Sunday, March 16, 2014

Home Sweet Home on the Faulkner Family Farm

Faulkner Family Farm
I’ve made this “list” during my trip, a list of places where I could see myself living after I complete
The Loong Way Home.  Without disclosing all the places, I will say that every single location is a hustling and bustling city with the outdoors close by.  They are great bases for exploring the surrounding region, rather than places I would settle down permanently.  Up until now, I’ve been so driven, determined, and motivated pedaling, wrapped up in my travels, I didn’t really see myself settling down in the near future.  There are too many places to cycle and explore in this world that have captivated my attention! That is the mentality I’ve had for the first 6 months of my trip, until now, when suddenly that has all changed.

Recently I reached the Australian countryside, visited some friends on a farm, and I’m overcome with unexpected nostalgia.  I feel as though I’m home, when in fact I’m about 15,000 kilometers from a place that I call home.  Perhaps it is because I’ve had about 10 rest days in the last two weeks, which is the most “settled” I’ve felt during my entire trip. I didn’t realize how much I needed some time off the bike until I came to Mudgee.  Now I have to hop on the saddle again and for the first time I have a lump in my throat, the kind you have when you are on the verge of tears.  I’m sad and upset that I have to leave.  On the farm yesterday morning I was surprised to hear my own words out of my mouth.  “Stu, I could do this; I could settle down and live on a farm and take care of the cows and animals and be the happiest wife, mom, and/or farm girl in the world”.  Usually I’m so overwhelmed by all the place I want to travel and cycle that I can’t sit still.  But here I was on a beautiful farm in Southeast Australia, outside a town called Mudgee, completely content and ready to settle down.  On my first morning, I woke up to gorgeous lush farm fields with cows grazing, the sound of crickets chirping, and the smell of crisp fresh air.  I had no desire to do anything other than just relax and enjoy my surroundings and the Faulkner family.

Always a good laught wtih Stu and Spud in the Pyrenees on the TBT Tour de France trip
Our little reunion, all dressed up!

Mudgee wasn’t even on my itinerary, but a Thomson Bike Tour client of mine from 2011 wouldn’t stop pestering me on Facebook if I didn’t work his little town into my tour of Australia.  It’s a quaint little town of 10,000 people, three and a half hours northwest of Sydney.  The Faulkner family moved here four years ago when they decided to leave Avalon, an northern upscale beach suburb of Sydney.  Tending to a farm was a totally foreign idea to Stu who used to be a stockbroker, but he and Kersti, decided to leave the city life to settle in Australian’s countryside and raise their family of four.  Just shy of a week’s visit with the Faulkner’s in both the Victorian Alps and back home in Mudgee, I feel like I had become part of their family.  There is definitely something magical about Mudgee and being on a farm that feels so peaceful and appealing to me. They have 250 acres of land with chickens, cattle, cabins, and a lake.  Their house is extremely calm and peaceful, even with four active kids.

Taking the 4x4 for a test drive
Their unique belted boutique cows

After returning from our big bike race in the Victorian Alps, I spent my first day at the Faulkner’s completely relaxing.  I was craving some down time.   I didn’t move from their kitchen counter all day, catching up on emails, route planning, and talking with Kersti as she worked around the house. There was familiar feel to their house that reminded me of my childhood.  As kids, we spent the majority of our time after school outside playing in the yard.  After school and homework, Stu and Kersti’s kids were jumping on the trampoline, swimming in the pool, playing catch in the yard, and running around the hills. Stu came home that afternoon and brought me out on the tractor to see the land and his cattle.  His cows are a special “belted” variety called, hence the saying on the bike kit that he made for us makes sense, “Get Belted”, Peppertree Farm, Mudgee, Australia.   Just as much as I enjoyed my tour of the farm, I appreciated our talks.  Stu and I had a bit of history from our riding in the Pyrenees, which made for some great conversations about life in general.  Lots of times on my trip, the conversation revolves around my biking, and although I like to share my experiences, it is great to have “normal” conversations.  It gave me the opportunity to reflect and realize that my outlook on life has changed recently due to my travels.  

My second day at the Faulkner’s was totally different. At 7 am that morning, with a coffee in his hand, Stu woke me up. There was no time to rest and relax, as there was lots of work to be done and little did I know, I was a crucial part of tackling it all!  I thought he joking thinking he was pestering me with his normal humor.  Foolishly I took a shower to freshen up and put on one of my two outfits I have and went to have breakfast with the family.  Rather than good morning, Stu looked at me and said, “Mel, we are going to have to give you some old clothes, if those cows charge you or get any of this medicine on you, it will ruin those clothes.” I tried not to look surprised, but inside I was petrified. Was he seriously going to have me help me round the cows to give them an injection? I know nothing about cows and don’t think I’ve ever touched one in real life. Yesterday we talked to the livestock vet when he visited, and I knew he had some calves with an eye infection, but I didn’t think that I was going to be involved in treating them!  Not having any “old clothes” wasn’t a good enough excuse to get me out of the work.  Kersti lent me some old clothes and with another coffee in a travel mug, Stu and I set off on the tractor with a bunch of vitamin injections and tubes.

Not one, but three different injections
He showed me how to drive the 4x4 cart, so I went up ahead and shut off the gates so the cows wouldn’t escape to an outlying paddock (a pasture in American English).  There was a group of about 15 young calves who had an eye infection and needed some vitamin injections. We had to herd them into a special area and one by one close them in a mechanical head lock to give them an injection and put ointment in their eyes.  Stu gave me a quick demo making it look so easy and then it was my turn.  I’m a pretty big wimp when it comes to caring for animals.  Maybe if I were a mom I would be a bit tougher and have more experience with things like shots, but I don’t like to cause any harm or pain to others.  I felt bad for the cows getting them in a headlock position let alone giving them 3 injections.  If I didn’t put the headlock down correctly they’d run through and join the other cows and we’d have to start all over again.  If the headlock was too high they start frothing at the mouth, too low and I can’t reach them for a shot.  This was hard work!  In order to inject them right you had to pull out their skin and get the needle running parallel to their collarbone.  Their skin was so think it was hard to get the needle to penetrate and Stu laugh as my style looked like I was aggressively stabbing them.  I talked to the poor little guys the entire time I was with them and apologized for my actions, but to tell you the truth, they didn’t seem as disturbed as I was distraught by the whole experience. 

In the end I got pretty good and I whipped through the last 5 cows like it was nobody’s business, but I do have to admit that I’m much better in the kitchen than I am out in the field, although I enjoyed being out there. There’s something about the wide open space and the peaceful stillness on a farm that it is calming.  It’s like time has stopped out here, and the chaos and commotion of a big city so far removed.  You get completely wrapped up and absorbed in life’s simplicity on a farm. Not to mention, Kersti and Stu took really good care of me, so I felt like I was right at home. 

My school visit, even Stu and little Eaddie joined us

That afternoon I had a really nice visit at the kid’s local school.  Three of their four children go to the same primary school in town, so we combined their classes and I talked with them.  In the evenings, Spud came over for dinner and we had a lot of good laughs telling stories from the weekend and the Pyrenees bike tour.  The following morning sadly, it was time for me to leave.  With the kids in school, both Kersti and Stu were able to ride with me for the first 50 kilometers of my trip to Sydney.  I was reluctant to say goodbye, it had been such a great visit and so refreshing and different from my normal routine on my bike.  I had been Stu’s ride leader for one week in the Pyrenees, and granted you get to know someone really well when you spend 6 to 8 hours with them on the bike and your evenings back at the hotel wining and dining, but I never would have thought that such a strong relationship would have developed from our time together with Thomson Bike Tour.  I hope they take me up on my offer to come back and baby-sit for their kids while they go off on holiday, I’d love any reason to go back and be on their farm again in the future!

My escorts for the first 50 to Sydney

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