Three months since I wrote a blog post? Yikes. But here’s my excuse: I’m writing a book. It’s about the year we spent sailing the South Pacific in blissed-out freedom, and the year we spent transitioning back into responsible adults and new parents. Stay tuned.
Between book writing, child-chasing, and working our real jobs, Rob and I occasionally keep up with a few hobbies. These mostly include playing in the water and the dirt, but we also try to squeeze in time for taking photos and telling stories. Here are highlights of recent articles:
As for playing, spring is in full swing, full of wildflowers and sun that beckon us outside. Last month, we reconnected with my family at a memorial service for my grandmother in Capistrano Beach. Highlights included building a fire pit in the sand, taking Talon out for his first ocean sail, and watching him turn into a monster over Easter chocolate.
Back in Montana, we loaded him in a canoe for a float down the Swan River. Sadly, boats are still second to buses in our son’s list of favorites, but he’s quickly learning the ropes on all sorts of watercraft. And Talon’s already got the whole throwing rocks in the water routine down pat.
Scroll down for a photo montage of our recent adventures. Happy Spring, friends!
Traveling without internet is a recipe for one happy family.
Yesterday, a friend hugged me and said, “You look well-rested, Bri.”
I almost jumped with glee. “That’s the best compliment I’ve gotten in years!”
Because you know what well-rested means? Sanity. It means I don’t look like a cat dragged through the gutter after waking up every few hours to soothe a crying baby. And it means I don’t feel like a hummingbird dipping ever-so-briefly from one person, job, chore, event directly to the next.
The secret to my success at resting? Vacation. Actually, several of them. We were lucky enough to close out 2015 with a suite of trips, hitting the adventure trail with a vengeance during the holiday season. All told, we spent more than 3 of the past 5 weeks in a cabin, cabana, or tent. Most of those trips did not include wifi, a laptop, or even cell service, and all of them fell during the darkest days of the year. We went to bed early and stayed there late, connecting to each other instead of screens.
First up, we drove to northern Oregon to meet friends for the week of Thanksgiving, hiking in the Wallowa Mountains, saying hi to the Columbia River, and playing sort-of-in-tune music. A few days after returning home, Talon and Cassidy and I flew to Puerto Vallarta to explore a couple of remote villages in the southern stretch of Banderas Bay while Rob went on a fishing trip in the Everglades with old friends. And a week after that, we flew to Las Vegas, rented a car, and spent a week camping in Death Valley National Park with Mark and Katie.
As most parents know, traveling with a kiddo–especially an energetic, irrational toddler–isn’t exactly restful in and of itself. Just the opposite, in fact. We schlepped suitcases and sleeping bags, backpacks and carseats through jungles, deserts, oceans, and mountains. We endured way-below-freezing temperatures in a drafty tent, muddy river crossings after tropical rains washed out bridges, and shitty winter driving conditions over several mountain passes.
We consoled Talon when he woke up (often) in the middle of the night, uncomfortable because 10 people were crammed into a noisy cabin, mosquitoes were biting his head in Mexico, or an icy wind was howling across the desert.
But in the end, the challenges of navigating new places brought us closer as a family. It was well worth the work to watch Talon’s eyes light up at the sight of the sea, to hear his squeals of delight at the birds flying overhead, and to see his pride in climbing a sand dune all alone.
Moving beyond our daily Missoula routine gave me the space to breathe more deeply, and to focus inward long enough to rest easily while awake and asleep. I finally feel like my head and my heart are back in the same groove. Now, the trick is keeping them humming along in unified tempo back in the world of internet and errands. I’ll know I succeed if more people give me that ultimate compliment: that I look well-rested.
How’s that for a New Year’s Resolution? Happy 2016, friends!
This story by Rob about our sailing trip was published in Anglers Journal this fall.
“Have you seen this fish?” I asked a young boy passing by on the rutted dirt road. My French was awkward and halting — I hadn’t used it in nearly a decade — but I took a guess and called it poisson-oisseux. As I showed him a small drwaing I had made with pencil and crayon, a gang of curious schoolkids on rusty pedal bikes quckly enveloped me. Apparently, tall, skinny white guys were an uncommon sight on Kauehi, a lazy tropical island in the Tuamotu Archipelago.
It was a crude picture of a bonefish, but I had no other means of gaining some local knowledge. No guides lived in the vicinity, and finding a tackle shop was out of the question. The kids fought over the drawing and exchanged perplexed murmurs until one of them exclaimed, “Oh, kio kio!” Jackpot.
They pointed toward a small footpath and led the way as we snaked past barking dogs and overladen coconut trees. Finally, we arrived at an endless white flat dotted with turquoise pockets of deeper water. I smiled and started rigging my fly rod — I had traveled thousands of miles by sailboat to get here, and I wasn’t going to waste a moment.
For years, I had longed to be part of the motley band of adventurers, dreamers and vagabonds who visited the South Pacific, from Capt. Cook to Gauguin. Sure, I wanted to cast from deserted white-sand beaches and enjoy the occasional cocktail over a sunset vista, but I had ambitions of more than just a one-off vacation. I was 37 and wanted to live by tidal shift and watch the rhythms of the sea unravel slowly, the way a river reveals its secrets to those who carefully cultivate it season by season. Read the rest of the story as a PDF.
Last Monday, my friend Gillian Kessler played a cover of John Mayer singing Free Fallin’ during her evening dance class. She dedicated it to me. Naturally, I started crying.
I bet you would have, too, especially if Gillian had just led you through an hour of movement-based soul-searching centered around the theme “rebel.” For me, I feel most free when I’m a little–or a lot–rebellious. As John Mayer caressed several octaves, I cried because I realized that I’d lost my inner rebel. You know the one: the little voice that tells you to take risks, laugh louder, dance bigger, show the world you don’t give a shit. The one that tells you the occasional free-fall is as vital as breath. The one that tells you to live your truth.
My inner rebel disappeared when we returned from our adventures overseas. I want her back. This week, I got to work figuring out how to be a rebel again.
STEP 1: Remember when I felt most free.
That’s easy: when I first moved to Missoula. I was cartwheeling in happy mental circles, giggly with glee at the world. I was 22. I belonged to only me. I could free-fall wherever and whenever I wanted to. Where’d the giggles go? They got slowly buried in layers of responsibility and connection as adulthood progressed. We start to promise pieces of ourselves to lovers, friends, siblings, parents, children. I now belong to so many others that I no longer belong to myself.
STEP 2: Go camp alone for 24 hours.
Alone time is the panacea that soothes my soul. But I haven’t had 24 hours alone in 14 months, which is likely why my inner rebel is buried. To uncover her, I spent a night camping on the Blackfoot River. The golden leaves and flowing water lulled me into a long sleep–13 hours!–that illustrated why it’s tough to be rebellious when you’re massively sleep deprived. The next morning, I started to find the path back to freedom by making a new, improved vision board for my life.
STEP 3: Just say no to ‘spirit suck.’
It’s time to take back some of those pieces of me I’ve parsed out lately, namely to commitments that don’t feed my inner rebel. I rarely say no. It’s because I suffer from FOMO–the clinical term for the ‘fear of missing out’. But I’ve started to cut out anything that doesn’t make me smile (even if it’s just a little, bitty smile down deep). This is hardest to do with work-related commitments, as the temptation of more money can be the ultimate spirit suck.
STEP 4: Say yes to what gives me energy.
Dancing. Yoga. Staring into Talon’s eyes and kissing his toes. Walking alone on trails. Cooking dinner with Rob. Those are the easy ones to pinpoint. As for work, I’ve realized that my passion is telling stories. It’s easy to figure out from there which contracts will allow me to write compelling stories and which won’t.
STEP 5: Give myself permission to take time–and risks.
Here’s the crux of what my inner rebel wants: a book. I want to write my own book, full of my own stories. And that’s a huge risk, both emotionally–can I actually just dothat?–and financially, since writing a book may never provide money for me or my family. But I’ve given myself permission to try. Steps 1-4 will hopefully give me the time and motivation to take the risk. Meanwhile, I’m pretty excited to practice free-falling again–even if it’s a short, sweet fall into my own bed or into my baby’s eyes.
It’s a lifelong journey to cultivate my inner rebel. I got off-trail there for a bit, but luckily Gillian and John Mayer came to the rescue and helped get me back on course toward finding my truest self.
Last Wednesday, I eased a stand-up paddleboard down the Clark Fork River through an eerily smoke-filled Missoula with a group of new and old friends. We had the river to ourselves, paddling our craft beneath a blood red sun. We weren’t about to let the dense wildfire smoke deter us from enjoying the inaugural adventure of a wedding weekend extravaganza.
This was the float where Kevin Colburn coined the term “vacational whimsy,” an apt description for fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants holiday planning. Vacational whimsy isn’t for the faint of heart. Rather than rainbows and gumdrops, unplanned adventures can lead to rainstorms and gum in your hair.
But, sometimes, letting whimsy direct your downtime allows the stars to align into an unexpectedly magical mix of people and energy. That’s why it’s addicting.
Last weekend, the stars aligned. The Montanabama Wedding brought together dozens of people who all felt inclined to trust the whimsy. It led us into long breakfasts, late nights at the campground, costume-fueled dance parties, skinny-dipping off sailboats, and inventing the new sport of SUP-tooning (surfing an inflatable stand-up paddleboard behind a pontoon boat).
The latter was definitely a highlight. We laughed at ourselves for getting thrill rides out of slow craft while wakeboarders flew past us towed by jet boats. (“It’s kind of like snowboarding without edges,” said one friend, watching his wife try to turn the SUP. “And boating without edges, too!” replied the pontoon driver struggling to turn.)
Our vacational whimsy worked because of the combination of personalities, the access to interesting recreation, and the beautiful location on Flathead Lake (which we remembered was beautiful after the smoke cleared on Saturday night). It also worked because we stumbled upon the perfect adult:baby ratio for Rob and I to fully participate in all events–14:1.
Yes, it’s true. It took more than a dozen adults to corral Talon from trotting into the lake or throwing pint glasses onto concrete. Even with the superb supervision, he still got two bloody noses and demolished a glass vase. Plus, with so many helping hands, Talon was able to have way more adventures of his own. In a mere 72 hours, our 1 year-old rode in more watercraft than many people board in a lifetime: sailboat, packraft, SUP, pontoon boat, and canoe.
We couldn’t have planned the easy flow of last weekend if we tried. Partly, this is because you can’t plan for magic. And partly it’s because planning is definitely not our strong suit. For instance, it’s currently 1:00 p.m. and Rob and I still haven’t decided if we’re driving 9 hours to Bellingham today to spend the long weekend with our friends at Controlled Jibe.
We’re waiting for vacational whimsy to guide us. I’m ready to trust that whimsy when it hits.
“You sure have a high misery tolerance,” my friend Linsey remarks cheerfully, as she passes us on the trail. I gaze after her wistfully, coveting her easy pace as Talon screams and writhes in the pack on my back.
It’s a Friday evening in mid-July, and we’re hiking straight up the Swan Mountains to camp near some backcountry lakes for the weekend. Even though it’s mid-July, the temperature is plummeting toward freezing, and the threatening grey clouds and howling wind aren’t helping my frame of mind. Quite possibly nothing would help my frame of mind, though, since bringing a baby on a backpacking trip does indeed entail a certain level of misery.
Every time Rob and I start down a trail–with Talon on my back, and 50 pounds of camping gear on his–I vow within five minutes to never do it again. Somehow, we do it the next weekend anyway. Are we gluttons for punishment? Obviously.
We stubbornly refuse to acknowledge that our lives might not be as adventurous as before. But the real reason we keep hiting the trails, misery and all, is because by the end of the weekend in the woods, we’re both glad we got out in the wilderness.
Backpacking with a baby is hard. First there’s the whining, and kicking, and hair-pulling. Then there’s the poopy diapers–do you haul the dirty ones out? Use cloth diapers and bury the poo? (It’s a lose-lose situation either way.) Once you get to camp, it’s only slightly easier. You have to manage the wee babe for sunburn and bugs, and constantly corral him from crawling off boulders or tottering into the cook stove.
The hardest part, though, is actually the non-stop, nagging voice in my head: “This used to be fun. What if backpacking is never fun again? What if life is never fun again?” Single-track trail often breeds existential crisis–or at least walking alone for long periods adds fuel to the fire. I find, though, that if I walk for long enough, my footsteps eventually: 1) rock Talon to sleep, and 2) bring my thoughts (now influenced by the peaceful quiet of a sleeping baby) full circle to: “Life is awesome, and backpacking is the bomb.”
This cycle of misery and joy repeats more often, and with bigger peaks and valleys, than a typical day at home. Playing in the tent with a giggling baby is exhilarating; taking the 87th rock out of Talon’s mouth is exhausting. Catching a trout in the lake is a triumph; trying to cook it while Talon tips toward the flames is terrifying.
We’ve taken three backpacking trips with Talon this summer to three different mountain ranges in Montana. All in all, the impetus for our continued expeditions boils down to the fact that we love immersing ourselves in the wilderness, and enjoy introducing Talon to the magic of lakes, peaks, and trails, too.
Here’s why I think it’s worth packing a baby into the woods:
1. You’ll have stories to tell. Regale your friends and family with exaggerated tales of your exploits and mis-adventures in the woods: “And then Talon took a header down the talus field toward the lake! But we caught him before that hawk swooped down to try and grab him.” They’ll think you’re insane, of course, but that’s half the fun.
2. Car camping becomes a walk in the park. Pitching a tent without having to carry it and your kid uphill several miles feels liberating. Plus, you can bring beer, games, and a big roomy tent instead of the two-man-that’s-really-a-one-man setup (which puts new meaning into the word “snuggle”).
3. It makes your home seem like a dream come true. Returning to the house lends a new appreciation for luxuries like running water, cribs, chairs, and countertops above your baby’s reach. The rooms that might have felt claustrophobic all week before your trip suddenly seem like lovely, comfy, safe zones for you and babe.
4. You get alone time surrounded by beauty. Once the baby falls asleep on your back (or switches to your partner’s back), the quiet reverberates ten-fold in the absence of his babble. The leaves look sharper, the air feels crisper, the peaks seem closer. You can breathe more deeply and think more clearly than ever before.
5. It builds endurance. Backpacking with a baby is a physical and mental strength-training exercise. Your muscle tone will improve, as will your reservoir of patience. As your tolerance for misery increases, so does your capacity for joy.
So, there you have it. Let me know how it goes if you brave the trail with a wee one on your back!
P.S. Stay tuned for my upcoming article in Backpacker for tips on taking a baby on outdoor adventures.
“Whoa, big fish,” my husband, Rob, exclaimed. We were halfway through an eight-day backpacking loop in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, and had stopped to rest. “Let’s see what they are.”
He skidded down to a cobble beach, whipped out a well-used snorkel and mask, and dove in naked. I followed more cautiously, and arrived just in time to hear, “It’s a school of rainbows!”
He tossed me the mask, and I dove in for my first-ever freshwater snorkel. I was immediately enveloped in a surreal, super-charged world. At least two dozen torpedo-shaped trout rushed around a glacier-green pool that seemed depthless. Asan avid angler, sailor, packrafter, and hiker-of-riverside-trails, I’m no stranger to watery exploits. But I’d always thought snorkeling went hand-in-hand with tropical islands in exotic locales. That first up-close encounter changed my tune—it was magical.
Snorkeling brought a new intimacy to my relationship with rivers and creeks that running rapids or matching the hatch never could. There’s the muffled silence, marred only by the slow gurgle of water tumbling over stone; the dull hiss of sediment scratching its way downstream; and the slanting rays of afternoon sun, bouncing off cobbles and fish scales that appear super-sized (thanks to the 33% magnification effect of wearing a mask underwater). Motion becomes your sixth sense, and your breath the metronome that anchors you in the current.
Now I’m not about to give up my other water hobbies anytime soon, but river snorkeling has become a welcome addition to my water-sport quiver. A quick dip with a mask can add character to a day hike or turn a raft into an exploratory platform, where I pretend I’m the Rocky Mountain incarnation of Jacques Cousteau. Rob and I are not alone in our love affair with snorkeling: it’s becoming a popular pasttime all across the West, partly because it’s an easy-access, few-skills-necessary sport that’s fun for the whole family.
In fact, “snorkeling” is a bit of a misnomer, as all you really need to become one with the fish is a pair of goggles and the ability to hold your breath. This is especially true when swimming in large, wide rivers like the Madison, which can top 70 degrees, making for a relaxing environment while you peer around boulders and investigate pocket eddies.
On the other hand, most of western Montana’s waterways are bone-chillingly cold, even on the most sweltering summer days. Snorkeling in high-mountain streams can take your breath away, as the water squeezes the air from your diaphragm with an icy punch. Wearing a wetsuit will extend your time in the water, but a drysuit is better at keeping the shiver-factor away.Regardless of whether your nude or fully neoprened, it’s wise to wear good river shoes and leave the fins at home, in case you’re stuck hopping a sudden logjam or traversing slippery boulders.
Our hometown waters offer a variety of snorkeling venues, from placid pools on meandering rivers, to rapids that up the ante and the adrenaline. Take “Fishman” Mike Kasic, a river swimmer and snorkeling aficionado who lives in Livingston and regularly looks beneath the Yellowstone for cutthroat trout. Kasic’s underwater whitewater runs through Yankee Jim Canyon were featured in this BBC-produced video. Inspiring stuff, although I plan to stick to Class I waters myself.
Pat Byorth, Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project director and previously a state fisheries biologist, agrees that the Yellowstone is a fun place to snorkel once spring runoff clears. He also recommends the upper Big Hole and the upper Madison, particularly above reaches with heavy boat traffic. If you can access them, spring creeks are prime spots for underwater viewing. According to Byorth, the best time to snorkel is between 10am and 2pm to maximize the most light penetration underwater. Summer is obviously the best season, but die-hards snorkel year-round.
Once you’re in the river, it’s all about patience and adjusting to a new perspective, like looking at one of those 3-D pictures that were popular in the ‘90s. Once your river-vision locks in, a whole new world comes alive. Stay in one spot, holding onto a rock or root and letting the river pass you by, or if the current is too strong and you feel like going with the flow, bob downstream watching fish dart out your path.
Regardless of your pace, the rivers in southwest Montana are full of life, from the 20-inch rainbows and cutthroats hanging in feeding lanes, to the gossamer caddis larvae, firmly ensconced in protective casings of sticks and stones.
Talon tells the tale of his first sailing expedition on Flathead Lake.
Last weekend, my parents took me in this big bathtub thingy with loud white sheets that flapped around, went up and down, and swung side to side. It was kinda like when they took me on the rubber thingy that moved down the river, but this time the water stayed still and we moved over it.
I got to throw things overboard a lot, which was extra fun because people kept diving in to get ’em back out. It was like when I throw bananas and blueberries outta the high chair only way better, ’cause the dive splashed me in the face every time. Usually, someone said an interesting curse word before they splashed into the water, too.
Mom was super excited about the white sheets, and Dad kept complaining that “lake sailboats don’t have autopilot.” I hung out in the backpack while they played with ropes. When we stopped moving, I got to play with the ropes, too. (It wasn’t as fun as throwing things overboard, though.)
Dad took me to the beach in a really tiny rubber thing so that we could throw rocks in the lake. I walked in all the way to my chest, even though my parents kept using curse words about how cold the water is. Adults are wimps.
At night, we went inside the bathtub thingy, and Mom slept next to me in this really cool bed that bounced all night long (I don’t know where Dad slept). I slept longer than ever before, since it was so peaceful with all that rocking and the water noises next to my head.
The next morning, I called my friends to tell them how fun big bathtubs are. It’s nice calling other babies, since adults never understand what I’m saying.
Poppa came up that afternoon to play with the ropes and white sheets, too, and Grandma held me while the bathtub tipped on its side in the wind. Everyone laughed when I peed over the side into the water.
I wonder what kind of weird contraption my parents will take me in next. Luckily, we always seem to go outside, where I get to watch trees and birds and creeks. Mostly, I try to sleep while we move. Sometimes, I focus on getting food all over the contraption, or pulling the hat off my head when Mom and Dad aren’t looking.
I sure hope we get to go in the big bathtub again, so I can do some more sleeping and throwing while we move over the still water. It was pretty fun. And my parents seemed really happy the whole weekend, too.
*Note from Mom: Huge THANKS to the owners and managers of s/v Spindrift for letting us feel the wind in the sails again. We appreciate the opportunity more than words can express. (Also, looks like vision boards work!)
*Note from Dad: I got a new toy! These photos are from the refurbished Nikon SLR I’m learning to use. (Again, it’s good to have goals.)
My sister recently landed on a glacier in a helicopter. Some of our friends see her pictures from adventures in the beautiful New Zealand wilderness and tell me: “She’s so lucky.” I smile and reply: “And damn determined, too.”
Cassidy didn’t just stumble upon a helicopter with an empty seat. She envisioned that remote glacier, that magical flight, that life-changing moment. And then she took the deliberate steps to make the vision a reality: quitting a secure job, leaving her comfort zone, traveling solo to a foreign country, seeking out ways to trade her expertise to make a living.
I’m proud of her. It takes guts to leap from a picture on her vision board to the actual moment in unfamiliar territory. And it’s a leap many people never risk. You know why? Because you don’t know how hard you’ll land when your sooo-much-fun, mid-air, arms-outstretched, anything-is-possible leap is over.
Rob and I made a similar leap. We hit lifetime highs while hovering effortlessly in the nether-world of traveling. It took quite a while to dust off the dirt from our clumsy plop back to reality last year. But now that we have…it’s time to start a new vision board! (Or at least a metaphoric board, since I barely have time to shower these days, much less clip magazine articles to make a real one).
Here’s the secret: manifesting your dreams takes work. It’s worth it, though, because life is more fun when you have grand plans, even if those plans don’t make it off the board. We’re ready to start the work again. During our recent road trip to river raft and explore the coast in Oregon, Rob and I put forward some pictures that embody a few dreams for the future:
A sailboat: starting to feel a bit suffocated without any wind in our nonexistent sails.
Books: to read (ha!) and to write.
One big backpack: I still cringe at the stuff in our house, and long for lightweight living.
Ocean: hoping to boat-sit or house-sit/swap near the sea for a few weeks each winter. Any takers?
A clock: to make the most of many moments.
Rivers: so many more to float and fish.
A vintage motorcycle: because Rob needs a new project and death-defying hobby.
Cash: piles of it, so we can retire early.
Peaks: to physically climb, and to aspire to emotionally, too.
A camera: ready to ramp up the photography skills to augment the writing dreams.
Pillows: because we both need a LOT more sleep post-infant before putting big plans in place.
Smiling faces: including us, family, friends, and strangers, since people are our axis of awesome.
You’ll notice I didn’t add “helicopter” or “glacier” to the metaphoric vision board list. That’s because I’ll leave manifesting snow-related adventures to Cassidy. Sure, I’d land on a glacier … but only if I stumbled on an empty seat.