Live the cliche

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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

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

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

Dreams of Grandpa on an Overnight Train from Bangkok

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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.

Sunset photo taken by Rachel Stewart at Papamoa Beach.

My Own Alone Space

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 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.
sailing in polynesia on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts drums yacht club tahiti

Boy, do I love Rob.

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Family and Friends, Reflections on Life

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

Rob’s writing a song. He sits on the bow, bent over the small nylon-string guitar we bought in Panama City, humming softly to himself: “Duh duh duh, dum dee dum dum, ba-daaaaaa.” I smile as he ends with a flourish. Rob’s only been playing guitar for two months, but the little ditty he invented has a catchy rhythm and clear chords. I have no doubt the soon-to-emerge lyrics will be clever, too.

That’s my husband, I think proudly to myself.

I still feel all warm and fuzzy inside when I say that word. We married each other one year ago today, in a sunny park along a cold river in the center of hundreds of family and friends. We vowed to explore the world and ourselves together. Making music together is just one of the many explorations we’ve undertaken this year, but — to me — it represents so much about our relationship. The willingness to try new things, the desire to be creative, the ability to take risks and put ourselves in uncomfortable situations, the search for beautiful moments, the patience to teach and to learn, the ease with which we find humor in the mundane.

These are the things I treasure about my husband. About being a wife. About living together in small spaces in a vast world.

sailing in polynesia on the horizon line travel blog brianna randall and rob roberts drums yacht club tahiti

I was only mildly surprised when Rob turned to me a week into our Pacific crossing (once his seasickness wore off) and asked me to teach him how to play guitar. “My aunt told me I should try and learn something new on our sailing trip,” he said. “I figure I’ve got time, I love music, and I’ve got a teacher right here.” Many people don’t choose to learn new things at age 37. But Rob isn’t most people.

My husband is special, and I celebrate that fact on more days than just today. Out here in tropical ocean land, days in a row go by where I feel even more in love with him than I did on our wedding day. A few nights ago, as we discussed the many decisions facing us over the next months and the many decisions we’ve already made, Rob said to me: “I feel like the our relationship has been the most sure thing about our whole trip.”

I know exactly what he means. In the midst of queasiness, constant change, wonderful moments and horrible ones, Rob and I have depended heavily on each other. We can’t turn to friends and family, as we normally do. And we can’t just take a walk when one of us gets frustrated, either. It’s all or nothing out here. I marvel at how well we mesh, how well we’ve learned to navigate unknown circumstances, how quickly we adjusted to spending almost every minute of the day together.

Sure, there are plenty of times when we snapped at each other this past year, or when I wanted nothing more than to spend the day alone. That’s just life. But, amazingly, the more days that go by, the more we accept each others’ faults, moods, needs, mistakes.

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

Here are the simple things I cherish about him today, in this moment, on our anniversary, anchored off a lush island on someone else’s boat, at the beginning of our adventure together across the biggest ocean on the planet.
– He cooks one-pot wonders in record time, and makes sure I always eat enough.
– He can fix just about anything.
– He starts new ideas with, “Hey, Bri, do you know what we should do?” and I smile in anticipation each time, not knowing what the hell he might say next.
– He does what he wants, and means what he says.
– He pats my butt absentmindedly whenever he walks by.
– He has a pretty cute butt of his own.

Tonight, on our first anniversary, there will be fireworks. Not just the romantic kind, either — real ones that bang and boom. French Polynesia is conveniently helping us celebrate by throwing a huge party. It’s Bastille Day, and France is rocking out to celebrate their own anniversary of freedom and representative governance. The party might even be as good as our wedding in Missoula. We’ll be happily swimming in wedding day memories today (just like 30 of us swam naked in the river downtown after the reception): cupcakes and carousels and musicians and magic. Kind words, smiling babies, hula hoops, rap-toasts, elk meat and dancing. Good times.

We haven’t seen a carousel, elk or a rapper in months. We’d pay a lot of money to dance again with all of our friends. But we’re celebrating the fact that we’ve still got the magic, and we’ll renew our promise to keep making music together.

on the horizon line - sailing and traveling blog in mexico

The Unexpected Treasures

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“May you find light even in darkness.

May the arc of your narrative be full of unexpected treasures.

Be open.

Be vulnerable.

Be you.”

on the horizon line - sailing and traveling blog in mexico

These wise words appeared in our mailbox the day we locked the door of our home to set sail for new adventures.  Our good friend, Kipper, wrote them in a card, which we read as we lifted off from Montana toward western shores.

Today, I’m re-reading them and finding new meaning.  It’s been one week since one of our bags was stolen, along with most of the gadgets we’d amassed to take on this voyage.  It left us feeling extremely vulnerable.  But over the course of the week, we learned that the gadgets we wanted to bring along were not what we truly needed to reach our goals for this two-year trip.  We’ve replaced them tenfold already – not with new computers and cameras, but with an abundance of human kindness and the soothing balm of generous friends.

The loss of our expensive gear revealed an unexpected treasure: reminding us that the most valuable asset on earth is connecting with the people around you.  Since we reached Mexico, Rob and I have been lucky enough to sync rhythms with new friends, and fall into well-loved grooves with those we haven’t seen in years.  It’s remarkable how quickly we can become a tribe tied together by story-sharing, fireside chats, and the games and music that fill the space between sunset and bedtime.

katie and mark on boat

For instance: we’d spent about 3 waking hours with Mark and Katie after a year apart before we were all happily crammed in their little Subaru.  We headed to the beach with no plan, 2 sleeping bags, 1 sleeping pad, a dog, a cooler, 5 gallons of water, some field guides, fishing gear, a change of clothes and a lot of willingness to explore.  We ended up in Todos Santos looking for Missoula friends, and managed to track them down with no cell phone or email, and only Rob’s vague memory of visiting their plot of land 5 years ago.

With Mark and Katie, it’s always simple.  No one argues about where or when to eat, who cooks or cleans.  We don’t have to belabor “what we’ll do today,” since we all have the same goals: hang out, enjoy what the land and water has to offer, give thanks for the beauty of our freedom and for each other.  Even in the midst of stressful robberies and chaotic transitions, the four of us made plenty of jokes and took care of the others.

And the next instance: we had dinner with another couple of young cruisers the night after the car was stolen.  After dinner, Sabine and Terry hailed us over the VHF radio inviting us to accompany them to Isla Espiritu Santo on their 60-foot catamaran, Sea Raven.  Rob and I spent 5 days with these strangers-turned-friends, sharing meals, hikes, dives and chores.  Not only did they welcome us in their floating home, they also gave us a small netbook computer they don’t use, which is perfect for staying in touch during our travels.

From the home-front, we’ve felt an outpouring of love and support riding the winds south.  Thanks to all of you for your offers to help out, and your kind words these last few days.  The lightness in the dark sting of last week’s double-whammy thefts was finding the many kindred spirits who live lightly and fully – people who are welcoming and easy, and who look around often to remark: “I’m just happy to be here.”  So are we.

on the horizon line - sailing voyages into the unknown - brianna randall and rob robert's blog - bri and rob sailing

Bittersweet New Year’s Reflections

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ice on Highland houseIt’s 2013 today.  Christmas came and went, and so did the Winter Solstice.  The days are already getting longer and lighter, pulling Montana toward spring.

But the icicles on our back patio are still growing longer every day.

This juxtaposition of more light alongside more ice complements how I feel as the holidays come to a close.  My excitement grows every day about our upcoming spring-like lifestyle change.  But the sadness of leaving my family grows right alongside it.

The holidays magnified all of these bittersweet feelings associated with leaving.

The Willets and Cassidy on New Years Day
The Willets and Cassidy on New Years Day

Watching my dad don a Santa costume on Christmas Eve, while Rob played with 12 children in Bobby and Joellen’s house made me feel full to the brim.  Spending Christmas day with my parents, Cass and Rob (and Alta, the doggie) was low-key and easy here in Missoula … but extra-poignant, since I was trying to memorize everyone’s faces, comments, emotions.  And spending New Year’s Eve at Hogback Cabin (an old homestead on U.S. Forest Service land along the fabled Rock Creek) with Cass, Rob and a few friends was — as Kelley and Mike said best — the only place I’d want to be.

My favorite adventure buddy, and her sidekick, Alta
My favorite adventure buddy, and her sidekick, Alta

My sister, in particular, will be the hardest to leave.  I just read Cutting For Stone at the cabin, with its story of identical twins who felt like one person: “ShivaMarion.”  Even though we’re not identical, I sometimes feel like “BriCass” —  a meld that will be painfully hard to separate into two individuals.

As one of my friends recently told me, “There’s nothing like an impending departure to give everything you’re leaving a rosy glow.”  So true.  Right now, the winter days don’t seem as grey or cold, small arguments seem endearing, and I forget daily frustrations in favor of sweet reminisces.

We leave exactly 12 weeks from today.  That means only 10 more weeks of work.  And only a precious few weekends — hell, days, even! — to spend with my favorite people and in my favorite places before we sail off.

I felt a bit overwhelmed by that realization, and decided to strap on my cross-country skis to clear my head.  I always think better when I’m moving.

Me skiing from Hogback Cabin
Me skiing from Hogback Cabin

As I clicked into my skis across the street from our house and started gliding toward Rattlesnake Creek, I  reviewed images of the year that passed.  Weekends at cabins, vacation with Cass on Kauai, learning to backcountry snowboard in Canada, dancing on stage in bodypaint to my own choreography, sailing, backpacking, biking.  Countless dinners with friends and family.  Laughing.  Crying.  Laughing until I cried.  Getting married, and being a part of many of our best friends’ weddings, too.

A year to remember.  And be thankful for.  Knock on wood (lots of it).

But my thoughts quickly shifted to the year to come.  My brain slapped me upside the head, and said, “Why are you leaving these people and these places?”

Me and Rob climbing above Rock Creek
Me and Rob climbing above Rock Creek

My heart slapped back, saying, “To grow, and learn, and change.  To make more memories to share around campfires, dinner tables, and parties when we get back.  To let my family grow and change, too.”

The icicles aren’t going anywhere soon, that’s for sure.  And I’ll be writing more about the sadness of leaving.  Yet I also know one thing for certain from my years growing up in season-less Southern California: the ice makes the spring so very much sweeter.




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