rob roberts and brianna randall - camping with a baby

The Secret to Getting the Best Compliment Ever

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Outdoor Adventures, Traveling

Traveling without internet is a recipe for one happy family. 

Yesterday, a friend hugged me and said, “You look well-rested, Bri.”

I almost jumped with glee. “That’s the best compliment I’ve gotten in years!”

Because you know what well-rested means? Sanity. It means I don’t look like a cat dragged through the gutter after waking up every few hours to soothe a crying baby. And it means I don’t feel like a hummingbird dipping ever-so-briefly from one person, job, chore, event directly to the next.

The view from the top of the Eureka sand dunes.
The view from the top of the Eureka sand dunes in Death Valley.

The secret to my success at resting? Vacation. Actually, several of them. We were lucky enough to close out 2015 with a suite of trips, hitting the adventure trail with a vengeance during the holiday season. All told, we spent more than 3 of the past 5 weeks in a cabin, cabana, or tent. Most of those trips did not include wifi, a laptop, or even cell service, and all of them fell during the darkest days of the year. We went to bed early and stayed there late, connecting to each other instead of screens.

The Thanksgiving week crew exploring the Wallowas in Oregon.
This crew spent Thanksgiving week exploring the Wallowas in Oregon.

First up, we drove to northern Oregon to meet friends for the week of Thanksgiving, hiking in the Wallowa Mountains, saying hi to the Columbia River, and playing sort-of-in-tune music. A few days after returning home, Talon and Cassidy and I flew to Puerto Vallarta to explore a couple of remote villages in the southern stretch of Banderas Bay while Rob went on a fishing trip in the Everglades with old friends. And a week after that, we flew to Las Vegas, rented a car, and spent a week camping in Death Valley National Park with Mark and Katie.

Checking out the waves in Boca de Tomatlan, perfect for babies and mamas.
Checking out the waves in Boca de Tomatlan, perfect for babies and mamas.

As most parents know, traveling with a kiddo–especially an energetic, irrational toddler–isn’t exactly restful in and of itself. Just the opposite, in fact. We schlepped suitcases and sleeping bags, backpacks and carseats through jungles, deserts, oceans, and mountains. We endured way-below-freezing temperatures in a drafty tent, muddy river crossings after tropical rains washed out bridges, and shitty winter driving conditions over several mountain passes.

And was our personal sherpa when crossing the river in Yelapa, too!
And was our personal sherpa when crossing the river in Yelapa, too!

We consoled Talon when he woke up (often) in the middle of the night, uncomfortable because 10 people were crammed into a noisy cabin, mosquitoes were biting his head in Mexico, or an icy wind was howling across the desert.

Dirt abounds, especially when camping in the desert for a week -- the boys didnt mind.
Dirt abounds, especially when camping in the desert for a week — the boys did not mind.

But in the end, the challenges of navigating new places brought us closer as a family. It was well worth the work to watch Talon’s eyes light up at the sight of the sea, to hear his squeals of delight at the birds flying overhead, and to see his pride in climbing a sand dune all alone.

Throwing sand down the 700-foot-tall Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park.
Throwing sand down the 700-foot-tall Eureka Dunes in Death Valley National Park.

Moving beyond our daily Missoula routine gave me the space to breathe more deeply, and to focus inward long enough to rest easily while awake and asleep. I finally feel like my head and my heart are back in the same groove. Now, the trick is keeping them humming along in unified tempo back in the world of internet and errands. I’ll know I succeed if more people give me that ultimate compliment: that I look well-rested.

How’s that for a New Year’s Resolution? Happy 2016, friends!

Talon went on a rock climbing expedition to find the only waterfall in Death Valley.
Talon went on a rock climbing expedition to find the only waterfall in Death Valley.
A rare bloom of the desert sunflower above the lowest point in the U.S. ... 220 feet BELOW sea level!
A rare bloom of the desert sunflower above the lowest point in the U.S. … 220 feet BELOW sea level!
Aunt Cassidy carried Talon all over the beaches in Mexico.
Aunt Cassidy carried Talon all over the beaches in Mexico.
We spent plenty of time in PJs the past few weeks.
We spent plenty of time in PJs the past few weeks.


Talon Randall Roberts in a hammock in MexicoBeach in Yelapa

IMG_2922 - Copy t and rob. waterfallrob roberts and brianna randall - camping with a babyt in crackIMG_2972-Copy1-e1451866868715-1024x852P1020601


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.

sunset over mount jumbo in missoula - on the horizon line blog

My Place in Space and Time

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Traveling

rainbow over Mount Jumbo in the Rattlesnake Valley of Missoula, Montana - on the horizon line

Picture yourself right now.  Close your eyes and visualize where you’re sitting, standing or lounging.  Now zoom out.  Do you have a map in your head of where you are located on this big, beautiful earth?

I do.  I’m a visual learner, and I feel disoriented if I can’t picture my place in time and space.  For instance, when Rob and I went to Philadelphia last month to visit his family, I had absolutely no visual map.  I was in unfamiliar terrain with no landmarks to guide me, and couldn’t have found north if my life depended on it (good thing it didn’t!).

For the past decade, the map in my head has been framed by mountains and rivers.  My place in space right this moment is bracketed by Stuart Peak to the north, Mount Jumbo to the east, the North Hills to the west, and Lolo Peak to the south.  I follow Rattlesnake Creek as my north-south axis when I’m navigating from home to downtown Missoula.  I’m guided by the Clark Fork River as I head west or east out of town.  My body can sense which knobby ridge the sun kisses as it rises, and as it sets.

sunset over mount jumbo in missoula - on the horizon line blog

But my body is about to leave the ridge lines, rivers and creeks that create my central axis.  My frame for pinpointing the cardinal directions will be fuzzy and out of focus as we shift between new horizons and new shores.  I’m going to have to accept the fact that I won’t always have a map in my head of where, exactly, I am — physically or mentally.  That feels overwhelming.  Exhilarating.  Terrifying.  Liberating.

Luckily, I know we will always have a well-marked and special place waiting for us in Montana, nestled squarely between the hills and creeks that so clearly define space and time.

rob paragliding with rattlesnake mountains in background - on the horizon line blog


big red - the red rider truck - rob roberts and trout unlimited - pushing through the forest

So Long, Big Red

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Fishing, Outdoor Adventures

Since tomorrow is my last day at Trout Unlimited, it seems fitting that I handed over the title to our 1994 Dodge Dakota pickup this morning.  Trout Unlimited bought the truck for $1 back in 2009 and, because of its stamina and sheer willpower, we dubbed it the “Red Rider” or just “Big Red.”

big red - the red rider truck - rob roberts and trout unlimited - pushing through the forest

So what if the wheel wells were corroded, the passenger side door only opened from the inside, or the windows didn’t roll down, the Red Rider was my trusted companion, alongside my dog – Abe – for countless hours of fieldwork.  It was the best work vehicle a guy could ask for.  Together, we steamrolled through brush covered roads, forded streams, and carried some ridiculous loads.  Watch this video to see one of our exploits.

big red - the red rider truck - rob roberts and trout unlimited

The Red Rider was truly legendary because it had its own sense of humor and personal charisma.  It didn’t drive well in the snow or, really, even the rain, but I took pride in showing up at meetings with the Red Rider.  Parked alongside the shiny new trucks of state agencies or  high dollar consultants, I admit that the much smaller Red Rider looked a little bit silly.  But the Red Rider always held its own, kept its head high, and never let me down.  It always reaffirmed my belief in being part of a lean and mean non-profit, maintaining TU’s focus on efficiency and results and not getting caught up in posh and posturing. Would I have liked 4 wheel drive? Sure.  Did I wish that the interior lights worked consistently? Of course.  Would it have been easier to drive if I knew what gear I was in?  Always.  But I wouldn’t have changed a thing.

I envision the Red Rider spending its remaining days as a cared for farm vehicle, soaking its old bones in a sunny pasture and going out for Sunday drives.   So long, Big Red.  We’ll miss you.

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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.



Downing Mountain in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana with Cassidy Randall

A Pair of Skis Saved My Soul

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in The M.U.P. Files

Downing Mountain in the Bitterroot Mountains of Montana with Cassidy Randall

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome, dangerous, leading to the most amazing view. May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.”  – Edward Abbey.

by: Cassidy Randall

(M.U.P. Files contributor)

I am shaped by sun and desert. I wonder that snow has found its way into my bones, into my dreams, the space behind my eyes. It has become my addiction, my religion.

I believe that a pair of skis saved my soul.

I am in the midst of a torrid love affair with our local ski hill, one that has not abated for the years under our belts.

Sweet ski powder turns in the Mission Mountain backcountry

But it’s the wild beauty of the backcountry that draws me back again and again – the seduction of an unbroken expanse of snow, the reliance on our knowledge and sometimes tenuous judgment, the faith in finding grace on an empty mountaintop.

Skiing in the ranges of the Rocky Mountains has taught me to appreciate my body for what it can do, and not for what it looks like – unless what it looks like is strong and ambitious. I’m in love with the humility of looking out across a sea of peaks, knowing that I could not possibly know all of them the way I have come to know the one I am standing on top of – because there are so many, because they have settled like wise old men into the cold winter, because they do not bow to the human need for access.

I am addicted to exhaustion. To aching lungs and a wandering mind. To the sound of nothing but my breathing, my skis breaking a new trail, and the quiet noise of snow falling. I am addicted to how damn hard this can be.

Sunlight on snow in mountains

I believe that skiing untouched snow is the closest I come to flying.

When the rush has opened up my body and mind, and washed them clean so entirely that joy and exhilaration is all that makes them new again – that is the feeling I dream of. For a sense of gratitude so strong that it lingers well into the night, into the next day, in my bones and dreams and the space behind my eyes.

I am graced by the moments after the rush.





Yurtopia backcountry ski hut in British Columbia

The M.U.P Files are the community corner of On the Horizon Line. These stories are written by our frie

nds and family who are exploring hometown horizons.  Why “M.U.P.?”  Because dispatches from the desks of our loved ones are like “magical unicorn ponies” that fly across the sea to greet us on distant shores.

Want to be a M.U.P.?  Join the party.  We can’t wait to hear your voice while we sail.


The Meaning of Life from “EVST”

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Community and Culture, Reflections on Life

Tom Roy is the reason I moved to Missoula, Montana.  When I visited in 2002, he was the Director of the University of Montana’s Environmental Studies program, which I was considering attending.  It was a big stretch for a California girl to even consider moving to winter-laced Montana, and I figured I better go visit in mid-January to see if I could handle all the white stuff.


Tom Roy was the Director of the UM EVST program for over three decades.


Tom started talking the minute I walked into his office, making jokes and waving his arms around.  He told me the history and purpose of the “the program”–or “EVST,” as students affectionately dub it–and took me upstairs to show me the landscape I’d be studying.  It was a whiteout.


All I could see was blowing snow on the UM Oval, no further than four feet from my nose.  Yet Tom kept talking and waving his arms, pointing out the Rattlesnake Mountains, Lolo Peak, Mount Sentinel, and the Bitterroot Valley.  I nodded along like I could see them.  And he kept telling stories.  Stories about students I’d never met, who wrote books, organized rallies, started new businesses, changed the world.  Stories about how EVST was my vehicle to change the world, too.


I walked outside that January day able to see through the clouds.  I saw unexplored peaks and uncharted river valleys.  I saw unbridled potential in myself and others.  I saw the kind of world I wanted to help create.  And I never looked back.


The people in the Environmental Studies program in Missoula helped me see through the clouds and find clear direction in my life.


Fast forward a decade later, where I just spent the weekend as an alumni “mentor” at an EVST graduate student retreat on Flathead Lake.  Tom was there, along with most of the other professors who helped me wind my way through graduate school goals: Neva, Phil, Len.  And I can safely say that I received more mentoring than I gave, from the fresh-faced, inspired students and from the motivated staff.


Tom reminded me why I moved here.  Why I do what I do every day for the Clark Fork Coalition, and for the rivers and lands in this wonderful state, even if it means I sometimes lose sight of the view through the clouds.


Here’s what Tom said on Sunday: “EVST has always had this edge to it…this  energy…coupled with moral imagination. This graduate program is not about making you the smartest person in one field.  You can go anywhere for that.  This program is about making you the smartest at what most interests you, and then asking you to act on your moral responsibility to be an agent of change.  Hope is not enough.  We want to give you the tools to actualize your hope.”


Later on, as the whole group struggled through an exercise focused on answering questions about our values, strengths, and life goals, Tom interjected: “You know, it’s not the answers that are the most interesting.  It’s the questions that are the whole point, and how you frame those questions.  Answers are just the end of a question.”


What a relief.  Thanks, EVST, for reminding me that my purpose in life is not simply to solve daily problems, but to continue searching for new questions–and new beginnings–instead of endings and answers.


Sailing back to the dock after the EVST Retreat on Flathead Lake this past weekend.


P.S. My friend and another EVST alum, Matt Frank, shared this poem with us at the end of the retreat, which sums up the meaning of life pretty nicely:

  The Way It Is 
There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change.  But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread. 
– William Stafford


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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