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.

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

Trekking in Myanmar - Rob deflated with a flat tire on our scooter after a long journey - On the Horizon Line travel blog.

Turning Towards Home: Trekking in Myanmar Part Two

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in Outdoor Adventures, Pregnancy, Traveling

“Yesterday, there was a war here,” said Romeo, our Burmese trekking guide. He was holding a hand-drawn map, and pointing to the spot where we were about to embark on a 3-day hike through northeastern Myanmar. 

“Wait, what?” I said. “A war? What do you mean, ‘war’?” I asked half in fear, half in confusion. Just a minor shooting, he reassured me. Nothing to worry about. The Shan rebels have been fighting for their own independent state for decades. The recent escalation in fighting was part of a long-running cycle of give and take between ethnic minorities and the national army.

“They won’t hurt foreigners,” Romeo said. Then he turned to Rob: “But you must be alert as you drive the scooter on the highway. The Burmese special forces have road blockades set up.”

Rob and I exchanged glances, and then had a brief huddle. We decided to go ahead with our trek. After a 10-hour train ride from Mandalay the day before and hours of research into the best hikes in Myanmar, we were anxious to get up in the mountains.

Luckily, the mountains turned out to be just what we needed. The first two days and two nights were exactly what we’d been searching for in Southeast Asia: quiet forests, new cultures, and a chance to use our feet after a year floating on the sea. Rob and I were enjoying ourselves more fully than we had for weeks. We were chilled out. At peace. Finally in the moment instead of obsessing over what’s next.

Trekking in Myanmar - Burmese guide looking over tea villages - On the Horizon Line travel blog.

But then Myanmar’s mountains kicked us in the butt. And stepped on our toes for good measure. The third morning, in the tiny village of Bong Lon, Rob woke up sick. Really sick.

I did some mental calculations: we were a 5 hour hike from the two old scooters that carried us and our two guides into the mountains. The scooters were parked in a village that required a two-hour ride over rocky, dirt roads to the nearest podunk town, which was a 10-hour train ride from the city, which was a two-hour plane flight from trustworthy health care across the border in Thailand.

But I didn’t panic. I simply rubbed Rob’s back when he returned from his fourth trip before breakfast to the hole in the ground that counted as the ‘toilet.’ I made sure he ate a few forkfuls of rice, filled our water bottles and packed our things.

I didn’t freak out when he made a dozen more trips into the woods, squatting behind tea trees and losing precious fluids. I started to get worried, though, when I came upon Rob sprawled out on the dusty trail, pale as a sheet, lying flat on his back in the sun because he was too sick to move. But I just put on his backpack and helped him to his feet – there simply wasn’t anything else to do but keep going.

I remained calm when we finally mounted the tiny, old scooters, even though I had butterflies in my pregnant belly at the thought of riding behind a driver who was not my husband. Rob slumped weakly behind the 15-year-old Burmese kid who couldn’t speak English, too incapacitated to drive himself. As we started down the worst road I’ve ever seen, it felt like taking a skinny-tired road bike down a boulder-strewn riverbed.

I barely even screamed as our scooter crashed into a particularly large rock and we went flying dangerously close to the edge of a drop-off. The back brake ripped off, but we escaped with only bruises on our legs. Still keeping it together, I ran down the hill to stop Rob and his driver.

I didn’t panic when I saw the Burmese soldier patrolling the road just in front of me, his AK-47 rifle prominently in tow. Instead, I sent up a brief prayer that no rebels were lurking nearby, waiting to start another “war” while we were caught like lame ducks in the middle.

I breathed a sigh of relief when Rob recuperated enough to drive the non-broken scooter down the mountain, and we left our guides behind. I even refrained from backseat driving as I clung to the tiny bar on the back of the scooter, shifting the heavy pack on my shoulders as we skidded over holes and boulders, inches from cows, drop-offs and passing tractors.

I held a handkerchief to my nose when we walked the scooter through roadside construction complete with barrels of boiling oil and rock-crushing machines spewing gravel at us. See, Bri, life could be worse, I told myself, as we passed women and children working to build the road, scrounging to survive in an arid and unforgiving land.

I didn’t curse when we got a flat tire a mere two kilometers from the only hotel in town, after surviving the harrowing mountainside scooter ride. In fact, I even laughed at the irony of the situation, and took a picture of Rob slumped, defeated, in the dust, while a Burmese mechanic changed our tire for 50 cents.

We made it to the hotel. Rob ran for the bathroom while I haggled over a suitable room.

I still didn’t freak out when I found the bags we’d stowed strewn across the hotel’s storage room. Or when I found our prized possession – the beat-up Panamanian guitar – being played by a lounging hotel staff member. I just snatched the guitar away, and marched off to our room to dose my wilted, feverish husband with Immodium and Cipro.

But then. Oh, but then. I lost it because of a shitty shower. After Rob fell asleep, I stepped in to wash off the days of dust and grime and who-knows-what germs. To sluice away the day’s trials in hard-earned hot water. But the shower didn’t spray down on me. It didn’t even drip down on me. It just sprayed sideways, on the toilet and the sink and the window. That’s when I finally cried.

Still dirty, I dragged myself to the bed and stared out the window, trying to sort through what we should do next. As I pondered, it snapped. TWANG!

Not my brain, not my body, not Rob’s bones. A guitar string. TWANG!

We hadn’t broken a string in 6,000 miles of sailing the Pacific Ocean. After driving 800 kilometers with the guitar precariously strapped to the back of a motorcycle. During thousands of songs performed for strangers on foreign streets around the world.

But the guitar string snapped in that moment, all by itself, sitting in the corner of a hotel in Myanmar. To me, that snapped string represented our travel karma. It had reached the breaking point after so many good memories and too many near-misses.

I looked at the calendar, and realized it was exactly one year to the day that we had closed the door on our life in Montana, walking away from our home to begin this adventure. Ironic? Or cosmic? Either way, I didn’t need another sign.

When Rob woke up, his fever down and slightly more coherent, he asked what I thought we should do. “Go home,” I said immediately, assuredly. “Let’s just go home.”

“I’m certainly not going to argue with you,” he replied with the ghost of a grin.

It took us four days and four nights to travel from Bong Lon to Bellingham. Why Bellingham? Because it seemed fitting to end our year-long adventure with the same friends we began this journey with last spring. After two buses, two taxis, three flights, and an arc from Dubai across the North Pole, we arrived on U.S. soil to find Mark and Katie waiting with open arms.

In the mountains of Myanmar, the universe told us it was time to start the next chapter. We listened. We were ready. We are home.

Trekking in Myanmar - Bri back on US soil - On the Horizon Line travel blog.

brianna randall rob roberts travel private island travel tonga beach

Magical Mandala on Fetoko Island

Posted on Posted in Community and Culture, Family and Friends

brianna randall rob roberts travel private island travel tonga beach

Fetoko Island is not on any maps. You can’t find it on navigation charts, and many people here in Tonga would scratch their heads if you ask for directions. Maybe this is part of the reason that Fetoko is such a magical place.

Fetoko Island is 2.4 acres, and has a permanent population of 5: Ben and Lisa, along with their two dogs, Higgs and Boson, and their cat Penzini. The seasonal population can climb as high as 20 from July through October, when they host a constant stream of visitors and friends. And their legendary beach dance parties bring hundreds of locals to Fetoko.

brianna rob travel tonga private island beach resort mandala travel

First, a bit about Ben and Lisa, since they are the core of Fetoko and the main ingredients for making it magical. This couple set sail from the Bay Area in California in 2001 on Waking Dream, their 42-foot Cooper. Three years later, they arrived in Tonga … and never left. Ben and Lisa lived on Waking Dream for 5 years here in Vava’u before moving to Fetoko Island. They started Regatta Vava’u to bring more yachties to Tonga, built and ran what is now the most popular waterfront restaurant, opened up a cart safari business, and also started up a powered kayak tour business. Ben built dozens of cyclone-safe yacht moorings in the harbors, along with several docks, roads, and trails in Vava’u.

brianna rob travel tonga private island beach resort mandala travel

Then they were given an island. Pretty cool, huh? That’s what happens if you share a lot of yourself with the community around you. Of course, it’s technically owned by the royal family, like all land in Tonga — Ben and Lisa have a 99-year lease from the government to live on Fetoko. This year, they finished building their one-of-a-kind restaurant, as well as the first part of their eco-resort. Mandala Resort is a place to come chill. To listen to the wind in the trees. To watch the sunset from the strip of beach. To have dance parties til dawn. To eat good food and listen to good stories. It’s got this energy to it, this hum of giving and learning and loving. It draws awesome people who want to give and learn and love.brianna rob travel tonga private island beach resort mandala travel

Rob and I have settled into our “glamping” lifestyle on Fetoko seamlessly: our giant tent and queen-sized inflatable mattress are bigger than the interior of most of the sailboats we’ve lived aboard. The dogs feel like our own. Rob and Ben bustle around fixing things, and making plans to build the next set of fales — the unique accommodations that Mandala Resort rents to tourists. (Check out this tree house.) Lisa and I hang out in the open-air kitchen making papaya cake and curries for ourselves and any guests. We take the boat into town a few times a week to get produce, say hi the locals in Neiafu, and get a new perspective.

private island resort mandala brianna randall rob roberts travel tonga beach

Once the tourism and yachting season dies down next month, Rob and I will help them fix up Waking Dream. We plan to move aboard for a few months, to have a floating base as we help out Ben and Lisa, as well as the other locals who have become our friends these past 2 months. But no matter where we roam here in Vava’u during the upcoming summer, we know that we will always return to Fetoko, the place — and people — that feel like home.

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sunset at caras park in downtown missoula

My North Star = Missoula, Montana

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Community and Culture, Food and Drink

Tonight, I went to my 10th annual Farm Party.  It’s only one block from my house, and said to be the best party of the summer here in Missoula, Montana.  The sunflowers are reaching toward the creek, the acres of corn shelter giggling children, and the rows of shiny veggies gleam next to the wooden stage on the back of a red pickup.  Over 500 people show up, eating dinner, drinking local beer, and dancing to local bands under the late-night Rocky Mountain sunset.

I’ve been to just about every Farm Party since they started in 2002, the year I moved here.  The college kids look younger every year, and my friends seem to procreate exponentially (if the giggles from the corn rows are any indication).  But some things remain constant at the Farm Party: the number of bikes always dwarfs the cars; the beets are always plentiful; and you always see plenty of old and new friends.  As I walked up, with my beer-in-a-jar in one hand and my baseball hat in the other, I laughed at a dad riding a skateboard while pushing one kid in a stroller and yelling at his bike-bound toddler ahead of him.

It’s my last party for a while.

We’re leaving this spring, setting sail for adventures west of my mountains, and for unknown horizons.  I don’t know if we’ll be gone for one year, or two…or ten.  There’s joy in that unknown, and in the freedom of bursting from routine into an unplanned and unscheduled world.  But there’s also joy—and comfort—in knowing we’ll be back.

As I walked home in the mild summer air, the north horizon still reflecting the last rays of sunset at 10pm, I looked up.  Cassiopeia loomed above me, while tipsy bikers careened past my shoulder.  I found the Big Dipper, and gazed at the North Star.  She sits directly above the mountains I know intimately, the trails I’ve biked and the creek I’ve fished and swam in this past decade.

It was such a good decade.

It’s interesting to feel the pull of contradictory needs these last six months before we leave.  I want to cuddle with our dog, or stretch out on our wide, cozy couch before crunching my life into one backpack and one small sailboat.  But I also want to talk to everyone in this community, memorize the children’s faces and let them memorize mine–don’t forget me!–and revel in the sweet, short Montana summer. I want my hair to grow long and blanket me during the cold Montana winter, but I can’t want to crop it short, to keep me cool when I cross the Equator.

My friend Joellen pulled me into a hug the last time I left Missoula for a spell.  I still remember what she whispered in my ear, because I tell it to my friends who leave, too: “We love you.  We’ll miss you.  And we’ll be right here when you get back.”

When I look up at that North Star while I’m in Thailand or Alaska or Hawaii, I’ll picture my friends dancing at a flower-studded farm under an August sunset.   And though I will travel far and wide, in the end I know that the same star will guide me back home.

 

 

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