Brianna Randall sailing with a baby in San Diego

Do you know where marrying a local is forbidden?

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Parenting, Sailing

Spring roundup of stories and adventures

Three months since I wrote a blog post? Yikes. But here’s my excuse: I’m writing a book. It’s about the year we spent sailing the South Pacific in blissed-out freedom, and the year we spent transitioning back into responsible adults and new parents. Stay tuned.

Between book writing, child-chasing, and working our real jobs, Rob and I occasionally keep up with a few hobbies. These mostly include playing in the water and the dirt, but we also try to squeeze in time for taking photos and telling stories. Here are highlights of recent articles:

1. This tale combines my writing and Rob’s photos on BBC Travel: : “Where Marrying A Local Is Forbidden” (Hint: it ain’t in Montana)

2. Rob’s photography website is live, including pics of our February trip scuba diving in Bonaire:

3. My recent piece on Mamalode might make you chuckle: “To The Guy Sitting In Front Of Me On The Plane

As for playing, spring is in full swing, full of wildflowers and sun that beckon us outside. Last month, we reconnected with my family at a memorial service for my grandmother in Capistrano Beach. Highlights included building a fire pit in the sand, taking Talon out for his first ocean sail, and watching him turn into a monster over Easter chocolate.

Back in Montana, we loaded him in a canoe for a float down the Swan River. Sadly, boats are still second to buses in our son’s list of favorites, but he’s quickly learning the ropes on all sorts of watercraft. And Talon’s already got the whole throwing rocks in the water routine down pat.

Scroll down for a photo montage of our recent adventures. Happy Spring, friends!

Cali and Swan_020 Cali and Swan_025 Cali and Swan_015 Cali and Swan_026Cali and Swan_031 Cali and Swan_033 Cali and Swan_034 Brianna Randall sailing with a baby in San DiegoCali and Swan_044Cali and Swan_045Cali and Swan_040Cali and Swan_012 Cali and Swan_007

rob roberts prepping to stare down some fish under a montana river

How to Stare Down a Trout

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Outdoor Adventures

Underwater World: River snorkeling in southwest Montana

This article appeared here in Outside Bozeman, and I thought I’d share it with all of you. 

“Whoa, big fish,” my husband, Rob, exclaimed. We were halfway through an eight-day backpacking loop in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness, and had stopped to rest. “Let’s see what they are.”

He skidded down to a cobble beach, whipped out a well-used snorkel and mask, and dove in naked. I followed more cautiously, and arrived just in time to hear, “It’s a school of rainbows!”

He tossed me the mask, and I dove in for my first-ever freshwater snorkel. I was immediately enveloped in a surreal, super-charged world. At least two dozen torpedo-shaped trout rushed around a glacier-green pool that seemed depthless. Asan avid angler, sailor, packrafter, and hiker-of-riverside-trails, I’m no stranger to watery exploits. But I’d always thought snorkeling went hand-in-hand with tropical islands in exotic locales. That first up-close encounter changed my tune—it was magical.

Bri snorkeling in rivers - brianna randall, photo by rob roberts

Snorkeling brought a new intimacy to my relationship with rivers and creeks that running rapids or matching the hatch never could. There’s the muffled silence, marred only by the slow gurgle of water tumbling over stone; the dull hiss of sediment scratching its way downstream; and the slanting rays of afternoon sun, bouncing off cobbles and fish scales that appear super-sized (thanks to the 33% magnification effect of wearing a mask underwater). Motion becomes your sixth sense, and your breath the metronome that anchors you in the current.

Now I’m not about to give up my other water hobbies anytime soon, but river snorkeling has become a welcome addition to my water-sport quiver. A quick dip with a mask can add character to a day hike or turn a raft into an exploratory platform, where I pretend I’m the Rocky Mountain incarnation of Jacques Cousteau. Rob and I are not alone in our love affair with snorkeling: it’s becoming a popular pasttime all across the West, partly because it’s an easy-access, few-skills-necessary sport that’s fun for the whole family.

talon randall roberts getting ready to play with a snorkel at the creek

In fact, “snorkeling” is a bit of a misnomer, as all you really need to become one with the fish is a pair of goggles and the ability to hold your breath. This is especially true when swimming in large, wide rivers like the Madison, which can top 70 degrees, making for a relaxing environment while you peer around boulders and investigate pocket eddies.

On the other hand, most of western Montana’s waterways are bone-chillingly cold, even on the most sweltering summer days. Snorkeling in high-mountain streams can take your breath away, as the water squeezes the air from your diaphragm with an icy punch. Wearing a wetsuit will extend your time in the water, but a drysuit is better at keeping the shiver-factor away.Regardless of whether your nude or fully neoprened, it’s wise to wear good river shoes and leave the fins at home, in case you’re stuck hopping a sudden logjam or traversing slippery boulders.

Our hometown waters offer a variety of snorkeling venues, from placid pools on meandering rivers, to rapids that up the ante and the adrenaline. Take “Fishman” Mike Kasic, a river swimmer and snorkeling aficionado who lives in Livingston and regularly looks beneath the Yellowstone for cutthroat trout. Kasic’s underwater whitewater runs through Yankee Jim Canyon were featured in this BBC-produced video. Inspiring stuff, although I plan to stick to Class I waters myself.

rob roberts checking out trout under the water line

Pat Byorth, Trout Unlimited’s Western Water Project director and previously a state fisheries biologist, agrees that the Yellowstone is a fun place to snorkel once spring runoff clears. He also recommends the upper Big Hole and the upper Madison, particularly above reaches with heavy boat traffic. If you can access them, spring creeks are prime spots for underwater viewing. According to Byorth, the best time to snorkel is between 10am and 2pm to maximize the most light penetration underwater. Summer is obviously the best season, but die-hards snorkel year-round.

Once you’re in the river, it’s all about patience and adjusting to a new perspective, like looking at one of those 3-D pictures that were popular in the ‘90s. Once your river-vision locks in, a whole new world comes alive. Stay in one spot, holding onto a rock or root and letting the river pass you by, or if the current is too strong and you feel like going with the flow, bob downstream watching fish dart out your path.

Regardless of your pace, the rivers in southwest Montana are full of life, from the 20-inch rainbows and cutthroats hanging in feeding lanes, to the gossamer caddis larvae, firmly ensconced in protective casings of sticks and stones.

rob roberts prepping to stare down some fish under a montana river

Click here to read more stories about rivers in Outside Bozeman.

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.



Belly Love – Photo Montage of the Baby Bump by a Creek

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Pregnancy

Uncertain abundance.  The phrase kept repeating itself in the cobwebs between sleep and wake last night.  It captures our summer so aptly: ripe and potent, tenuous and vague.  Sands shifting beneath our feet.  Waves of love lapping at our toes.

Uncertain abundance.  This last month of pregnancy is ringed with the unknown.  The baby could come today, tomorrow, in three weeks.  His eyes and ears and fingers and toes will uncover us in ways we can’t yet understand.

Uncertain abundance.  A belly rising above the water.  A baby in a garden of glacial rocks.  A mound of life growing near trees, mountains, and green streams.

Photos taken by Rob Roberts at Rattlesnake Creek in Missoula.IMG_4289 (2)

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beargrass in montana wilderness

Beauty Has a Bite – Walking Into Nettles

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Pregnancy, Reflections on Life

Sometimes you walk through the wildflowers and straight into stinging nettles. I did it this weekend. I never looked down at the path below, focusing instead on the creek ahead. My inner thighs tingled for hours, pinpricks reminding me that beauty has a bite.

Rob tells me that maybe I shouldn’t write about the depressing parts. That no one wants to read woe-is-me shit. I get that, and agreed. But then I didn’t have anything I felt like writing about for the past two weeks. Nothing seemed as relevant, as prescient, as the bite lurking in the flowers. So I reneged. I write for the release and the uncovering. For the process and the parting. No one pays me for this blog, no one dictates deadlines and content — that’s the rest of my writing. This is real. The real me, right now, who wants to write about the nettle pricks.

indian paintbrush montana wildflower

The road is winding closer to the next stream. Five weeks and a wee person pops out, ready or not. I feel not more than ready. Maybe it’s understandable when you consider that this is the only irrevocable choice I’ve ever made. You can give away plants, sell a house, loan out your pets. You can’t not be a mother once you’ve grown a baby inside of you. That’s terrifying. No outs. No timeouts. No “I changed my mind.”

I am grateful to have more wildflowers than nettles in my life. Truly. What a wimp, I tell myself, to whimper over a bit of sting after a truckload of laughter and light. That’s not me. I don’t whimper.

What I’m really scared of, though, is the big ghost nettle lurking in the wildflowers of upcoming parenthood. How can we hold on to that laughter and light during 3am feedings? When the baby cries uncontrollably and inexplicably? When we’re tired to the bone in the dark and the horizon seems so very far away?

Then I remind myself that all I have to do is just try, with an open mind and a clear heart and legs stinging with the reminder that nettles nestle in the flowers. But they won’t kill me — just help me appreciate the space between the stings more gracefully and more genuinely. Just nudge me into looking at the path I am on instead of all the possibilities ahead. This is the path we chose. It will be beautiful, even when it bites.camping pregnant big belly and big pine tree

Buying a house in Missoula - On the Horizon Line Blog - Brianna Randall

We bought a house! (Anyone have a car?)

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Videos

Some people might call us hasty.  Others might say impetuous.  We like to call ourselves decisive.  Rob and I put an offer on a house exactly one week after touching down in Missoula, Montana.  If all goes according to plan, we’ll move in to the new digs on May 8th, less than one month after returning to our mountain home.

Buying a house in Missoula - On the Horizon Line Blog - Brianna RandallYeah, sure, we only looked at one house, total, before signing on the dotted line.  But to be fair, we’ve actually had our eye on it since February, when a rainy day in New Zealand found us surfing online for real estate options in Missoula.  We found it immediately: grandma’s house.  A 1970s rancher that hasn’t been updated.  Ever.  It has wallpaper and a laundry chute and a carpeted bathroom.  It’s a perfect fixer-upper for Rob, who loves nothing more than having projects to putter through.  And the only home within our budget in the fabulous Rattlesnake neighborhood near downtown Missoula.

Why did we leap in and buy a house so fast?  Well, Rob and I have been discussing the best way to keep our cost of living low while maintaining the quality of life we’ve enjoyed the past year.  For us, the biggest monthly expense is shelter.  We wanted to find a place we could settle into while not breaking the bank.  Renting seemed like a less desirable option, since we’ve been homeowners for years.

Buying a house in Missoula - On the Horizon Line Blog - Brianna Randall

Luckily for our budget, crewing on other people’s sailboats was an extremely affordable way to travel the world.  We were able to use the money we saved by not buying our own sailboat to buy a new nest of our own.  Sometimes I feel a little queasy about the fact that nest is landlocked.  But having a lower mortgage will allow us to travel more easily when the longing for the sea strikes again.

We feel unbelievably fortunate to have found a new home.  A place that we can rent out when we’re ready for the next big adventure.  A place our soon-to-born son can toddle down the street safely, wander the woods at will, and walk to his grandparents’ house in a jiffy.

Buying a house in Missoula - On the Horizon Line Blog - Brianna Randall

Now all we need is a vehicle so we don’t have to move our belongings via bike.  Anyone in Missoula have an old car, van or truck they wanna sell?  Give us a shout if so!


The Ninemile Vortex

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Outdoor Adventures, The M.U.P. Files

We got this awesome email from Paul Parsons here in the middle of the Pacific Ocean.  Paul replaced Rob at Trout Unlimited, and sent this great update on Rob’s old stomping grounds fixing streams in the Ninemile Valley just west of Missoula in Montana.  We appreciate hearing the news, and were glad to here no wolves died during the vortex experience.

The upper Ninemile vortex caught up with me and deflated my pickle truck tire. And the spare. At the end of the day, sitting at mile marker 18 with two flats and a bed full of beautiful Ninemile landscape rock I started the walk out headed for the Pontrelli mansion.

I had spent the afternoon with Amy Sacry and a mini excavator digging around in the floodplain and piles looking for clues. Fortunately they found several indicators showing what they believe to be the remnant floodplain elevation. Most of the piles consist of sandy loams and cobbles. Great news for reconstructing the floodplain. John Muhlfield was also cruising around and had some great ideas for Sawpit. Part of me wishes we were going to construction this year.

So with John, Amy and the mini-ex headed down the road in front of me I thought I would stop and gather some rock I had spotted earlier in the day. I not so quickly filled my truck bed with colorful, moss covered rocks. Satisfied with my haul I discovered my front tire had a nice sharp rock poking through the tread. Unloaded the deflated spare and quickly thought, “what a great night for a walk down the Ninemile”. Turned my back on the sorry looking pickle truck and put boots to dirt.

After crossing Pine Creek around mile marker 13, I heard a truck coming down the road. I looked up the road into the sun and stuck out my thumb; dude jammed on the brakes and dusted me out. He pushed the passenger door open and smiled a toothy grin, minus some teeth. It took me awhile to take it all in. In the passenger seat rested a nicely honed homemade hatchet, a pistol and taking up most of the cab was beautiful black powder rifle. After making eye contact with the guy I looked down to see he was wearing only a loin cloth and buckskin moccasins. The loin cloth was loose fitting at best.

The guy asked me “where ya headed or are ya just out for a hike?” while he was sliding the pistol, hatchet and Last of the Mohicans DVD towards himself to make room. I told him I was almost to my destination but took him up on his offer to give me a ride. As we drove he told me of the day’s bear hunt and how he likes the experience of buckskin and black powder. All I could think of was trying to navigate over and through the thick Ninemile blowdown with only a loin cloth protecting my dangledown.

Midway through a sentence describing his sneak on a black bear through thick blowdown, I interrupted with “that’s a wolf” he interrupted my quick interruption with “that sum-a-bitch” and reached for his pistol. Maybe he was reaching for his hatchet or Last of the Mohicans DVD. I’m not quite sure as it all happened so quickly. The wolf came within 10 yards of the truck. He wasn’t a particularly handsome wolf, grey with black ears and running with his tail between his legs. I had never seen wolf behavior like that before and I almost felt sorry for it. Run more stoically and faster I thought, this guy is gonna throw a hatchet at you.

With wolf season over two months ago, the guy realized that I was in the truck with him. Might have been a dead wolf otherwise. We were both jacked with energy but maybe for different reasons and continued bouncing down the dusty road. He approached Pontrelli’s driveway and let me out. I thanked him and told him good luck with the rest of bear season. As he drove off, I stood on the side of the Ninemile road for a brief moment. Not quite stunned but in a fog thinking did that shit really just happen?

I was hoping for a continuation of surrealness to end the evening. Not much luck there. Dave wasn’t home and his compound was locked tight. With no phone and the sun looking lower than I’d hoped for I was sitting on the porch wondering if Pontrelli was the type of guy to hide a key. I heard a truck coming down the valley from far away. Thinking traffic is light and this might be my last chance to catch a ride out, I grabbed my backpack and sprinted down the driveway towards the road only to see a mega diesel truck with a gooseneck trailer roar by. Shit. Missed it. And I was getting hungry.

I started the walk again and soon a guy in an old Audi turbo was flying down the road. He was watching the turkeys in the timber on the hill and blew right past my outstretched thumb. He must have seen me at the last second because he stopped and backed up nearly as fast as he had blown by me. He also asked where I need to go or if I was just out for a hike. I told him I was just at Dave’s house to try to use a phone. He knew Dave and offered to drive me all the way to Missoula. Then he realized the guy with the mega diesel, aka his buddy, was headed to the Bitterroot. So the turbo came into play and we caught the guy with the gooseneck. I hopped in with him and shortly found myself standing on the side of Reserve Street.

Looking towards the M and knowing my little home was near the base of Mt. Sentinel I put boots to pavement. Missoula seemed smaller than ever and I was semi-excited to see how long it would take me to walk from Reserve to Tremont Street. Three generous rides and one wolf was all it took to get home.


on the horizon line - cruising and travel blog

Finding Peace in La Paz

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Reflections on Life

Missoula Montana downtown over Clark Fork RiverWe just got back from a lovely meal with fellow Montanans who live here in La Paz.  (I know: our recent posts make it like Montanans are rapidly colonizing Baja California).  Josh Schroeder and his wife, Nieves, welcomed us into their home., and made us prawns, pasta and plenty of wine.  We ate with his sister, mom and grandpa, who are down visiting.  They commiserated over our losses, and shared some of their own more poignant and meaningful loss of a loved one.  We laughed, broke some glasses, and heard stories of Josh and Rob catching exorbitant numbers of giant trout in Alaska.

Many folks have commented on how positive we’ve been after the rocky start to our voyage, including Josh, and his mom, Joyce.  It made me realize a couple of things:

1) I haven’t shared the fact that Rob and I had many rough spots the past week.  One of us gets cranky or frustrated or sad or pissed off at the situation at least once a day.

2) What brings us back from the low spots are people like the Schroeders, as well as of our other friends, near and far.

on the horizon line - cruising and travel blogIt does suck to get robbed, not because of the stuff that disappears, but because it’s an insult.  It makes us feel dumb, naive, played, helpless.  In fact, my morning today was one of my lowest spots yet, as I oscillated between clicking “buy now” on many of the items we just lost versus wanting to burn half the remaining 25 pounds of stuff I still have (it’s true: I packed too many clothes).  I felt like La Paz and I will just never get along, as if we’re star-crossed lovers that can’t find a groove.

During the low points, I really miss my sister, and the girlfriends who know me inside and out.  I wonder how, exactly, I think I can live without them for months on end.  But then, hours later, I’ve found that total strangers feel almost as close as the family I ached for earlier.  I’ve found that La Paz is peaceful at night, with bright stars overhead and a cool breeze that laughs away my feelings of fated doom and gloom.

If I haven’t portrayed the frustrations and pain, it’s because the low points are often overshadowed by the view from the high points.  The voids fill.  The troughs crest.  All waves recede…and roll right on back in again.

Team Adventure - The Montana Rescue Mission by Brianna Randall - juvenile fiction

Book Release! (Want a free copy?)

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture

Team Adventure - The Montana Rescue Mission by Brianna Randall - juvenile fictionSome of you probably remember when I started writing a kids’ book during grad school.  Maybe you even heard the reading I gave at a local Missoula bookstore almost a decade ago.

After I finished the novel, I shelved it for quite some time.  Then, in the midst of moving and rearranging our life, I pulled it out again.  I spent the winter months revising this fun adventure book, and had a blast sinking back into the characters.  Even though it’s geared toward 8-10 year-olds, it’s a good way to explore western Montana.

Thanks to the modern digital age, I was able to self-publish an electronic version on Amazon for Kindle owners.

Want one?  The book is FREE for the next 4 days if you click here.  After that, it’s only $.99.  Here’s the book summary.  Let me know if you enjoy the adventure!


Kate is a city girl who’s more comfortable wandering around the mall than through the woods. But she’s determined to brave the wilderness of Montana in order to rescue her older sister, Nicole. Luckily, Kate’s best friend Maddie is a Montana girl, through and through. They sneak out of summer camp, and are unexpectedly joined by their campmates Cody and Darren (for better or for worse!). Together, these four sixth-graders head into the woods – and straight into one adventure after the next.

Kate and her friends sail, hike, raft and ride through Montana. It’s not all smooth sailing, though: they also get lost in the mountains, run into a bear, capsize a raft in the river, and walk straight into a wildfire! Team Adventure’s rescue mission is one wild ride, and a race against the clock as they try to make it to the forest Nicole is risking her life to protect.

Join Team Adventure as they learn more about fish, mountains, wildlife, rivers and the history of the Northern Rockies Mountains. This is one fun journey you don’t want to miss!

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