a series of pop-up sprinklers woke us and Meg and Patrick were up ’til all hours holding the rotating jets away from our gear.

While packing up the next morning we met a bunch of friendly volunteers from Tuncurry Dune Care who were weeding out Asparagus fern. This is Carl, who, with fifty or so others, has been aiding the restoration of the dune ecology in the area for more than a decade. We asked Carl if Asparagus fern is edible. He wasn’t sure although told us it was related to the edible Asparagus officinalis.

As we have a passion for being the biological controls of domineering species, we were keen to find out the benefits of this invasive plant. Our initial online research was inconclusive, some saying the plant’s berries are toxic to humans as well as to cats and dogs, and some saying the little starchy tubers are no more toxic than the tips of raw Asparagus officinalis. Certainly you could collect enough of the small starchy tubers in a short time to make a meal. We’ll do some more investigation and get back to you on this one.

Another thing we have a passion for is passing on knowledges. Zeph has become a keen fisherman on the trip and here he shows Woody how to attach bait to a hook,

and here how to collect wood for fire or cubby making.

After another morning’s fish we rode with our catch to Redhead (near Black Head) and found a perfect camp spot – flat ground, shade, privacy and drinking water nearby.

We cooked the fish on the beach,

before Zero gave Patrick a sound critique of his first draft Bulahdelah–Boomerang Point Holiday Family Cycle, the title ripped from Les Murray’s magical redneck poem of a similar name. We have our friend Michael Farrell to blame for this grumpy greenneck poem in its infancy.

Patrick was made even more grumpy at Redhead when the fully loaded and very long tandem fell over while the front wheel was stuck in an inadequate sized bike rack, radically buckling it. ****! Then, just as we were deciding what to do, as if sent from the cycle gods themselves, local resident David Coyle wandered up to us. He was fascinated to see another tandem bike just like the one he rides; a bike he went halves in with his 80 year old neighbour who is now blind. What a joy it was to come back to David’s home, meet his two girls Isabel and Lucy, their Isa Brown chooks,

listen to the story of his and neighbour Walter’s tandem escapades, and stay in a little garden bungalow that David built from reclaimed materials.

The next day David took the buckled wheel with him to work in Taree and got the rim straightened at his local bike shop, enough so as we could get to Taree for further repairs. Thanks David, Lucy and Isabel, your home is certainly a sanctuary.

Despite all the by-laws and prohibition signs that constantly negate the possibility for sustainable travel, we are only able to do it with the help and love of people who share our common values and embrace our spirit for adventure.

The Newcastle moment

Newcastle would have to be one of the most likeable Australian cities. ‘Keep Newcastle Weird’ was a slogan we admired on the streets. It is a great place to find your own sub-culture and it has a climate that sings to be lightly dressed and loosely behaved. The scale of Newcastle is probably the key to its liveability, and the coastline, which is highly accessible, is transformative.

We had made a few local friends from our previous adventure in 2009, but never fathomed making so many others this time around. Some of whom invited us to stay with them, like Fiona and Phil that featured at the end of the last post, and Michelle and Tom and their boys Sonny and Max, who put on a bonza BBQ on our first night with them.

This artist as family clan playfully call themselves Boghemians. Of an evening and in dream states, Zeph and Zero became part of the art of this vibrant home.

Riding through the streets we met stay-at-home dad Billy and his kids Charlie and Isabelle. They were riding around on a cargo bike Billy had brilliantly fashioned from mostly reclaimed parts.

Billy invited us back to his home where we were able to put Woody down for a long sleep. Billy and his partner Amy, briefly home from work, hosted us for lunch, while Charlie also had a snooze.

We stayed and shared meals with Suzie, Dom and Bowie,

a gorgeous family Fiona and Phil had introduced us to and who live near the Sandhills community garden. Suzie, Dom, Bowie and Fiona all help out in the garden, which has been growing steadily for eight years under the direction of this remarkable person, Christine.

After a week of couch surfing and rich social life we decided to hang out for several days in Awabakal country. We headed south, climbed some hills and set up camp in Glenrock Reserve,

a two kilometre beach walk to the Glenrock Lagoon, where there was fish to catch,

and coastal greens to gather and cook.

Pigface (Carpobrotus glaucescens), we have found, is not always palatable. Sometimes the leaves are very astringent and leave an unpleasant film on your teeth. The best we’ve tasted them is when we’ve gathered young leaves and cooked them well on a fast heat with fish. We are realising we could live well on just fish, coastal leafies (Warrigal greens, Bower spinach and Pigface) and one or two other things. But there is still so much to learn.

The key is camping close to these food sources, something not always possible when the population is large. After three nights at Glenrock we again, by chance, met another lovely family who invited us to stay with them. Meet Gavin and Beck and their kids Barney and Lottie.

Gav and Beck had cycle-toured throughout Europe pre-kids and were intrigued we were doing it in Australia with children. We traded notes around saftey and the improvements local governments need to make for cycling to become a more dominant mode of transport. When car lanes become exclusively bike lanes we will start to see more and more people on the roads commuting, touring or just pollutionless having fun. Afterall, we may as well adapt now, the end of oil is on its way as our friend Charlie McGee will happily tell you.

While exploring Newcastle we came across this sand filter just off Nobby’s Beach. It is designed to process the pollution from cars and stop it from entering the water catchment and the beach.

The sand filter’s storyboard lists the lethal ‘cocktail’ of chemicals that cars produce (including lead, nickel, chromium, copper, P.C.Bs, Manganese, Zinc, Cadmium, P.A.Bs, Oil and Grease, Dioxine, Sulphates and Detergents) that end up in our streets and in our environments. With this list alone how are cars legal?