Night was falling and an icy wind was blowing straight off the southern ocean as we unloaded our bikes from the train at Malmsbury station. I was beginning to question the wisdom of going on a bicycle camping adventure on the first weekend of Autumn. Thankfully we were couch surfing for the first night in Elphinstone which was north of us, so the brisk wind proved a blessing after all and in around half an hour we had been blown the 12 km through gently rolling countryside and were tucking into a well earned beer in the local whilst waiting for our hosts to meet us.
Couch Surfing is an international community which connects people looking for a room for a night with those who have one on offer. But it is about much more than a free place to sleep, it’s also about meeting interesting people, having new experiences and making more local connections with the places you are visiting. It is also very environmentally friendly. Compared to the wastage of the hotel industry, aircon you can’t turn down, windows you can’t open etc you essentially have no greater impact than the people you are staying with except for an extra light or two. In preparation for our big trip we’ve been hosting a fair few people, building up the Karma, but this was our first time surfing. Our hosts were “tree changers” who had moved from Melbourne a year ago and were in the process of renovating an old weatherboard house which had been a state of near collapse when they purchased it. That icy wind was still whistling through the cracks in the walls but a log fire was blazing and we were soon tucking into a delicious braised rabbit that their cat Morocco had thoughtfully slaughtered earlier!!!!
After a cosy night in their caravan smothered in a couple of warm duvets we awoke to strong coffee and bright sunshine which was soon banishing the chill from last night. After feeding ourselves and their goats we hopped on the bikes for a cruisy downhill ride to the market at Wesley Hill, hitting 59 km p/h at one stage!!! The weekly market was recommended by our hosts – an example of the local knowledge that Couchsurfing can bring you, we would never have known about it otherwise – and consisted of produce from local farmers and second-hand clothes and bric-a-brac. About as sustainable as you can get in terms of buying stuff, although growing your own and deciding you don’t need that orange polar neck jumper after all would be even better. However that wouldn’t satisfy that insatiable desire to accumulate more stuff that the additional X chromosome seems to engender.
After feasting on a delicious home cooked vegetable pasty we hit the road to Vaughan Springs. I spotted a shortcut shortly after we departed and we were soon struggling along a steep, bolder strewn dirt road much to Imogen’s delight. Luckily the forest we were passing through was beautiful and it wasn’t too warm. An hour or so after regaining the tarmac we reached our destination and pitched our tent in a lovely spot down by the river surrounded by trees. Not sure if you’re really supposed to camp there but that’s one of the advantages of bicycle camping, you can’t carry much so you’re pretty unobtrusive. Another advantage is it is very low emission. Taking the return journey by car would have emitted 57 Kg CO2 equivalent on the other hand the train journey produced 6.5 Kg between the two of us (figures Public Transport Users Association) Taking into account the energy used in manufacturing the bike which the PTUA estimates at 0.08 MJ per km (although they suggest 20,000 km as a well used bike, mine’s only 4 years old and I would estimate it had already done that) if we assume 0.5 kg per Kwh then that’s an extra 1 kg of CO2 for the bikes. That’s only 50 kg saved you say but then imagine that spread over a million journeys, that’s 50,000 tonnes of Co2 saved right there. A further advantage is that it is very cheap
Return train tickets $40
Coachsurfing – bottle of wine
Camping – free
Food – we mostly cooked our own – $30
Couple of beers $15
Beautiful countryside and saving the planet – priceless
Ok you may be seeing a pattern here. That much of the low emission activities I engage in involve two wheels. What can I say I love my bike – and why wouldn’t I, there is simply no better way to explore a place. Firstly you can travel at a reasonable speed covering a fair area, but still slow enough to take in everything around you. Moreover rather than being cocooned in a metal box with everything flashing past at 100 km/h you can experience your surroundings – the sights, and sounds and smells. Your much more likely to spot an echidna browsing in the undergrowth, or some rare and beautiful flowers, perhaps the perfect photo opportunity or a delightful spot for a picnic lunch. When you do it’s a doddle to pull over and park up, no searching for a safe place to stop and turn, then find a place to park, and certainly no parking fees. There is no need to be ambitious it’s just as fun popping to your local cafe, or to the park as engaging in a bum numbing epic endurance ride- although they can be fun too. Whatever floats your boat. Of course there certainly are disadvantages – the puncture and strong head winds I experienced on Sunday being some of them but they are a small price to pay when compared to the other benefits not least of which is the fact that riding a bike keeps you fit.
One of the many benefits of moving to a low carbon future is that shifting journeys from the car to bicycle and walking will create a far healthier population. There was a timely reminder of the dangers posed by our sedentary lifestyles in this weekend Age. Recent research suggests that a lack of exercise can be more damaging to our health than being overweight. Someone who is overweight but takes 30 minutes of moderate exercise is likely to have less health problems than a slimmer person who doesn’t exercise at all. So moving to alternative more active transport systems isn’t just good for the health of the planet.
I was listening to One Planet the other day on the World Service and there was a segment on a project to design a bamboo bicycle which can be built and used in Africa. What a brilliant idea. The Bamboo Bike Project was established by the Earth Institute at Colombia University with the aim of creating a sustainable solution to Africa’s transport problems which could be manufactured locally.
In rural Africa most journeys are conducted on foot or unreliable public transport, moreover the bikes that are available are all imported and totally unsuited to local conditions. This creates a potential niche for a cheap, strong and reliable bicycle – which is where the project comes in.
Bamboo is a truly remarkable material whose uses are as varied as food, to make clothes, scaffolding, musical instruments and in construction. It is very strong and stiff yet light with excellent vibration absorbing qualities. Properties which make it ideally suited for making bike frames, indeed so good that it actually out performs more traditional materials for frame manufacture leading specialist bike manufactures such as Calfee to offer bamboo bicycles.
The final advantage of bamboo is it’s sustainability. It grows locally in Africa and is the fastest growing plant on earth with some species capable of growing over 1m per day thus requiring very few inputs to produce. Compare that with the approximate 260 MJ of energy required to produce 1 kg of Aluminium (although less than 10 % of that is used if the aluminium is recycled). Crucially bamboo can also be processed into frames in factories without electricity opening up the potential to manufacture them to huge swathes of the population. Although the other components will still need to be imported as the project team point out one shipping container which can only hold around 500 complete bicycles can hold the components for around 2000. Thus significantly reducing the emissions from transportation. Another example of brilliant minds developing solutions which will benefit both people and the planet.
Picnic in the park
The Transition movement has arrived in Brunswick. On Sunday Transition Brunswick held it’s second event – a community picnic in Warr Park. Taking refuge from the searing heat in the welcome shade of a tree, we shared food, ideas, stories and an informative talk on waste minimisation from Tammy from Moreland council.
The Transition Movement was first developed in Totnes in the UK in response to the two greatest challenges of the 21st Century, Climate Change and Peak oil, and the lack of action on either front. Talking the attitude of if our so called “leaders” aren’t doing anything we’ll do it ourselves they offer a positive and achievable vision of how we can move to a low carbon future whilst at the same time creating a more connected and thriving community. The aim is to bring together individuals who share the vision, who will then engage a critical mass of the community to instigate a Transition Initiative. The eventual aim of the initiative is to design and then implements an Energy Decent Action Plan (EDAP) – this is a “community-visioned and community designed’ plan to reduce carbon emissions and reliance on oil across the whole community – be that a village, town or council.
The fact that Transition Towns are springing up across Australia (there are currently 65) indicates that large numbers of people are heartily sick of the denial and inaction of the past 2 decades. It’s inspirational to see so many committed people making things happen in so many imaginative ways. But individual and local action can only achieve so much, it is also vital to combine these initiatives with broader political action (as frustrating as it often is) to fund and build the utility scale solar power plants, transport infrastructure etc which will be required in a post carbon world. Find out more. Transition Brunswick, Transition Initiatives in Australia, Concepts & Principles & International Initiatives
View from Woori Yallock along the Warburton Rail Trail
What better way to spend Australia day than a tour of wineries in the Yarra Valley with some mates. Even better was the fact that the tour involved very few emissions. After reaching Lilydale by train we jumped on our bikes and headed towards Healesville. A short gently rolling ride saw us reach our first stop for the day Punt Road winery where we enjoyed a very informative tasting of the wines all grown and made on site. We then settled down to enjoy the expansive vistas of the valley with a glass of cider produced from the orchards surrounding us and a delicious cheese platter. How low carbon can you get – until we discovered the cheese was from England!!! With some of the finest cheeses in Australia being produced less than 5 km away at the Yarra Valley Dairy it’s sad that ours had been transported 16,000 km. Then on to Healesville for lunch – lamb pie for me. The picturesque ride to Woori Yallock through gently undulating green fields and forest was punctuated by moments of white knuckled fear as huge logging trucks thundered past without moving aside. The consensus on the drivers was that they were probably just arseholes rather than simply bad drivers. Rather appropriate that the rape of the forests should continue unabated on Australia’s national day.
After gaining the tranquillity of the Warburton Rail trail we pushed on trough the mountain ash forest to Lilydale. Still beautiful but sadly lacking the magnificent mature trees which would have once been so plentiful. Perhaps an opportunity to reflect on the past 200 years of Australian history and hope that the next 200 years will treat the natural environment with a bit more consideration.