rob roberts with a sailing canoe in Montana

Why ‘Scanoodling’ Is Our New Favorite Water Activity

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Outdoor Adventures, Sailing

First off, friends, apologies for the long radio silence. I let the blog lapse while I finished my book (hooray!) about sailing across the Pacific Ocean and the subsequent transition back to the U.S. as new parents. Fingers crossed that it finds a home with a publisher soon 🙂

I’ve also been busy writing for magazines and newspapers. You’re welcome to check out recent stories about travel and adventure-parenting here.

And now to the heart of this post: scanoodling, our family’s favorite new hobby.

Brianna Randall sailing a canoe in Missoula

What is scanoodling?

It’s a word we made up that means dinking around in our motorized sailing canoe. Sometimes we paddle. Sometimes we sail. Sometimes we rev up the 3-horsepower motor.

The name comes from the type of canoe we bought this summer, a 16.5-foot Coleman Scanoe. It’s a flat-bottomed, aluminum-framed boat with a square back that’s durable and roomy — a cross between a skiff and a canoe.

Why we chose a scanoodle

Since we returned from our big trip across the sea, Rob and I have struggled to figure out the best boat to fit our lifestyle in Montana. As water-lovers, boats are vital for increasing our happiness factor.

We have two Alpaca Rafts, super-lightweight inflatable kayaks, which have served us well for short day trips or solo missions on rivers and wilderness lakes. But they’re too small for our family to undertake multi-day trips, and hell to paddle into the wind.

talon in snow with packrafts on clark fork river 2

I used to share a 26-foot sailboat on Flathead Lake, but gave up that share when we set sail for the South Pacific. Since then, I’ve rented sailboats from friends for a few days at a time. But we missed the freedom of going sailing whenever I wanted. Plus, a traditional sailboat makes it tough to visit new places, since you’re either locked into one marina with dock fees or you need a big truck to tow a 5,000 to 10,000-pound yacht.

We looked high and low for good options, including small trimarans that our sedan could tow. Nothing seemed quite right.

Until we came across SailboatsToGo.com. This little company makes nifty sailing packages that attach to most kayaks or canoes. The whole kit weighs under 50 pounds, and can be checked as luggage on airplanes. We were sold, especially since we’re planning to sail through Florida’s Everglades National Park this winter.

scanoe with sail rig

We bought the sailing kit before we bought our own boat, and tested it out on friends’ canoes. Then we found the Scanoe, complete with a little outboard motor, for just $800. Packing up after work one Friday, we drove to Sandpoint, bought the Scanoe, and sailed to a remote beachside campsite on Lake Pend Oreille at sunset, the water like glass under our bow.

It was a match made in heaven.

Why we love scanoodling

  • You can sail UP rivers, not just float down, which is uber-awesome.
  • When there’s good wind, you can fill your sail instead of ruin your arms.
  • And when the wind’s in your face and you can’t sail or paddle, the 3 hp outboard pushes the boat along at a good clip: ~8 mph without gear, ~5 mph fully loaded. One gallon of gas keeps us going over an hour.
  • With the pontoons and leeboards (courtesy of SailboatsToGo) and the beamy, flat-bottomed canoe design, the boat is super safe. We can walk around inside or stand up to fish, and not worry that Talon might topple overboard.
  • It’s a craft that can ply nearly any waterway in Montana. While I wouldn’t take it through Class III+ rapids or into the open ocean, the Scanoe does stay stable even when it takes on water.
  • At 80 pounds, Rob and I can easily lift the Scanoodle on top of our car with the sail rolled up under the crossbars. The pontoons, leeboards and steering oar fit handily in the trunk. (Note: We’re planning to buy a small trailer to make transport even easier.)
  • We can pack enough gear in the boat to stay out for a week and the three of us still fit comfortably.
  • You never have to worry about running aground, since it’s made to be beached.
  • Maintenance hours are negligible and dock fees are nonexistent.

sailing upriver in search of yellowstone cutthroat trout

Where we scanoodled this summer

  • Missouri River – 50 miles over 5 days
  • Lake Pend Oreille – 3 night camping trip
  • Lake Upsata – a day of snorkeling and spearfishing
  • Frenchtown Pond – where Talon caught his first fish
  • Clark Fork River – afternoon floats near Missoula
  • Cliff Lake – 2 night camping and fishing trip
  • Flathead Lake – hour-long joy rides from Big Arm campground with friends and family
  • Red Rock National Wildlife Refuge – across Upper Red Rock Lake and 2 miles up the Red Rock River
  • Blanchard Lake & Clearwater River – after-work jaunts to spearfish and snorkel
  • Next up: Everglades National Park in December!

catching rainbows in cliff lake

sailing canoes access back water fishing brianna randall fishes from the bow of the sailing canoe

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.

Talon looking out at water from a sailboat on Flathead Lake.

Throwing Things Overboard

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Sailing

Talon tells the tale of his first sailing expedition on Flathead Lake.

Last weekend, my parents took me in this big bathtub thingy with loud white sheets that flapped around, went up and down, and swung side to side. It was kinda like when they took me on the rubber thingy that moved down the river, but this time the water stayed still and we moved over it.

I got to throw things overboard a lot, which was extra fun because people kept diving in to get ’em back out. It was like when I throw bananas and blueberries outta the high chair only way better, ’cause the dive splashed me in the face every time. Usually, someone said an interesting curse word before they splashed into the water, too.Alpaca raft as a dinghy for our sailboat on Flathead Lake.

Mom was super excited about the white sheets, and Dad kept complaining that “lake sailboats don’t have autopilot.” I hung out in the backpack while they played with ropes. When we stopped moving, I got to play with the ropes, too. (It wasn’t as fun as throwing things overboard, though.)

Dad took me to the beach in a really tiny rubber thing so that we could throw rocks in the lake. I walked in all the way to my chest, even though my parents kept using curse words about how cold the water is. Adults are wimps.

Alpaca raft as a dinghy for our sailboat on Flathead Lake.

At night, we went inside the bathtub thingy, and Mom slept next to me in this really cool bed that bounced all night long (I don’t know where Dad slept). I slept longer than ever before, since it was so peaceful with all that rocking and the water noises next to my head.

The next morning, I called my friends to tell them how fun big bathtubs are. It’s nice calling other babies, since adults never understand what I’m saying.

Talon playing with the VHF radio on a sailboat

Poppa came up that afternoon to play with the ropes and white sheets, too, and Grandma held me while the bathtub tipped on its side in the wind. Everyone laughed when I peed over the side into the water.

I wonder what kind of weird contraption my parents will take me in next. Luckily, we always seem to go outside, where I get to watch trees and birds and creeks. Mostly, I try to sleep while we move. Sometimes, I focus on getting food all over the contraption, or pulling the hat off my head when Mom and Dad aren’t looking.  Brianna Randall playing guitar onboard a sailboat in Montana

I sure hope we get to go in the big bathtub again, so I can do some more sleeping and throwing while we move over the still water. It was pretty fun. And my parents seemed really happy the whole weekend, too.

*Note from Mom: Huge THANKS to the owners and managers of s/v Spindrift for letting us feel the wind in the sails again.  We appreciate the opportunity more than words can express.  (Also, looks like vision boards work!)

*Note from Dad: I got a new toy! These photos are from the refurbished Nikon SLR I’m learning to use. (Again, it’s good to have goals.)

Talon looking out at water from a sailboat on Flathead Lake.

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: directionaldetour.org
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?”

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.

 

 

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 www.directionaldetour.org

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 www.controlledjibe.com

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.
Bri with Shan family in Myanmar village - Brianna and Rob - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog

Tea and Babies – Myanmar Trekking Part One

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Community and Culture, Outdoor Adventures, Traveling

We couldn’t speak the language.  We didn’t understand the social structure in the ethnic Shan villages.  We slept on the floor of a teak cabin in the home of complete strangers in the mountains of Myanmar.  But even in a completely foreign setting, tea and babies allowed us to bridge the gap between our culture and theirs.

Rob and I spent three days trekking through northeastern Myanmar with a hired guide named Romeo (his chosen English name, since the Burmese pronunciation stumped most foreigners).  Romeo was 25.  He brought along his “intern,” One, who was 15, energetic, fluent in the local language of Shan, and trying desperately to learn English.  Trekking is actually not a very apt descriptor for how we spent three day.  It sounds too hard-core.  Instead, we walked at a leisurely pace for about six hours each day between tiny villages, chatting with Romeo, listening to One sing, checking out birds and tea plantations scattered among the jungle.

Rob with 2 Shan guides - Trekking in Myanmar village - Brianna and Rob - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog

As evening fell, we’d stop at one of the villages and follow Romeo into an unknown wooden house.  Shan language is closer to Thai than Burmese.  Rob and I quickly learned the basic ‘hello,’ ‘thank you,’ and ‘so long,’ but basically had zero clue what was happening around us most of the time.  We compensated by playing with the ever-present babies crawling and toddling across the teak floors, and by drinking endless cups of tea with their parents, aunts, grandparents and neighbors – many of whom seemed to live in the house.  And we did a lot of miming, which is always entertaining.

The family fed us and gave us blankets and bamboo mats to sleep on the floor.  These houses had little to no furniture, other than a couple of small, round tables about one-foot high.  We sat on old rice sacks.  Water for washing and drinking came from a small tank (which we purified with our UV SteriPen), and the ‘toilet’ consisted of a four-foot-high bamboo box with a hole in the floor.  Most of the village homes have electricity now, thanks to the recent installation of mini-hydro projects or solar panels, but usually only enough juice to fuel a couple of light bulbs.

Firewood for drying tea - Trekking in Myanmar village - Brianna and Rob - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog

Dinner and breakfast were the same: rice, eggs, fried potatoes, and random leaves harvested near the house.  All food is prepared over an open fire that burns constantly in the middle of the main room on a concrete slab set into the hardwood floor (the babies are adept at avoiding the flames).  The Shan villagers rarely eat meat, since it’s expensive, and they usually don’t grow more than a banana tree.  They still gather local roots, bitter fruits and leaves, buying all of their rice and cooking oil for the year in one lump sum after they receive their once-yearly payment for the tea they grow and dry in the mountains.  We learned that one kilo of dried tea earns them $4,000 kyat, and an average family harvests 1-2,000 kilos.  That works out to about $8,000 USD per year for a family of four.

Scooter over construction on Burma roads - Trekking in Myanmar village - Brianna and Rob - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog

After dinner, we gathered around the indoor fire to ask questions of our hosts through Romeo: do they only grow tea or other crops, too?  How often do they go to Kyaukme, the nearest town?  Had they met many foreigners?  What’s the latest with the Shan rebels fighting nearby?  I whipped out our ultrasound picture to further the universal baby bond, which took 30 minutes of translating to explain to the wonder-struck villagers.  Our hosts peppered us with questions, too, including how much it costs to live in America, what our house looked like, why we traveled to their village, how we make money.

Then we curled up under our blankets in the chilly mountain air, sleeping four abreast next to Romeo and One in the main room as our myriad hosts disappeared into the back room to do the same.  The tinkle of bells on the necks of nearby livestock lulled us to sleep.  The early morning chants of Buddhist monks collecting alms woke us up, ready for another day of walking through the mountains of Myanmar.

Stay tuned for Part Two in our trekking tale, which includes Burmese soldiers and a minor scooter accident.

bri and Rob with young Buddhist Monk - Trekking in Myanmar village - Brianna and Rob - On the Horizon Line Travel Blog

 

bright lights and big city - protests in bangkok thailand

One Minute in Bangkok

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture, Traveling, Videos

River ferries, food stalls, woks, kids, temples, bright lights, fast motorcycles, foreign alphabets.  Bangkok has been a blur of activity and culture after the past year of our slow-paced South Pacific Ocean explorations.  I tried to catch the vibe of Bangkok in this 60 second video.  Check it out.

After a week in Thailand’s largest city, we’re heading north on the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai.  Looking forward to seeing the mountains again, and a few adventures out of the big city.  To see more photos from Bangkok, click this link to see our recent Thailand photo album.

[framed_video column=”full-width”]www.youtube.com/watch?v=dO3UX-rdIOs&feature=youtu.be[/framed_video]

Click here to read the full article and see more photos.

Front Page: Read our update in the Missoulian Newspaper!

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Sailing, Traveling

Click here to read the full article and see more photos.

I might have picked a better picture of us if I’d known it would end up on the front page of our hometown newspaper.  But what fun to be able to share a few stories with the press.  Here’s a snippet from the article.  Click here to read more.

In March 2013, Brianna Randall and Rob Roberts packed up their house in Missoula, left their jobs at local conservation nonprofits, and sailed west on a dream.

For the past nine months, the couple have hitchhiked through the South Pacific as crew members on small private sailboats.

In that time, they’ve been robbed, Roberts saved the life of a drowning woman, they have experienced awe-inspiring wildlife encounters and have come to understand that there are many models in the world as to how to travel, work and raise children.   Read more here.

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