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Cubs, Comedy and Calories: The Chicago Experience

Much like my day in Seoul, the two days I spent in Chicago were a post work holiday and I wanted to get the most out of this quick city break as I could.

I was holidaying with some of the other crew who’d also wanted to stay a few extra days after work and we agreed to do all the classic things a visit to Chicago should include: a trip up Sears Tower or Willis Tower as it is now known (third tallest building in the world), a night at The Second City Comedy Club and an evening watching a Cubs baseball game at their home ground – the Wrigley Stadium.

Sears Tower was, for me, just another big building save for a glass box that extends 4.3 meters out from the building and leaves you hovering 1,353 feet above the ground. Looking down to see the busy city rushing past beneath your feet is a quite a dizzying experience.


The Second City Comedy Club was a great place to go in the evening for a bit of a laugh. The improvisation night we went to was all about the audience interaction and a ‘from your seat’ bar service helped everyone to get involved. That said, my friend had spent half the night mustering up the courage to shout out her own contribution to a scene when finally she decided to go for it, screaming out ‘shake it like a polaroid picture!!!’  I would have applauded her bravery but she’d totally mistimed her shout out and the scene had already changed. It was a little bit awkward but mostly hilarious, for me anyway.

The baseball game was brilliant. I’ll admit I found the game itself a little bit boring but the overall experience was exactly like what you see in films. Hot dogs being passed along the lines of seats, families all kitted out in Cubs gear and baseballs being hurled into the crowds and fought over by the fans. This was a true ‘American’ experience and I felt like a hardcore fan with my spongy finger and a beer.



We did do things that weren’t quite so stereotypical too…

We went to Lincoln Park Zoo because although I tend to find zoos very depressing I couldn’t resist the temptation of seeing a real polar bear. He was amazing but the depression did follow shortly after which was partly remedied with an ice cream.


While we were in there The Art Institute Of Chicago was housing a special Roy Lichtenstein exhibit – Lichtenstein is the man responsible for what we know today as Pop Art. I hadn’t been a huge fan of Pop Art but it was interesting to see how the art form had evolved and to get a look at some of Lichtenstein’s more iconic pieces up close.


We also explored the rest of the Art Institute and found a few more well known pieces, such as Grant Wood’s ‘American Gothic’ pictured below.


It was July and one of the hottest summers in decades while we were there but we still managed to walk to most places. As we made our way to the iconic ‘Bean’  sculpture, we stumbled across an open air music rehearsal being held at the Jay Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park.  We sat out doors and listened to an hour of classical music played by a live orchestra and felt very smug and sophisticated.


Then we went back to being complete tourists taking pictures of ourselves at  ‘The Bean’, which was just a short walk away.



The other thing we did in Chicago was eat. Lots. I can 100% recommend a Chicago Deep Pan Pizza, except if you’re on a diet. They’re more like a pie than a pizza and are full of stodgy, gooey goodness that leaves you stuffed yet satisfied.


However despite having just gorged ourselves on pizza, we took a quick trip to a Hershey’s store for a milk shake and ended up watching an in store musical demonstration on how to ice a cup cake.


This ended with my friend Ben dancing his heart out to win the said cup cake, which he did, in spectacular style. But he only managed to eat half of it.


So I can safely say that there’s much more to see and do in Chicago than the typical tourist offerings and these things will stay with you long after you’ve arrived home, unfortunately in my case that includes the calories!


Long Street, Small World

My tattoo adventure in Cape Town…

I had arrived in South Africa’s capital city having already had the trip of a lifetime – I’d just spent two amazing weeks diving with Great White Sharks in Gansbaai.

As a result my time in Cape Town was a chance to see and do some of the more touristy things that I’d yet to experience; a peninsula tour to Cape Point, a trip to the political prison on Robben Island and a bit of shopping along the V & A Waterfront. Oh and get a tattoo. I guess that one’s not on everybody’s itinerary. Actually, it wasn’t really on mine until I’d arrived in the city and was walking down Long Street, a popular street in Cape Town.

I had wanted a specific design (a feather) for a long time and a friend I’d met during my shark adventures drew it up for me in case I ever decided to get it done.  Although the design had nothing to do with my trip, it could still remind me of the amazing time I’d had.

I’d decided to do a bit of research into reputable tattoo places in and around Cape Town and although many looked professional I was still reluctant to go to somewhere completely unknown to me that hadn’t been recommended by anyone I knew.

However as I was walking down Long Street I passed one of the shops that I’d researched completely by chance, it seemed like fate so I decided to go for it.

I walked in, handed over the design I wanted and waited while the receptionist called up an artist to come in and draw it up for me. When he returned I was slightly alarmed at the size of the drawing, I had originally wanted a small tattoo and it had turned out much bigger than I’d expected.

I was told that if the tattoo was any smaller the fine lines that made up the feather could blur and merge over time. So faced with this ultimatum I asked if I could go away and think about it, which I did, assuming I’d probably come back another day…

I walked straight from the tattoo shop to a café I’d grown to love. I sat there with a coffee and started playing around with the stencil, positioning it in different ways and trying to picture what the final outcome would look like.

‘Are you getting a tattoo?’ It was as I sat there that one of the waiters approached me and it turned out that not only was he a good friend of my would-be tattooist but he’d been tattooed by him as well. Unfortunately his body art was in a ‘private place’ so I couldn’t take a look at the handy work! But at least I’d got the recommendation I was looking for and he seemed to like my design too.

‘Right, I’m doing it!’ I got up and headed back to the tattoo place, comforted by the new recommendation. I was about four doors away from the shop and could feel the butterflies flying around my stomach when I suddenly had a tinge of uncertainty. I needed five more minutes to attempt some clear-headed thinking before taking the plunge and veered off into the nearest shop.

I was blindly flicking through the clothes on the sale rail whilst racking my brains for any reason not to do this and when I couldn’t think of any I decided to ask for one more opinion. I walked up to the young sales assistant and asked her if she knew anything about the tattoo shop a few doors down. ‘Oh yeah, It’s great. Where are you getting it done?’ I pointed to just below my wrist. ‘Are you getting a feather?’ How the hell did she know that? Was she a psychic? I asked her as much and it turned out that she’d been talking to my would-be artist when he got called in to draw my tattoo. What’s more, it turned out that as well as the waiter I’d spoken to earlier, she also had a tattoo by this same artist. It really is a small world!

Hers was on her neck so this time I was able to see it and it was nicely done. So that was it, I was finally convinced. It was as she helped me finalize where on my arm I should get it done that a familiar face popped around the door to say hi to the sales girl. It took a few seconds for us to recognize each other before we clicked ‘Hey, haven’t you got it done yet?!’  It was the waiter from the café I’d just been in.

That was enough coincidences for one day, I needed to get it done. So I went in, told the artist the whole story and sat back while he got to work. The tattoo turned out exactly how I wanted and actually, the size was perfect too. So I’m now the happy owner of a tattoo that was encouraged by what I’d call a small world on a Long Street!


The Seoul Street Food Challenge

If you had some time to kill before catching a long flight out of Korea there is probably one thing you wouldn’t do – test the strength of your stomach by sampling an array of questionable street foods in Seoul.

Well, we did just that and it wasn’t simply the moment of eating that worried me, it was the hours afterwards, stuck on a plane dealing with the potentially volatile repercussions, that had me questioning every mouthful.

Just to put things into context, I had just finished working on a TV shoot in Korea and had the best part of five hours to explore Seoul before flying home. Joining me were two of my fellow crew mates Dave (cameraman) and Tom (editor). Now, as is the nature of many a TV team there are lots of dares, pranks and general laughs to be had and today was no exception.

I had originally envisaged a slow exploration of this popular city and had briefly flicked through a guidebook to see what we could feasibly do in the time we had. However, the moment we arrived all my plans of visiting secret little tea houses and wandering around grandiose palaces went straight out the window, to be replaced by “right guys there’s one rule, whatever one of us eats we all have to eat!” Thus the Street Food Challenge was born.

Before the eating began I did get to do some wandering around first and indulged in a little bit of urban photography before heading for the food stalls. One thing I will say is that Seoul offers up plenty of great photo opportunities, whether you’re a seasoned professional or an amateur like me who just wants a bit of practice.


It was actually down this very alley (pictured above) that we encountered our first test – bbq’d fish. I’ll be honest, despite the flies buzzing around, it seemed like a fairly safe choice and it actually looked pretty good so I was all for it.


We took the fish away, got stuck in and as expected it tasted great, if a little too salty. But when I was presented with a clutch of tiny yellow fish eggs fresh I felt my first pang of doubt, not about the food but about myself; I knew fish eggs were the norm back home in England so I wasn’t too fussed about that, but I’ve always hated the idea of eating fish eggs, it’s just one of those things that gets me. However I was determined not to let the side down – being the only girl I felt it necessary to finish above if not equal to the guys.  So I closed my eyes and ate the little yellow cluster trying my hardest not to think about the millions of eggs I was about to swallow.

On reflection that was most definitely the warm up act because the next thing I knew Tom and Dave were sticking their tooth picks into the fish’s eyeballs.  A mere trace of hesitation and they crunched them down, job done. My turn. Now I don’t know if they’ll debate this but I clearly drew the short straw, as the eyeballs they had just eaten were not whole and had been burnt away slightly by the flames. My eyeball, however, was whole and fully intact; which Dave had great pleasure in informing me as he plucked it from the socket. After some understandable deliberation I crunched it down – and it really did crunch.

Next up was some battered food, which looked a little more appetizing if only because it concealed whatever lay within.


As it happened the most daring ingredient was squid, which I could handle with no problem. Actually it was delicious, as was the battered vegetable option – I’d gotten off lightly this time.

It was at this point that there was talk of dodgy stomachs and cruder things that I won’t write about here and it had me seriously worried. The other two were complaining of worrying symptoms and kindly reminded me that if they felt this bad a meager hour on from our first fishy meal, then it didn’t bode well. How would we survive the long flight that loomed in the not too distant future? That was when my own stomach began to gurgle and I started to panic.

Little did I know that actually they felt fine and were trying to wind me up. Well, it worked a treat and I can now testify to the power of the mind, phantom illnesses, placebos and such like because the moment they started to complain I needed the loo and fast.

After power walking down the street and literally risking death as we darted across a very busy road, barely dodging the many cars and motorbikes as we went, we thankfully found a loo. But to my utter relief it seemed to be a false alarm. So, we pressed on with our courageous hunt for ‘interesting’ food but not before stopping to do a bit of souvenir shopping.

Actually we decided that we should have a sit down meal next (as if we actually needed to eat anymore) and treated ourselves to some more conventional fare – noodles, tea and Kimchi – a dish of fermented Korean vegetables which actually tasted quite nice.


Our final test on the food circuit, after deciding to avoid seeking out dog meat, was probably the climax of our challenge. Faced with a giant wok full of ‘Beondei’ – the pupa of silkworm (before they turn from caterpillar to moth), I was sure that this would be my downfall.


(Photo from ‘Orthogonal Thought’)

They smelt disgusting. I mean really bad. They didn’t look much better either but they were dead which was a plus I suppose.  Anyway, as they had done thus far, Tom and Dave wasted no time in getting their teeth into these little delicacies. But I’ll happily tell you that their faces were a picture as they grimaced and winced before swallowing the bugs down.

I was much less macho about the whole thing and it took me a good while to get the courage to even hold the toothpick upon which sat an impaled Beondei. It took me a few attempts to actually get the thing into my mouth as the moment it touched my tongue I’d pull it away again – I just couldn’t bring myself to do it. Eventually though, and with a small crowd gathering, I did it but then I had to actually crunch it…

I fully prepared myself for a taste as foul as the smell had been but (and I can’t believe I’m saying this) it actually tasted ok, a bit like a chestnut! So after a huge build up and lots of hype I actually managed it with a smile, Ha!

That smile continued as I arrived at the airport several hours later with a happy and dare I say it contented stomach. But it disappeared promptly after when I realized my debit card had been blocked, I had no phone signal and no cash…but that’s a story for another time!


Chumming (23/05/12)

Today consisted mainly of tuna heads, anchovy oil and fish guts. The reason being that today I was on chumming duty and despite my initial reservations about handling fishy remains all day, I actually really enjoyed it.

My job entailed standing at the back of the boat, balancing precariously on a platform that led straight to the sea below me. Armed with a spade and a bucket I started mashing up tuna heads, sea water and anchovy oil and proceeded to scoop up the potent mixture and throw it off the back of the boat to leave a fishy trail that would hopefully attract plenty of sharks to the boat.

The best thing about chumming is that you get to hover right over the sea, getting the best view of any sharks as they pass by, directly below you. There’s also the added thrill of knowing that at any moment a shark could pop up right at your feet to say hello and with the sea being so choppy there was also the thrill of trying not to fall in as the boat swayed violently from side to side! I was also in prime position for shark spotting and would shout “Shark” whenever one swam past to alert the cage divers.

Because the sea was so choppy I got absolutely soaked as we motored back to land and the trip home saw most people with their heads over the side, getting big hits of sea water to the face as they dealt with their sea sickness.

Once we were ashore we were told that a baby Bryde’s Whale had been found washed up dead on a nearby beach. A team of biologists had brought it back to dissect and we were lucky enough to be able to watch. The whale was placed on a table outside and analyzed as it was slowly dissected. It was amazing to see the intricacies of a whales’ insides but the smell was quite off putting. We watched for about half an hour before heading back for much needed hot showers – I still stank of tuna heads.


Return To The Cage! (22/05/12)

After a record four days stuck on land, we were all itching to get back out to sea and today was the day that our prayers were answered. We were up at 5.45 and watched the sun come up as we prepared the boat.


When we got out on the water we could see that the conditions were perfect: the sun was shining, the sea was calm and the visibility was great.

We were running two trips today so there was a good chance that us volunteers would be given a lot of diving time. The first trip saw a few of our guests turn very sea sick and they retreated from the cage to spend most of the trip in the cabin, which subsequently meant that Amy and I spent most our time taking their place in the cage.

Within a few minutes we had a small 2.5 meter shark circling us and as we dived down to get a better look we saw it bump into another much bigger shark that was swimming just below us, it must have been about 3.5 meters. They stayed with us for a long time, often going for the bait and swimming right up to us to have a closer look…I’ll always remember the moment that I was close enough to meet the eyes of a Great White dead on and hold it’s gaze for a few seconds before it glided past me, disappearing into the murky depths.

It was after Amy and I had just seen the two sharks together – the smaller one and it’s 3.5 meter co star that we came up for air gasping and exclaiming at our luck. However just as we surfaced a massive tuna head swung through the air and narrowly missed Amy’s head – Mandela, one of the crew members, was resetting the bait line and in doing so timed it just right to meet us as we popped up.

Our shark sighting must have been special because even a mouthful of tuna juice couldn’t wipe the smile off of Amy’s face, in fact the whole thing was so hilarious that the next few dives saw us coming up for air early because we were laughing so much.


During the next dive we let the other volunteers go in first but were able to follow after. The sharks were very inquisitive and more aggressive than the previous trip. Unfortunately my underwater camera was having issues, so I missed out on some golden photo opportunities but made up for it back on the boat.



As we passed the seals on Geyser Rock and headed back to land a few Southern Arctic Skewers dropped by to feast on some of our leftovers, giving our clients one last sight to see.


Danger Point (21/05/12)

This was to be our fourth ‘no sea day’ in a row, which is apparently quite an unusual occurrence and we were all desperate to get outside and do something active.

Luckily it was a beautiful day and the sun was shining for us, so we were straight outside and sunbathing for the first part of the morning. We were told that although the weather was perfect, the sea was still too rough and that tomorrow we could finally head back out to see the sharks.

So as we were sat outside in our bikinis, gossiping and savouring the sunshine, we were pretty surprised and extremely embarrassed when a massive group of volunteers and guests from another project sauntered past us. We hid behind our books and sunglasses as they heckled ‘how are you doing ladies? How’s the tan coming along?’

Apparently they felt they could get away with a day at sea and we were pretty jealous of them. So we agreed to make the day count and do something other than sunbathing – we decided to walk to the lighthouse at ‘Danger Point’.


Knowing it was quite a walk and over some rocky terrain too, I don’t know why Robyn and I decided to wear flip-flops for the walk but I can tell you that 8 miles and two and a half hours later, we were definitely regretting it.

Anyway we’d made it to the lighthouse and could only just make out the harbor that we’d started from. The walk itself took us along the coastline and gave us some great views, which only got better as we approached the lighthouse at Danger Point.


We climbed the ninety steps up to the top and looked out to sea, we only spent a short time up the lighthouse as it felt like a sauna in there. We stopped at the HMS Birkenhead memorial that marked the bravery of the sailors and soldiers who’d rescued all women and children aboard the ship when it sank on 26th February 1852.


After a little rest, during which we were getting a little unwanted attention from a group of guys, we gathered our things and started to head back. But as we were leaving we noticed a truck pulling out and leaving too. For some reason and I don’t really know what that reason was, myself, Robyn and Ashlie decided it would be fun to try and hitchhike – admittedly forgetting the many warnings we’d all been given from friends and family when we’d headed to South Africa.

It was as the truck pulled up that I realized we were trying to hitch a ride from the very same guys who’d been eyeing us earlier. Now, normally I’m all for taking a few risks in the name of adventure and if you’ve been reading my posts you’ll know that that’s usually what I do, but this time it felt all wrong.

I knew that this was a stupid idea, whether these guys were harmless or not it just wasn’t worth the risk and as fun as it might be to ride in the open back of a truck, it would be better to stay safe on this occasion.

We told them we decided to stay with our other friends who wanted to walk and not to worry. They hovered for a while and then drove off. That was when it really dawned on us what sort of trouble we could have gotten ourselves into and how three ‘touristy’ girls, hitchhiking in South Africa probably wasn’t the best idea.

Well anyway, we’d avoided any drama and had the blistered feet to prove it as we hobbled all the way back to our base and headed to the Great White House Restaurant for milkshakes, relieved that the only danger visited was Danger Point itself.


A Beach Ride And Coastal Walk (20/05/12)

Today was beach riding day and I was ready to be reunited with my steed having met him already the day before and having been warned that he can be quite a handful.

I had specifically asked to ride Harry the horse after seeing him yesterday and finding him very cute. I also quite liked that he’d be a challenge, as often with these trail rides the horses can be very calm and you just have to sit there doing not a lot.

As we arrived I saw that Harry was all tacked up and ready to go, as were the other two horses for my friends Sandra and Amy. This was confirmation that even if I’d wanted to, there was no going back on my choice of ride. I received another caution from our leader as he told me that he doesn’t usually let people ride Harry because he can be quite naughty but he trusts that I can handle him.  This put a flicker of doubt in my mind but I’d made my bed and now I must lie in it!

We all asked to wear riding hats (which we were surprised to find were optional) and set off. Harry was a little sprightly but he seemed fine to me as we trekked through a wooded trail that smelt a little of fresh pine. I was really enjoying the ride and wondered what all the fuss was about when our leader turned around and told me that the horses get very excited when they reach the beach. Ah, ok so this was where the fun would start.

Before we got to the beach we, or rather the horses, waded through a stream which was dotted with all sorts of unusual looking birds. I could feel Harry’s excitement as he quickened pace and insisted on jogging from this point on, desperate to break into a trot.

As we turned the corner we were confronted with a long stretch of beach and it looked extremely inviting – I was desperate to have a canter and I think Harry was up for it too. The moment his hooves hit the sand he was shaking his head and wanting to go for it.


I had managed to get a feel for Harry on the lead up to the beach and had gathered that despite his highly-strung behavior, he was actually very responsive. He listened to me as I told him to calm down and paid attention to my signals as I pulled on the reigns gently.

One of my friends was a complete beginner so I had assumed that a canter would be out of the question. It turned out that the leader would stay with my friend and that Sandra and I were free to go on ahead. We didn’t need telling twice and took off along the dunes. It was exhilarating to race on the sand and I felt perfectly safe – I checked at the reigns every so often to make sure I still had control!

The ride was exactly what we all needed; a good hour of fresh sea air, some exercise and a bit of adrenaline that we’d been craving since our last day at sea.


Once we got back to base we walked along the coast looking for shells and taking in the view, I also took the chance to get some good shots of our surroundings too.



We walked for a long time before we reached a private stretch of land that looked deadly to trespass onto and which prompted us to turn back.  It was a shame we hadn’t been able to see any sharks today but the beach ride was a worthwhile replacement and this was the first time we’d walked the coastline since arriving in Gansbaai.


Cabin Fever (19/05/12)

Yesterday the weather conditions meant that the sea was too rough for us to venture out and today was no different. The rain was lashing down and you could see the waves crashing around by the harbor.

We’d planned to go horse riding today as an alternative but as the mini bus dropped us off and we headed towards the stables we were met by the man who was in charge and he didn’t look too happy about going out today.

“You really want to go out in this?!” after a while we all agreed that the forecast looked better tomorrow (although it was still going to be too rough at sea) so our ride could wait until then. We still had time to see the horses before our bus returned to collect us and I made friends with a brown and white horse called Harry.

When I asked which ones we’d be riding the man pointed out three docile looking creatures. I asked if I could ride Harry and he sighed and said if I was strong enough and experienced I could ride him – Harry looked so sweet and I could do with a challenge so I agreed, hoping that this wouldn’t come back to haunt me!

Back at base we spent the day watching DVD’s and talking with the marine biologist who was looking after us. By lunch time we were getting a little fidgety and decided to head to the shop to stock up on food for the next few nights (we take it in turns to cook for everyone each night).

By late afternoon we were skipping, post card writing, yoga’ing and basically doing whatever we could to keep ourselves occupied and by the evening I think we’d all gone a little bit crazy and everything seemed hilarious.

Tomorrow the weather is meant to be better and with the promise of a horse ride hopefully our cabin fever will be kept at bay.

A Land Based Birthday (18/05/12)

Today it was my birthday and although I was away from home, I was exactly where I wanted to be for it but sadly I wouldn’t be joining the sharks to celebrate.

There was to be no cage diving today as the conditions were still too rough, so a no sea day meant we were off to Cape Town. We didn’t really want to wander around outside in the rain, so we decided to go to the aquarium on the V&A Waterfront and have a look at some of the other creatures that we’d been sharing the Atlantic ocean with.

As we approached the first tank, Amy (one of our group of volunteers) burst out laughing, “Hey Gemma, they’ve got some of your friends here”. I walked over to take a look and recoiled in horror. There before me was a tank full of the dreaded eel-like hagfish – the ropey, wriggly thing that had joined us in the cage on our first day!


They were just as freaky as I remembered only this time I could find out more about them. After reading that these primitive looking creatures have no eyes and their deadliest weapon was an ability to produce a strong, sticky slime, I wasn’t quite as afraid but still pretty repulsed by them.

The next tank contained a much cuter fish, well, lots of cuter fish – tiny ‘Nemos’ or Clown Fish if you want to call them by their proper name.


After we’d seen penguins, sharks, rays and all sorts of other marine animals we bought some birthday ice cream and headed to a steak house for lunch. Having indulged in an American style greasy food fest we all had a sleepy two-hour drive back to Gansbaai.

Before we got back to our volunteer house we stocked up on cake and alcohol. What followed was a night of drinking games and subsequent gossiping and revelations which I think I’ll leave out of this post!

Rough Seas And Reckless Biking (17/05/12)

Today was definitely another thrilling day but for altogether different reasons. We started the day as usual but there was a slightly tense feeling in the air – the seas were rough and we were told to prepare ourselves for a bumpy boat ride.

It turns out that bumpy was an understatement and we weren’t ten minutes into our journey before we had our first seasick passenger. Actually by the time we’d anchored up, over half of our boat load of guests had their heads over the side and were rarely coming up for air.

Now, I’m not the best person when it comes to sick but I had to try and be strong for the clients, offering them towels and water whilst making sure nobody leant too far over the edge – we had already set up a bait line and didn’t need the human variety in the water too to draw in the sharks.

Eventually a Great White was spotted and we tentatively helped people into the cage, which was bobbing violently in the waves. Luckily every one of the clients had the chance to get into the cage before the crew deemed it too rough to continue. Us volunteers didn’t have a chance to go in but to be honest, seeing the result of people’s seasickness floating in the water, I was perfectly happy to stay on the boat.

I have to admit that as we were heading back to shore and people were jumping up from their seats and rushing to the side of the boat to vomit, I was secretly proud that I was able to deal with the rough conditions – you never know how your body will react so I was a little worried as people around me dropped like flies.

Once back on shore we learnt that one of the guests (who happened to suffer the most and was still vomiting back on land) happened to be a VIP guest who’d been sent on the trip as a gift to impress him. I think it probably had the opposite effect but at least he saw a shark.

Anyway, it was too rough for any more trips out to sea so we decided to try our hands at something else that would get our adrenaline pumping – quad biking. When I say quad biking, I’m talking extreme quad biking: rickety bridges that barley fit your tyres on, steep slopes, huge ditches and massive tree trunks to scramble over. All this and with only a five minute introduction to the bikes.


Initially I was quite nervous and stayed mostly in second gear but after I’d tackled a tiny and worryingly wobbly bridge with a massive drop either side I felt a little braver. The views were fantastic too.


However just as I was feeling more confident the next obstacle came into view – a ditch with a massive tree trunk hanging down over it, one that meant you had to duck as far down as possible as you were going down the dip – if you wanted to keep your head.

Our ‘instructor’ went first and I was next. I drove down the slope and ducked down low over my handle bars (terrified at this point if I’m honest) and my fear was justified. As I leant down my helmet wedged itself between the handle bars and the tree. My head was stuck. I braked immediately and couldn’t go any further, the claustrophobia set in and I couldn’t see how I was going to be able to free my head! I was seriously worried.

Our leader came back and attempted to pull me through but that would pull at my neck too much…he then managed to push me backwards out of my predicament but I was shaken by the experience. After a little debate about how best to overcome this obstacle, I leant to the side as low as humanly possible, closed my eyes and pressed the acceleration. I was literally picturing this as my last living moment as I went under and luckily was still picturing it as I came out the other side.

I had survived!!! Robyn also encountered the same issue, having to be pushed back too but also made it through the second time. With this drama behind me I felt much braver and by the end we were haring round bends in fifth gear and zooming over dips and hills. Apparently we were now qualified quad bikers (or so we were told) I’ll take that as long as I never encounter a ditch with a tree over it ever again!