My sister, Cassidy, high on life after a helicopter flight to a glacier on New Zealand's South Island.

Sure, I’d land on a glacier.

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Reflections on Life

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.

rob roberts paragliding over missoula valley

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).

talon is swing

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.

talon walking into the creekrob and talon on the carousel in missoula

steve randall and talon roberts at rattlesnake creek

My sister, Cassidy, high on life after a helicopter flight to a glacier on New Zealand's South Island.
My sister, Cassidy, high on life after a helicopter flight to a glacier on New Zealand’s South Island:

A Distant Match on a Remote Island

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture, Traveling

This story about our visit to the remote atoll of Palmerston in the Cook Islands — and the unexpected volleyball match we joined — appeared in Islands Magazine.  As one of the most beautiful and unique anchorages during our sailing voyage across the South Pacific, Palmerston is definitely high on our “let’s go back someday” list.

Click here to read the story.

Click here to read our past blog post on Palmerston.

rob roberts - volleyball magazine - on the horizon line travel blog


Steve Randall, John Castle, Bob Randall, and Brian Pike showing off their "raft" before launching on the Colorado River.

Just Like Huck Finn

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Outdoor Adventures

When my dad was 17, he floated 60 miles of the Colorado River on a ping-pong table.  Along with two friends, he set off like Huck Finn into the wilderness to see what might happen.  Luckily, they tested their “raft” in the neighbors pool before setting off.  The suburban backyard didn’t have the desert winds or rapids that quickly poo-pooed their primitive rudder system, but the contraption did indeed float.  Somehow.

Steve Randall, John Castle, Bob Randall, and Brian Pike showing off their "raft" before launching on the Colorado River.
Steve Randall, John Castle, Bob Randall, and Brian Pike showing off their “raft” before launching on the Colorado River.

Fast-forward 45 years to a smaller river in Oregon, where Rob and I loaded his grandson onto a real raft for a 5-day, 70-mile float.  Even though I’ve been on dozens of river trips, rafting with a 9-month-old felt a lot like getting on a rickety ping-pong table strapped to some inner tubes: precarious.  I wasn’t scared of the Class III/IV rapid we’d cross on the John Day River.  I wasn’t scared of wildlife or weather events.  I wasn’t even scared that Talon might fall in the river.  I was terrified, however, that Mr. Wiggly-Crawly-Has-To-Stand-And-Move would scream bloody murder about being trapped in a small space.

Margi gets some time with little man while we rig the raft.
Margi gets some time with little man while we rig the raft.

Talon, like his grandfather, is an adventurer at heart.  But, unlike his grandfather, he required a LOT more gear to get down his first river.  My dad and his friends took a couple of lawn chairs to sit in, sleeping bags to huddle in, and a wooden chest bolted to the middle of the “raft” to hold food (and quite possibly beer).  Our party of roughly the same size filled a 14-foot boat to the gills.  To be fair, Talon’s gear accounted for one medium-sized dry bag.  Kipp, Rob and I, however, like having tables and guitars and comfy tents and binoculars and all sorts of other fun toys.  Plus, we brought along a 110-pound wolf/shepherd, too, which really impacted the Jenga-like raft packing system.

Just chillin' in the Alpaca packraft.
Just chillin’ in the Alpaca packraft.

Once we figured out how to rig the boat to contain the giant dog, tiny baby, three adults, and oddly-shaped gear, we were off.  Sort of.  Turns out that he John Day is awfully slow.  Low flows and up-canyon winds combined to push us backward instead of forward.  Uncle Kipper saved the day by rowing non-stop … for five days.  Meanwhile, Rob and I took turns corralling Talon in the bow, scouring the red riverside cliffs for new birds, and generally enjoying the pace of life on water.  (Thanks, Kipp.)

Talon’s highlights from his first river trip include:

  • watching a pair of peregrine falcons
  • playing with zippers in the tent
  • banging on a bucket
  • staring at riffles
  • eating rocks

His parents’ highlights from the John Day include:

  • mom sleeping in a separate tent to enjoy uninterrupted sleep
  • dad teaching Talon to give high-fives
  • not riding on a ping-pong table
  • good conversations
  • whiskey
Talon made sure that Kipp is rowing straight.
Talon made sure that Kipp rowed straight.

The rafting trip was such a success that we decided to try our luck at a second week.  We traded in the raft for the car and headed to the Oregon coast for an impromptu extended vacation — and my worst fear was realized.  The car seat always causes Talon to scream bloody murder.  Fortunately, he forgot the torture of the road as soon as we arrived at new shores, full of new rocks to taste and new waves worthy of his gaze.

Someone is as obsessed with tending the fire as his daddy.
Someone is as obsessed with tending the fire as his daddy.
Uncle Kipper serenading us before bedtime on the John Day River.
Uncle Kipper serenading us before bedtime on the John Day River.
brianna randall packrafting the siletz river
Bri enjoys a solo afternoon packrafting down the Siletz River.


talon and brianna randall on oregon coast - adventures in parenting
Bri and Talon enjoying the Oregon Coast.
talon playing in sand on oregon coast - adventures in parenting
Talon happy about eating sand near Newport, Oregon.
"Hey, did you guys know we're in the middle of this big river?"
“Hey, did you guys know we’re in the middle of this big river?”

Mahseer by Motorcycle: Dropping Bombs in Thailand

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Fishing, Traveling

This article by Rob about our motorcycle/fishing trip in Thailand last spring appeared in The Drake magazine.  Click here to see the story.

When I was a kid, I made my own fireworks out of cardboard, gunpowder, and a hefty amount of duct tape.  So when Bobby Kauktol told me that we’d be tossing cherry bombs at large mahseer on the River Yuam, I was feeling right at home.

Fishing hadn’t been a top priority on this trip to northern Thailand, as I carted my pregnant wife around 800 miles of serpentine roads on a rented Honda Phantom.  But one evening I spotted a small ad in the corner of our route map with the words “fly fishing” and a photo of a thirty-inch fish with large scales and a gummy mouth.  I asked my wife to saddle up.

Read the rest here.

Drake cover photo

Drake article pic

Birding, Baby: The New Extreme Sport

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Outdoor Adventures, Parenting

I bet you never thought birding was hard-core.  I didn’t really, either.  But then we added a baby to the mix, and Montana decided to sprinkle in some of its famous fickle weather to make our bird-watching missions more interesting.

I’ve always liked birds.  During college in San Diego, I chose to study the nesting behavior of terns down at the estuary near Ocean Beach as my senior project.  It wasn’t much of a hardship to bike to the beach and sit around watching birds dive and swoop against a bluebird sky.  Then I moved to Montana, and lost track of my birding motivation when the shorebirds and waves were replaced with hard-to-spot, tree-dwelling passerines and cold air.

Enter Rob.  He loves counting the songbirds off our back porch, or carting out his scope to find raptors along rivers.  I started to excited about feathered flocks again, especially during the spring migration when birds seem to appear out of thin air after their tropical adventures to the south.

Birding in Choteau with hurricane-force gusts
Birding in Choteau with hurricane-force gusts of wind.


During our sailing trip last year, both Rob and I met a whole new host of birds, using them to gauge our distance from land during passages, and as a way to become familiar with each new island.  We even had a pet Christmas shearwater aboard for a few days somewhere south of the Equator and west of the Galapagos–it got confused during a squall, and hunkered down in the cockpit of Llyr to recover.

Now, birding seems like the perfect way to get outside for mini-adventures with an 8-month-old … especially when the baby in question is fortuitously named “Talon.”  First stop: Freezeout Lake along the Rocky Mountain Front, home of a massive migration of waterfowl each March.  We braved 50 mph gusts of wind and ominous (but gorgeous) skies to watch 8,000 snow geese rise off the lake.  Talon slept through it.

Rob and Bri bundled up to watch sage grouse go 'bloop.'
Rob and Bri bundled up to watch sage grouse go ‘bloop.’

Next stop in April: Bannack Ghost Town to camp and watch Greater sage-grouse strut in search of mates.  It dropped to 20 degrees F and snowed covered our little tent before we could even finish dinner.  After bundling up in parkas, hats, gloves, insulated boots, and downing thermos of coffee, we trundled to the lek before dawn and watched the male grouse dance up a storm for the uninterested hens.  Talon slept through it all.

In California, I introduced Talon to the terns that I used to study.  We pointed out pelicans and plovers, sandpipers and seagulls, all the while dodging the relentless rollerbladers who refuse to yield.  While the weather always cooperates in San Diego, the cutthroat pedestrians on the boardwalk are scarier than any gales I’ve encountered.  Talon definitely didn’t fall asleep on the boardwalk.  But he certainly wasn’t interested in some old birds when dudes were blading by in chaps (and nothing else).

San Diego's friendlier climes were a welcome change of pace from Montana's fickle spring.
San Diego’s friendlier climes were a welcome change of pace from Montana’s fickle spring.

Back on the homefront, we heard that a Great-horned owl had set up a nest nearby, hanging out with her three fledglings in a big cottonwood tree.  Making sure it was before Talon’s bedtime, we biked him down to the park and hiked along the creek to the nest.  The mama owl landed in a pine directly overhead, and proceeded to eat an entire trout in front of us while her babies watched. Talon, of course, fell asleep before the scope was set up.

Showing the baby boy baby owls in Missoula's Greenough Park.

Last weekend, we joined an Audubon field trip to the Montana Waterfowl Foundation in the Mission Valley, which rears and then releases several types of native birds to increase their dwindling numbers in the wild.  The birds that finally kept Talon awake?  A pair of prehistoric-looking sandhill cranes that squawked loud enough to keep him wide-eyed.

Next up: a five-day rafting trip on the John Day River in Oregon, which is sure to add plenty of new bird (and fish!) species to Talon’s already-impressive Life List.

Talon's ready for his next animal encounter -- with a trout.
Talon’s ready for his next animal encounter — with a trout.



motherhood feels like climbing mountains

I THINK I can, I THINK I can

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Parenting, Reflections on Life

Did you know that The Little Engine That Could can inspire tears? It did for me this morning, reading it to Talon on the couch. I choked up smack in the middle of “I THINK I can, I THINK I can, I THINK I can.”

Maybe I cried because I feel like that too-small blue engine pulling the toy-laden cars over the mountain—terrified that I will slide backwards at any moment. Or maybe it’s because I feel like the anxious toys at the bottom of the mountain—waiting for just the right engine to haul my ass to the other side of this hump.

This me (on the beach in Tonga) feels pretty far away.
This me (on the beach in Tonga) feels pretty far away.

It makes sense I feel a little desperate as a new mother, as the owner of a new business, as a tropical sailor landlocked in the northern mountains. That’s a lot of change in a short time. One year ago, Rob and I were in Thailand winding through villages on a small motorcycle with two outfits each, a beat-up guitar, and a lot of time to kill. Two years ago, we were wrapping up the last day of our decade-long careers at conservation non-profits in Missoula, about to embark on a year of exploration at sea.

This weekend, our baby turns seven months-old, and free-time and the sea seem like distant memories. I went from zero to 60 on the stress-meter over the past year. But what’s life without a little adrenaline? (‘Peaceful’ is one answer…)

Though this scene looks suspiciously Christmas-like, I took the photo yesterday.
Though this scene looks suspiciously Christmas-like, I took the photo yesterday.

Back to The Little Engine That Could. With Talon gumming away at the book cover, I had this chugging through my head.

I THINK I can wash all the dishes and vacuum the rug in between loads of diaper laundry.

I THINK I can manage all 7 contracts through my writing and communications business.

I THINK I can find time to write creatively and pitch magazines and brainstorm a novel.

I THINK I can get Talon to sleep longer than his always-only-30-minute naps.

I THINK I can teach a few yoga classes and still squeeze in a dance class.

I THINK I can hug my husband and genuinely listen when he talks to me.

I THINK I can drink a beer without falling asleep in my dinner plate.

I THINK I can shower more than once a week.

I THINK I can not kill the houseplants.

I THINK I can see my friends.

I THINK I can do it all.

But I can’t. That’s why I cried, because I realized my engine ain’t getting over this mountain in front of me. I hate backsliding. I get through each day with a lot of grit, and just enough grace to sometimes smile at passersby. I wake up each night in a sweat, my mind racing through all of the tasks I didn’t complete the day before. I’m rarely present in any given moment.

But if that damn little blue engine can make it over the mountain, so can I. It just means I have to take deeper breaths, and remind myself that I am not a superhero, and that I only need to climb one moment at a time. Some of those moments I’ll smile, and some of them I’ll grit my teeth as I chant: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I can.”

motherhood feels like climbing mountains

brianna and talon on walk with beco gemini in parka 2.5 months

I am not a superhero

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Cultivating Creativity

I went to an inspiring talk tonight on social media strategies. I know: most of you wouldn’t write “inspiring” in the same sentence as “social media strategies.” Totally understood. For me, though, it was the first professional development opportunity in months, and I grabbed it with both hands and a Beco-full of babbling baby.

Talon happily “wah-wah-wah’ed” loudly through the first half of the presentation until I shoved a boob in his mouth and he fell asleep. (Note: I highly recommend the Beco Gemini as it allow moms to be superheroes who walk, talk, professionally develop, and discreetly breastfeed all at the same time.) The second half of the presentation inspired me to do two things: blog more often, and drink a stout while reflecting upon the fact that I don’t really know if I like Twitter.

The Beco in action on a hike in the Rattlesnake Wilderness.  I swear there's a sleeping baby under that blanket.
The Beco in action on a hike in the Rattlesnake Wilderness. I swear there’s a sleeping baby under that blanket.

Twitter aside, I’m here with my stout, blogging. But what about? That’s what usually keeps me from blogging: the fact that I don’t have a tidy five paragraph essay with a clear beginning, middle and ending to share with all of you. I’m well-trained to produce thesis-driven pieces—I was a writing tutor for five years through college and grad school, and I taught Technical Writing and English Composition courses. Theses are the essence of writing…aren’t they?

Well, the presenter (this lovely New Zealand-dwelling Welsh man whose name consists of only two letters) encouraged us to get rid of that model. DK wants us to use audio and movies and pictures and graphics and other people’s content and whatever the hell we feel like writing/using/posting in any given moment. I sat down to try out a more organic blogging experience.

And came to these profound conclusions:

  • I prefer writing five paragraph essays.
  • I’ll try out Twitter for a few months.
  • Welsh accents are pretty awesome.
  • Sleeping babies are very sweet.
  • Stouts are imperative to my mental health.
  • I am not a superhero.

Until the return of my regularly-scheduled, thesis-driven essays, please enjoy this video of Talon and his dad taking a giggle intermission during their daily band practice:


Live the cliche

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Reflections on Life

You never know when miniature disasters or major catastrophes will change the landscape of your life forever. I’ve been thinking a lot about life landscapes this week, as we got word that a past river adventure buddy passed away unexpectedly and another friend lost his wife.

It’s so cliche to say, isn’t it? Be present. Enjoy every minute. Don’t take this life for granted. We read the axioms on Facebook and greeting cards, say them to each other off-the-cuff and in deadly serious circumstances. But the cliches slip away in the tougher spells. And in the daily grind. And even, sometimes, during the magical, memory-making experiences.

My sister, Cassidy, who inspires me every day to take more risks and laugh more often.
My sister, Cassidy, who inspires me every day to take more risks and laugh more often. Follow her at

It’s just damned hard to be present. To enjoy every single minute. To not take for granted the body, emotions, friends, food, sunsets, breath that infuse each day. To make the most of this one precious life.

Weeks like this one make me more determined, though. They bring back the urge to stop for a full inhale to appreciate the rare warmth of sun in Montana’s usually frigid February. To exhale completely to celebrate my lungs and my muscles and my blood for supporting me. To close my eyes and savor the sound of my husband reading a bedtime story to his son.

The unexpected catastrophes also make me question the landscape of my life, and to examine it a little more closely. Is this what I want? Am I being true to myself and my loved ones? And the biggest question of all: am I strong enough to change the landscape if the answers are no? Some things are easier to change–turning off the work emails after 6PM, for instance. But others–like setting sail again–feel like moving mountains.

Talon with Auntie Katie, another role model for casting off bow lines and making the most of life.
Talon with Auntie Katie in Kauai, another role model for casting off bow lines and making the most of life. Follow her at

So, how do you move mountains? One rock at a time. Lately, lines from this poem by Mark Twain’s keep popping up in my head. It’s on our blog’s “about” page, but it deserves another place of honor here and now:

Twenty years from now
you will be more disappointed
by the things that you didn’t do
than by the ones you did do.

So throw off the bowlines. 
Sail away from the safe harbor. 
Catch the trade winds in your sails. 
Explore. Dream. Discover.

In other words, let this post be a reminder to all of you (as the recent events were for me) to hack away at those lines that keep you tethered to places of unease or distress.  Go forth and be present. Let yourself be free to be happy, in safe harbors or in rocky seas. Breathe. Smile. Kiss the ones you love. Live the cliche.

Talon sure does help pull me back to the present, and it's damn hard not to smile when he's around.
Talon sure does help pull me back to the present, and it’s damn hard not to smile when he’s around.
camping with kids in kauai

Sand in your crack

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Outdoor Adventures, Traveling

camping with kids in kauaiWe had a taste of paradise again: a two-week sneak preview of our former life, and our (hopefully) someday-life-to-be. Using airline miles and a tent, we spent two cheap weeks camping on the island of Kaua’i, introducing our Pacific-conceived baby to the best ocean on earth.

He liked it. I could tell by the fistfuls of sand he shoved into his mouth, and the excited shiver that ran down his chubby legs when the waves washed over them. He laughed more in the shadow of the Hawaiian pali, epic surf crashing mere meters away.

camping and hiking with a baby on kauaiSo did I. It was a bittersweet vacation, though. The island reminded us of what we had last year, and what we miss by living in a landlocked northern mountain state. Our feet look better with sand around the edges. My hair looks better salty. Rob is happier shirtless. Talon likes living with sandy ears.

Life is easier when it’s simple, whether in the mountains or on the sea. It feels like there’s an easily defined purpose when you plan your meals around one pot, and when you plan your day around the movement of sun and moon and tides. We had a tiny rental car, one small stove, two plates, a couple of outfits, an old sarong to sit on. A long-time friend who spent a week with us, and a new friend we met sailing who popped up unexpectedly. It was all we needed. More, even.

camping and hiking with a baby on kauaiI know it’s tempting to confuse vacation with real life, and tried to infuse some perspective during our trip. For instance, it’s hard to work without electrical outlets to charge my computer. It’s hard to sleep when it’s blowing 20 knots and raining loudly on our thin nylon tent. It’s hard to get comfortable without a chair in sight and sand in your crack. It’s hard to figure out another cooked-by-headlamp, dried-goods-only meal when all you really want is a hot burger and a cold beer.

But, to me, those are still minor inconveniences. A small price to pay for paradise. They make life real, vacation or not.

I don’t know where our family will end up, in one year or ten. Kaua’i inspired me to start planning for the next long-term adventure, though, which will likely include fringing reefs and crashing waves, along with plenty of simple living in tents or boats. Meanwhile, it was good to feel the familiar Pacific breeze on my face, and her foamy waves on my toes.

camping with kids in kauai

misadventures in modern parenting with snow angels

How to be a grown-ass woman

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Family and Friends, Parenting

My mujer mojo is missing in action.

talon smiling on bellyThe title of this post makes it sound like I’m going to tell you how to be a responsible female adult.  Instead, I’m trolling for your ideas on the subject.

First off, an explanation.  I spent a fabulous three estrogen-soaked days with a couple of stellar lady friends last weekend.  We convened with a 5-week-old and a 5-month-old in a wood-fire-heated cabin near Sand Point and proceeded to settle in.  We chatted.  Cooked.  Cooed at babies.  Changed a LOT of diapers.  And we walked in the snowy woods, drank dark beer, and debriefed what it means to be a mother.  One of my friends remarked that she recently got called out for not behaving like a “grown-ass woman.”

Back in my own homestead, this term shot into my sleep-deprived brain during a mid-night awakening.  I started ruminating on what, exactly, characterizes such a woman. Was I a grown-ass woman?  More importantly, do I want to be one?

misadventures in modern parenting in a cabin in the woods

I certainly feel a lot more grown-up lately, though in a tired sort of way.  And I definitely notice my ass more, now that I run up and down the stairs to wash diapers, and squat up and down to pick up my big baby boy.  But I might feel the least womanly that I’ve ever felt.  Becoming a new mother seems to have neutered–or at least muted–my gender.  My boobs are utilitarian.  My hair is limp and dull.  My mujer mojo is missing in action.

That’s why I’m putting it out to all of you wise readers.  Does being a grown-ass woman mean waving bye-bye to my pre-baby mojo, or does it mean I have to get it back?  And how, exactly, do I get it back?

Neutering aside, here are a few more reasons why I’m pretty sure I’ve become a grown-ass woman:

  1. I put my child first.
  2. I can touch poop without making jokes or gagging uncontrollably.
  3. I appreciate my family and friends more than ever, and strive to help them as much as they help me.
  4. I worry about getting injured or dying, which makes things like snowboarding or flying in helicopters less appealing.
  5. I still want to have fun, escape reality, and do reckless things (even though #4 gets in the way).
  6. I wash dishes when they’re dirty (eventually).
  7. I’m willing to make sacrifices and compromises.
  8. I totally hate making sacrifices and compromises.
  9. I can have serious conversations about important topics.
  10. I can make snow angels or play balloon wars.

This list tells me that being a grown-ass woman is an oxymoron, a contradiction, and often confusing.  What do you all think are the qualities of a grown-ass woman?

misadventures in modern parenting with snow angels

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