Part 6 – Marlo to Melbourne

Carrots on TV, repurposed railway tracks, penguins in boxes, free eggplants, magic cookies, Nar Nar Goon, Naked for Satan, yabbying, penguins on bikes, Melbourne comedy festival and an absolutely massive ferry. It’s all happening.

Firstly, happy International Carrot Day for yesterday! What a great day it was to be a carrot!

It’s been almost two weeks since I last sat down to document the journey so there are quite a few tales to share. Before I get to it, I want to give a huge thanks to everybody that pitched in and helped the crowdfunding campaign reach and exceed the target.

We raised over $3,800 in 6 weeks!! That should get the urban farming off to a flying start. When I initially set up the campaign, I was a little optimistic in my cycling abilities and thought I would be finishing up the ride as the campaign reached the deadline. Having taken my sweet time, I found that I still have two weeks or so of riding through Tasmania before I fly back to Brisbane. Based on the massively positive response from people I have met so far, I felt that there might be a chance to raise some more funding during my last leg into Hobart so I have created a follow up crowdfunding campaign to allow further donations to be received if needed. If you want to donate, or wanted to before but missed the deadline, you can support the project  following the crowdfunding link on the freewheelingfarmer.com website or by clicking here. Cheers legends!

Alright, lots of tales to tell. The last update left off with me staying in Marlo, Victoria with my friends Tim and Jamee for a few days. Very shortly after I was contacted by an old friend from school who now works for 7 Local News in my hometown of the Sunshine Coast in Queensland. She offered to run a story about my journey so I sent her a little bit of footage and she came up with a great little piece that ran in the evening news on the 25th of March. If you didn’t catch it, you can check it out here:

On the News!

Leaving Marlo, I jumped onto the East Gippsland Rail Trail at Orbost and rode through to Bruthen, where I stayed the night in the most chilled caravan park I’ve ever seen. The owner, Wally, wanted people to feel at home so he basically set it up like a house, complete with a full complement of toiletries and an old radio playing blues music in the shower block. The kitchen area was fully stocked with all manner of gadgets and plenty of condiments (I’m a condiments fan) and a BBQ ready to go. Thing was, I was the only person staying there so I had it all to myself! When Wally found out about my trip, he joined me for a beer, waived my camping fee and gave me some good travel advice. What a legend.

Next morning I followed the rail trail through to Bairnsdale, passing some incredible old timber bridge structures as I cycled along the gravel track. It got rough in some sections but was paradise compared to battling along the edge of a highway.

As I rode towards Sale I stopped at a farm stand along Bengworden Road and had a chat to the farmer. He insisted I take a couple of his amazing Lebanese eggplants so I tucked them into the bike bags for later. As I left, my warmshowers.org host for the night John rang me and decided he would cycle out and accompany me into Sale so he could show me the best route to take. Arriving at John and Trish’s place, I was greeted with a huge meal kicked off with fresh pumpkin soup, made from the beaut pumpkins grown in their backyard. Apparently a few years ago they started a competition with a few of their relatives where they divided up some seeds from the same pumpkin and started a backyard patch to see who could grow the best pumpkin. John and Trish took podium and then decided to just keep going, which means that their backyard is now lawn free, with only a tiny path beaten out to their hills hoist, perched like an island in the centre of the patch. At last count there was 42 huge Queensland Blue pumpkins out back. Very cool. Two other cycle tourers, Nick and John were also staying so there was plenty of bike travel talk and telling of tall tales.

Next stop was Moe, where I had arranged to stay with Ron, another warmshowers.org host for the night. Along the way, I was flagged down by some cool hippy rockers who had a feeling that anybody dressed like a carrot was in need of some ‘magic’ cookies, definitely the craziest donation I’ve had on the trip. Being Easter, Ron realised he had a family dinner to go to out of town so he incredibly whipped me up a curry, left the door unlocked and sent me instructions on how to get to his place. He showed up the next morning just before I left so we had a good chat about his amazing charity work and we traded ideas on how to change the world. Onya Ron.

Leaving Moe I came across the Gippy Goat Cafe, a goat farm where they sell craft goat cheese products and have a few goats next to the cafe for the guests to hang out with. Couldn’t miss an opportunity to hang with my Broats.

After a few solid days of riding, I was ready for a quick break and so I cycled into a little place called Garfield, where some good friends of mine Luke and Lisa were staying. Initially I though Garfield was a funny town name, but then I started running into some absolute beauties. Nar Nar Goon, Koo Wee Rup and Bunyip were top of the list. Luke and Lisa just bought a block of land nearby in Drouin and are waiting to get their house built so they were bunked in with Lisa’s parents for a few months. Lisa’s Dad Col turned out to be a classic aussie ‘man of the land’ and proudly showed me his organic vege garden and his herd of sheep. Unfortunately, part of being in Victoria meant that you drink VB, so we did the noble thing and stood around a campfire drinking those green tins. Next day was a rest day, so we took off for a quick road trip around Philip Island with its MotoGP track and it’s strange but cute collection of penguins in boxes. The local fairy penguin population nest in underground hollows, so to encourage them to stay and breed somebody built a heap of wooden box shelters (or tiny penguin houses) around the headland. Penguins just living the dream.

After Garfield was the final push into Melbourne, a tough day of dodging traffic and trams to arrive at Fitzroy, where my good friends Chris and Steph had just moved into an apartment. I worked with Chris as an engineer in Montreal and I think all my talk of hot sunny days and crisp beaches subliminally guided their decision to move down under for a few years to try it for themselves. Cruising through the city, I had seen a girl wearing a black T-shirt with ‘Naked for Satan’ scrawled across it and had a laugh to myself about ‘those crazy goths’. That night, Chris takes me down the street to an incredible roof top bar he said was his favourite in the area. The name of the bar? Naked for Satan. Goes to show you shouldn’t be too hasty in your judgement.

Melbourne was also a chance to catch up with my cousin Eden and his partner Hannah at the Queen Victoria markets (home to some of the tastiest food I’ve come across), check out St Kilda’s ‘rip rap penguins’ (engineering joke) and the grafiti filled ACDC lane.

From Melbourne, I jumped on the train and headed north to a little town called Tatura, where some other friends from Montreal had just bought 40 acres of farmland. Hamish and Dom were busy renovating when I showed up, and young Xavier could hardly contain his excitement when ‘the giant carrot’ finally arrived. Proudly pulling up his traps from the dam full of yabbies (a type of freshwater crayfish in Australia), Hamish joked that there were no food miles around here, only food meters. After a few great days in the countryside, I cycled back to the train station accompanied by my new sidekick, the Penguin, and then headed back into Melbourne where I scoped out the Prahan markets in South Yarra and caught a comedy show with Chris and Steph as part of the Melbourne International Comedy Festival. If you get a chance to see a guy called Bart Freebairn perform, do it, he kills.

Although I loved Melbourne and wanted to stay, my journey was not over and I climbed aboard the Spirit of Tasmania ferry on Monday morning to cross the Bass Strait to Tasmania. I think the word ‘ferry’ is a little misleading in the case of the  enormous 200 metre long, 5 storey cruise ship with two cinemas and a handful of bars, but I’m not complaining. We passed the sister ship, Spirit of Tasmania 2, about halfway across the Strait and could almost see the people on the deck. Apparently each ship weighs as much as 2.9 million slabs of beer, a very aussie way to convey that something is super heavy.

So that leaves me here, just coming into Tassie where I will start in Devonport and ride the east coast of the island down to Hobart over the next two weeks. I can already feel it is quite a bit colder so there might be some fresh mornings but nothing treeplanting in Canada last year hasn’t prepared me for. Lots more adventures to come.

Keep up the good work everyone and keep being great,

James. (aka. Plants Farmstrong)

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