Hold up, Let’s try this again

So I started this blog a long time ago as a way for people to follow my travels around the world and my experiences playing professional soccer without having to write all my stories a thousand times to different people (which I would happily do if it were necessary, luckily a blog solves that). But now that I have come back to the states and taken some time to be quiet and listen to my heart before making my next step I have come back to my blog to reflect upon my journey. And I have realized that although this blog has been a pretty accurate account of funny and sometimes emotional encounters I have had around the world, it has been taken for granted and not used the way it should have been. And for that I apologize! 

You see, while I was recently laying on the ground after one of my usual post work out pondering what the hell am I doing with my life I felt the light bulb flick on in my head. It doesn’t matter what I am doing, the thing that makes me happiest in the world is helping and sharing with people. I have been around the world and put myself in uncomfortable situations to help and meet people and I have done that right here with different nonprofits, or my family and friends in the most comfortable situations and I get the same sense of fulfillment and happiness. But the most important thing I wanted to get across is that the stories that were shared from all of those experiences should have all been spoken in one language and that is the language of love. This blog was never meant to be a running diary of my ridiculous stories, it was meant to be an inspirational platform to those who read it to spread that same love of helping people, listening to them, loving the life you lead and passing stories on so that they might land on ears that feel the same sense of inspiration and empowerment.
I felt I had to walk and talk that language before I could pass that on, and that is why I tried my hand in so many different things and in so many different places and now as I look back, I think I left out the important piece of the humans I interacted with. So I am going to turn over a new leaf with this blog. I will continue to share my own personal stories with you, but I would mostly like to start telling the stories of those who inspire me. We all need to give a little bit more love to the world in what ever way we know how. And mine is listening and putting myself in the shoes of others. So anyways, here’s to love. Thank you all for following.
Dani

The Last Night of an Adventure

The last night of any adventure especially when it’s in a foreign country reminds me of that game “Bop It”. There are like 4 very strong emotions that I experience and they all pop up and surprise me as I am having a last-night-drink. They creep up, slap me hard and then suddenly fade when the next one pops up a few seconds later. And then they kind of circulate in random order until the game is over and by that I mean until my thoughts and drink are interrupted by other travelers jumping in wanting to exchange “who did the coolest and most adventurous thing in New Zealand stories”. Do they all win if they all went skydiving and bungy jumping and I didn’t? Am I wrong for saying that just doesn’t sound like fun, to jump out of a plane? Silly questions… They can win that competition if they want. Anyways, the bop-it game goes something like… “WAHOOOO!”, a celebration of the fun times I just had, then suddenly “phewph”, relief that the adventure I just had is done (that was a lot of hard work), then “awwww man”, sadness about leaving (nooooooo, I don’t want to go) and a final feeling, that I can only describe as a quiet excitement to return home “ahhhh, home ūüôā”.  

I say a quiet excitement because I wouldn’t describe the feeling of returning home comparable to the excitement of leaving, you know the kind where you go out of your way to annoyingly tell people about the awesome travels youre about to embark on. No, instead it’s a quiet feeling that doesn’t require the shouts of excitement to express. It simply feels quietly happy and it’s only for you to feel. 

I know you might think that’s silly because everyone says to travel as far as you can for as long as you can… And many people I have met throughout my adventures say they don’t ever want to go home. And if in my summarized life story to other travelers (that I have perfectly dialed in to share just enough of what I am doing and who I am with out prolonging any conversation too long with every inquisitive stranger who wonders why I talk funny, smell like mildewed clothes and carry such a big backpack) it so happened that the conversation drifted to the “heading home” topic it would result in a scoff and abrupt conversation end. 
That might have been hard to follow, so let me try to explain the mixture of emotions in any other way… I know exactly what I am going home to…. My shoes are going to be in the same place, the grocery store down the street will still have the same selection and my car will not have moved and will probably take a few tries to fire her up again… But! I get to wear other shoes besides these stinky, dirty boots that have so graciously protected my feet, I get to eat fresh fruit and veggies because we are lucky enough to have access to this amazing selection all year round and I have a car that can take me from one end of the country to the other in a matter of days what would take months on my own two feet. And although I am returning to the familiar, the routine, the “real life”… I get to see all of those things with a new appreciation. I get to spend time with the people I love, I get to walk the streets of my home from a new vantage point, with so many new experiences behind my new eyes. 

Home is truly where the heart is and I fully admit, my heart has wandered far and wide my entire life. The foreign world has been my home and the people I have met along the way have become more than photographs of smiles in different places. I have gotten lost in every culture and my experiences in each around the world. And I am sure that travel bug will never really leave… But in this moment I am quietly excited to come home and share my time with those who I have neglected to share it with for many years now because of the annoyingly loud excitement I usually have to leave. I am so excited to be going home. 

The Comfort Theory 

The Comfort Theory, as I said in one of my previous posts, was started by this awesome chick Mckenzie Barney. I met her through the grapevine and it turned out we shared a similar love for trying new things, seeing the world, storytelling and taking pictures. She has a soul that moves at the speed of sound and curiosity that could take her to the moon if she willed it to. She is a wild child with powerful diction and an ability to excite people into pushing their own personal boundaries. Hence the name “Comfort Theory”. 
Living in your comfort zone is… comfortable. It’s your place where you don’t have to extend yourself, make yourself vulnerable and potentially lose. However, it’s also the place where you can’t really win either. It’s the place movement is slowed and routine sets in. Mckenzie and the Comfort Theory crew set out to challenge this idea and do something that would push their personal boundaries. Their big ideas landed them on a journey of walking across New Zealand.  
Walking across a country never really appealed to me like it does to some people. Just as playing soccer might not really appeal to some people. It’s just not on everyone’s agenda. So when this opportunity presented itself I was more intrigued by the opportunity to take some pictures, learn a new set of skills from some brilliant people and see a new part of the world. But about a week in I realized that the purpose of this trip for the Comfort Theory team was not just to take pictures and learn some skills but to actually walk across the country… And that’s where our differences laid. 

  
I truly believe in the Comfort Theory. In order to be the best you, to find your success, to reach your goals you must stretch yourself, really put yourself out there and know you can very easily fail, but that is a risk you must take if you want to achieve your goals. But as I was walking I realized that this walk is not my personal boundary pusher, that is not a goal I set out to achieve.
You see, I coach for Pro Skills and we run clinics for women’s leagues. Many of the women who come out for their first time say they are so nervous to be there because they have never played before and they think they will be embarrassed. But if they don’t come to training, if they don’t even try to learn, they will never improve. My grandma came out to one of these clinics and it was one of the most inspiring moments of my life, to see her put herself out there, willing to learn and try hard. And that was her pushing her comfort zone.
I share that story because everyone has their personal comfort zone boundary. For some it is trying a new sport, learning a new activity, for others it is trying their hardest in a project at work or even just talking to someone new. What ever your personal boundary is, the Comfort Theory encourages you to push it, be brave and find success in YOUR OWN PERSONAL journey. 

  
The walk across New Zealand is not my personal journey and I realized that fairly soon into the trek. And as much as I didn’t want to leave the group or the mission of the Comfprt Theory, I felt it unfair for me to detract from their experience as well as my own. And that is why I jumped off the Comfort Theory-New Zealand ship in order to find my own personal boundary pusher. 
I am not quite sure what that looks like yet. As strange as it sounds my comfort zone has always been in moving fast, going from one thing to the next and never looking back nor really stopping to listen, think and just be quiet for a bit. So even though it seems like the opposite of an ideal Comfort Theory journey, my current personal boundary needs to be pushed by slowing down, doing less and listening to my heart until I feel ready to move again. 

  
I left the group just before they did a week long canoe trip down the Wanganui River and instead I boarded a plane headed south down to beautiful Queenstown. And can I just say that is a city everyone needs to see, it is incredibly beautiful. 

  
Anyways, this is how I ended up here in a hostel with my best friend and her wife for the last few days of my journey in New Zealand. There will still be more to share but I wanted to keep everyone up to speed with my plans. 

Thumbs up for hitch hiking 

So, it’s obviously a frowned upon thing, hitch hiking. Seeing as it’s illegal in the states and now a days everyone is crazy, hitch hiking is a dead way of travel. But here in New Zealand it is a flourishing art. It is by far the easiest way to travel unless you have your own car. There are very few buses here and no trains so unless you have a car it’s almost impossible to get city to city. So you better believe I have been soaking up all of the adventures in hitch hiking my way across New Zealand. 
Just today I was trying to meet back up with the Comfort Theory crew after I took some time away from the trail and for myself. They are coming down off the mountains of Mordor and I had gotten myself to the closest city that I could. But they were still about 115 km from where I was. So this morning I packed my things and got ready to take a very round about way of getting to them because there are no direct roads. 
5 hours, 7 hitches and 15 km of walking later I got to the town where I calculated they should be coming through after their mountain hike is done. 

My first hitch today was from the principle of an elementary school named Lisa. She was visiting her family coming home from holiday (yes, their holiday time extends into the middle of January). We road together for about 40 minutes before she had to drop me off and continue on. She was a cute mom looking lady. Very friendly and even friendlier smile. We talked about the education systems of the US and New Zealand.

The next was a man from Morocco his name was Aleine. A short ride, he took me about 10 k to the next turn off to a different high way and from there I walked about 10 k down a dirt road to the next small town. We didn’t talk much mostly because he was blasting Moroccan music and it was hard to understand each other.

Then I caught a ride from a New Zealand guy named James who was on his way to work on some beach. He drove a nice black convertible. He took me up a really scenic road over looking Lake Taupo for about 30 minutes before parting ways. We talked about his dream to come to America and see tornado road in Oklahoma. I told him there was more scenic parts of the states but I guess the guy knew what he wanted… I said “hey, everyone likes different things. I mean, people live there so obviously there’s something there people like.” He laughed.

There I was picked up by two sheep shearers, Terry and Osha (a girl and a guy, real rugged looking people) who had just finished a 12 hour shift on their employers farm and we’re heading down to the natural hot springs of Lake Taupo to give their bodies a rest. They were rolling their own cigarettes, drinking the New Zealand equivalent of monster drinks and laughing like they didn’t have a care in the world. We talked about rugby and the toll that sheep shearing takes on the body. Probably not a job I will be taking any time soon. 

Then I was picked up by a guy in a humble black Toyota hatch back his name was Ty. He was maybe early 40s and bald, put together kind of guy. He had a car seat in the back and moved it over so I could put my bag in. He took me about 60 k to the next turn off and we talked about so many things. Turns out he is the senior manager of McDonalds world wide supply chain and he had just moved back from 7 years in Shang Hai. We had such interesting talks about traveling, seeing the world and cultural differences and about the value of home. It was my favorite ride of the day.

He dropped me off on a turn off of a road in the middle of no where. So I walked another about 5 k before I was picked up in the back of a burley girl’s pick up truck. I couldn’t pronounce her name even if I tried to spell it phonetically. She was a farmer and had a full mustache coming out of a mole on her upper lip. She took me about 10 k to another turn off. And I sat in the back of her pick up and smiled to myself thinking about what I was doing and how much fun I was having. 

The last of my hitches was a couple in an SUV. The guy Otto was a VERY large man, in all directions. The woman was a small mom looking lady. They were plowing through a family size bag of black licorice candy sticks as we talked. One of the back doors had a huge dent in it and as we were talking I found out they were social workers and a foster family. They had been foster parents for over 100 kids and had 3 at the time. One of which had an incident last night and kicked in their door. We talked about their hatred towards drinking during pregnancy. It was very eye opening to hear some of their stories. 

They dropped me off in the town where I am now waiting for the group. Thinking back on the day I have to laugh at the amount of times I told my own story in different ways but also at the direction all of my conversations went with each of them. 
Humans are so funny, everyone has their own calling and passions and means of making money. It’s been quite and adventure just listening to stories. Fun to say the least. 

That’s all for now! 
Dani

Getting clean 

Some of my most favorite and hysterical times of travel have been when I am trying to get clean and shower. What I have found is that every country has different standards of cleanliness and even more different methods as to how one gets to that standard of being clean. Here in New Zealand I would compare the level of cleanliness to any other westernized culture however the clean standard amongst dirtbags (people “tramping” a thru hike) is FARRRRRR below that of any civilized society. A shower to a dirtbag could be anything from a face wash in the random public bathroom, a thorough pat down with a wet wipe, a sprinkled rinse in the forest stream or a dive into the ocean. Any of those options are regarded as a bath sent from heaven, hence the name “dirtbag”. When your priorities are food, water and shelter… Showering seems almost silly. I always forget about the whole shower thing as I am prepping for travel and am quickly reminded as soon as that long travel day is over and the only thing I want is a nice warm long shower. I was quickly reminded here on my first day… remember that nice coffee and laugh from my series of unfortunate events day… This is how it followed… So, I had gotten my coffee and returned to the hostel and I decided I should go for a run to move a little and stretch and make sure my muscles still worked after a 14 hour flight. When I came back I wanted to shower and realized I didn’t have a towel or clean clothes or anything to change into because I have only one shirt and shorts… So I had to be resourceful. Do I use my shirt, do I fan my body, do I run in circles or just stand there until my body dried? I realize now after a week of not showering that that that was such a silly worry… Showering is not required and drying off is even less of a worry for a dirtbag.

This made me take a look at all of my funny past showers and I felt I needed to share them with you guys! 

My first experience showering in an uncomfortable place was in Russia. My bathroom there had a toilet with no seat and a hose hooked to the sink that drained into a hole in the middle of the floor. You can imagine after our snow games that that shower barely did enough to warm me! But the standard of clean in Russia was very low and if I had to compare the overall smell of the people and cities to anything I would say it smelled of moldy bread, garlic and fake Chanel number 5 perfume. Bathing in Russia was more of an option that one should do once every week. 

Then there was bathing in western Europe. European standards of clean are interesting to me because it’s not so much that you should actually be and smell clean, but more that you should just appear clean and well kempt. So people wear a generous amount of perfume and spray on deodorant and boom they are clean. Their showers are like the handicapable showers here in the US where the shower head is hand held and the bath tub is open to the rest of the bathroom (so be careful where you spray). This was pretty similar to my shower experiences in South America. 

Then there is showering in Africa. This is not much of a shower at all. I will say that the people in Africa smelled worse than any other culture I have been in. Sweat, dirt, and a combination of other rancid smells is a constant scent especially in busses and cities. When we weren’t in a big city, where they had showers like that in Russia, we would take a bucket down to their “clean water” pump and fill our bucket then walk back with it on our heads. This water would then be used for cooking, washing the dishes as well as showering. We would stand in our bucket, bend down and get a handful of water, splash it up on our bodies and then rub our bodies with soap with the other hand. Even the splish splash bath felt amazing in the African heat. And this was pretty similar to the methods used in India, although no matter what you did to rid yourself of the smells of India, there was no hope of getting rid of the smell of the food you eat there. It just become part of you.
These are all funny abroad shower stories, which never fail to provide me with a good laugh… But I have to tell you guys one more story… Because even getting clean in the states can be funny if you spend enough time with my family. 

My favorite shower story happened just this last October in the United States of America with my very own parents after our trip to Lake Mead. We had been camping for 10 days and showered by jumping in the lake and washing our hair and bodies and even shaving in the lake. On the last day there we decided we wanted to go shoot my moms new 9 mm gun at a shooting range just for fun. I was supposed to be boarding a plane that evening to go back to Seattle and so we were kind of in a hurry to get out to the gun club. After a couple rounds each we packed up and jumped in the car to head to the airport when we realized that I was about to go to the airport with gun powder all over me! What do we do? There wasn’t enough time to get to the lake… The only option was our camper that had already been drained. 
So my parents being resourceful, pulled up the nearest gas station and asked to use their water hose to fill up our outside water basin so I could use the outside shower. There I stood in the gas station parking lot in my underwear and sports bra washing and scrubbing away while other gas station customers were watching in curiosity with sort of grossed out looks as sudsey water ran down under their cars into the drains. My family was laughing so hard at me and I will say it was one of the more embarrassing moments I have had in recent years.
Needless to say, being clean, showering, bathing and feeling clean is truly a luxury and man I can’t wait for my next real shower! 
Cheers

D

Around the world to get home

The other day we were walking over endless farm lands… It was this beautiful perfect mixture of what you would imagine Peru and English farm hill sides to look like. There were these clouds of steam rising deep from the valleys of each farm hill slowly wafting up behind each bright green grass peak that was littered with white woolen sheep scattered infinitely across the lush landscape. It was a sight I had to stop my stuttered pace for just to breathe in. 

  
Tonight I am sitting on a beach as the sun sets over New Zealand’s largest lake looking at the mountains that loom behind it where the mind blowing scenes of Mordor in Lord of the Rings were filmed. It is a sight I have to kick my feet up and tip a sip of my beer up to in cheers to the beauty of this earth and this country silently to myself.

  
And as I sit here in awe I have to share with you all a semi serious moment. I normally like to keep these blogs light hearted and funny for the most part. And perhaps this will still be funny seeing as after that beautiful moment atop that sheep hill we were hit with a gnarley storm that soaked us to the bone and made for an interesting night of sleeping on the side of a dirt road in puddles and after this beautiful sunset and blog post I will go find a stealth camping spot in the bushes along this beach like a homeless person… So there’s that… But before I get to that I have to share what these moments have taught me..

In my 26 years I have been lucky enough to see 25 states, 22 countries and 6 continents. I have seen the richest of rich and the poorest of poor. I have danced my heart out at good concerts and stood in silence in the beauty of the world and of the people around me. I have seen grey and cold cities and colorful flamboyant cities. And I have tasted the flavors of the cultures I have been lucky enough to be accepted into. And in all of these experiences no one place or moment could ever be compared or duplicated. Each holds it’s own beautiful moment in me that I will never forget. But all of these places, all of these people, all of this epic beauty doesn’t even come close to the simplest moments of home. 

 
   

    

If you would have asked me about home a few years ago I would have said “what home? I am a nomad seeking the experiences of every culture, every place, every person.” But then one time I left and I surprised myself when shed a few tears as I said good bye to my parents when they dropped me off at the airport. Then the next time although I tried my best not to, I shed a few more tears. And then the next time even more and then suddenly as I was lost in this beautiful moment I got a feeling of sadness as it seemed a little less moving and made me miss the people I had just said goodbye to. And this last time I found myself for the first time in my life struggling to get myself out the door. And even though as I was walking and smiled to breathe in the deep fresh floral scent of the New Zealand hill side the only thing I wanted to do was hug my grandma and grandpa, tell my parents I love them and hold my girl friends hand. And that thought moved me to tears. 
I realize that there is always something to take away from traveling, from extending yourself into the unknown, from sleeping in a hide out under a bridge (I’ll never claim that that actually happened). There is always so much beauty to find… But what I have found more than anything is that home is the most beautiful place any where in this world.
So here’s to the beautiful horizon I am looking at right now and here’s to all of the people and places that my heart is with back at home. 

All my love, 

Cheers! 

Dani 

Week 1

Hello everyone! 

Well, I was planning on blogging much more than once a week however… This last week was one of the more challenging weeks of my life. This thru hike stuff is no joke. 
The first day I met up with the crew they took out everything from my bag and made two piles. One pile to take with me, one pile to leave behind. Remember that picture I posted not too long ago where everything I was planning on taking was put into two small bags to put into my big backpack… Well then cut that in half and that’s what they told me I should bring. So I downsized majorly. No soap, no deodorant, one shirt, one shorts, 3 socks, no pants, one rain jacket, water, food, sleeping bag, tent. That’s why they call us dirtbags… And still, somehow I put my bag on my shoulders and it felt extremely heavy. It was pushing on my lower back and pulling my shoulders. Everyone tried to adjust it for me but nothing felt quite right. But I said I could deal with it, I am strong. This was a stupid mistake and I learned one should never think they are above the pack they carry on their back, lesson learned the hard way.  Anyways we headed out, caught our first hitch hike out of town and headed south. 

 
We set up camp in what we call “stealth camping” which means we hide our tents in places we probably shouldnt be sleeping. That night we found a farmers plot of land hidden behind some trees. We weren’t too hidden though because we were woken by a herd of cows that seemed very concerned with the fact that we were sleeping on the grass they wanted to eat  

 
That morning was my first day of hiking. We hiked 20km to the base of a “little mountain” where we then had a short 10 km after that through forest. The first 20 km took about 4 hours, so we reached the mountain at about lunch time. We had lunch and prepped ourselves for what we thought was another about 2 hours of hiking. Little did we know that although there are no natural predators in New Zealand, these lush forests hide things like quick sand, mud slides, branches that are alive and grab your feet as you walk by and maze trails that grow longer with every step you take. 6 hours later we stumbled out of the forest,gingerly waddling trying to keep the weight of our packs and bodies off our tender feet. Mac, who is a race horse finished the maze trail about an hour earlier and had found us a stealth camp site under the town bridge where we set up camp and passed out just as night was falling. 

Day 2 of hiking was looking up! Surely today wouldn’t be as hard… Until I picked up my pack. How could it possibly weigh this much? My shoulders and low back hurt so bad. I looked at my back and there was a huge bruise up my backside from my backpack. That second day we had a 25 km hike on road into the next city called Hamilton. The day was scorching hot and I walked the entire way with our most experienced hiker, Austin aka Caveman. We talked about all of his past thru hikes and adventures and it helped keep my mind off my shoulders, back and feet. About 7 hours later we meandered into Hamilton and found a cafe where we could get some fresh food and cold water. That night we made our way to the city lake (that looked sort of like Greenlake for you seattleites) and stealth camped in the trees around the lake. 

Day 3, My body was starting to hurt quite a bit. The sun, miles and weight I had just jumped into was really taking a toll on my joints and psychy. So the other newbies, Winslow and his girlfriend and I decided we were going to hitch hike forward and meet up with everyone later in the day. We got picked up by a couple celebrating their anniversary and were headed out to the beach. Since we hadn’t seen the ocean yet we decided that was a better idea than hiking again…. So to the ocean we went and wound up in a city called Raglan, which is the locals hottest surf spot. Right on dude. 

The following day was again up a mountain and once again I underestimated the harshness of these mountains. The mud was above ankle deep and was thick, wet, heavy mud. We spent the entire day in video game brain mode problem solving our way through the forest. The mountains here are steep. I mean like intensely steep to get up and dangerously steep to get down. The forest floor got to know our butts and the bottoms of our packs really well. The trees were lifesavers though and many times we hung from them like monkys clinging to them for dear life keeping us out of the quick sand that wanted to swallow us up into the heart of the mountain… ok that was just the video game we made up as we were going, but it sure felt real. I must say though, it was an absolute blast to play in the forest, no matter how tough it seemed. 

 These are pictures of the forest canopies we hiked beneath.   
 
We ended up coming out right at the beginning of endless farmland and as we were walking to find a place to sleep that night we came across two ranchers lassoing cows. We all stopped to watch this spectacle and as we were watching we found out the main rancher had “cowboy’d” in Arizona and loved the US. So he opened up his cow pasture for us to sleep in an he said “you could even you the horse troft as a bath if you want.” He was too kind. 

   
 
We woke up early the next morning with the roosters and cows of his farm going crazy as a harsh storm was blowing in. So we packed up as quick as we could and tried to get moving before the storm hit. But alas it was of no use… We got absolutely owned by this storm. As we walked 35 km over steep and endless farmland hills and in and out of wet forests, waded through a knee high river we finally arrived 12 hours later to a gravel road where we all collapsed with fatigue in the pouring rain at what we had to call camp that night. 

  
We were so soaked through that our skin was pruned, our shoes were puddles and even the clothes in our bags were soaked. We set up our tents only to fall asleep in the puddles that had gathered in the bottom of our tents. I laid down my food bag, a dry bag and my rain jacket under my sleeping bag to try to keep it out of the puddles of water beneath me. I fell asleep laughing at how quickly my humble abode tent had turned into a sorry puddle of water  

Day 1

   
Day 7  
After several days of hiking, hurting, enjoying the video game mountains and sleeping in random places I decided my body and mind wasn’t happy doing this sun up to sun down heavy duty hiking. It was weighing on my spirits and I didn’t want to continue this adventure with that feeling. That is the opposite of the purpose of this trip. So I had a conversation with the head of this trip and the Comfort Theory, Mac. And after a lot of conversation we decided the entire thru hike just wasn’t for me. This is, after all, everyone’s personal journey. 
So plans have changed a bit and I am trying to figure out what is next from here. There are still a lot of New Zealand bucket list items that I have and I plan on checking those off the list. So please stay tuned to what is next… You now know just as much as I do! 

Cheers,

Dani