Category Archives: Life

Living the Arctic Life! Cross Country Skiing, Dog Sledding and Learning About The Sami

So after I arrived into Abisko and I met up with my friend we decided to go for a walk and check out the scenery. It is incredible in Abisko. The trees look like icicles covered in thin sheets of shiny ice on the tiny branches. Everything is white as far as the eye can see. There is on dip in the mountains where you can barely see the sun as it struggles to make its way to just above the horizon for the smallest amount of time again before it disappears and darkness sets in.

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The extent of sunrise….

By the time night fell I was starting to get super excited about the one thing I had been chasing across Canada for years that had up until that point evaded me. The northern lights! So we wandered down to the frozen over lake, stood at the edge of the ice and waited. Before not too long this faint green haze wandered over the hills in front of us and it was one of the most beautiful and surreal things I had ever seen. At that point I was happy. But I had no idea about what a full on aurora could be like. I was going to learn in coming days.

My second day in Abisko was spent learning to cross country ski during the daylight hours. It took me about half an hour to actually figure out how to clip the skis on before I went attempted running in them along the ice and fell so hard on my butt that the resulting bruise was both excruciating and impressive.

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First time Cross Country Skiing… prior to the bruise 🙂

Annette and I went flying along the course with Tim trailing along behind us taking photos and documenting the ridiculousness. Annette having skied quite a bit before kept falling over in the tracks as she was trying to go down the hill because she was trying to control the movement. Me on the other hand, flying down the hill at stupid speeds relying solely on good balance to keep me upright as I do not know how to ski (it is on the bucket list) and haven’t been since that one time when I was eleven. At one point they dared me to go down the massive hill…. and while I contemplated it, I decided that if I broke myself I wouldn’t be able to go dog sledding so I put the hill on the back burner for a later date. The daylight hours were waning and as such there wasn’t much left for daylight hours activities. It was time to return to the hostel and consume my standard Norwegian meal of crispbread and brown cheese – all I ate for about three days…

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Smashing the odd hill….

For that night I booked a photography tour to go and take pictures of the northern lights. They picked me up on the motorized toboggan and I sat on my reindeer pelt as we drove along in the snow up the hill to a place that was flat, dark and quiet. We stood about in the snow and set up our cameras to take pictures of the stars and waited for the northern lights to come. And they never came. It got so cold at one point that our guide took us into the traditional teepee set up with the fire in the middle and we sat around drinking hot chocolates and listening to stories of how the natives of this land, the Sami, existed, used the land and the reindeer to survive in the harsh winters of the north. As we were about to pack up and give up for the evening, we poked our head outside of the tent and low and behold, there it was. The familiar green haze from the night before painting the sky with its stunning beauty.

At this particular point in time the camera I was using decided it didn’t want to work very well. I couldn’t get it to take any pictures. I was fortunate enough that the guide put my memory card into her personal camera and took some photos on that. My favourite photos from this is a still picture of me standing under the northern lights. One of the most amazing pictures I will ever have in my life.

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Under the Northern Lights

I went back to the hostel on a high. I was super elated, excited and ready to get some serious shut eye for dog sledding in the morning… right after I consumes some Bailey’s at the kitchen table with the rest of the crew.

The following morning was best described as like Christmas day for big people. The whole lot of us going dog sledding lined up in the kitchen in our suits raring to go. We walked up the hill to the cages where the dogs were kept and they could feel the excitement in the air. They just wanted to run. So we got them out of the cages and one by one we had to walk the dogs over to the sleds they were working on and hook them up to it. Then we got allocated our sleds, and we were ready to go!

Dashing through the snow… just like Santa, but my dogs are way cooler 😛

For two hours we sped through the snow fields with the dogs leading the charge. There were many things about dog sledding however that I did not realize. Firstly. They just poo everywhere. Sometimes they poo while they are still running. Sometimes the others behind them stop to eat the poo. Some of them make quite a hurrah about the whole situation. It is quite disgusting. Another thing I did not realize is what happens with cornering. Literally where you get thrown from the side of the sled and roll around into the trees as the dogs just go off at their own pace dragging the sled behind them and trying to overtake any other sledder in front of them. It was so funny. I didn’t do too badly with regards to falling off, but some members of our group were hilarious and literally couldn’t stay on their sleds.

Before we knew it, we were back, putting the dogs back into the cages and patting them to say goodbye. It was so much fun and it set the tone for the high for the rest of the day.

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Me and my team. Love these pups!

Hungry we went out for buffet lunch at the pub before we settled back in for a rest. The evening was bound to be a huge on as it was also the last. Little did I know it was also going to be the best…….

For the last installment of my adventures in the Arctic, stay tuned…

On The Wagon and I’m Hitchin’ A Ride… Across The Arctic!

To go or not to go, that is the question……

I am sitting in Canada talking to my friend, Tim, in England on Facebook and he is trying to convince me to come to Europe. So I said to him, “There are things I haven’t done here yet that I need to do before I go. I want to see the Northern Lights and I want to go dog sledding.” Well he told me he would deal with this and I should just book my flight. So I did.

Enter this amazing trip to Abisko National Park in Northern Sweden. My friend planned and organized all of the finer details because he is a planner and I am very much not a planner. All I had to do was book my flight from Oslo to Narvik, get on the train at Narvik that goes to Kiruna, get off at Abisko. Easy enough. Or so we think……..

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Views over the fjordlands of Norway from the plane

As Murphy Law would have it, again, (I swear Murphy and I are besties these days), I find myself rolling around the floor in the airport bored to tears for a solid two and a half hours while my plane is delayed. Now given that I had allowed myself that 2 and a half hours to get to the train station for the last train, it was known and accepted that there was to be no train for me that day. As I arrived into Narvik, I trotted off to the Tourist Information Center to assess my options. They were as follows:

1. Spend $1000 AUD on a taxi to get to Abisko

2. Spend $500 AUD on a hotel in Narvik if I could actually find one because the backpackers hostels are closed as it is not the season.

3. Stand on the side of the road til the following morning and freeze.

4. Hitchhike…….

So I asked the woman behind the counter for a piece of cardboard and a permanent marker. I scrawled out the word Abisko and headed down the road to go and find me a car to ride in with my map in hand.

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Me and my hitchhiking sign… hurrah!

Generally when hitchhiking it is a good idea to know which side of the road to stand on. I misunderstood the directions I was given and spent a good half an hour standing on the wrong side of the road before some lovely gents pulled over and pointed this out to me. I felt like a massive moron but laughed anyway and headed over to the other side of the road.

It didn’t take me too much longer from here to find a nice guy named Sven (yeah I know right!) and he told me he would drive me down the road to the junction where most of the trucks go by in very broken and hard to understand English. He got onto his phone and was ringing his friends to see if any of them on the truck route were going that way but no luck.

So after this, Sven decided he would drive me past this intersection and on to the Swedish-Norwegian border another forty minutes. We chatted along the way about whatever his broken English would allow and while we go along I am starting to observe my surroundings and the thermometer in the car. As we got progressively further down the road, the thermostat in the car told me that the outside temperature had dropped from the -7 degrees it was in Narvik to a now nippy -20 degrees…. We also had not seen any cars coming in the other direction as the road took us higher into the mountains and all we could see around was snow. I was starting to wonder whether I had made the right decision about this but then figured… OK, border, there has to be shelter there, I will be fine.

When we arrived at the border there was a tiny hut on the side of the road and a couple of trucks. Sven recognized one of them and he told me to wait for him while he went to talk to his friend. After two minutes he ushers me over and introduces me to his friend, Cornelius. Cornelius said he would love to drive me the rest of the way to Abisko and so next thing you know, the shoes are off and I am lifted by two men up into this luxuriously decked out truck equipped with microwave, fridge, bed, speaker system and stereo and heated seats!

I said goodbye to and thanked Sven for his amazing kindness and we started out drive to Abisko. Cornelius was one of the most incredible people I had ever met. He is a Dutch National and has amazing stories about flying helicopters in different wars, racing horses in Spain, driving truck fleets in Germany, his small kids. It was one of the most enjoyable conversations I had had on the road in Europe and before I knew it, my time was up and we were pulling into a shop on the side of the road. He pointed up the hill to me over the train tracks to where the rest of the town was and I jumped out of the truck, thanked him and wished him well on his journey delivering dairy to the northern most parts of Norway and was left on my own on the side of the road.

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Happily arrived in Abisko, not dead 😀

I eventually found the backpackers hostel. I arrived about half an hour before Tim coming in from the other direction on a high because I did not know I could actually do it and yet I did. That was the start of my Arctic Circle adventure and it set the tone for the rest of what was to be my last couple of days overseas before returning home to Australia for the first time in two years. It was one of the most amazing places on the planet. And one of my favourites……

Read more about what I actually got up to once I made it to the Arctic Circle in the next installment!


My First CrossFit Throwdown

“One of the greatest moments in life is realizing that two weeks ago your body couldn’t do what it just did”

So when I came home to Australia last I decided to give CrossFit with my old trainer a go instead of the boxing training that I would have gone back to normally. It has been five months and I am physically stronger than I have ever been. That said, I am still nowhere near strong enough to do half of the Olympic lifts to the standard weight. I can do unassisted pull ups now, but not consistently. And it is the same for toes to bar and double unders (those of you who do CrossFit will understand).

The thing that kept me with CrossFit, was that it was hard. For years I thrived on the feeling that you had worked so hard and so fast with boxing training that you could barely stand. You had nothing left in the tank to give because you had given your all. And in a different variation of movements and exercises, I found that again in CrossFit.


So my friends who have been doing this way longer than me and are way better at it than me said “You should enter the competition”, to which I initially was like ‘noooo waaaayyyy!’ Since my little adventure on the Overland Track, I have been stretching, rolling, at massage therapists trying to get my hips and back into shape after becoming pretty tight and out of whack. They still aren’t right and so I still can’t do things to the capacity I used to. But after a wine and a whole bunch of peer pressure my “Aversion to the Word NO!” kicked right in and I am finding myself online and paying up my registration fee…….

The workout was released a couple of days before the event and I had a total meltdown. It consisted of 3 rounds. A 10 min AMRAP of 7 deadlifts, 5 hang cleans, 4 front squats, 3 hang snatches and 2 overhead squats for reps. Follow this up by two and a half minutes of rowing for meters. Then a 10 minute AMRAP of “Annie” with a run at the start. “Annie” is all double unders and sit ups.

I am not overly good at any of these moves other than sit ups. I am way better with the gymnastics movements like pull ups, box jumps, burpees, toes to bars…. and so my meltdown began. I went to the gym two days before the event to see a friend who stayed with me for a while and taught me how to do a snatch properly. Criticised my techniques for things and helped me to get to a point where I believed that I could. After that I stood and stared out the window for an hour and a half going over double unders over and over again. They were marginally better than before. A sense of calm and purpose had set over me. I felt readier than I had ever been. I knew what I had to do now, and I knew that I could.

I woke up with a bit of a cold at 4am the day of the Throwdown after an entire night pretty much of dreaming about snatches (and not the female genital variety, the weightifter’s variety… sorry for all you boys out there – fantasy shattered!) Everything was ready to go, I got my gear and I caught my lift to Devonport.

After arrival, we checked in, they wrote a giant M52 on my arm and I went to warm up and get sorted. The first of my events was to be the row. Without much of a warm up, I sat on the machine and full on gassed myself for two and a half minutes. To the point where I rolled off the rower when I was done onto the floor and stayed there for about another two minutes. Jelly legs and a shaking body had earned me a 654m row and 654 points towards my total tally for the event. It then took me another ten minutes of rolling around the floor for any kind of controlled functional movement of my body to kick in, that is how gassed I was from this row. I couldn’t have given any more.

The second event I was to go into was the first AMRAP with the Olympic Lifts. I chose the 15kg bar scaling option and set my sights on a round a minute or completion of 10 rounds. It was tough, my forearms burned and my body ached but by the end of it, I had managed 10 and a half rounds or 224 reps for that round. After deducting my 30% from this due to the lower weight penalty, my total was 156.8 to add to my row.

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Overhead squats…. my favourite! Not!

The last event for the day was the “Adventurous Annie”. This was to be a 705m run with obstacles through the end of it, followed by the double unders and sit ups. Now as somebody who does not run well, I paced myself, got back with five minutes to spare to work on the double unders and sit ups. I managed to get 114 reps for the AMRAP. My day was done. My total points tally came to 924.8. It was enough in the points ranking to place me about 14th out of the girls but as I had scaled, I was not allowed to compete in the final 16 girls for the contest. Probably a good thing too because after only 5 months of CrossFit, I don’t know whether it would have been achievable for me.

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Part of the “Adventurous Annie” obstacle course…. giant tyres.

The first final was a 10 minute AMRAP of 3 rounds of 15, 16kg for women and 24kg for men, kettlebell thrusters, one bell in each hand, and 15 chest to bar pull ups followed by 3 rounds of 15 toes to bar, 15 box jumps and 15 bar muscle ups…. It was a brutal display of courage. Most of the women didn’t finish the first three rounds and most of the men got into the fourth round if they were lucky. It was one of the most courageous displays of athleticism I had seen and 3 women and 5 men from our gym went through to compete in this before they decided the top 6 men and women.

When results came through, we had two boys in the top six for the final. It was to be a strong man contest. Deadlift 200kg ten times, then lift and carry it 12 meters before pushing a sled across the lawn for 20 meters with 160kg of weights piled on it followed by a 50m sprint. One of the boys from the other gyms managed to finish this in under a minute in what was one of the craziest displays of strength I have ever seen. Our boys did well and we were all incredibly proud.

It was an amazing day all round and I had a great time. The whole CrossFit community is really supportive of each other and it is something that I am happy to be a part of. It is like a family.

This is my CrossFit family

There are not too many challenges that will push you to your physical and emotional limits. Together we laugh, we cry, we scream, we yell, and at the end of it all, we go get drunk! (OK, well I don’t because I am too busy laid up on the couch with raging chest infection and cold exacerbated by competing…. but ordinarily…. 😀 )

Being the Edo Elf

So for those of you who aren’t familiar with this story, I found myself becoming somewhat of a Canadian celebrity of sorts. I wound up becoming the face of Edo Japan’s Christmas promotion to help out people and give back to the community. I am sitting at the hostel one day going through my emails for different promotions jobs and I get another email requesting for people to dress up as Elves and run around doing good deeds for people. They also wanted two people to do some photos and to do a small video showing off the good deeds for Youtube. Information wasn’t overly forthcoming but since I will literally give anything a try, I wrote back and said I would do it. They wrote me back and said. good work, you have been chosen. Meet us this day at the office and with hair and make up done and we will do the photos.

I arrive at the office and the usher me off to a professional photography studio with my friend Marco where we get fussed over to the max with heaps of direction and people playing with my clothes and hair and hat and it goes on and on. Massively professional photos to go on the webpage and in the restaurants. I am starting to get suspicious of the magnitude of this campaign….

Two days later and it is even more full on. There were hair and make up artists waiting for us with all of the camera crew at the Sunridge Mall and I am thinking, “Holy hell this is a production and a half!”. And it was. This is Marco and I hanging about waiting for the filming to begin and getting all doled up and elf like.

Marco and I spent all day filming different scenes of us helping out people that were set up and then they let us go about trying to get reactions from people in the mall. I call this phase ‘scaring the shit out of people’. We are skipping, clapping, singing Christmas songs at the top of our lungs, scaring people as they come out of elevators and just being all round excessive. It was amazing fun, and come the end of the day we had our interview…. one problem however. “Ummm…. we thought you were a Canadian. We didn’t want an Australian elf…. Can you do a Canadian accent?’ And so I gave it my best…. The shoot wrapped and I didn’t hear anything else much of it until about a month later when I am working handing out samples of Almond Milk at the womens show and I ran into one of the producers who had gotten the video sent to her the day before and she showed me. I was hysterical. I had no idea how good it was going to be or what it was going to be like, but this wound up to be the final product….

Spot The Edo Elf Commercial 

After going up on youtube, my friends thought this hilarious. People would play it, laugh at it, and play it again. It got to the point where that jingle song at the start of the clip became the sound track to my life I heard it so often.

About another week later I was working another promotion with a giant penguin at the airport when it happened. I found my first Edo Japan store since the photos got used in store. It was really strange and surreal at the same time. I kept staring at the jangly mobile thing on the ceiling as the workers stared at me and I said to them ‘That is me!’ and they said ‘No, it isn’t! It looks nothing like you!’ and so it continued. My first real trip into a proper store though was with Lisa and I was crazy. There were stickers of me on tables, trash cans, windows… it was mental! I did not imagine when I answered the email the magnitude of this campaign. I took cheesy pictures inside and even Elfed myself in Marco’s cardboard cut out 🙂

After this I got to do some of the street promotions. We spent another morning filming a segment for a news program to promote Edo Japan giving donations from their gift cards to the food bank over Christmas.

And then it began. The wonders of Stephen Avenue…. Stephen Avenue is full of the weird and wonderful. Marco and I all elfed up met a leprechaun, a man who told us he works for the Massad, a UPS guy who’s trolley we looked after, friends that came to point and laugh at us, and a whole array of homeless people or people who kept asking us what we were giving away for free and then told us to piss off when we said ‘help’. It was hilarious.

After a shift as the Edo Elf one afternoon I went to pick up my friend Lucas in the hospital after his surgery and he had been showing people the video when I roll in with my stick and sack full of costume. I got to meet and talk with some lovely people in the hospital and help to cheer them up. It was really nice to be able to give a gift card to some parents to go and have dinner courtesy of Edo Japan while they waited for their daughter to sleep in recovery. It was a super humbling job to help people doing things, but I have also discovered how little people like help these days. They always assume that you want something back in return for doing something nice, and maybe we as people can learn to give without expectation, but also how to be gracious in receiving.

Elfing people in the carpark by paying their parking meter fees!

Post this they gave me a whole bunch of stickers that I used to Elf people with around the hostel. I even tried to elf my friend while he was sleeping by putting stickers on his face. All around it was probably one of the funniest promotions jobs that I have had the pleasure of being a part of  and the best part is, nobody recognizes me or believes that is me! (Especially with the Canadian accent :P)

Woman vs Wild meets Murphy’s 1st Law – Dano vs Algonquin Provincial Park

Murphy’s 1st Law: “What can go wrong, will go wrong”.

Well I have to say that it appears that lately all good ideas start in Walmart…. sadly they also seem to end in Walmart. The original idea was to go there for cheap cereal and a $15 brie cheese wheel (850 grams, hell yeah, what a bargain!) Somehow, this wound up in the sporting isle staring up at a box on the top shelf containing the ‘Seahawk 2’, an ingenious vessel that was not only on sale for cheaper than you can hire a canoe for the weekend, but was destined to take us into the far reaches of the Algonquin Provincial Parks canoe routes for ‘the best and most adventurous weekend ever’. Or so we think……

Day one it starts hammering down with rain in the afternoon. So much for getting there early to set up, you can barely see the road in front of you trying to drive there and as such, we were delayed getting there until at least 8pm, just in time to set up right before dark.

So far, Nature 1, Woman 0.

Given that we were so late getting there, we did encounter some pretty spectacular things on the side of the road on the way. One of which was a turtle who had hiked his way up the side of the river bed and was starting to dig a hole in the sand in which to lay eggs. In the grand scheme of all things turtle/tortoise, he was named ‘Curtis the Turtoise’ (despite being a ‘she’ – as far as I am concerned, they are all named Curtis…. Jamie Lee Curtis is a girl…. anyway) and Curtis was just adorable.

“Curtis the Turtise 1, burying eggs in the sand”

We almost ran over another Curtis in the middle of the road. We literally scared the piss out of this little guy. He urinated the entire way off the road as we chased him away from the ‘squash zone’ and down the hill into friendlier territory.

Scared pissless – Curtis 2 crossing the road

After the Curtis hunt, we arrived at the park gate and tried to pick a campsites for the two nights we would be there. First night, easy. Second night on the paddling trip, we were like “yeah, we’re fit, we can row a blow up boat 10km down the stream to the Opulescent site out of the Barron Canyon! No problem!” It was the next day that this again proved to be a little optimistic, and the real ‘fun’ began.

Day Two of Dano vs Wild. We get up, pack the tent and all of the equipment we need into the blow up boat. It is at this point that things start to look dubious. To be honest, I don’t know how the hell we even decided that two people and a whole stack of food and camping gear for a night would fit comfortably in a blow up boat. Nonetheless, this is the outcome.

Covered under piles of gear in the boat. Cannot steer….

And after rowing no more than 2km down the way before realizing that not only is trying to row 10km in a Walmart blow up nearly impossible, but it is downright impossible when you have to portage through a stream of jagged rocks. In a kayak this would be possible. In a blow up Walmart boat, it is most certainly not. One may say this left me some what deflated…..

Reflecting on poor life choices….

Nature 2, Woman 0.

And so it was decided that the night would be spent at the last spot along the river before the rapids started and we dragged the boat up and set up home. The campsite was really awesome, very pretty and everything was set up fine and dandy. Then the dusk sets in and this is where woman vs nature really begins.

Let me firstly address the insects. Not only did I have Australian grade 40% DEET bug spray on me, but this seemed to no avail for some of these bitches. Whether it is the deer fly, the spiders or whatever supernatural mosquitoes, I managed to wind up with two golf ball sized swollen bites behind my ear and on the back of my neck, and one tennis ball sized swollen lump with two red fang marks in the side of my body.

Super venom kicking my arse… serious welting

Nature 3, Woman 0. 

And so then it starts getting on the dark side of life which then poses the question, what to do with the food and the scraps. It is bear country and I don’t particularly want to become bear food. So we took the tow line off the boat and tied a rock to one end in the hope of putting it over a tree to tie the food up. Then this happened……

The tow line of the boat stuck in a tree with a rock on the end of it….

Nature 4, Woman 0. 

I am pretty sure that by this stage Murphy is out there somewhere laughing his arse off. I sure was. For those of you whose eyes aren’t good enough to see, that is our rope stuck in the tree with the rock on the end of it. Which now poses the problem of what it is we are actually going to do with the food so that the animals and the bears don’t get it. So I come up with this amazingly inventive idea of burying the food and rubbish under a pile of very heavy rocks, which we finished building right as it got dark.

Can’t see our food? Awesome… totally hidden from bears and other animals…

The hope here was that there would be breakfast for tomorrow morning. But just in case a bear came, not that it would really have done anything much at all, we were equipped with bear fighting tools, ie. 1 big stick to poke him with, one biggish rock with which to throw at him, and one giant set of lungs with which to scream and yell and then run for your goddamn life.

Bear fighting tools

The sticks came courtesy of a beaver dam that had washed its way down the shore and this had landed just down the way from where we were camping. It made excellent firewood and so we burned this to stay warm despite the at times torrential downpour that we thought would hinder the process of making a fire whatsoever.

Nature 4, Woman 1.

And so it was time for bed. In the morning when waking up it was kinda like Christmas. Time to go and unwrap your rock wrapped presents to see if you can have breakfast this morning and much to my happiness, I found that despite the minor bite marks of the chippies through the rock crevasses, that food and garbage was all still intact and I got to eat my beef stew ration, chocolate milkshake and chocolate pudding desert for breakfast.

Yes! Still have food! Despite the tiny hole from the chippies


Nature 4, Woman 2. 

By this stage, despite Nature still having the upper hand in the situation, I felt like I was winning. How can you not be winning when you have food? So after a quick pack up it was back in the blow up boat and see you later to our home of a night as we let the current pretty much drift us half of the way back to the Achray lake entrance. It was a nice, workless float 🙂

Home on the hill

Nature 4, Woman 3.

So we made it back finally in our blow up boat, vowing never, ever again to attempt such a stupid thing in a blow up Walmart boat but to be non-stingy and invest in hiring a canoe next time. I also vouch to bring ten million cans of permethrin to kill any living insect (I am a nature lover, can’t you tell), and to also wear sunscreen on the way home in the boat. Nature had the last laugh you see by giving me sunburned thighs in retribution for my lack of paddling efforts on the way home. Not only that, but when I got home and took an antihistamine to make all my swollen bites go down, and all this achieved was in sending me into a drug-induced coma in which all I could mutter was ‘huh, whaaa, waaateerrr’. So in the end I think the final count was Nature 6, Woman 3. And despite Nature and Murphy having the last laugh, I was still also laughing because if you don’t laugh you cry right? That and the whole thing was just outright funny. I can say for sure though, I most likely haven’t learned my lesson, and that at some point in time, most probably in the near future, I will again embark on yet another bout of ‘YEAH!! That sounds like an AWESOME idea!” And if the past is anything to go by, it will be yet another hilarious disaster.

Til then x


Being A Human Guinea Pig

As promised from the previous article “Five Different Ways To Challenge Yourself Daily”, my experiences with the medical testing world.

So when work keeps telling you consistently ‘sorry there are just no hours this week’ (which to be honest is a crock of shit, but we are trying to keep this light and the topic of workplace rights and legislation in Canada makes me very angry), we resort to the only thing we know for more work…. Craigslist.

There is a marvel of things you can find in the ‘ETC.’ section of the Toronto Craigslist and so this is how my run as a human guinea pig began. ‘Oh you will pay me a couple of hundred dollars to do a PET scan and and MRI? No problem! You want to pay me to stick electrodes to my head and play me pulses to see how my brain responds? No problem! And so it goes on.

To clarify, there are specific types of testing that I am not willing to do. For one, I am not happy about being a guinea pig for drug trials. I don’t particularly feel that my ovaries or the rest of my body would be appreciative of me pumping it full something in it that is going to render my parts dysfunctional for a measly couple of hundred bucks. But if you want to look at how my body functions normally by doing a series of tests, then be my guest. As a scientist, I am more than happy to do my part for science.

So, here we go….

The other day I went to the geriatrics hospital. They do a lot of research for Alzheimer’s and other degenerative brain disorders and I have done multiple experiments for them. Of the most basic is the EEG, which is where you go in, they strap electrodes to your brain, put some earplugs in and they make you listen to semitone sounds on ‘ooh’ or ‘ahh’ and make you hit buttons to tell you if it is an ‘ooh’ or an ‘aah’. The best part about this is the second part where they make you listen to random sounds for an hour while you watch a kids movie on silent. For me it was a crazy movie about a raccoon that steals and destroys a bears stash of food for the winter and then sets about manipulating other animals into reacquiring what it is that he lost by stealing from the humans. Awesomely funny, even if it is on mute with subtitles. I did this twice before I started getting called in for different tests.

Other EEG tasks I have done have been musical tests where I listen to two sounds and decide if they are the same or different and then replicate the sounds singing later. I have also done tests where they give you 35 sets of 2 completely unrelated words and you have to try and develop a correlation between them in five seconds so that later when they flash you the first word, you have to remember the second word. Hugely frustrating as this is most difficult of the tasks I had ever been given. One time I also had to sit with an eye movement tracker on while I watched a series of video clips and pictures to see where I was looking at on the screen.

Smashing out some memory games with the electrode cap on

Two days ago they did a test on my memory and how the brain stores information. They sat me at a computer and they would flash a word at me like ‘giraffe’. I would then as quickly as possible determine whether it is living or non living using the buttons strapped to my fingers. From there I had to do this really quick mathematical addition in my head with numbers flashing up on the screen at me and then decide whether the number they showed me at the end was the correct answer to the addition. From there, you then have to recall the word. They do all of this while you are strapped into an MRI machine measuring the different activities of your brain in doing the sums and the recall. The hypothesis that they are testing is whether or not the long term memory is more effective when you focus more on the word that you have to remember or when you are busy with a distractor task, ie. the maths sums. Strangely enough, they have been finding that the words that you do the distractor task with are more likely to be remembered long term as the way that these words are processed in the brain is different. Really interesting study. Probably why I did so well at university studying with the TV on, the radio on, talking on the phone and trying to read at the same time! Me being as competitive as I am too, I had to try and beat my own scores and the scores of others with the decision making and the maths. I was killing it to a point. 85-90% 🙂 Not bad when the average is around 60-70% for the maths! Looks like all of the learning books and the brain training games are paying off!

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MRI scan of my brain. I told people I have one, they didn’t believe me

Of the most lucrative and probably most uncomfortable of the medical tests that I have done was the PET scan. After doing a two hour screening of different IQ type tests with shapes and logic and a psychological evaluation, they sent me off to do the scan. They put me in a hospital gown, laid me onto the table and then started to put in the arterial line in my left wrist. Luckily they hit it the first time so it wasn’t too bad in the healing process. They put the radiotracer into my right arm and then I pretty much laid in the machine for 2 hours while they scanned my brain to see where the radiotracer was collecting and if it was more concentrated in specific areas of the brain or not for a specific enzyme that they are attributing to swelling in the brain that is related to depression.

They took different blood samples from my wrist throughout the experiment to look at the concentration of the radiotracer in my blood and I have to say it wasn’t the most comfortable of situations. What I didn’t realize was that they actually put a plaster cast thing over your face to lock it into place for the scan so that your head doesn’t move. So here I am, head locked in in a plaster cast, needles sticking out of my arms, the most ADHD I have ever been and all I wanted to do was go for a dance or move around or do something! The two hours were finally up, I had my arterial line out, went for a 20 minute MRI and took my cash for the day. More money than I would have earned in the space of a week and a half working for minimum wage in Toronto on half a day of being a guinea pig for the advancement of science. I will most certainly take that.

I do find all of these things quite interesting so in the grand scheme of travelling, it is something new and different to add to the resume and it pays quite well. And hey, it is just another thing to tell the grandkids right? Provided that my memory holds out in the long run. Hopefully my participation in research will help them find ways to overcome memory degeneration with age so that I can continue to achieve my million and one goals. And so I won’t have to be a drunk nana in a nursing home rocking chair on the porch enjoying the blissful ignorance of my existence.


Bungee Jumping

“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in moments of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy” – Martin Luther King

And so I found myself standing at the end of a bungee platform. Words cannot express my terror. I was shaking. To jump or not to jump. The demon every bungee jumper is faced with. But despite my fear, my destiny was already predetermined by the decision I made in my mind. I WAS JUMPING.

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Standing on the ledge looking down. Terrified. Determined.

During the summer before I headed back to study my Graduate Diploma of Education at university, I decided to go on an adrenaline packed and whirlwind tour of New Zealand. I booked myself onto one of the hop on/hop off buses and was on my merry way. When we arrived in Queenstown, the bus stopped at the Karawau Bridge bungee, the first commercial bungee jump opened in the world by AJ Hackett, dare devil extraordinaire, and standing at 43m distance. Many of the people on the bus flat out refused to go. Only a couple of people out of twenty of us accepted the challenge of doing the jump. I was not one of them. I stood, in sheer terror watching as people one by one, hurled themselves off this bridge, including a 90 year old man who looked so frail that me might snap from the force of it. And then I did the only thing I know how to do. I made a decision that despite the fear I was going to do it. But I was not going to do the bridge jump, if I was going to do it, I was going to do the biggest one. I swiftly booked myself a ticket for the Nevis Highwire before I could back out and headed to my accommodation with the others.

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Karawau Bridge Bungee – the worlds’ first commercial bungee jump

In an attempt to take my mind off it, I went out to the pub for the night with my friends and returned home at about 2am with the knowledge I might get 6 hours sleep before I had to get up in the morning and go meet the bus for the dreaded bungee. But sleep was not to be. I tossed….. I turned…. I had knots in my stomach… I couldn’t breathe. Overnight I had worked myself into such a sheer state of panic that I didn’t know whether I could go through with it.

I got up and my friend walked me down the road to the bus. I hopped on it on my own with no support from friends I was with. This was my challenge and I needed to meet it head on. The entire way along the road the bus driver played ‘inspirational music’ for the bungee that consisted of ‘Jump’ by Van Halen and ‘Jump’ by Kris Kross and every other song that contained the word ‘jump’. It was then and there I decided. It didn’t matter how afraid I was. I was going to do it. On three, I had to relinquish control of my body and just go. There was no such thing as failure. I acknowledged the fear demon, but I wasn’t going to let it rule me.

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Waiting for the cable car to take us out the that small suspended hut… the bungee platform!

As we arrived and they put us into our harnesses that went over my legs and chest and then onto the cable car that took us out to the jumping platform. I had settled with an odd form of calm, of purpose. There were 18 of us jumping. And we had to jump in descending weight order. Being a tiny 61kg at that time, I was the second last person to jump. I had to wait and watch every other person before me go. And as more of them jumped, the pressure to jump myself continued to mount. And then finally it was my turn…..

I sat in the chair as they strapped the cuffs around my ankles and buckled me up. They stood me up, gave me my instructions and walked me out to the end of the ledge where I stood staring at a 134m bungee jump, the third highest bungee in the world at that time. Despite telling me not to look down, I did. It was an incredibly long way. “Mind over matter remember…. just breathe….” And so the count began. I looked forward. 3, 2, 1……. and then I just fell forward and let go…….

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The moment I let go of everything

The initial feeling of falling was a shock to the system. My stomach went straight to my mouth and I was freaked. Eight seconds of freefall. Just enough time to freak out, come to terms with what is happening, start to enjoy the speed, start freaking out about the fact that the bungee chord hasn’t taken yet, consider death, have your life flash before your eyes, and then the bungee chord takes up and there is relief, the realization that you are indeed not dead and that “wahoooooooooo!!!”, this is actually quite fun.


After doing two bounces on the bungee chord, I had to reach up, pull the tag and release my feet so that I was held upright by the harness around my midsection. Once sitting upright, I got to take stock of the valley and the beauty around me while they pulled me back up to the platform. My face was bloodshot. Never before has that much adrenaline coursed through my veins. I had done it! I had faced one of my biggest fears, and I had won!

For the rest of the day I was so ramped on excess adrenaline I did not sleep for another 24 hours. It was the biggest buzz I have ever had in my life. Needless to say, this started the addiction I now have with bungee jumping. I went back to do the Karawau Bridge jump, just so that I could be dunked into the water at the end of it. It was a minor buzz compared to the Nevis Highwire but a buzz nonetheless. It would be years until I would come across my third bungee, the 143m Extremo Bungee in Monteverde, Costa Rica. The nerves were there, but the fear had lessened because I knew I could conquer it.

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Spot the adrenaline junkie… Waaaayyyy too much adrenaline!

But despite my lessened fear with these, but still fear nonetheless, there is still one thing left to do. The tallest bungee in the world. While this one is technically 230m tall and in Macau, China, my fear of Chinese safety standards has me somewhat concerned. So I agreed with my friend to go and do the 220m Bloukran’s Bridge jump in South Africa, the second tallest bungee in the world. But to make up for the extra ten meters and to see how much of a bad ass the other can be, this time we have upped the ante. He says he is going to do it naked. And he wants to be wrapped in snakes and scorpions to be extra bad ass…. somehow I think the snakes and scorpions won’t be allowed. But if you raise me a 220m bungee, I will see you that raise, and I will see you there naked!

5 Different Ways to Challenge Yourself Daily

“There is nothing like a challenge to bring out the best in man” – Sean Connery.

Most people reading this aren’t off in the grand world traveling and constantly having different challenges thrown at them everyday like I usually do. And I currently am not off gallivanting around the world with all the wonder that change and the road offers right now myself. But there are different things that I do at least one of everyday to challenge myself and keep the stagnant at bay! Try to incorporate these small things into your everyday lives to challenge you, keep the boredom at bay and help you feel great!

Experiment With New Food

One of the biggest things that I miss from the road is all of the incredible food that is on offer. That said, I came back from Europe with a huge list of foods I had eaten that I wanted to try and replicate at home. While some of these have been a disaster, I have managed to stumble on some amazing recipes for different foods such as Hungarian Paprika Chicken, Spanish Tortilla, Polish Bigos….. and so the list goes on. So I encourage you as a part of your daily challenge to once a week, pick a country, find a recipe for something you haven’t tried before and cook it. That simple! If you aren’t too much of a fan of different world foods, maybe try a new cook book or a different recipe for something you already cook. Variety is the spice of life! So start your week by challenging your taste buds and cooking skills!

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Trying my hand at beetroot soup in Poland.

Do A Puzzle

Everybody has heard of the saying “if you don’t use it, you’ll lose it”. And this is true of the neural connections in your brain. Scientists have discovered that when you are a small child, in the first five years you develop billions of neural connections that are designed to function for the rest of your life so that you are able to perform different tasks. Many of these neural connections will sever with age if you do not continue to stimulate these pathways as the brain attempts to conserve energy. Never fear though, with brain training and neuroplasticity, we can continue to stimulate our neural pathways, sometimes making new neural connections with the right kind of training. This is important, especially as we get older, to ward off brain diseases such as Alzheimers’ and dementia. When I was living in Toronto, I used to go to The Centre for Brain Health at one of the hospitals and they used to pay me a little bit of money to do puzzles and other activities whilst either wearing an electrode cap to measure my brain waves or being on and MRI machine to detect the highest functioning areas of the brain whilst doing particular tasks. Some of the information they gained about memory, brain function and degeneration was incredible and I will write another post about my experiences with this at a later date (so follow me if you want a notification!)

Doing a puzzle or two a day will help to keep you sharp. The key to choosing your puzzles though is to choose different ones. Right now I have a small crossword puzzle book and I do a crossword each night before bed. These are great for stimulating recall pathways and associations. I also bought an IQ test book on the road with hundreds of different types of puzzles to challenge spatial awareness, mathematical skills, language skills, memory and logic. There are many different programs that you can find on the internet that help stimulate brain growth and neuroplasticity as well so get jump on them. Just don’t fall into the age old trap of doing sudoku after sudoku after sudoku. Once you have learned the techniques required for solving a sudoku, it no longer poses an adequate enough challenge to keep the brain growing. So keep it mixed up. Do different types of puzzles and crosswords to keep you thinking.


Many people go to the gym and fall into the same standard routine of exercise every day they go. Exercise is about betterment of the self. And to get better, you need to set small goals and slowly work your way towards achieving them. Currently I do Crossfit, a constant daily challenge with yourself to be stronger, faster and fitter. The people I train with are super supportive and we will often compete against each other in a friendly way to help push each other to be better. It helps when you have a partner to train with. So if you train on your own, maybe try starting up a conversation with someone you see all the time at they gym and ask the train with them. They will keep you honest and make you work harder.

My current challenge is to get to be doing strict pull ups with my own body weight by the end of the year. In February when I started I was using twice as much resistance as I am using now, so I am working towards achieving that goal, slowly but surely. Everyday though is a small challenge within the larger challenge. Today I do one or two more reps than I did yesterday. I try stringing more together at once than I did yesterday. Eventually it gets easier, and you can move to the next small step within the push towards the greater goal.

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Lifting like a boss. Crossfit 14.5 Open Workout

Start up a conversation with a stranger

It is easy in this technology-driven world that we live in to get caught up with what is online and not what is in front of you. I challenge you every day to look up and put the phone away. When you go into a coffee shop and order your morning coffee, instead of texting/checking emails/standing around not speaking and waiting, start up a conversation with your barista or another person in the queue.  Ask them how their day is going and make a joke. Pay them a compliment. Trust me when I say that you will feel better about yourself and your day for having made a small effort to strike up a new conversation. That person will also most likely feel better about themselves if you can make the simple effort of saying something to make them smile. Who knows, with time you may even end up with a new friend. And it will certainly help you develop some awesome conversational skills.

Do A Kind Deed

We have covered challenges that are good for the body and good for the mind. It is also great to incorporate challenges for the soul. No matter how small or how insignificant it might seem to you, try and do at least one kind deed per day. This could be something as small as helping somebody pick up something that they have dropped on the ground. I am a grand believer in the idea of paying it forward. Over the years I have met many amazing people that have bestowed incredible generosity and kindness upon me during my travels and in life in general. I am so grateful for the amazing help and support that I have received that I feel it my duty as a human to pay this amazing kindness forward. Whilst I was walking the Overland Track, a six day, 90km hike in Tasmania, I met two guys who were transiting back through my home town. So I went out for dinner with them, showed them to a local pub with original music for the night and in the morning I picked them up and drove them around to see some of the sights before I dropped them off at the airport. Something I have had others that I barely know do for me and I have appreciated it hugely. That and I also find great enjoyment in meeting new people and helping them to enjoy my hometown. While your daily kindness doesn’t have to be of such a magnitude, every kind deed regardless of size is important.

I honestly believe that if people work towards being kinder to one another and towards being more grateful for the things they have in this life, then the human race together will be working towards being a better species. And it starts with you! So help someone. Make them smile. And then hope they too will pay it forward.

So venture forward into your week! Do something out of the ordinary, cook something new, do a puzzle, help a stranger and have a chat to them and push yourself when you exercise to be better. Be a better version of yourself! I challenge you….. 

The World – Virgin Blog Entry

I am not sure how or when exactly it started, but my inherent fascination with the world, the people in it and their differences has always given me itchy feet. So much so that I made it my life long goal to visit every continent on the globe and as many countries in this life as I could. A huge feat, one that even I still can’t fathom 30 countries later. Add to this my excitable nature and my constant need to be doing something different all of the time and I find myself in all kinds of hilarious situations and troubles.

Every child in this world embraced dreams and dared to dream large. As people age they tend to start living in a state fear that inhibits them from reaching true happiness and fulfilling their own potential. The fear of instability and of what other people think about them begins to dictate their choices. After letting this resonate with me for many years and struggling with going against the social norms, I decided to embrace the wise words once spoken by Nelson Mandela. “I learned that courage was not the absence of fear, but the triumph over it. The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear”.

So everyday, I challenge myself. Push myself to the limits. Try something new. Experience difference. LIVE. Because if we are static in this life, we will never grow. I personally don’t want to see my life out with regrets. I want to remember the roller coaster and say ‘well, geez that was a whole lot of fun and a hell of a ride! I did everything I could have in this short time that we are granted here on this earth. I didn’t waste any of it’.

And so here begins your journey with me. Laugh with me, cry with me, struggle with me, as I take on whatever challenge comes my way, no matter how ridiculous it might seem at the time. It is bound to be a riot! I didn’t get the nickname “Stories Dano” for nothing!

With much love, fun and adventure to come! I look forward to the ride with you all!


Danni 🙂 xxxx