We stayed in Taree for a night at a fairly forgettable caravan park (our first in months), legged it to Queens Lake and free camped by the water's edge for a brief dusk-to-dawn stay.
Zeph did the maths and calculated the sum we would pay if we stayed in caravan parks every night for our year on the road. It was $14,600, averaging $40 a night, just for a patch of ground to pitch our tents. Australia really is one continuous rip off if you follow the rules. We faced an 80 km ride to Kempsey to visit our dear friend Brett – our longest day in the saddle so far. Brett is temporarily back from doing volunteer work in Lebanon with Médecins Sans Frontières Australia, and as luck would have it, our timing aligned.
When Brett lived in Daylesford we did loads of great stuff together, including getting Daylesford Community Food Gardens and Critical Mass Daylesford up and cycling.
Brett's family home sits just above the Macleay River,
and we were able to go out fishing for bass,
or just for pleasure.
While staying with Brett and his brother Kurt, we borrowed their scales to weigh our bikes, gear and ourselves.
One of the many common questions we get asked on the road is how heavy are the bikes?, so using Brett and Kurt's scales we thought we'd find out.
We had three gentle, restorative days with Brett and Kurt before reloading the bikes for more northerly drifting. Thanks so much brothers love!
We meandered back to the coast through beautiful country following the Macleay River. Where we stopped to buy some farm gate produce we caught on camera Zeph losing control of Meg's bike, which with Woody (12 kg) and without Meg (50 kg) weighs nearly 80 kg, demonstrating that our so-called drift requires quite some effort.
We rode into South West Rocks and arrived on dusk,
foraged dinner at the local fish and chippery, munched on our fresh farm gate goodies to top us up, set up camp down a bush track by torchlight and woke up early to move on before being discovered by the local ranger.
We had a morning's scratch around the town and along the coast before following the Macleay River on its north bank back towards the Pacific highway. Along this road we stopped for a break and got talking to Peter, a local man-of-many-useful-trades. Peter and his partner Sonya, with whom we swapped notes about the political agency of growing your own food, later met us up the road with some of their home grown produce. Thanks sweet couple!
With our food pannier full to the brim we were back on the Pacific and soon cursing the way the shoulders kept disappearing, sighing with relief when they would reappear. It was along this section of road that we bumped into southbound American David, only the fifth cycle tourist we've seen in four and a half months.
Remarkably (and unrelated to David) a few minutes later came Phil, our sixth. We held a brief cycle touring conference. Phil was travelling with his suitcase and a folding bike, a novel approach to touring although, he said, it was a bit limiting because of the drag.
We parted ways with these solo southbounders and a little further on stopped for lunch, hard boiling Peter and Sonya's organic duck eggs and devouring their delicious cucumbers.
It was only after lunch that we noticed the tandem had what was to be our first puncture, over 2100 kms into the trip.
We fitted the spare tube and headed to Nambucca heads, only to get another puncture in the same tyre on arrival. With our late entrance into the town and with threatening storm clouds brewing we booked into our first budget-breaking motel, for the sake of a bath.
The heavens opened overnight, while we attended to fixing the tubes, making dinner, washing clothes and bodies and indulging in a spot of bedroom TV. But after this brief sojourn into civility we were keen to get back to what we love doing best,
riding to the beautiful Valla Beach,
where we were again treated to some very heavy rain overnight and were thankful for the community shelter, in yet another non-camping reserve, to dry out our drenched tents the next morning.
After all these months of thinking about where we might land on this trip, Bellingen was always going to be a place of special interest. We let our bikes glide us into the town and guide us intuitively to a little public place where we could make lunch. Meg went into nearby Kombu, a wholefoods shop that would be included in anyone's vision of an ecoutopia, to get a few more supplies. Meg soon came back with the proprietor, Kevin Doye, who to our pleasant surprise is one half of the awesome Bike 2 Oz couple, who Artist as Family had been inspired by years before.
Kevin and Lowanna (the over half of this wonderful duo) invited us to meet their family, shouting us an early dinner at one of the local cafés that supports local growers. It was fantastic to meet this family and share our cycle touring stories.
There is something very unique about Bellingen. Whereas there are similarities with our hometown Daylesford, things are less touristy in this mid north NSW town. Even though we have our share of wonderful things going on, Bello seems far less a tourist-pleasing spectacle, on its trajectory to environmental sustainability. Check out the town's main vegie shop, for example. Notice the absence of packaging. Local people here don't mind the inconvenience of lean logic, whereas at home the linage of twentieth century 'indulgence tourism' still poisons our community.
And then there is the twice-monthly farmers' market, where again the emphasis is on bringing your own containers and eating locally.
There are the forageable public fruit trees, such as the avenue of orange trees planted very intentionally at the soccer fields as half time sweeteners, as well as autonomous fruit trees such as guavas, which have naturalised in the district.
Like home there are town notice boards demonstrating a rich social life.
And like home there is much needed environmental experimentation, such as the trial crop of a post crude oil fiber, fodder, fuel, food, medicine and building material plant.
We met the grower, Steve Henderson, who has close family ties with Daylesford and Hepburn, and we met the gorgeous Jay who just a few weeks before had photographed the joyous community harvest of Steve's first crop. By chance we were lucky enough to capture Steve's passion for industrial hemp on our little vid camera. (It's not quite ready yet, we'll let you know when this inspiring little snapshot becomes available).
Like home there are excellent community gardens in Bellingen,
and experienced volunteers, like these two chaps, Steve and Mark.
And like home there are many generous people, who engaged with our story. For three days we stayed with the delightful Gull, his boys Sol and Reuben, and his partner Linda, sharing food, parenting and narratives of transition.
When we left proto-utopian Bellingen we rode the back roads near promised land country,
and pitched our tents at Coffs Harbour airport
with a friend of Gull's, Steve Hill, who runs Coffs City Skydivers and an awesome communal living environment.
With this destination we sadly farewelled Zeph, who after three months of being on the road headed home to be with his mum and his friends. We made family wrist bands using the fibre from Steve Henderson's hemp, the method was taught to us back in Tumut by Wiradjuri ranger Shane Herrington,
and shedded tears for this growing boy's independent departure into the skies that we older ones no longer travel.
Farewell Zeph! We'll see you for the last three months of the trip. Thanks for everything you have brought to this adventure. We love you so sososososososososo much. And miss you already.
Our home on the road won't be quite the same without you...