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‘Changing Gears’ Book Review

By Lizette Salmon, member of WATCH and Seed Savers Albury-Wodonga

I’ve just finished a book I think many Living Lightly readers will enjoy. Part adventure, part travelogue and part exploration of alternative and simpler ways to live, Changing Gears: A Pedal-Powered Detour from the Rat Race is about a young couple’s cycling trip along Australia’s eastern seaboard.

The purpose of Greg and Sophie’s bicycle odyssey was to interview dozens of leading lights in the voluntary simplicity movement. They hoped the information they gleaned would help them decide how best to live their lives. Earlier on Greg had resigned as an advertising copywriter after realising he couldn’t reconcile his own values with those of the consumer-driven advertising industry. This had left him with an uncertain future. Although he and Sophie could survive on his meagre income as a freelance journalist, a standard house mortgage would be forever beyond their means. Did this matter? Could they find happiness with less? Such questions formed the themes of their trip.

I’ve read other books of this ilk, most notably Living the Good Life and Choosing Eden, but what sets this book apart is that it describes the thoughts and experiences of many people rather than a specific couple or family. En route they meet several household names including permaculture co-founder David Holmgren, author and public intellectual Clive Hamilton and Gardening Australia’s Costa Georgiadis, interspersed with many relative unknowns. There’s a fellow who spent two years in a house the size of a small garden shed, an activist who lived up a tree and a hobo who was happiest wandering the highways. Between such extremes they also meet many outwardly conventional people who have chosen simpler, less materialistic and consequently more fulfilling lives.

Greg and Sophie are far from elite athletes. Greg’s only exercise before embarking on this trip was a daily 5km ride to work. He was, in his own words, part man, part adjustable office chair. But he’s endowed with a generous dose of self-deprecatory humour and with this has created a most endearing memoir. I wished I’d been on their ride too, experiencing the highs and lows and listening in on some of their fascinating conversations.

To my delight I have just learnt that Greg and Sophie are on a book tour; by bike of course. If you would like to meet this inspirational couple and hear more of their adventures, head to Albury Library 1.30pm, Sunday 27 October. See eco.redsally.com for further details.