Not only the first woman to dive in the High Arctic but also the first to dive the Amazon Rio Negro tributaries, avid technical diver and explorer Christine Dennison started her own company, Mad Dog Expeditions, in 1994. She is also an ROV pilot and camera operator.
The New Yorker is keenly involved in oceanographic and wildlife conservation issues, and gives regular lectures on the changes she sees firsthand in the wildest parts of the world. In addition to advising many non-profits related to these issues, Christine regularly mentors, lectures and motivates young people, especially women.
At 30 countries visited and counting, her motto is ‘travel sustains my sanity.’
You’ve written on physical preparation before a trip: ‘Training and conditioning specific to your needs is of major importance prior to any physical challenge. It is important not to stress, remain calm and stay focused on the big picture. At a certain point there is not much more one can do but put one foot in from of the other and GO.’
What other ways do you prepare for an adventure?
Training is essential prior to any expedition and I believe in both physical and mental preparedness is key to success. I live a healthy lifestyle even though I live in the middle of NYC. I walk 6-7 miles a day in Central Park with my rescue husky dog. I boost up with strength training for stamina at least 6 weeks prior to any expedition. I work core muscle groups, and have a trainer I have worked with for 10 years. I love cross training as it’s more interesting to me. Mentally I prepare through visualization techniques and breathing exercises. Its important to remain calm and not panic in stressful situations, which is not always easy to do for some when the body is fatigued and in either extreme hot or cold conditions.
What specific challenges do women face when travelling?
I believe it depends on locations and their inherent risk which can be of more consequence to women traveling alone or with other women. It is vital for women to be self-sufficient and aware and have a tool for protection, which can be a knife, gun or mace on your person.
What kind of safety training do you have? Have you taken a Hostile Environment Training course?
I have not taken any hostile or combat courses but I have survival skills from training and working in remote locations around the world. I have had the privilege of working on many expeditions (as the only woman) alongside military and former military colleagues who have taught me safety and self protection methods in the field.
What’s your favourite gear and why?
I travel with gear from Red Fox NA. The company makes outstanding extreme cold weather clothing and luggage that has gone to the North Pole with me and back.
Have you ever faced an ethical challenge in the course of your travels? How did you handle it?
I try to be very respectful of indigenous people’s traditions and culture but it has been difficult at times to see hunting of animals. In the High Arctic the Inuit hunt and use every part of the animal, which for me makes it easier to accept. I have tasted polar bear, seal, musk ox and a few others as a guest of Inuit families. I have also had turtle, capybara, caiman in the Amazon. I will say all are acquired tastes.
What keeps you exploring?
Curiosity and the excitement of seeing, learning and experiencing what is around the corner.
A common misconception about solo female travellers is…
I would say that there are many misconceptions that are slowly being shown to be untrue. There are people who think women can’t go it alone and need a man in the field…..which clearly is not true. There are also thoughts about the ‘types’ of women who are drawn to adventurous pursuits, i.e. masculine, not feminine, and it’s a bit unfair.
You are a technical dive master and an Arctic skier. What’s something every solo female traveller should take on the road?
This will probably sound very S&M, but: a leatherman, duct tape and something soft and soothing for the body and soul will work in getting you through many uncomfortable and difficult situations.
Got any advice for budding adventurers?
Go forth and conquer, but do your homework before heading out. There are so many incredible places, people and animals in the world to see and explore. I can’t stress enough the importance of knowing your limitations and being conservative in your first few forays into the unknown. Explorers have respect for the elements and patience.
You wrote recently: ‘I think young women need other women as role models to pave the way and introduce them to possibilities that may be viewed as only reserved for men.’ How have your mentors changed your life?
I have been very fortunate to have had independent, strong and kind women in my life, starting with my grandmother and my mom. They impressed upon me the importance of women supporting other women, being self sufficient and helpful to those who were in need. When I see a young woman with a genuine passion and interest working her hardest I am happy to help them as I can. I believe women understand the obstacles that exist for women and if we work together we can accomplish more as a collective on all levels. I don’t believe all women are happy to ‘pass the torch’ to other women, as many are competitive and protective of their positions in various areas of business, but I hope that this changes.
What projects are you working on?
I am writing a monthly column for Misadventures magazine about Exploring Women. I hope that the women I profile, my advice on adventure and ‘out of your comfort zone’ pursuits resonate with readers. I am an example of a woman who always wanted to do what I am doing but did not follow a direct path towards it. I worked hard and surrounded myself with the best people I could learn from. It’s all possible if you dare to go after your dreams.
Christine is currently working on several projects that include a book about adventure challenges for women, filming of sunken WW2 submarine gravesite and scuba diving under Antarctic ice shelf. She writes a monthly column, Exploring Women, for Misadventure Magazine and works with with Red Fox NA as a brand ambassador.
She has been awarded by the Brazilian Navy League their distinguished medal of honor for her work in research and discovery of two Brazilian Officers entombed on the WWII USS R-12 submarine, which lies in the Gulf of Mexico.