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.

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


sailing in polynesia

Killing Coconuts is Fun

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Food and Drink

kids drinking coconuts

Coconuts are my new favorite all-purpose fauna. Sure, I’ve always been a fan of coconut milk in my curry, and flakes in my cookies. But now I really appreciate how totally rad these tropical balls truly are. They’re like free, tasty mini-survival packs scattered within easy reach. If you’re thirsty, you grab a green one, bash off the stem with a rock, poke a stick in it, and voila: a liter of vitamin-rich water in a compact carrying case.

Hungry? Find a brown coconut in a tree or on the ground (just make sure it doesn’t have any holes that indicate a rat beat you to it). Slice through the dry outer husk and shuck it off, peeling away the fibers to reveal the hard nut inside. Poke a hole in one of the three circular seed indents, drink out what’s left of the water, smash the shell on a rock to divide it in half and voila: fatty, vitamin-rich white meat that satisfies your belly and makes your hair and skin shiny from the inside out.

sailing in south pacific on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts

We don’t even take water bottles hiking anymore. And at the occasional cruisers’ potluck on shore, Rob just shucks a few coconuts and chips out chunks of sweet white meat for everyone’s dessert. They store really well for passages, too. We put one in the fridge each day to have a cold drink, and used the meat shavings to liven up cookies or pancakes. We’ve also started making our own coconut milk for curry dinners by pouring boiling water through the shavings.

And then there’s the dried-out shells: Rob has a sweet new bowl that holds his above-average servings of food. I have a new bra that definitely covers my below-average serving of breasts. We both have things to bang together to make percussive noises when playing music.

The other day, a fellow cruiser asked for some help opening some brown coconuts he’d pulled out of the ocean.  Rob handily shucked a few on shore.  Later, the German sailor told a few others in his halting English, “That American boy is good at killing the coconuts.  He must have killed a lot of them.”  Indeed he has.

To recap: coconuts are the perfect fruit. Visit a tropical island near you soon to experience their full range of utility, simplicity, and overall awesomeness.

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]

Loving Montana Over Labor Day Weekend

Posted on 4 CommentsPosted in Community and Culture, Hiking, Sailing

Even though the fires make for good sunsets, they’re hell on throats and positive attitudes.  The Friday night before the long holiday weekend over Labor Day found Missoula wreathed in mood-dampening smoke.  We decided to get out of dodge.

Rob, Cassidy, and I took off Saturday to the northern Mission Mountains for an overnight backpack to Mollman Lakes.  We hiked in from the  Tribal Wilderness side, which is straight up (and I do mean straight) from the valley floor.  We drove the little red truck through the forest on a sort-of road, plowing over massive rocks and around cedar branches.

After 5 miles and 3,500 feet, we arrived at Mollman pass and gazed out at the craggy Mission cliffs, and two sinuous deep blue lakes spread out before us.  Our friend, Derek, was already there, and snagged the best campsite.  Three more friends rolled in an hour later.  The dogs were in heaven. One-night backpacks are awesome: our packs were less than 20 pounds, and it felt like we flew up the trail.  We saw a small black bear on a scree field, and plenty of bear poop on the trail.  We only passed two other groups (a regular thoroughfare, compared to most wilderness hikes in Montana): one group were acquaintances, and the other was a pack of Amish boyscouts hiking out from the lakes.

A full moon rose over the rocky cliffs as we joked around a campfire in the cold air at our 7,000-foot elevation.  After three hilarious tries, and two broken ropes, we managed to hang the ~50 pounds of food for 7 people and 2 dogs.

Our friends stayed in another night to fish and laze on rocks, while Rob and I hiked out and drove north another 40 miles to Flathead Lake and our sailboat.

The wind was whipping.   We made it to the east end of Wild Horse Island in record time, docking at a friend’s cabin for a quick happy hour visit.  From the dock, we pointed to Mollman Pass, rising sharply out of the lake to the south, and told them about our night in the woods.

Waving farewell at sunset, Rob and I had a quick sail to the protected Skeeko Bay.  We nestled our anchor in a free spot near shore, counting a record 14 boats already anchored for the night.  Party weekend.  About an hour later, as we were making pasta in the cabin, another friend—our slip neighbor at Dayton Yacht Harbor—hailed us from his stand-up paddleboard.  They’d anchored next to us, and he was shuttling their dog to shore for its evening pee.  I slept well, lulled and comfortable with the gentle rock in Skeeko’s protected anchorage.

We woke up with a hike, a swim, and some knot-tying practice in the cockpit.  Around noon, we headed back to the harbor to pick up another couple of friends (and a dog, of course), heading out for an afternoon of stand-up paddling, beers, swimming, and communal laughter.

All in all, another Montana Labor Day weekend spent exerting minimal labor and receiving much love from our community, our mountains, and our favorite lake.

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