On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts Blog - Rock Creek Montana

Burning Down the Box

Posted on 7 CommentsPosted in Reflections on Life

I want to burn the box. What box, you wonder? Our new house? Well, yes, some days. But I’m actually referring to the box that many middle-class Americans live within. The 9-to-5, drive-a-sedan, own-a-home box that beckons us to join the masses that do the same.

We’ve been back in the States for almost two months now. That box is firmly overhead. It feels like we suddenly mounted tricycles and are trying to stay within the lines of a track we can’t quite find. “The Loop,” one friend calls it – a circular, never-ending track of mortgage, groceries, errands, bills, and all the income, smiles and tears that makes the wheels spin.

On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts Blog - Missoula MontanaWe broke outta The Loop. Hell, we gleefully smashed it to pieces. The problem is that we didn’t leave much left to pick up when we returned. I look around now at our near-empty cupboards and our way-bigger-than-a-boat  living space, and wonder what possessed me to give away my cookie sheet. The paid-off car. The speakers and stereo. The really good job. Our favorite spider plant.

But mostly, I look at what we still have and am overwhelmed by the sheer amount of stuff we don’t need. Why, for instance, do I have 22 tank tops when I lived in 2 for a year? How could we ever have needed pint glasses and coffee mugs and wine glasses? Sometimes I feel like all the stuff is taunting us as we struggle with merging back into The Loop.

None of the pictures look good on the wall because I don’t like looking at walls instead of horizon. The carpet seems odd because it’s not sand. The nights are too quiet to sleep without hearing roosters calling or wind in the stays.  The Loop feels eerily desolate, even as our favorite friends pedal alongside.

On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts Blog - Missoula MontanaLast weekend, I joined a few girlfriends for an overnight in the Rattlesnake National Forest. I packed a pad, a one-person tent, my ukelele and some food. Off I rode from the front yard, belly as my bowsprit. A mere six miles later, I stopped at a divine creekside camp spot. I rejoiced at how lucky we are to live so close to these familiar mountains. I felt light again. Free. Like Bri. It felt safer to have only the belongings on my back. To look at a panorama of sky instead of a landscape of unsatisfying walls.

When I turned home the next day, I felt stronger and more inspired than ever to trash the tricycle and burn down the box. The problem is that I don’t quite know what to replace them with. At seven months pregnant, I can’t exactly wander into the sunset with a backpack. Supposedly, that fabled “nesting” instinct is going to kick in soon. But right now, I long to be a gypsy still. To be the family that never has going-away or welcome-home parties because you never know if we are coming or going.

On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts Blog - Missoula MontanaRob and I are learning our way back home through a thicket of expectations, new and old. We prop each other up. On good days, we find morels in river bottoms and sheep skulls beneath pine logs. We appreciate the wildflowers and have dinner with friends who listen well and hug us hard.

On bad days, we try to stagger which one of us wobbles on this new track. We alternate between who wants to burn down the house and who can deal with the daily chores. We dwell too often on “should haves,” even though we know full well that “can dos” will serve us better.

Would we take our sailing trip again? Of course. Would we have done things a bit differently? No question. Hindsight is the clearest vision of all. Now we’re working on not letting it blind our way forward.

On the Horizon Line Blog - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

Transitions Suck

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Reflections on Life, Traveling

Yesterday we sent our lack of responsibility up in flames. After almost a month back in Missoula, we awoke too early yet again with our brains swimming in a sea of “should haves” and “need tos”. We seem to be constantly spinning these days, whether its from trying to find a job, trying to move into a new house, trying to figure out how to have a kid, or trying to remember why we left the tropics and returned to a truckload of responsibility.

Transitions suck. They just do. There’s no getting around the fact that changing your life completely is going to be stressful. Or the fact that you’re bound to question the decisions that led you into that stressful situation. Sure, change is exciting, stimulating, and a critical component for personal growth. But it’s also a cause for anxiety, uncertainty and losing sleep.

We’ve been waking up in the middle of the night, starting blindly into the dark, too wired to sleep. Our minds are full to bursting, circling through the hundreds of details required to re-assimilate into the life we left. The days fly by in a rush of searching for used cars, researching how to install vents for the bathroom fan, building a business website, calling old contacts, looking for possessions buried in storage, and on and boringly on. It’s exhausting. It feels like we’re hamsters in a wheel.

The grass is always greener. That’s one of the takeaways from our transition. When we were in Tonga, we thought we wanted the cultural stimulation of Southeast Asia. When we were in Thailand, we craved quiet mountains and remote rivers. When we were constantly on the move, we longed for a place to unpack our bags. Now that we can unpack, we are overwhelmed by the amount of stuff we own. Now that we’re back in the mountains, we miss the sea. It’s confusing, since we’re usually pretty decisive about what we want and why.

It’s just human nature to feel confused after so much change, we tell ourselves. This transition stress was inevitable, we console each other. But it still sucks.

At 6:30am on a snowy Sunday morning (yes, snowing in May in Montana), Rob brought our tea to the couch – the only furniture in our seemingly-vast new living room – and said, “Let’s have a ceremony. We need to break this cycle.”

We talked for an hour about how to summarize and memorialize the last year of our lives. About how to officially let that year go. About how to find a center point after so much mental spinning. About the why behind our transition anxiety. Rob hit the nail on the head: this particular transition is a mourning period for our lack of responsibility.

We’ve been clinging to our glorious, selfish, unfettered, unbounded year of shirking all duty. We’ve been trying to cram that carefree model into “real life” here in Missoula, a place where “should haves” and “need tos” are central tenets of the life we used to live.

So, we burned that selfish and glorious lack of responsibility in the cold, wet Montana morning. And we began redefining the term responsibility as a frame for holding together all that we hold dear: each other, family, friends, creativity, autonomy, flexibility, adventure, a home.

As I started writing this post, it felt like deja vu. I remembered writing about similar transition-angst just before we left. I wrote about the “pinch point” where it feels like too much life is trying to rush through too small a space. That’s how we feel again, 18 months later. We’ll come through it, hopefully soon. This pinch point too shall pass. Thanks to all of the friends and family who have listened to our anxieties and soothed our stress during the transition. With your help – and a little fire ceremony – we will slowly start to center again.

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Rob takes in the sunset on a dinghy ride back to the 40 foot sloop, Wizard, owned by John and Sue out of California.

From Sailor to Stunned

Posted on 6 CommentsPosted in Fishing, Reflections on Life

Two months ago I woke up every morning to the sound of large fish splashing against the hull of a sailboat, took morning swims in the nude and read books against the backdrop of coconut trees and sandy shores.  For some reason, I decided I didn’t like that any more.  It seemed too boring. Not challenging enough.

Ironically enough, I had similar reasons for leaving Missoula in the first place.  Although I had a well-paid job and worked for a cause I believed in… Although I had the comfortable existence that comes with a salary, health insurance, and a routine that included annual paid vacations to interesting places… And although I had good friends, fun toys, caring neighbors, and a trunkful of costumes for impromptu dance parties…  We left.

On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

Two weeks into our return home and sometimes I want that all back. I don’t want to be looking for income, searching for a decent car, or a place to live. I want a child and am glad that we will have one, but it doesn’t make things any easier.  Any one of these life events, these tasks or milestones, can be stressful for some people.   We decided to twist them together and swallow the damn bundle whole.

“Decided,” right?  We sat on the deck of a boat, bathed in tropical heat, and sun made the conscious decision to leave. We were jaded by slow days, easy meals of fish and fruit, and the peacefulness that comes from living on water.  I know what you’re thinking.  I wouldn’t have pity for us either.  Because I will never forget how fortunate we were and how fortunate we are.  To have the opportunity to leave in the first place, to meet amazing people along the way, to swim with sharks more times than I can count, walk barren flats of white sand, form a band at a beachside bar, laugh, stretch, breathe.

On the Horizon Line - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

But to be honest I wasn’t prepared for this.  Bills, meetings, insurance, loans, jobs, schedules.  Just swimming through this muddled mass of minor tasks and major decisions.  Like a little minnow hiding underneath the hull of a sailboat.  A big ocean all around.  The tuna attack in formation, stunning their prey through the blunt force of tooth, body and splash.  Then they circle back around and pick through the spoils.

I tell myself that I’m not a little fish. I tell myself that this was a conscious decision, to challenge ourselves, reinvent, and open the way to new ideas and revelations. Sometimes it helps. But I’ve certainly found the challenge I was looking for.

desert ocean - fishing in the south pacific ocean - tropical reefs and fisheries

Spring traveling through the Northwest US - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

Melding Back Into Missoula

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Reflections on Life, Traveling

Transitions can be exciting or scary, slow or abrupt.  But rarely are they comfortable.  As Rob and I transition back into “real life” on land here in Missoula, Montana, we are attempting to accept the discomfort that comes with change.  Our life is full of unknowns right now: where will we live?  What will we do next?  Who do we want to be when we grow up?

Luckily, even while immersed in the unknown, it feels good to be surrounded by familiar sights and our favorite people.   Our transition back to the States was buffered by spending two weeks wandering the Northwest before settling back in Montana.  We reconnected with friends from Bellingham to Bend, stopping in Seattle, Portland and Mosier in between.

Spring traveling through the Northwest US - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

We saw balsam root flowers springing up along the Columbia River, and mushrooms poking out amid the cedar forests near Canada.  We played with doggies and goats and chickens, told stories, caught up.  And we bought warm clothes at Goodwill to ease our heat-soaked bodies into the cold northern spring.

Now, vacation is over.  By choice, for sure, although the ending is no less poignant. Rob and I are both ready to delve into new projects, new passions, new challenges.  We’ve been back home for a week now, living in my parents’ very comfortable house and reacquainting ourselves with Missoula.  When we get overwhelmed by all the “to do’s” in front of us — find a house, a car, insurance, income — we call a friend we haven’t seen in over a year and go for a walk in the hills.

Spring traveling through the Northwest US - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

It’s almost too easy to slip back into old habits.  But that slip seems to make the transition even harder, as we struggle to hold on to those hard-earned travel lessons.  We are working to find the balance between embracing our old lifestyle and carving out a new one that accommodates our expanded horizons.  Mostly, we’re just taking the good advice of a wise friend: be kind to ourselves, and forgive ourselves when we hit rough spots on the road as meld back into our home.

Spring traveling through the Northwest US - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog - Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts

February full moon in Whitianga, New Zealand. On the Horizon Line with Brianna Randall on the beach.

A Blood Red March Moon

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Reflections on Life

The moon is my journal and my scrapbook, the keeper of my secrets. She silently, serenely observes the moments of my life, a sentinel and supporter during the passage of time. It gives me comfort and a feeling of rightness each month to look up and find her. To mark my benchmarks in her rotations. To exclaim in surprise when she’s round and luscious yet again.

Each full moon, I try to take a mental snapshot of where I was, what I was doing, how I was feeling. That way I can flip back through the months to remind myself of who I’ve been. I spend a few moments gazing at the moon’s pocked, glowing face, putting myself back in the space of her fullness 28 days before. Sometimes I go back further, as many moons as I can picture, to trace the recent journeys of my head and heart. Often, I try to remember the full moon one year before to compare the me of then with the me of now.

Take this recent full March moon, for instance. It rose over the crowded Sunday night market on Chiang Mai’s main street. She was blood red from the smoky Thai skies, complementing the riot of bright colors and sounds pulsing around us. A foreign, exotic moon, just like the country we were standing in. I took the snapshot to pull out later on.

I remembered back, as well. February: standing on the brisk southern beach of Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula, the golden moon rising out of the cold Pacific to light my solitary journey through New Zealand’s North Island. January: wading into a bathwater-warm sea to our dinghy off Fetoko, bioluminescence shooting from my feet as the crisp moon shone above. December: eating dinner with my sister aboard the sailboat, talking about the brand-new life in my womb as the moon and Orion competed for first place in a celestial beauty contest. One year ago: a full moon on the day we left our home, our friends, life as we knew it. The start of our journey west toward Pacific Islands, Polynesian cultures, sailing adventures, and expanding mental horizons.

I’ve been lucky, these past 12 moons. Privledged and proud to be exploring. But this blood red March moon reminded me to feel humble in the face of the unknown. Southeast Asia has been a tough transition for us. We moved rather abruptly from slow Pacific sailboats to fast-paced motorcycles in the world’s biggest cities. The last few weeks was an immersion back into “real life,” with its constant decisions, everyday struggles, and glaring realities. We certainly are not on a boat out at sea anymore, for better and for worse. It’s a transition that has been important, necessary and revealing. But it hasn’t been easy. This particular full moon was hard-earned, and it will stand out in my lunar life journal.

Click here to see more pictures from New Zealand (better late than never!)

Brianna's grandparents at their renewal of vows ceremony in San Diego.

Dreams of Grandpa on an Overnight Train from Bangkok

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Family and Friends, Reflections on Life

My grandpa loved trains. And by ‘love,’ I mean a borderline obsession. He grew up in Connecticut, raised by a florist and a Congregational minister in a pedigreed line that dated back to the original founders of New England, and of America. Grandpa became the sixth Congregational minister in that line.

But first, he grew up near the train, in a time when trains were still an elegant means of traversing the grand American continent. Frederick Bradley worked on his family’s flower farm, and looked forward to hearing the train’s whistle. To running alongside it, waving at the people inside, wondering where their journey would lead.

Grandpa told me plenty of stories about trains. As a child, I could hear the whistle, picture the dining car, watch the caboose fading away, feel the wonder of being carried to new horizons. Each Christmas for nearly forty years, my grandma would give her husband some type of train memorabilia: a model car, a painting, railroad tracks. They had a veritable fleet of electric train sets when I was a kid.

Each Christmas, Grandpa would make sure there was a six-foot-long train choo-chooing around the tree, complete with a model conductor, the dining car, fake smoke from the engine stack, and shiny red caboose. He loved to watch it go. So did I. Or maybe I simply got excited because Grandpa got so excited about the trains.

Now I’m on a real train. A train complete with a conductor, a dining car, a caboose, and people waving out the window as they journey to new horizons. I’ve been on trains before, although not often, and usually commuter trains that carry me from one big city to the next. Fancy and fast trains that don’t have the rocking rhythm of their more clunky ancestors.

train from bangkok to chiang mai brianna and rob on the horizon line travel blog

This train is in Thailand, and is neither fast nor fancy by modern standards. Yet it is still elegant. The railway from Bangkok to Chiang Mai was completed in 1921, and I can feel the history in this train car. The pair of facing seats neatly fold into sleeping berths. The ladder to the upper bunk doubles as the luggage storage. The doors between the train cars slide open and shut, and the step between them leaves you with a bubble of adrenaline as you step above the tracks. Polite Thai workers walk between the cars offering coffee, juice, beer, snacks. The bathrooms are shockingly spartan, but also efficient – a hole in the floor through the toilet, a shower hose and a sink to wash up.

You must talk to the people in your berth. You can’t fade away into a wifi world of virtual communication. I met two Germans, a Chinese Thai man, a French family. We muddle our way through various languages to learn a little about each other. Rob improbably strikes up a conversation in Malagasy with a woman from Madagascar, where he lived for two years.

Then it’s time to pull the curtains around each bunk. Lay under the blanket provided, and let the train rock you gently to sleep, lulled by the knowledge that you will wake up to a new landscape, with new opportunities just beyond the tracks.

I thought about my grandpa for most of the train ride, even in my train-rocked dreams. I miss him, and my grandmother who both died too young. I can hear their voices now, as if I could call them up from Chiang Mai to tell them about my journey. About their very first great-grandchild who is riding inside of me on this train.

“Brianna,” my grandma would say, in her warm but precise speech. “Do you really have enough clothes in that tiny bag of yours? ”

“Bri,” my grandpa would exclaim. “How are you? Where are you? Tell me about the train.” And so I did. In my dreams.

Brianna's grandparents at their renewal of vows ceremony in San Diego.

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Peeing on a Stick

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Mamalode, Reflections on Life

I always thought I’d pee on the stick in my own familiar bathroom, in my own comfortable home, at just the right moment. I pictured a sleepy weekend morning, rolling out of our cozy, king-size bed and pulling the pregnancy test out of a drawer where I’d cleverly stowed it for that perfect moment. Instead, I peed on a stick in a public bathroom in the Kingdom of Tonga.  …  Click here to find out what the pregnancy test said! 

To read more of Brianna’s monthly Mamalode articles, click here.

Click here to read more of the article.

Sunset photo taken by Rachel Stewart at Papamoa Beach.

My Own Alone Space

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Reflections on Life

 I’m on a bus. Alone. The seat beside me is empty, save for a sandwich, a bottle of water, and my Kindle. It feels empty without Rob beside me, his long legs askew and his hand on my thigh. It also feels undeniably spacious. And that’s the theme I’m exploring this week: space.

I’m heading to a peninsula jutting into the cold Pacific waters off New Zealand’s North Island. Rob is flying to American Samoa to visit a buddy from his Peace Corps days. I didn’t want to go for a number of reasons: money, travel time, the fact that we just left a very similar setting. But the main reason was to create some space.

I love Rob more than most things on this planet. I love him even more fiercely after our travels together. But we haven’t spent more than 24 hours apart in the past year. Hell, it’s rare that we spend more than two hours away from each other. As independent, self-sufficient people, that’s kinda weird. And sometimes unsettling – what if we become too dependent on the other to spend time apart?

Solo explorations infuse our relationship with new energy, and give us the freedom to disengage from the sometimes too-comfortable couple circle we present to the rest of the world. It’s hard to break into a circle, so the space inside can get stagnant. We do better together when we take a little time to explore the world alone. Separately. Individually.

Being alone provides a completely different space for my thoughts and my body. I move differently, am more observant, more quiet, more spontaneous. I can eat what I want, when I want. I can read all day or write all night. The space I usually allot to Rob is waiting, beckoning, a blank slate to fill as I’d like.

This last year is the longest I’ve gone without an “alone time” trip of my own. During our relationship, I’ve spent at least one hundred nights away from Rob — for work, for fun, for me. For us. All of these trips created a different energy in the space vacated by my husband. It’s always a pleasure to see what wiggles into that space when I’m alone. Sometimes it’s chaos, sometimes it’s peace. It’s always enlightening.

Today, I’m on a bus alone. I’m going on an adventure to see what I can find. I’m following my feet wherever they take me, knowing that – in the end – they will take me back to Rob, where we will reunite to share our stories, our space, ourselves.

Sunset photo taken by Rachel Stewart at Papamoa Beach.
Photo taken by Rachel Stewart at Papamoa Beach.
Visit out Facebook page to see more photos: www.facebook.com/onthehorizonline

Farewell, Tonga

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Reflections on Life, Traveling

Dear Tonga,

It’s been a fabulous five months.  You really pulled out all of the stops for our stay here, from pretty fish and sandy beaches to dance parties and band performances.  We particularly loved living on a sailboat in Vava’u’s flat, calm waters (nicknamed “lolo,” or oil, in Tongan).

Maybe next time you can hold off on the cyclone, though, ok?

Diving, fishing, kayaking and snorkeling every day around many of your lush green islands was rad.  Riding a quad bike through Neiafu for the weekly grocery runs was way more fun than using a car, and eating ice cream cones along the main drag was pretty cool, too.  Your people welcomed us with open arms, gathering us right into the fold.  It’s nice to live in a community where everyone knows your name.

In Vava’u, we learned to play two new musical instruments (the ukulele and mandolin), hosted my sister for a month, learned to windsurf (well, one of us did), and tried out kite-boarding.  We also got to be pretend-parents for a couple of weeks.  We learned to slow down some, too, and just sit still with friends.

Sadly, we have to say goodbye now.  Or at least “toki sio,” until our next visit.  Why are we leaving your warm waters and happy shores?  Because we’re crazy?  Maybe.  But it’s time to move on.  Rob and I promised ourselves adventure on this voyage across the seas, and it’s gotten just a tad too comfortable here in Tonga.  We’re ready to challenge ourselves again, to be thrilled by foreign languages and customs, and to immerse ourselves in slightly uncomfortable sensations.

We’re ready for a new country.  A new continent.  New sights, sounds, tastes, textures.  Tomorrow we leave for New Zealand, where we’ll spend a few weeks catching up with many of the friends we made as we sailed through the South Pacific.  After that, Rob and I are gonna spend a few months in Southeast Asia, a place that’s new to us both.  We plan to explore by land and by sea, via boats, buses, scooters and our trusty feet.

Thanks for everything, Tonga.  We already miss you.  We hope to be back again soon.  Nofo a!

Readers: go to our Facebook page for a “Best of Tonga” photo album.  And stay tuned for a “Best of the South Pacific” album, too!

Click here to see our "Best of Tonga" photo album.

Click here to see sunset picture of a beach in Tonga.

2013 – One Incredible Year in Review

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Family and Friends, Fishing, Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures, Reflections on Life, Sailing, Traveling

Click here to see sunset picture of a beach in Tonga.

6,000 nautical miles
26 tropical islands
8 countries
7 sailboats
6 months living on the sea
3 months living in Tonga
2 careers put on hold
2 big backpacks
1 incredible year

In some ways, it feels like 2013 was the longest year in ages. Probably because a lot happened. We quit our jobs, packed up our house, kissed friends and family goodbye. We sailed one-quarter of the way around the planet, and met countless new people living a range of different lifestyles. Here are some highlights from our journey this year:

Favorite Places:

Palmerston Atoll, an island in the Cooks with only 60 people divided into three governing families, no roads, and abundant fish. Fakarava, for its unspoiled wildlife where we dove with 200­+ sharks. Bora Bora for its sheer beauty and sandy anchorages. Niue, the smallest country on earth, where Rob saved a woman’s life (stay tuned for that story!) and every resident waves as you pass by. The Kingdom of Tonga, where we have taken up temporary residence, for the sense of community, the accessible water sports, and the local culture.

Favorite Wildlife Moments:
We’ve spent hundreds of hours underwater and thousands of hours floating on top of it. The most memorable sightings include: a lone Orca whale breaching alongside our boat; floating next to 7 sea turtles in the Galapagos; snorkeling with sea lions in Baja; diving with manta rays in Bora Bora; jumping into the deep blue and seeing dozens of curious sharks; listening to the humpback whales sing underwater and watching a mama and her baby play; cheering as dolphins ride the bow wave of our sailboat; and swimming at night through bioluminescent plankton that glow and sparkle.

Biggest Challenges:

  • Nothing is ever still while sailing from place to place, which means dealing with seasickness, a rocking stove while you cook, and always having to brace yourself as you sit or walk or sleep.
  • Tight quarters and communal living arrangements can be tough at times.
  • Wind, waves and currents control when and where you go, testing your patience and flexibility.
  • Bringing the right stuff with you and anticipating what you need during long passages at sea.
  • Reconciling the illusion of paradise with the reality of bugs, heat, storms, and the inevitable list of chores and repairs that come with living on a boat.
  • Meeting like-minded people and finding friendships as close as those we left behind.

Best Parts of Living At Sea:

  • Nights where the stars are endless and bright.
  • Shades of infinite blues.
  • Syncing your daily life with the rhythm of the sun, the wind, the moon.
  • Watching birds and fish and dolphins and whales from the bow.
  • Visiting remote and spectacular places that are inaccessible by plane or car.
  • Spending time with yourself and each other.

Click here to see photo of Bri and Rob in the South Pacific.

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