Back in the Forest with Mandie, Nick and GLO Dance

After hitchhiking thousands of kilometers with many nights in my sleeping bag wherever I could tuck away, it felt great to get a truly peaceful night's sleep deep in the forest in the big comfy bed in Mandie's little guest room separated from her main dwelling - it's hard to call it a house, or even a home, it's more like a dream.

I met Mandie back in 2008, lived with her for weeks without really knowing her amongst a dozen more people, more than that even, all in a house with a backyard view incomparable tucked towards the bottom of Alaska, all there working on a project called couchsurfing. It wasn't until the end, the "time to go", the "where to next?" that we started to really connect as our shared "where to next" was decidedly Vancouver. Better than that was our method, hitchhiking, and it didn't disappoint in it's everlasting promise for adventure. In mine and Mandie's case (and Walter!) it over delivered on that trip pulling all the stops - getting split up,reuniting, repeat, feeling stranded, different weather, explicitly manifested hot chocolate, big trees, overwhelming unexpected generosity, wine, bikes, beaches and more sorts of everything nice, wild and long lasting.

Now I was in her realm that she'd created, something magical in a place proud on it's own magic, just inland from Byron Bay on the east coast of Australia, which for me was a far off land I knew I'd always have to visit, finally here. The magic, Mandie's, was fueled by tea. It set the tone for her space in the forest, her solar powered rain water fed wood burning fire fluffy carpet big glass window mountain forest dream world, teaming with a sense of peace, progress and inspiration.

That's Mandie. Enter Nick, I met him in Alaska too, he was cooking creme puffs as I walked in the door and I've since sampled his jambalaya numerous times and anything else he brings out of the kitchen. I've seen him in more states and countries by now than anybody. Mandie and I picked him up, he'd just hitchhiked up, he'd been hitching all over the country, it was his by now. We spent the night swapping stories of our recent travels, Nick had been in Australia a while now, bouncing between work here and travel there.

In the morning we went to the market and came back to Mandie's for a nice big breakfast, Mandie is particular about her meals and the timing while Nick and I would eagerly deep fry anything at any hour with a side of donuts and there'd be no pulling our smiles away - we ate different meals and all smiled the same. It was at the market though that I discovered my big bill, the 50, was gone, and really gone, slipped out of the pocket not in the backpack gone with the wind gone. I had enough for the dance coming later though, the rest of time would be another matter.

We drove into Byron Bay in the afternoon and hiked a little trail which initially took us to a sort of pier, Mandie laid blissfully in the grass as Nick and I climbed to it. The waves crashed upon the rocks below. A woman cheered nearby and we followed her attention to a dolphin leaping in and out of a wave heading for the beach, "Go go go!", she was beside herself and the dolphin was loving it. We all watched as he popped around a little more and swam the long way around the pier off and away out of our sight.

The trail continued up to a lighthouse and through some forest, the three of us all smiles eventually back to the car. In the midst of deciding our next move we spotted activity in the park, a free feed of sausage. Nick and I swarmed in and filled up, then made it to the edge of the water in time for sunset and in time for Mandie's next scheduled meal, she always had a little container of her mixed goodness food at the ready, clockwork. We enjoyed the darkening sky and some makeshift drum circle that had formed nearby.

That night came the main event, the date on the calendar, GLO Dance. It had been my true introduction into Australia, Nick's too months before me. It was simple really, good music and people dancing, but the first time had been electric and this time would be more fun than that. We danced the night away, gentle at time, wild for most, moving and shifting through. At the end Mandie, Nick and I put on an array of dance moves so off the wall that threatened to rip our cheeks open in laughter, from slow motion to climbing the ladder to dribbling the ball and everything else we could come up with.

Back at a friends house we stayed up with energy talking into the night. I woke up being attacked by kids with raisins having fun, then it was off to a rally. "No fracking way!", said the signs. There was a certain vibe of hate floating around, anger really, perhaps justified and certainly far from violent or otherwise, but we kept a certain mental distance and eventually a physical distance off to another part of the park. We sat in a circle of "good intention" as Mandie probably put it, all chiming in good vibes and anecdotes to put our own good energy into the cause in our own way. It ended with some walking around and hanging from a tree we climbed.

We went to go on a hike, but found ourselves passing out in the car in he parking by the trail head instead, GLO dance caught up finally. We had tea back at our friends, then to Mandie's for dinner, then somehow motivated out the door that night to a party towards Byron Bay. A big fire pit in the backyard and a dance floor that had our attention for a while as well, but soon the warm comfort of Mandie's realm drew us back into the forest for an easy going end to the night.

The next day was relaxation too, but in the afternoon we went driving to see some waterfall. On the way we drove up some steep curvy roads. Coming around a turn another car came wrapping around and the cars brushed in a tense moment. Both cars stopped and Mandie popped out quickly as did those from the other car, there was a quick exchange more or less agreeing no major damage had been done, no one had plummeted off the cliff to certain death, cheerio, carry on.

The hike to the waterfall was a nice one, first a view right on top of it looking down, then crossing the water to the other side for a little different view. Back at Mandie's there was some more relaxation, tea and pumpkin soup were involved.

The next day we piled into the car, it was then that I realized that in addition to my 50 bill being gone, so was my debit card. I would find out later, after canceling it, that I'd left that in Cairns a week or so earlier dropped on a floor under a car in a house I'd stayed in. All would be well anyhow.

Nick and I were dropped off in a town just shy of Surfers Paradise while Mandie went to work. We wandered the town that Nick had been in before, working out a cheap stash of tuna and the like to sustain us for a while. Quickly bored of the small town, we walked ourselves to the main ride for a hitchhike to Surfers Paradise.

A guy named Dean picked us up taking us halfway. He said he had to stop for something and would continue on later and that if he saw us again, he'd take us the rest of the way. Well we didn't manage any kind of ride for a good while which was a bit surprising actually and Dean came around again and picked us up again. He was on his way to the police station to lodge a complaint about an officer he felt had been harassing him at his home. 

We pulled up to the station and he said he'd just be a minute and we could wait in the car. Nick and I sat and talked a good while and a good while became a wait and longer still. Eventually we decided he'd been detained after a series of arguments and a bit of wrestling match, why not, so we left the car and got to walking, we were just about where we wanted to be anyway, which wasn't anywhere in particular anyhow, so that worked out.

This brought us to the beach and the little city wandering about, an afternoon of rambling, strolling and kicking around the beach. We found ourselves sitting in a park awaiting the call from Mandie, eager for Brisbane. We got the call and made our way to the main road for an easy scoop. We loomed about near the road like a couple kids, throwing rocks and sticks and dancing about until Mandie finally came and scooped us up, we were happy to see her.

Brisbane was Mandie's old stomping grounds, she knew it well. We did a drive by on her old apartment, got some tasty food and paused up by a big overlook that had ice cream and tea to take in the city lights from high up. We also took a stroll through the south end which still showed signs of the storm that had washed some bits away.

We ended up at Mandie's friend's place for the night. I was able to check my email there and get a message from Bridget, one of Mandie's friends, the message was she was busy and couldn't have company. Mandie had mentioned me to Bridget who was living north near Rockhampton and she'd said she'd like to meet me and could put me up for a night or so. From here in Brisbane my next true destination was Darwin (the North center of the country), this on my way to the west coast where in less than a months time I had a flight booked for Singapore. Rockhampton could be on the way, while not direct, but something intrigued me about this Bridget character, although I knew nothing about the girl that was tangible.

"She broke my heart Mandie", I said, closing the message up, "looks like I'm heading straight to Darwin", this with a slight jest in my voice, but Mandie wasn't having it. She insisted Bridget was missing something or bound to and got to sending her a text message herself to try to sway her otherwise. I'd in fact had some sort of butterfly like anticipation of meeting this unknown girl up there, no face to the name and hardly a story or anecdote, but my mind was now switching gears to Darwin and the long road ahead, I anticipated at least a week to hitchhike to there.

Before the night was done a message came through and all the sudden Bridget wasn't busy, Rockhampton it was, switch gears again, Bridget bound in the morning and the long haul to Darwin would be put off another day or two, so I figured at least. I rested nicely, enjoying the reoccurring sense of freedom I got from stutter stepping around life, turning on dimes with day to day, hour to hour and even minute to minute pivots that would alter everything, another path entirely off one decision or action, paths with entirely different geography, characters and rhythms awaiting to be taken or passed for another, all of them for me or anybody and the one thing they all have in common is their simple summary, good times.