5 Reasons To Keep Backpacking With a Baby

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Hiking, Outdoor Adventures, Parenting

“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.

On Trail - Rocky Mountain Front
Rob and Talon check out the view in Blackleaf Canyon on the Rocky Mountain Front.

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.

Talon loves putting up the tent, since the poles are shiny.
Talon loves putting up the tent, since the poles are shiny.

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.”

Picking huckleberries during a break on the trail in the Swan Mountains.
Picking huckleberries during a break on the trail in the Swan Mountains.

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.

A tight two-man tent with  all three of us is hours of fun for Talon and redefines "snuggling" at night.
A tight two-man tent with all three of us is hours of fun for Talon and redefines “snuggling” at night.

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.

Practicing pad surfing in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.
Practicing pad surfing in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.


All Photos: (C) Rob Roberts.

Top 10 Photos of the South Pacific

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture, Family and Friends, Fishing, Hiking, Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures, Sailing, Traveling

As we leave the Pacific for Southeast Asia, it seems like a good time to reflect upon what we’ve seen this past year.  Here are a few of our favorite photos, which give a taste of sailing, swimming and living across the South Pacific islands.  Note: This Top 10 album is also available on our Facebook page.

[anything_slider title=”Top 10 Photos of the South Pacific” column=”full-width” autoslide=”2″ slider_id=”3667″/]


honeymoon island beach caves brianna rob

Honeymoon in Niue

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Hiking, Outdoor Adventures, Traveling

honeymoon island beach caves brianna rob

Lime green and lavender. These are the colors of our honeymoon in Niue. Wait, honeymoon? Didn’t you guys get married a year and a month ago? Yup. But we never took a honeymoon, since we were gearing up for our sailing + travel adventure.

After six weeks aboard Compass Rose(y) and five months at sea on other people’s boats, we were ready for our very own bedroom. As much as we have enjoyed sailing on Rose(y), our crewing situation has got two main drawbacks: we have no bed or door. Rob and I sleep on separate settees (translation from boat speak = “narrow couch”) in the main cabin. As the tiny island nation of Niue came into view after several passages in a row, I sat next to Rob on deck and said: “Let’s get a room, honey.”

Rob upped the ante by announcing it would be our late honeymoon. Perfect. We found the last available room for rent in Niue and booked it for three nights (it’s high season in Niue, which means the one flight per week is full of at least 50 tourists).

honeymoon island beach caves brianna rob

Our first night on land after five months was AWESOME. Except when it started pouring in the middle of the night, and we both jumped out of bed trying to close the hatches … that didn’t exist … and realized that the floor was pitching and tilting like we were riding 10-foot waves instead of standing on solid ground. Weird. We jumped back in our big, cozy bed and promptely fell back asleep.

We slept so well, actually, that we extended the stay from “weekend” to “week.” The room we rented was in a local’s home right downtown, and we enjoyed the owner’s company — Lawes, a Niuean who now lives in Australia part-time — as well as his hot water heater, refrigerator, electricity, washing machine, and the patio that didn’t move.

Since it was our honeymoon, we decided to splurge on the most romantic thing we could possible think of — a motorcycle.

honeymoon island beach caves brianna rob

Motorcycles are the perfect honeymoon craft. You have to hold on tight to your loved one as he careens over wet, slippery roads. You have to wear helmets that make you look like a popsicle, and that bang together in a plastic-y love-kiss when the cycle jerks forward. You can’t talk, so you get to share a secret language of nuanced physical touches: a death-grip on a shoulder means “slow down, damnit!” and a vise-squeeze around the hips means “let’s stay out of the potholes, ok?”

Just kidding. It was super fun to have a motorcycle, especially once my legs unclenched after the first day (I’ve only ridden a motorcycle once for 45 seconds). Rob was a stellar driver, and didn’t throw me off the back even once. It did rain most of the time, so we had to wear our green rubber coats, which made us look even more like delicious lime popsicles. To top it all off, we got to use the cute little horn often to “beep beep” all the chickens off the road.

Back to the colors: lime green and lavendar don’t just refer to the color of our rain coats and helmets. Niue is 100 square-mile island plateau that rises 200 feet out of the sea, and is home to a whopping 1,600 people. It’s nicknamed “The Rock,” since the ground is made up of old, dead coral and limestone. The limestone is what makes the water look green. The coralline algae encrusting the rocks and caves is lavender.

honeymoon island beach caves brianna rob

Beneath the island is a lens of freshwater, which pours out of the island into the sea. This creates all kinds of awesome caves, chasms, and crevices to explore on land and underwater. It also creates a crazy blending of fresh and salt water along the shore, which makes things look blurry when the cold and warm waters mix. All sorts of fish frolic in the clear water, and whales pass by, too.

Niue (pronounced “new-ay”) is from ‘niu,’ which means coconut, and ‘e,’ which means behold.  So, basically, the first settlers a few hundred years ago exclaimed: “Hey, check out all these coconuts.”  One other fascinating tidbit: Captain Cook never succeeded in landing here.  The natives all had red-stained mouths from a local root, and it scared the bejesus out of Cook and his crew, who named Niue “The Savage Island.”

All told, we’ve spent 10 solid days exploring this one-of-a-kind island, and highly recommend it as a honeymoon destination. Unfortunately, there are only two ways to get here: sail or catch the one flight per week from New Zealand. The other downside is that tomatoes cost $4 each — produce in general is scarce, and more expensive than jewelry.

As we bid “The Rock” a fond farewell tomorrow when we sail to Tonga, we’ll remember these top highlights from our Niuean honeymoon:

> Rob faced his biggest fear: sea snakes. The venemous striped sea snakes are ALL OVER the reefs here. Other than one chasing me for a few minutes one morning, they are totally harmless, since their mouths don’t fit over any part of a human body. Whew!
> Whales spouting just offshore, and singing under water.
> As many showers as we wanted, with water as hot as we could stand.
> Climbing through forests carpeted in coral into caves.
> $5 Indian rotis at the restaurant next door to our rented room.


bora bora beaches travel blog

So, you’ve heard of Bora Bora?

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Hiking, Traveling

bora bora beaches travel blog

We sure had. After all, it does have the reputation of being the most beautiful island in the world. Bora Bora was another one of those lagoons fringed by coral islands that Rob and I had fondled virtually via Google Earth before we ever set sail, and a definite “must see” on our list of tropical ports. A local told us that the original Tahitian name is actually “po po ra,” which means island of applause. It’s worth applauding, for sure.

But Bora Bora also has a reputation for being hoity-toity, a playground for rich people who fly in, jet around in power boats, and spend $1,000 per night for over-water bungalows and luxurious spas. Rob and I are about as far from hoity-toity as dog poop, especially after four months at sea. For example, I just finished my monthly leg shave from a metal bucket full of sea water on the bow (and enjoyed it). The resort guests would gasp.

bora bora beaches travel blog

We’d heard from a few cruisers that Bora Bora wasn’t anything to write home about, unless you could afford one of the exclusive resorts on a private island. Several said the town was their least favorite. “It’s a dump,” said one friend, eloquently. We went anyway. And ended up staying two weeks. You know how some places just feel a little more magical than others? A little older or wiser or just plain more mystical? We felt that magic in Bora.

Part of the magic is the setting. The other part is the people. We’ll start with the backdrop: Bora is distinct from other Society Islands because it has a big mountain on the island in the middle of the lagoon, which is surrounded by a chain of smaller islands, called “motus.” We climbed to the peak alongside 14 friends from other boats, using old ropes tied to rocks and roots to ascend 700 meters (2,100 feet for those non-metric readers). As you can see, Rob wore his safety headwear even though he also climbed the whole thing barefoot — it’s important to prioritize which end of your body deserves protection.

Oddly, a fire broke out at the heiva fairgrounds as we descended the hike. We heard explosions, and watched from above as cars exploded and mushroom clouds of fire soared off thatched roofs about a football-field length from where our boat was anchored. Crazy. After hurrying down the last of the trail, we joined the crowds of locals to watch the firefighters put out the last of the flames. The local dive instructor, who we met in Fakarava, told us dismissively, “This happens all the time during heiva.” Huh. I guess if you build a party venue with sticks and dried-out palm fronds to host all-night dance fests for a month, fires are to be expected.

bora bora beaches travel blog

In addition to the mountain, Bora Bora is famous for its clear turquoise waters, which we explored happily with our caravan of friends. We swam with eagle rays and manta rays, marveling at their grace flying between coral. We splashed and dove and did somersaults and headstands in the glowing green “swimming pool” at anchor.

I had an intimate experience with my first octopus. She and I watched each other for about 20 minutes, playing hide and seek in coral. I’ve never seen anything more magical than an octopus. She changed color faster than I could blink, stretching and contracting to swim, leading an entourage of curious fish who also watched her curious color changes. Her big eyes blinked, tracking me as I hovered 15 feet above on the surface. I fell in love, but couldn’t find her the next few days.

We met Patrick, a local who opened up his lovely property and invited us to use his lawn for yoga. He guided us on a trek along the motu’s ridge, pointing out fruits, beehives, and — randomly — 10 WWII bunkers built by U.S. soldiers. Turns out the U.S. had thousands of soldiers stationed in Bora, expecting the Japanese to push into Polynesia.

bora bora beaches travel blog

On the way back to our sailboats, we walked through the Hilton’s resort. It was kind of like going to a zoo, since the creatures who were sweating on treadmills, driving in golf carts, and walking around in makeup and high heels seemed as foreign from our cruising lifestyle as a pack of wild baboons. Ok, maybe more foreign than a pack of wild baboons! Lovely resort, though.  A few days later, we took a girls’ trip in to the St. Regis resort on its own private motu.  We snuck in to lounge by the pool, and used their hot water showers.  Pure bliss, I tell you.

The weather window to head out on our 5-day passage to the Cook Islands kept getting pushed later, as light winds and rainstorms circled overhead. We didn’t mind, though. Bora is a wonderful place to wait, made more wonderful by all the fun friends who congregated here the past couple of weeks. We met new cruisers our age, and hung out with people we hadn’t seen in weeks — enough friends to warrant using our own VHF channel to coordinate all of the social events. Yoga every morning, afternoon tea chats, game nights, potlucks, a jam session, spearfishing expeditions.

bora bora beaches travel blog

Bora was our last stop in French Polynesia, after visiting eight islands that were all special in their own way. We’re heading to the Cook Islands next.  Bora felt like a crossroads, a place to launch new beginnings and a gathering place for people from all points of the globe. We left feeling full to the brim of Polynesian magic, open and ready to find the next adventure, the next country, the next crossroads in this vast blue sea.

north hills behind our house in missoula - bri and rob on the horizon line

How Will I Roam At Sea?

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Hiking, Sailing

bri and rob - yurt ski in british columbia - on the horizon lineWe just spent 2 days in a cabin in the middle of the mountains where Montana meets Idaho with our good friends, Pedro and Janaina.  Jana’s mama from Brazil came, too (and rocked her first-ever snowshoe experience!), along with their 9-month-old, Clarice.

We skied in the sun, ate good food, drank nice wine, made merry. And we navigated skillfully around each other in the small space.  I kept picturing all of us on a big boat instead of a in wood-fired log cabin, and each time I came back to this conundrum:  “I won’t be able to pop on my cross-country skis and spend an hour wandering on my own when things get tight.”  Hmmmmmm.

rob roberts and clarice - skiing in a wood cabin in the bitterroot mountains

Rob and I drove straight to our respective offices from the cabin this morning, and by the close of the work day I was ready for some quiet time.  I debated between hot yoga, a conditioning class or a walk.  Easy choice: I’ll be doing a LOT of yoga in sauna-like conditions pretty soon, along with plenty of self-motivated conditioning and strength-training routines.  One thing I won’t be doing a lot of is walking the hills alone.

As I set out from the backyard into the brisk spring evening, I pondered how much I need these alone moments to roam.  For as long as I can remember, I’ve used walking as my way to explore physical landscapes as well as my mental landscape.  I let my legs set their own pace as they roam through trees or grass.  I let my mind wander freely as it picks through the daily joys or burdens.

How will I roam when we’re at sea?

north hills behind our house in missoula - bri and rob on the horizon line

I have no idea.  My mind and body will still need to wander, but they’ll have to figure out how to do it with other people at my elbows and in the tight quarters of a small boat.

The good news: at least we’ll be moving at walking speed most of the time, which — come to think of it — is probably why I’m drawn to sailing as a means to roam.



Puppy Love

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Family and Friends, Hiking, Videos

bathroom jam mosierRemember our recent foray into homesteading? Here’s a short video clip that showcases a few highlights::

1) Kipp and Christine’s adorable 8-week-old puppy, Penny.

2) A not-very-good but fun-to-play rendition of our group’s version of “Wagon Wheel” (aka the “Freebird” of our generation), which is redeemed by Brad’s fiddle playing.  Note: stay tuned for future songs from our epic bathroom recording sessions.  Bathtubs make good studios.

3) Some funny shots of us hopping barbed-wire fences.

[framed_video column=”full-width”]http://youtu.be/Ay9-BOQnHqg [/framed_video]

Modern Homesteading

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Family and Friends, Hiking

the lineup

Sometimes, all you need to rejuvenate is quality time with close friends.  Rob, Cass and I drove 7 hours from Missoula to the Columbia Gorge to spend a long weekend with friends in Mosier (pronounced Moe-sure for real, or MOE-zee-eh, if you like to add in a fake French accent like we do).  We decided we were due for a “homesteading” weekend, which — in our modern definition — meant chopping wood, wandering in the woods, making cookies, and knitting.  Basically, hanging out around a fireplace with your favorite people.

homesteading hats

Kipp and Christine are leasing a sweet house in the oak-scrub foothills above the Columbia River for 6 months.  Perfect for homesteading.  Our friend Margi came out from Portland, as did a few other Portland buddies.  Collectively, we call ourselves “family,” “the band,” “the wolf pack,” and “awesome.”

the family

We were missing a few of the pack members this weekend, but it was still easy to fall into a rhythm.  The rhythm might change tempo depending on our location (cabin, car, raft, trail, sailboat) or our ultimate mission for the visit (wedding, backpacking, Thanksgiving, wolf-watching, costume party, river trip, relaxing).  But we manage to maintain the same daily mix of making music, eating good food, sharing fancy cocktails, finding birds, playing with doggies, and exploring nature’s nooks and crannies.  And laughing … a LOT.

hiking in mosier

 We didn’t get in the car once during our 3-night stay.  In fact, we didn’t even leave a 2-mile radius of the house.  But we managed to make the minutes stretch and the days count, as we made more memories to add to our collective bundle of shared experience.  Sometimes those experiences are as wild as getting lost in Joshua Tree National Park until the wee hours on a 20-degree night, or portaging 100-yard log jams in heavy rafts in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.

the great room

Other times, they’re as simple as watching a new puppy in front of a wood-fired stove, playing Apples to Apples, recording 3-part harmony in the bathroom, jamming out with a violin, egg-shakers, piano and guitars (with makeshift picks) or making killer tacos.  No matter what, it’s the sharing that makes our pack’s experiences stand out as stellar.

We sure hope they come out to visit us in the South Seas.  After all, it’s time to pioneer how to homestead on a sailboat.

kipp and christine wedding


Ode to the Smith River

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Community and Culture, Fishing, Hiking

After several backpacking trips this summer, car camping feels like staying at a 5-Star Sheraton Hotel.  After work on Friday, we loaded up the Honda with our thick, cushy Thermarests, big, comfy down sleeping bags, the roomy tent, real pillows, musical instruments, chairs…and beer!…and headed east toward the Smith River.

The Smith is one of Montana’s premier floating and fishing rivers.  Normally, when someone says they’re “going to the Smith” they mean they’re floating the windy canyon, launching their drift boats, rafts or canoes near White Sulphur Springs and spending 4-5 days floating 50 miles north toward Great Falls.

But that’s only during the spring and early summer.  Montana has a competitive permit system to divvy out coveted float trips during those precious few weeks when snowfall subsides, the runoff from spring thaw calms down, and before the river shrivels from irrigation withdrawals and hot, dry weather.  We’ve snagged a permit many years during that narrow perfect window. (Check out this sweet canoe setup from our 2011 Smith trip!)

No one really floats in September, since the flows drop drastically.  This weekend, the river was flowing at a meager 100 cubic feet per second.  Luckily, though, September is a great time to camp and fish.

Our friend, Mike, is the son of a smart, smart man who chipped in with friends to buy property along the Smith River years ago.  Mike invites his friends to enjoy this remarkable riverside property during the last weekend in September each year to celebrate birthdays, whiskey, trout, and the onset of autumn.  Lucky us.

And celebrate we did.  We caught big trout, shot rifles to bone-up for hunting season, played guitar boisterously, ate like royalty, and sat around with good friends telling funny stories.

This particular outdoor adventure–like most we undertake–underscored the bottom line for how to return home with a satisfied glow.  It’s the people.  The community.  The shared experience is what brings the rivers, forests, fish, and wildlife into sharp, 3-D focus in our memories.

On the September Smith trip, that means repeating the same inside jokes, eating Corey’s Stupendous Smith River Chili, singing along to Mike’s rockin’ set list on guitar after dinner, and giggling when we hear Ryan’s booming Fireball Whiskey-inspired laugh.  It means creating new traditions due to campfire restrictions, like roasting marshmallows over a Coleman lantern and snuggling like inchworms in our sleeping bags around a single candle. Most of all, it means simply being with each other with no “real world” distractions near a clear stream, under a full moon, beneath a big, bright Montana sky.


Check out photos from this past weekend’s camping and last July’s float down the Smith River.

From Smith River Camping, posted by Brianna Randall on 10/01/2012 (29 items)

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