...Continued from 1/21
Time to head south. Our final tour dates were both in GA. Our dear friend Nicky had set us up with her friends...one of whom was Mandy.
I grew up in the suburbs of Sonoma County and knew a lot of Italian ranchers, but Mandy was the first peer I ever met who was farming produce. It was an abstract concept before meeting her.
She rallied a big crowd in Athens to come see the bus and brought sweet potatoes she had grown that we diced, deep fried, and passed out. We then took the fryer vat and poured it into our fuel tank and started the bus for dramatic effect and so they could smell the delicious exhaust.
She let us park at her place for the night and we all became such fast friends that we didn't leave for a week. Athens was not what I pictured when I thought of the good ol' south. She took us to an old farm-house party where people were performing acrobatics on silks hanging from a huge oak tree while Hope For A Golden Summer played the most hauntingly beautiful music I had ever heard and costumed folks celebrated Halloween.
The next night we were blindfolded and guided through the woods at Orange Twin Eco village, into an open field with rings of fire, in which people danced and wrestled, while an eccentric dj laid an alien soundtrack and a huge screen allowed people to shadow dance for the other guests.
We ended up at an Athens bar where Mandy won a costume contest as Cindy Lauper, or as the bitter runner up called her, "orange girl."
Our heads were blown back by the uniqueness of all this and by how much fun we all had, and we thought the world of Mandy (no sparks yet though). She showed us her farm plot and inspired us more...enough so that I accepted a serendipitous offer to intern at an eco farm in CA the next year. Athens never left my heart after that week.
With winter on our heels, it was time to head home. BC and Alberta Canada, 39 U.S. states, and 5-1/2 months later we reunited with Julia for a big celebration and parked the bus. I went right to work building the straw bale village I would live in during my growth expanding time at Laguna Farm in Ca . My dear friend Trevitt took Unifried out with a new crew in 2004 for more adventures in joyful altruism...and they went back to GA to visit Mandy again as well. Mandy and I didn't meet again for 2 more years.
That trip was the most insanely magical experience I've ever had and it completely changed my life forever. I spent half a year seeing incredible beauty in both places and people. We overcame innumerable challenges and received countless gifts of kindness. I got to pick up my younger brother two months in and share this crazy experience and time with him. Not only did I have all those unbelievable memories, but my life trajectory and belief in taking risks based on principle and ethics became bullet proof. I came out the damn cocoon!
That's why Mandy and I went back to CA to get the bus in 2016. I couldn't let her get scrapped or sold. I birthed her and she birthed me. That's how I feel.
So, while my next step was Laguna Farm, natural building, veggie oil tractors, growing, cooking, and living in inspired community, Mandy was cultivating her art and farming skills in Athens.
Of all the amazing people I met on that trip, Mandy was the most magical. She just has an infectious light and joy about her. It's like good cooties. There were no sparks either way though. Just warmth and admiration.
Two years later, she came to CA to visit shared friends and we saw each other at a party and there was a mutual "oh shit" moment. Sparks.
Both unavailable, we stayed just friends but the crush loomed another year until we were both single and I heard she was moving to a remote horse farm in CA and my buddy was going to drive with her from GA to CA to help her out.
Wounded and cautious, I didn't offer to drive with her, but my buddy backed out at the last minute, called me to tell me I needed to go, or she wouldn't be safe. Sneaky devil.
I landed in Arkansas intent on taking it slow.
By the next day we knew it was til death do us part and we began planning this farm together. Dreaming of a way to live to our ideals while being together each day.
I was so happy I thought my brain might short circuit. We soaked in hot springs, treasure hunted for a buried whiskey bottle in the Valley Of The Gods, had candlelight pb&j's at campsites and arrived in CA to family and friends greeting us at a cob oven pizza party, where we drank my dad's homemade wine and felt good. That night I told my Mom that this is the girl I'm going to marry.