On Missing My Sister

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I started the countdown to Tonga a few days ago. Less than five weeks!

Yes, I know, I can hear you. You couldn’t be thinking it louder: “Really? You’re taking a month-long vacation—with us—and you just started that countdown right now?!”

Seriously. And part of the reason I haven’t started it until now is because I miss my big sister SO much. And starting that countdown before now would have meant that I admitted that fact to myself. I have been trying so hard to be strong, to be independent, to sweep this gap in my life into the recesses so that I can pretend it’s less hard than it actually is.


Because I refuse to give you any excuse to feel guilty for taking the opportunity to go on this incredible, amazing, mind-opening, soul-searching, identity-defining adventure with the love of your life (yes, I know you well enough to know that you feel guilty about leaving sometimes – and you NEVER, EVER, not in a million years, should. But you do, and I have absolutely refused to contribute to it — until now, obviously. Oops.)

Because admitting the extent to which I miss you would mean that maybe I’m not as independent as I would like to believe, that I’m not as strong as I think I am, that my identity involved more than just being “your sister” in this town of people who knew you first and know you better.

Because admitting it without an end in realistic sight was, frankly, too hard.

But here’s the thing. You help to define me. A really big part of me. And when that part is so far away, being your sister is sometimes all that I want to be.

So I started this countdown on a day when the Missoula Sunday Blues got to me – big time. A day when the 60-degree, hyper color days of a fall morning turned to a cold, dark Montana winter afternoon in the space of a few hours, when a perfect storm of inconsequential, small events coalesced into a lonely evening when the only thing I wanted was to talk to my big sister.

So I finally stopped trying to be strong—I’m sure no one really believed it anyway, if they know us at all —and allowed myself to look forward to that day in December when we meet in a tropical airport unintentionally wearing the exact same outfit (how embarrassing).

Because it’s close enough now, not an inconceivable 6 months that you haven’t been here to tell that hilarious thing to that only you would appreciate, to talk about our days, to plan the next adventure, to walk next door with the dog in tow when I need you.

What’s funny is that right now, I can’t picture us in Tonga, because all I can see is your living room with Rob hanging the projector sheet for a movie, cramming into the sauna, your kitchen with the candles lit and dinner on the stove.

Because your Highland house feels like home. But when I land in Vava’u, I have no doubt it will feel like home, too. Because we’ll probably be wearing the same skirt. Just sayin’.

For now, though, I’ll content myself with wearing a wetsuit with a lei for Halloween and toting a sign that says “Tonga or Bust.” You should feel free to wear a down coat with a hat and gloves. You know, because you probably miss that.

Less than five weeks!

The Ninemile Vortex

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We got this awesome email from Paul Parsons here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Paul replaced Rob at Trout Unlimited, and sent this great update on Rob’s old stomping grounds fixing streams in the Ninemile Valley just west of Missoula in Montana.  We appreciate hearing the news, and were glad to here no wolves died during the vortex experience.

The upper Ninemile vortex caught up with me and deflated my pickle truck tire. And the spare. At the end of the day, sitting at mile marker 18 with two flats and a bed full of beautiful Ninemile landscape rock I started the walk out headed for the Pontrelli mansion.

I had spent the afternoon with Amy Sacry and a mini excavator digging around in the floodplain and piles looking for clues. Fortunately they found several indicators showing what they believe to be the remnant floodplain elevation. Most of the piles consist of sandy loams and cobbles. Great news for reconstructing the floodplain. John Muhlfield was also cruising around and had some great ideas for Sawpit. Part of me wishes we were going to construction this year.

So with John, Amy and the mini-ex headed down the road in front of me I thought I would stop and gather some rock I had spotted earlier in the day. I not so quickly filled my truck bed with colorful, moss covered rocks. Satisfied with my haul I discovered my front tire had a nice sharp rock poking through the tread. Unloaded the deflated spare and quickly thought, “what a great night for a walk down the Ninemile”. Turned my back on the sorry looking pickle truck and put boots to dirt.

After crossing Pine Creek around mile marker 13, I heard a truck coming down the road. I looked up the road into the sun and stuck out my thumb; dude jammed on the brakes and dusted me out. He pushed the passenger door open and smiled a toothy grin, minus some teeth. It took me awhile to take it all in. In the passenger seat rested a nicely honed homemade hatchet, a pistol and taking up most of the cab was beautiful black powder rifle. After making eye contact with the guy I looked down to see he was wearing only a loin cloth and buckskin moccasins. The loin cloth was loose fitting at best.

The guy asked me “where ya headed or are ya just out for a hike?” while he was sliding the pistol, hatchet and Last of the Mohicans DVD towards himself to make room. I told him I was almost to my destination but took him up on his offer to give me a ride. As we drove he told me of the day’s bear hunt and how he likes the experience of buckskin and black powder. All I could think of was trying to navigate over and through the thick Ninemile blowdown with only a loin cloth protecting my dangledown.

Midway through a sentence describing his sneak on a black bear through thick blowdown, I interrupted with “that’s a wolf” he interrupted my quick interruption with “that sum-a-bitch” and reached for his pistol. Maybe he was reaching for his hatchet or Last of the Mohicans DVD. I’m not quite sure as it all happened so quickly. The wolf came within 10 yards of the truck. He wasn’t a particularly handsome wolf, grey with black ears and running with his tail between his legs. I had never seen wolf behavior like that before and I almost felt sorry for it. Run more stoically and faster I thought, this guy is gonna throw a hatchet at you.

With wolf season over two months ago, the guy realized that I was in the truck with him. Might have been a dead wolf otherwise. We were both jacked with energy but maybe for different reasons and continued bouncing down the dusty road. He approached Pontrelli’s driveway and let me out. I thanked him and told him good luck with the rest of bear season. As he drove off, I stood on the side of the Ninemile road for a brief moment. Not quite stunned but in a fog thinking did that shit really just happen?

I was hoping for a continuation of surrealness to end the evening. Not much luck there. Dave wasn’t home and his compound was locked tight. With no phone and the sun looking lower than I’d hoped for I was sitting on the porch wondering if Pontrelli was the type of guy to hide a key. I heard a truck coming down the valley from far away. Thinking traffic is light and this might be my last chance to catch a ride out, I grabbed my backpack and sprinted down the driveway towards the road only to see a mega diesel truck with a gooseneck trailer roar by. Shit. Missed it. And I was getting hungry.

I started the walk again and soon a guy in an old Audi turbo was flying down the road. He was watching the turkeys in the timber on the hill and blew right past my outstretched thumb. He must have seen me at the last second because he stopped and backed up nearly as fast as he had blown by me. He also asked where I need to go or if I was just out for a hike. I told him I was just at Dave’s house to try to use a phone. He knew Dave and offered to drive me all the way to Missoula. Then he realized the guy with the mega diesel, aka his buddy, was headed to the Bitterroot. So the turbo came into play and we caught the guy with the gooseneck. I hopped in with him and shortly found myself standing on the side of Reserve Street.

Looking towards the M and knowing my little home was near the base of Mt. Sentinel I put boots to pavement. Missoula seemed smaller than ever and I was semi-excited to see how long it would take me to walk from Reserve to Tremont Street. Three generous rides and one wolf was all it took to get home.


on the horizon line - bluewater sailing mermaids, pacific crossing

On Noticing Mermaids

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full moon brianna randall on the horizon line blogSome people never take notice of the Earth; some have to have it pointed out to them. But most, I think, are simply uncurious. You take notice. The whole point in going on this adventure is to take notice. You will experience so many amazing things. But you don’t have to share them to enjoy them.

A few words on your Pacific crossing: There will be many times when only one of you will notice a truly remarkable thing that the other did not or could not see and your description to the other about it will do an injustice to the unique sight you’ve witnessed.  Each of you can revel in the joy alone, taking notice and appreciating the Earth without the need to share it to make it seem more real.  You two had this hammered home after the Great Baja Electronics Theft—you don’t need to record and share everything to give it reality.

on the horizon line - bluewater sailing mermaids, pacific crossingBut, notice. You will not see the same swell twice. Spindrift will not shimmer in that light in that way again. The foaming crest of a sea will be one-of-a-kind in its beauty. And you will be the only person on Earth to see it. That particular sound of wind in the rigging with the beat of the thrumming steel hull and the singing laughter in the galley will create a melody both unique and mind-blowing. And only you will hear it. The dimpled reflection of a sunset on the calm ocean (from your vantage point lying on the bowsprit), or the moon’s white path on a gently rolling seascape at 3am will be a masterpiece. One of you will be standing at the mainmast looking aft as the boat tops a large swell and for three seconds, before she drops into the trough, you’ll be the only witness in the Universe to an amazingly orderly sea- train stretching to the horizon, each top highlighted in gold.

By taking notice you do it justice and that act justifies you and your entire trip. You don’t always have to share the joy to give it meaning beyond itself.

(This will not be true about your bluewater dreams which must be shared immediately, discussed in detail, and analyzed in depth.  And if you see a mermaid, shout about it!)

Though the oceanscape you’ll travel is immense, you’re only seeing a tiny sliver of the Earth’s surface. You are in a minute bubble. Llyr’s freeboard at the main looks to be about five feet, add about a foot for the cabin roof, so if you’re standing at the mainmast your eye will be about 12 feet above sea level. Therefore, your horizon line is about 4.2 miles. Your entire world is only about eight and one half miles around—with an unfathomable deep below and an infinite universe above—all traveling west at maybe eight knots. You are not going anywhere else. But that little world will be intense. That is what makes bluewater sailing so invigorating. Intellectually, you know you’re an exceedingly tiny speck on the surface of an enormous planet, but nothing brings that home like sitting on a (steel) cork in the ocean.

With seven people in fifty feet, you have to be tolerant because the little quirks of one person may drive you nuts. But don’t forget, your quirks are making others crazy, too. Things that would never concern you on land can bring great happiness on the deep. No night sky is as bright as a clear, moonless night at sea. By Day 25, pancakes mixed with hard raisins and dorado, topped with hard chunks of apricot jam will be a culinary breakthrough that you’ll think will be the basis of an amazingly successful restaurant chain.

When on watch alone or when working in some weather, please keep your PDF/harness clipped to a hard point. And Rob, make sure Bri gets more than her share of food. We love you! Be safe. Fair winds.

NOTE FROM BRI AND ROB: Happy Birthday, Dad!  We miss you and love you, and are celebrating with you in spirit today.  We’ll give the ocean gods some love to send you blessings for a wonderful year.

Seven Women

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We are put on this planet only once, and to limit ourselves to the familiar is a crime against our minds. –  Roger Ebert

There was little about what I put myself through last Sunday that was familiar. I completed the Peaks to Prairie adventure race – 68+ miles of running, road biking, and paddling some of the most breathtaking country in Montana, from the Beartooth mountains to the Yellowstone river.

I have had more than my fair share of adventures that leave me lost on unfamiliar ground – but I’d never done a triathlon. I’d never ridden a road bike until a month before this race. And there was something about the challenge of this that I could not turn away from. Some would call this masochism – but I am of the tribe that calls it a good story in the making.

There are things that you can look back on that you thought at the time were the hardest things you had ever done – and now it has become a good story and bragging rights. You block out the pain and remember only the high at the end – that you are alive, that your body has surprised you, that you had transcended the familiar.

Paddling 21 miles out of Cataract Canyon to Lake Powell with a mean headwind, no current, and only half a bagel, for example. Taking an hour to navigate ¾ of a mile off an unnamed bowl in the Mission mountains, now known as one of the more heinous backcountry ski exits ever. Hiking 18 miles from the trailhead to Half Dome at night just to watch the sunrise from the top. I’ve already forgotten the misery involved in all of these adventures and others that have since evolved into suspiciously painless good stories.

The Peaks to Prairie race was one of the harder things I have done, and I have sensed the pain of it fading from my mind over the last days.

I’ve only done one other race, a 12-hour adventure race involving orienteering, running, mountain biking, and whitewater paddling, where skill and strategy counted jor just as much as speed and endurance, if not more. Sacrificing my body to a race where speed and endurance are the only spaces to play left me on unfamiliar territory – which happens to be one of my favorite places to be.

P1000930But there was another major piece that gave me butterflies. Most people run this race as a relay, and racers are fresh on each leg. Out of the 450+ people registered, only 37 were the brave souls known as soloists. And only 7 of those were women. I wanted to be strong enough to stand in their company.

I don’t think of myself as an athlete. My goals in this race were to enjoy myself as much as possible, and not to crawl over the finish line dead last.

It’s amazing how far emotions can roam in the space of 68 miles. From nerves and adrenaline at the starting line to demoralizing doubt on the painful 9.3 mile run downhill on pavement.

Joy and exhilaration on the rolling and sometimes unforgiving hills of the 49-mile road bike ride – until the last 14 miles. Those were the longest miles in my life (because I’ve blocked out all those other long miles from what are now painless good stories, remember) . The only reason I smoked the bike leg was that nothing motivates a woman to get off a bike seat like riding nearly 50 miles without padding.

Confidence cutting through the river. Remember the Cataract Canyon adventure? 10 miles on the quiet Yellowstone was nothing – a beautiful ending to spend my remaining energy. Until relief to be sitting turns to spasms as legs that have been firing for 4 hours are stuffed into a kayak and forced to stay there for another hour.

The finish line. The endorphin high. The best part. There’s nothing like it. It draws me back again and again to the unfamiliar territory that leaves me a stronger person.

The emotional wave when the endorphin rush subsides that leaves you hollowed – because you have nothing left, because you’ve given everything, because you are empty and proud and you know the definition of exhaustion.

To now, when the pain has faded, and the story remains. And I am left with amazement that I was one of only 7 women – out of more than 450 athletes – that traveled almost 70 miles under my own power.

I am so proud to stand in their company.



One Day in December

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So many people have asked me how I feel about my sister leaving for an indefinite period of time. I try to come up with a sufficiently meaningful answer, but it seems to fall short every time.

Because frankly, I’m trying not to think about it.

I took a walk down memory lane the other day and read some old pieces from an “anonymous” dating column that my sister and I used to write. In one, I noted my favorite question that we received over and over in the early days of my Missoula residence, before people were used to the pair of us.

“Are you guys twins?” “No.” “Are you sure?” “Um, yeah.”

These days, I’m not so sure.

White party

My sister knows me better than anyone else on this earth. She knows what I’m thinking before I say it. We finish each other’s sentences. We communicate telepathically. We have been known to walk out of our separate houses wearing the exact same outfit – on multiple occasions (this is not an exaggeration; we can offer specific examples).

She has guided me through my broken hearts. She’s my adventure buddy. She gives me the best advice – even when I don’t want it, because she’s the only one who knows I need it. She’s my cheerleader, my wingwoman, my singular peanut gallery.

There is something about having ultimate faith in the strength of the other that is very rare.

When I still lived in L.A., my sister told me that one day we would live next door and our children would play together. I didn’t believe it. Now, I can’t imagine the day when we won’t share a fence, or even a wall. When our fence is an ocean, and she can’t finish my sentences because the radio waves can’t connect us to begin them.


I am incredibly lucky that I am surrounded by friends and family who will move to fill the empty space she leaves in her wake. Sometimes, I think I am so lucky that it takes my breath away.

But there will still be space.

Just wait – one day in April, I will have an urge to wear an orange sarong in the Montana rain. One day in July, my sister will search for heels to wear out on the town in the islands.

And in December, we will meet each other in a tropical airport wearing the same faith in the strength of each other.

Just wait.

Downing Mountain in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana with Cassidy Randall

A Pair of Skis Saved My Soul

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Downing Mountain in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana with Cassidy Randall

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”  – Edward Abbey.

by: Cassidy Randall

(M.U.P. Files contributor)

I am shaped by sun and desert. I wonder that snow has found its way into my bones, into my dreams, the space behind my eyes. It has become my addiction, my religion.

I believe that a pair of skis saved my soul.

I am in the midst of a torrid love affair with our local ski hill, one that has not abated for the years under our belts.

Sweet ski powder turns in the Mission Mountain backcountry

But it’s the wild beauty of the backcountry that draws me back again and again – the seduction of an unbroken expanse of snow, the reliance on our knowledge and sometimes tenuous judgment, the faith in finding grace on an empty mountaintop.

Skiing in the ranges of the Rocky Mountains has taught me to appreciate my body for what it can do, and not for what it looks like – unless what it looks like is strong and ambitious. I’m in love with the humility of looking out across a sea of peaks, knowing that I could not possibly know all of them the way I have come to know the one I am standing on top of – because there are so many, because they have settled like wise old men into the cold winter, because they do not bow to the human need for access.

I am addicted to exhaustion. To aching lungs and a wandering mind. To the sound of nothing but my breathing, my skis breaking a new trail, and the quiet noise of snow falling. I am addicted to how damn hard this can be.

Sunlight on snow in mountains

I believe that skiing untouched snow is the closest I come to flying.

When the rush has opened up my body and mind, and washed them clean so entirely that joy and exhilaration is all that makes them new again – that is the feeling I dream of. For a sense of gratitude so strong that it lingers well into the night, into the next day, in my bones and dreams and the space behind my eyes.

I am graced by the moments after the rush.





Yurtopia backcountry ski hut in British Columbia

The M.U.P Files are the community corner of On the Horizon Line. These stories are written by our frie

nds and family who are exploring hometown horizons.  Why “M.U.P.?”  Because dispatches from the desks of our loved ones are like “magical unicorn ponies” that fly across the sea to greet us on distant shores.

Want to be a M.U.P.?  Join the party.  We can’t wait to hear your voice while we sail.


Turning a Dragon into a Princess

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Note:  The M.U.P Files are a new community corner of On the Horizon Line.  Look for stories from our friends and family related to expanding their hometown horizons.  Let us know if you want to contribute!

Why “The M.U.P Files”?  Because these dispatches from the desks of our loved ones will be “magical unicorn ponies” that fly across the sea to greet us on distant shores.  Their writing will be our bridge to shore while we sail the world.  

* * *

by Margi

Margi on guitar - South Fork Flathead

I woke up this morning feeling inspired. I am usually good for a pithy quote and a fart joke or two, but this morning when my eyes opened I was thinking about the Mark Twain quote that Bri posted yesterday, about the adventures that each of us take in our lives.   The moments where we just say yes to some newness and an unknown outcome.

I feel the change happening in all of us, lately. Acutely. Like Bri and Rob’s sailing adventure is an allegory for what we all live day to day.  Packing and unpacking, emotional packing and unpacking; I hear their story in myself, I feel their tears and their joy.  It is more fundamental than a change in location, the different cabinet from which one grabs a cup for coffee or tea in the morning, the different route to work. I feel shy in its presence because this road is not a road down which I have walked before. Change is beautiful and it is brave. It can be scary. So when my alarm went off at 7:30 this morning I turned to Rilke’s “Dragon Princess”.  We are all solitary.

For him who becomes solitary all distances, all measures change; of these changes many take place suddenly, and then, as with the man on the mountaintop, extraordinary imaginings and singular sensations arise that seem to grow out beyond all bearing. But it is necessary for us to experience that too. We must assume our existence as broadly as we in any way we can; everything, even the unheard of, must be possible in it. That is at bottom the only courage that is demanded of us: to have courage for the most strange, the most singular, and the most inexplicable that we may encounter.

Margi high 5 wedding

So, I choose to go forward. To be an explorer in my own mind. To raise the sails in my heart so that they may catch the wind; so that when they do I will wake up on some remote beach I never thought possible; so that when the seas are dark and stormy I can feel them, and when the storm clouds part the sun on my face reminds me that I am human.  So that when we will come together again as friends, with deeper love and maybe slightly better music (we all hope that by the time Penny grows up that at least a few songs will be tight), I will be more me than the person you hug and say goodbye to in a couple of weeks.

We have no reason to mistrust our world, for it is not against us. Has it terrors, they are our terrors; has it abysses, those abysses belong to us; are dangers at hand, we must try to love them. And if only we arrange our life according to that principal which counsels us that we must always hold to the difficult, then that which now seems to us the most alien will become what we most trust and find most faithful. How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are the beginning if all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us.


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