Push-Bike Egalitarian Communities Australia! A Great Big Down-Under Communities Biking-and-Living Tour for 2014

Day Fourteen: Tongataboo

I slept restlessly on the ferry, mainly due to poor comfort. I might have snuck a place on the floor as it had been advised to me, but I was bashful and so I tried to settle in my undersized oversize chair (positioned in rows facing the front of the ship, like a jumbo airplane) and ultimately got about 5 hours of sleep. At 6 am, the vessel was parked in Devonport and an announcement came on that we were to disembark in half an hour — we were in Tasmania! I rolled over and tried to sleep some more, but as chatter filled the room, I gave up and groggily wandered away from the ocean recliner cabin.

Although a bike is considered a vehicle on the mainland, it isn't considered a vehicle on Tasmania, so I was allowed to be among the first to take the escalators down. I stepped onto the land (with no lack of reverence, though perhaps a slight dearth of consciousness) and wheeled my funny rig out to the car rental office. The sun had not risen, and I was struck by the change in sunlight hours. Being "further down" on the globe, I slowly awoke to the realization that the sun would more closely resemble its behavior in Minnesota, albeit mirrored to the North. It remained relatively dark for a long time as I followed my headlights along the river trail via directions from the rental lady. With the incredibly low number of passing cars, I was able to dismount and change from jeans to bike knicks with no obvious observers. My breakfast consisted of more nuts, raisins and mashed aprocots.


The Latrobe Turn

When I arrived in Latrobe, I stopped by a man setting up tables across the street from a bottle shop that had caught my attention, (bottle shops are somewhat like drive-through liquor stores) which was just called 9/11. I gave this terroristic bottle shop a curious glance. Are people turned to drink by the news, why not market the symbiotic addictions? Can you imagine the moment of brilliance for this schemer? "Honey, trust me. People are addicted to and depressed by two things. The news and alcohol. Bing bang baddaboom. Cash money."

If one is a true capitalist, why should one not market directly to people's weak points, after all? Missing Airplane Tobacco Shop. Hey bro, I've got what you need in this here trench coat. My name? You can just call me "Iran-Contra Scandal". Family Suicide Pump and Go the gas station! Come to our new candy store Child Molester Sweets!

I asked him if I could get to the highway via my present route, and he turned me around to B13, citing "more interesting things to see". As I pumped up awful hills and climbed from the coast, I admit I grumbled about this advice, but when it hooked up to just the route I wanted, I was happy to get to the bottom of my location. Increasingly hankering for something fatty, I fantasized about deep fried potato wedges, which I finally acquired in Elizabethtown. Even though they were not good at all, it satisfied my addiction. Welcome to Disastrous Shuttle Launch Takeaway Fish-and-Chips.


Brain Problem Situation

It had been 50 kilometers, and now I just needed to find my WWOOFing host. Unfortunately, this involved climbing an incredible hill nearly 10 kilometers away. Running on fumes, grease, salt and tuh-MAH-toe sauce (ketchup) I arrived, walked the first hill, dismounted again at the second relentless climb and walked my bicycle for a full kilometer — pausing, frequently. The lack of sleep the night prior was now hitting home. My brain apparently malfunctioned, because instead of looking for the address of the home, I looked for a sign indicating I'd arrived at a village.

It turns out, after unwittingly passing a gazebo, fence and pile of wood I inexplicably admired and feeling it had "a good vibe" (which incidentally, was the address I was seeking to my later stupefaction), climbing another giant hill and descending a huge slope now overlooking the highway which I'd left an hour prior, the entire road *had* been the unmarked town. I nearly cried when I learned from [the only occupied car in miles] that I was nearly finished with a loop from the point I started, and that I'd have to retrace my steps back up two hills to the place which, incredibly, I hadn't even overlooked but which I'd dismissed. To my relief, I was given a shortcut around the latest hill. To my misery, it was a road that had also caught my intuition's attention earlier in the day and I'd ignored.


Tongataboo

Finally arriving back at the goal after more pedaling and pushing my vehicle (perhaps finally earning the name "push-bike"), and recognizing the place I had paused before, it fully dawned on me how "out of it" I must have been to miss the numbers on the mailbox. But at this point, I was so relieved I'd actually seen a matching address, I didn't care if I found the wrong home. I walked in to be welcomed or chased off with a shotgun, but after 70 km on such little sleep, I wasn't biking any more. Thankfully, it was the right place, I was greeted warmly by my hosts, shown around the property, introduced to garden care, and by the end of the day drumming in a fire circle with more new friends. I met a woman who wanted to help me with mourning the loss of both my mother's mother and my father's father (which both occurred while I've been abroad). I met an incredible man with spiritual interests close to my own and whose research meshed with mine like missing puzzle pieces. I met a Tasmanian man with a friend in Minnesota! As we drummed, the waning semi-full moon I had greeted in the morning slowly repeated its rise into place, to meet a cloud bank like undulating sand under ocean waves. Tongataboo, thank you for allowing your mystery to test me, confound me and finally, envelope me!

I slept like a log for twelve hours, and woke up with mixed feelings of joy and longing for home.

Day Thirteen: The Spirit of Tasmania

Setting out on another day of bicycle journeying, I felt some of the same emotions I'd felt a year and a half ago, as I had then been leaving my home of Minnesota: loss, sadness, weariness, wariness — but also a sense of inevitability that life brings these things, and the adventure of riding the weather expectantly in anticipation of its next significant moments. A few words about Murundaka aside from the feeling that I was living happily back at the Students Coop for an ecstatic two weeks: it is a lovely and unique community in its formative years, barely more than 2 years old. Yet, it was built on a solid foundation of wisdom from years of exploration, adventure and living at community that collectively make up its elder founders lives. It is also made up of members new to community living. As all communities face challenges, so does the increasingly fortified Murundaka; and as many communities face changing ideas of membership as a sword is tempered by blows, or end up dividing into other communities as a sculpture is suddenly a series of spontaneous marvels rather than the artist's original guess about its fated form, this one was going through a very complex alchemy involving individual members, inter-relationships among them, among related co-ops and its unmbrella co-op.

As echoes of the enthusiasm, strained optimism, gloom and nervousness of co-opers back home leaked into my conversation with many of Murundaka's members of various opinion, I felt reassured by the conversations that indicated their dream was still very much alive and growing. It is perhaps difficult to explain to someone who feels themselves wanting to be extremely independent how all of this can sound good; someone who doesn't live in community might be put off by these things. But it is good. In fact, there was nothing I could do to reassure them that everything would be okay — that this sort of thing is highly normal for communities, and inevitably makes them stronger should they continue to be united by the love and good memories of their feelings when joining, should they ride the storm of discovering their own values both important and unimportant to its membership, and separating what can be pragmatically nurtured from what should not (and need not) be micro-managed. Having made friends with both unique yet vaguely parallel-universe versions of many co-opers back home, it truly felt like an all-too-short introduction to a number of dear people I shall truly miss. (Luckily, I'll be back in a few weeks!)

Trailer Antics

A tightened up, re-inspected and re-assured trailer wheel softly tumbled and clicked over the sticks. A new, larger flag boasted of my presence. A borrowed neon vest made me a more visible rider. A lightened load (having finishing distributing copies of my comic book and having temporarily stored excess items back at trusted Murundaka, for pick up a month hence) made me more maneouverable. I soared from Murundaka souped up and perhaps over-confidently leaning into curves.

As a result, the trailer invented a new way of wreaking havoc on me by popping off the axle on one side a few times. Thankfully, in the grass. I got out the powerful Leatherman (thanks, Charlie!) and bent the metal pieces back into functional form. They had been twisted by the weight of leaning on alternate ends of the axle.

Up hills and around corners like a rare 3-wheeled creature, following my homemade maps through Melbourne's suburbs more or less accurately for the first time. I decided to take my time around the longer wooded trail rather than the more urban labyrinth of towers and cars. A stranger helpfully carried my bike trailer for me when I discovered the Capital City Bicycle Trail inexplicably includes a 3-story staircase. (He is also planning on leaving for Tasmania in a week.)

Yes, you've read correctly.

Tasmania

I am pleased to inform you that the next and last leg of my bicycle exploration will be on the island of Tasmania. My target destination is a newer intentional community (as far as the recent history of them goes) known as Tasman Ecovillage.

As I compose this, my bicycle is safely packed in the garage of the ferry (most of the stories below me), I am waiting in a general seating area watching the wildlife of humans walk by, and preparing for a lazy evening, asleep on the ship to Tasmania. I hope we make it safely through that treacherous rip!

"Details, Details!" or How I Come Home

After much deliberation, I've decided to leave Australia early for a number of reasons. Two minor, and one major. One minor is my diminishing money supply, but this would not be an issue given the sheer number who would happily make my life in Australia the paradise of new friends I'd hoped it would be. The other minor one is weather; I'd rather chase the sun all the way to the northern hemisphere rather than to Queensland. But this isn't really an issue as much as it's an excuse to see Minnesota's best time of year, its gorgeous summer, and avoiding coming home just as another (5-month?) winter sets in.

And the greater one having me consider all of these is love — family, friends and loved ones who I miss and want to be near. I have been away from home for a year and a half. In that time, I have maintained relationships with everyone using the Internet. At least seven old friends and over a dozen family members have paid visits to my bumpy lifestyle, or else I've visited them in their travels or distant homes, but I have remained "abroad". Several people even made memorable trips specifically to see me, for which I am beyond grateful and in a state of praise of life. Some relationships could even be said to have seen vast improvement as they freely blossomed from afar. Thank you for nurturing our friendships and kinships, everyone.

In 2012, something called to me from far East, the possibility of answering questions about myself that my friends and family at home could not answer. I listened to that important voice and followed my heartstrings. I found homes punctuated on the journey, all of different qualities, most of the qualities inspiring indeed, very few of them worth criticizing or abandoning. (Being nomadic has its benefits.)

Does this mean I am finished with Australia this minute? All my questions have been met? No, I will stay for another month. A certain spirit of Oceania beckons still, and promises to finally defeat this session of wanderlust with adventure. I have a hunch that this one will help me put a punctuation mark on the end of the run-on sentence that has been the chapter of my recent travels. (Anyway, what good is adventure if one cannot take a break and share it intimately with loved ones who are following the story of our lives?)

So, there is more to tell of this story, I am about to live through significant reflections soon, but the result (which is yet a mystery) can be shared in person. I have a ticket to Minnesota in May!

Days Eleven & Twelve: Melbourne!

The eleventh day of biking can be summarized in a few fragments: Intensifying urbanity. Community with a cycling stranger. Evening with a relative in a retirement community.

After twelve days of biking from Warrnambool, I finally completed the length of a 3-hour train journey to Melbourne's CBD (Central Business District, i.e.; the middle of downtown). That is to say, it has taken me over a week to move the distance I could have done in a drawn-out instant. But why?

Have I wasted countless piles of food in energy that could have gone to starving children in Liberia? Have I been the burden of over a dozen people who might have been better off had they never met me and had to deal with another "useless eater"? Have I frustrated or confused residents, drivers and tourists alike on the highways and thoroughfares of the Otways? Have I bothered hundreds of strangers and new friends with the meaningless question of what community means to them? At least one person just really didn't like my little red flag's pointy end.

But in Melbourne, the flag and half of its staff, disappeared entirely!

Here I am in the "capitol" city of Victoria, the most livable city in the world, the urban, happening, popular and vibrant "first-world city in a second-world country" Melanie McBournigan. Smelly Schmelbum. Burgan Hamtown. Pigus Fatimus Baconish Bottomous.

Sorry, I am not sure what happened there.

Anyway, it's apparently all very fun and exciting and mysterious for being another desperate urban center feeding off the hard working land managers like a fantastic tick whose own blood is Moloch, king of the impossibly bottomless dollar.

Delusion. Illusion. Wandering faces. Silent faces observing chatter. Thinking they see: Proud Indians. Sharp Japanese. Relieved Italians. Bored Chinese. Passive Koreans. Powerful Greeks. Excited Canadians. Whinging Poms. Rejected Americans. Where are the Aussies? Who are the real Aussies? Irish Scottish English Dutch Indonesians. Helpful police officers. Stereotypes melting and transforming under the whining rumbling hum of aggressively obsequious tram cars.

Not knowing they see: Cars. Cars everywere. Bicycles, bicycles everywhere. Helmets and chains and fragments of the industrial struggle of fitting fragile vehicles in the cold compressor of skyscrapers.

Music muffled by clopping footsteps, concrete and vibrating beams. The occasional plastic bag being stuffed with an item by the hidden hands of a girl with an expression of distracted concern on her face. People carrying somewhat heavy things and trying not to carry them for too long. Briefly looking in shop windows, pivoting on an eager toe, receiving and declining messages. People managing their sexuality under perfumes, behind pants and skirts, on heels and rubber, in bobs and struts, shooting the fastest most confusing glances. No glaring.

This is a tie. It means I'm a slave and you're even worse.

Statues, towers and remnant building strategies long abandoned to the next great experiment, already obsolete. Sweep it all up, anything that fits, leave the rest. It's just too big.

I pedaled my way through the hot grimy fast sad happy city, making my way to Murundaka, a co-op like community alleged to be somewhat similar to a multi-generational Students' Co-op (where I live in Minneapolis) and found the new presence of short-term memories of the city becoming the default theme of all life within a 35 kilometer radius of the CBD. As if only a place as scrunched, artificial and glued together by specialized knowledge, specialized ignorance and specialized curiosity could possibly comment with meaning on the worth of the living human experience.

It would be 45 minutes before I meet a friend at the Hare Krishna all-you-can-eat joint Crossways and suddenly the context of my existence became clear out of the haze of strangers, like a nomadic creature sinking into its place among the undertow that had recently been its mode of transport. I was to be, for this person, clarifying my reality and investigating his. We were going deep into the question we ask a stranger when we ask them: just who the hell are you anyway?

A lot of people avoid this question as if it were a plague of thought. (Possibly because they have never asked themselves this question very deeply, or so I sometimes reckon.) But for those bohemians who mistrust authority and accidentally become philosopher-sleuths, it is with quite a gregarious sort of mistrust that two of them meet one another and have an explosive discussion on the meaning of trust in The Age of Misinformation.

You may wonder why someone would voluntarily jump into a situation where one is suspected and suspicious. If you believe, as I do, that we have become somewhat retarded in our ability to intelligently exist with the "I Don't Know" of life's mysteries, then you may have the same craving to hone your skills in sorting your intuition from your arrogant beliefs from the pathetically limited amount of things you actually know. Few realize that everyone does this sort of "knowledge inflation" thing — consciously or not — and it's easier snapping a revered reference in the conversation and speculating all day than to develop one's honesty about it. In the absence of such honesty, however, there can only be an authoritarian and (and by necessity of our age) a technocratic truth created by hedonism hobbyists of immense wealth and knowledge of forcing auto-suggestive behavior.

So basically, as this pertains to my studies of community, like agreeing to disagree, trusting our mistrust of each other is the first step to honesty between strangers. And even friends.

I didn't know he would show up; I sat down a little too soon and ate a little too much, and gave a little too much credence to the Krishna books at the damp wooden tables. As planets of perfect Krisna existence swirled in my head, I recollected that he had told me something important about switching on my phone, so I did and found out my companion had been busking (begging by playing music or performance on the street, and before you get upset with me for the term 'beg' I do not use it in the desperate sense but in the old sense of asking, questioning, and hence a personal sense of offered terms) somewhere for hours. The random stranger I bothered and the sign of his name in big bubble letters I made suddenly felt meek in comparison to the power of text messages. I put the sign away. The random stranger left.

Then my philosophizing companion arrived and recognized me instantly for the crazy f&*# I am. After a brief, exhilarating conversation in which we realized that the other was a real breathing person with most-likely decent intentions, and invented a deliciously fresh helping of new ways and methods of deeply suspecting one another, we hugged, amiably parted and I proceeded to Murundaka. I was sad to see them go, but wondered if I might meet them again one day!

For some reason, the city felt even hotter as I climbed up to Heidelberg Heights, my skin was on fire, my water didn't quench my thirst, and I pedaled for what seemed like ages. I asked half a dozen strangers for help in navigating my own map, which I had not drawn to scale at all. And after finally reaching it, I was in a confused and giddy daze as I was shown around the first intentional community I've visited since East Wind in Missouri. I was totally high on the co-opness of it all, eager to help, and share and eat, eager to be shoved around to different rooms as it was decided what was to be done with me (besides live sacrifice I guess) and it felt like so much confusing home. And I was reminded once more how much I really love what I'm doing with my life!

 

What Does Community Mean To You? #2

Good community involves fewer people and more nature. (Lee)

The general public can be community — it is when we don't condemn, when we forgive, when we let people be happy. It may be a bit religious, too. (Jim)

Belonging. (Vini)

It's a mother country, dropping everything I'm doing if my skills are required, for survival in particular, even if under duress. Perhaps a constant frustration that you can't know who is actually affecting your community. (Richard)

Community is about people getting together to accomplish something, but if they don't actually do it, they are around people and that's good too. (Tony)

Community is different things. It is not just geographic but social, shared ideals and a shared place — shared values. (Fi)

When I was younger, I had common ideas of community but now that I am older and things have changed, community has become more global with communication and the ease of travel. (Marg)

We're social beings, and community is the essence of how we operate between people, from person to person. We're not an island, and we can communicate with others. (Gary)

People with a similar vision working together for a common aim. (Ron)

Community isn't any particular arrangement, it's just people sharing things. (Gabby)

Society is connected through legislation but community is connected through knowledge and personal interaction. (Roland)

Places where people can coexist, live gently on Earth, take responsibility for health, food, education, the environment and whatever resources are needed. (Kate)

 

Great Ocean Road

Day Ten: Courting The Rip

After a week of fitful dreams involving terrifying Lego worlds, unideal dating scenarios and feelings of inadequacy at meeting my master's needs, I started out early from Swan Bay, quite honestly more eager for my freedom than before. And missing home in Minnesota for a significantly new length of time before drifting to sleep that night, I was cycling in a bit of an emotional daze. After only turning around and returning once for a forgotten item — the perfect excuse to also express final thanks and regrets and wishing well — I was out of the Swan Bay vortex and on the road. I was so happy to get moving, I nearly cried, but I still fantasized about leaving Australia. Incidentally, this would be the last WWOOFing location for some time, whether I liked it or not. Now began the completely urban world.

I arrived at the ferry in time for the 10-o-clock, paid my ten bucks, and rode my bicycle on for free with the others (bicycles and pedestrians enter first). I sat quite pleasantly at a bar facing the Bay (on the side of the ferry far away from the television) and composed some thoughts to the background chatter of old Italian immigrants and pseudo-professional golfers.

Arriving in Sorrento, the ship berthed, I disembarked and just pedaled up the coast, following a very nice bike trail most of the way. I ravenously annihilated a fish-n-chips from downtown Mornington (the fish part of which I had just learned a couple nights previous was actually shark) and moseyed on a bloated pace until reaching my next host's home past Frankston — the sandcastle capital of Australia (no, I did not stop to see the sand castles).

Shower. Dinner. Excellent conversation. Echoes of Iona, and further reminders of Aussie hospitality and good character. I can't miss home too much or I may end up getting in the habit and miss Australia too much when I do go back.

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