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Book review: The Art of Free Travel

Alia Parker's picture
The Art of Free Travel book tour map by Artist as Family. Cycle Traveller

We've all been there: the very first self-supported bicycle tour – the one where you have no experience to guide you and everything to learn. With every dose of pre-ride excitement comes an equal measure of nervousness, administered by a society fearful of travelling by bicycle, scared of interacting with strangers and uncomfortable in the natural environment.

For many, the very act of riding into the unknown for the first time is unnerving enough. But imagine now that most days the only source of food for you and your partner will be what nature provides for free, foraging in parks and along roadsides for edible plants and fruits, fishing in rivers, lakes and oceans, or even skinning the odd fresh road kill. Your biggest fear, however, will be ensuring the safety and survival of your baby, always close, and lively pre-teen son. Oh, and then there's the dog, too.

The Art of Free Travel by Artist as Family. Cycle Traveller

It's this bravery and determined focus that makes The Art of Free Travel by Artist as Family – Patrick Jones, Meg Ulman, sons Zephyr and Woody, and Jack Russell Zero – so inspiring.

Disillusioned with the widening disconnect between modern life and the natural world, Patrick and Meg packed up the family to spend a year living off the land as they explored the east coast of Australia, cycling 6,000km from their home in Daylesford, Victoria up to Hope Town on the Cape York Peninsula. It was daunting; it was the first time they would travel vast distances by bike, live open and exposed and search for food in unknown country.

What they discovered was an elating sense of freedom, a deeper connection to the land and people around them and a plethora of food growing freely and unnoticed by eyes that, generation by generation, have slowly forgotten how to recognise sustenance at its source.

(We have two audio book copies of The Art of Free Travel to give away. Details on how to win are at the end of this article.)

For those interested in what they ate, 256 edible flora and fauna are listed at the back of the book. The wide variety of food covered includes edible and abundant weeds such wood sorrel and flatweed, sweet burdekin plums and lavender, coal-cooked eel and fish and even the less appetising but apparently “not as bad as you think” fruit-fly maggot, which Meg mustered up the courage to taste shortly after meeting us (also touring at the time) on the road north of Port Douglas. Perhaps keep that last one up your emergency-survival sleeve.

You can read more about foraging in our interview with Artist as Family last year in Free food: the art of foraging while on tour.

Artist as Family picking loquats by the roadside. Cycle Traveller

Making The Art of Free Travel a particularly enjoyable book to read is its dual voices, with chapters alternating between the perspectives of two equally talented writers, Patrick and Meg. Patrick is passionately driven by his principals and vision for a more sustainable future, while Meg is committed to the cause, open-hearted and constructively analytical of the changes taking place in their lives.

While the two form a strong alliance of ideals, they nevertheless come at the adventure with individual spirits. Their accounts are raw and honest as they delve into the complex emotions of highs and lows of life lived outdoors on a bike and the mixed attitudes of broader society toward them.

This is a book anyone with an environmental consciousness will enjoy as Artist as Family uncover the possibilities as well as the challenges to a happier and healthier future.

The Art of Free Travel, by Patrick Jones and Meg Ulman and published by NewSouth Publishing is available in bookstores and online. Patrick, Meg, Woody and Zero are currently back on the bikes touring between book readings. You can find out more about them and their permaculture pursuits on their Artist as Family blog.

Meeting the locals on the cycling-powered Art of Free Travel book tour. Cycle Traveller

Book tour

Sydney — Saturday 5th December 3pm Florilegium (intro by Kirsten Bradley)
Blackheath —Thursday 10 December 5.30pm Gleebooks Blue Mountains
Berry — Saturday 2nd Jan 2016 3pm Our Bookshop and Cafe
Nowra — Tuesday 5th January 3pm Dean Swift Books
Huskisson — Thursday 7th January 3pm Boobook on Owen
Moruya — TBC Moruya Books
Bega — Saturday 16th January 3pm Candelo Books (2pm foraging walk)
Bairnsdale — TBC (f)route + Collins

 

Win an Art of Free Travel audio book

(This competition has now closed. Congratulations to our winners!)

Artist as Family have kindly shared two The Art of Free Travel audio books for us to give away.

To win a copy, email us a sentence on why you would like to hear their story. Send you're entries in to competitions@cycletraveller.com.au.

Competition open worldwide. Entries close Tuesday 22 December 2015. Two winners with the best answers will be drawn on Wednesday 23 December 2015. Winners will be contacted by email with a link to download their prize.

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