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.

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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

 

Kids fishing on the shore

Our Desert Oceans – South Pacific Fish Part 3

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Fishing, Ocean Tales

This is Part Three in a multi-part series on my observations of the state of the South Pacific fishery. Click here to read Part One. Click here to read Part Two.

Kids fishing on the shore

You remember those 3D pictures where an image pops out of the static if you look at it just so? That’s what the ocean is like for me in Vava’u now. At first, I was disappointed that I didn’t see giant fish each time I swam, and that there weren’t any megafauna jumping out at me the minute I put on my mask. But then I realized that if you just adjust your eyes a bit, a whole new dimension appears.

Now every time I go swimming, I see something magical. Something that makes me laugh or scream or hold my breath until my lungs burst just to get a closer look. It’s only a desert if you can’t see the urchins through the sand.

I snorkel around the tiny 3-acre Fetoko Island nearly every day. It’s a ritual now, after five months living in Tonga. And also a challenge to try and see something new each time in this small area. It’s fairly unremarkable, as far as underwater seascapes go: there’s no pass, no drop-offs, no caves or reefs or shark breeding gounds. It’s just a flat sandy area dotted with echinoderms like sea stars and urchins, interspersed with the occassional coral-head and sea grass patch. Yet I’ve noticed more new creatures here than I did in some of the premier diving spots we visited while sailing across the South Pacific — all because I know it so well.

The best part about staying put is truly getting to know a place. That’s what we loved about living in Missoula, that intimacy with the land, the water, the air, the trees, and the knowledge of how those parts of your home change with each season. It’s the same here in Vava’u: I can feel the water get warmer or cooler, notice more of less grass, exclaim over the new fan that appears, mourn the loss of the beautiful lionfish that moved to a new territory. It’s home.

Here’s what I’ve learned while underwater in Tonga: if you can imagine a creature — no matter how bizarre — it probably lives in the sea. Long snakes with 20 antennas that fold up inside their bodies Slugs that turn into flamenco dancers as they float on ruffled red skirts across the sand. Pencil-thin flounder with eyes that migrate from top to bottom and wave like little aliens from a camoflauged body. Gobies that look like they’re ready to walk ashore. Coral that looks like a brain, and fans that look like mermaid’s hair. Moray eels, bizzare clams, unicorn fish, box fish, stone fish.

Even during my delight in the small stuff near Fetoko, I still feel overwhelmed at the scale of human consumption from the sea. But I no longer feel quite as hopeless about the state of the sea. I’ve seen baby coral gardens blossoming. I’ve seen sea grass patches growing. I’ve seen thousands of tiny newborn baby fish huddled in sea urchin spines.

I’ve found hope sprouting at the bottom of the sea.

I have faith in the resiliency of our oceans. I believe at my very core that the oceans and all their wondrous creatures will be around long after humans have vanished from the planet. And I have this hunch that humans are smart enough, creative enough, motivated enough to find a way to more sustainably balance what we take from the sea.

It’s all give and take, in the end. The algae gives energy to the coral, the shells give grit to make sand, the small fish feeds the bigger one. Humans just have to learn how to give as much as we take. It doesn’t seem so impossible, when I think about it like that.

Click here to see trevally swimming underwater.

Our Desert Oceans – South Pacific Fish Part 2

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Fishing

Part Two in a multi-part series on my observations of the state of the South Pacific fishery.  Click here to read Part One.

It had become a sunset ritual to swim along the shallow reef off Fofoa, an island on the western edge of Vava’u where Rob and I stayed for a week. I liked to see what was new each evening, and if I could find my favorite fish from the previous evenings: a nosy orange clownfish that left its anemone to check me out, a few small blue trevallies cruising for prey, a big red soldierfish that hid under a coral shelf.

The fish along this inside reef weren’t huge. And the diversity of species wasn’t as high as we’d seen off remote islands in the South Pacific. But it was a vibrant little reef, which have been hard to find our first couple of months in Vava’u. I’d even seen a couple of blacktip sharks cruising the shallows this morning, and predators are always a good sign of a healthy ecosystem.

Click here to see trevally swimming underwater.

As I swam back to the beach in the fading evening light, I turned to see an old fishing boat behind me. Four Tonganas were aboard, getting ready to cast a net overboard. Damn, I thought. There go all my fish. I turned to ask Jack, the 11-year-old resident we were visiting on Fofoa, if he knew who was in the boat and how often they came.

“Oh, they’re from Hunga, the neighboring island. The come all the time to fish here,” he told me through his snorkeling mask.

Back at the house in the fading light, I stared at the floats that held the 100-meter net suspended just below the deck. It would stay there until at least dawn, passively trapping all the fish I visited each evening. It bothered me that all those fish were floundering in the net, their gills caught, struggling and flailing and gasping for deliverance. I felt their struggle viscerally. I wanted to go cut through that net and free the fish.

But I talked myself out of my monkey-wrench urge, reasoning that the Tongans from Hunga have been fishing this spot for thousands of years, and I have no right to deprive them of dinner. According to this recent Seattle Times article (discovered thanks to one of our blog readers), one-sixth of animal protein consumed by humans comes from marine fish — in many remote villages here in Tonga, nearly all of their protein comes from fish.

I love to eat fish, and we’ve caught our fair share this past year. Yet something about that net niggled at me all night. It left me feeling disappointed, frustrated, sad, angry. No amount of reasoning erased my feelings, even if I logically understood the social or economic need for catching and eating fish.

The net was gone before sunrise. My morning investigation found that the reef still had fish. Fewer, no doubt, but plenty of colorful critters flitting about. That afternoon, we kayaked through the lagoon to visit friends on neighboring Hunga island. As Caroline doused us with delicious coffee and passion fruit, she and her husband talked about the changes they’ve seen over the past 14 years in the waters off Tonga: mega-long-liners from Japan that caught hundreds of mahi-mahi each day, leaving none of these beautiful fish in Vava’u for two years. No more spinner dolphins visiting the lagoon. Fewer turtles, since the locals eat any they find. Over 200 fishing ships en-route from China this year, each one measuring 400 feet long with its own fish processing and packaging plant aboard.

Suddenly, when faced with 200 commercial fishing boats offshore, the measly 100-meter net that hung off the beach last night didn’t seem so bad. The overall state of the ocean fishery, however, felt even more dire. (Watch the video below for a great synopsis of what’s up in the seas.)

The depletion of our oceans makes me feel helpless. And hypocritcal, since I enjoy my fish. Even if I boycott everything but what Rob and I catch ourselves, how do I deal with the knowledge of dwindling fish populations? And what about the other several billion people in the world that eat fish regularly, who depend upon fish to survive?

Can the oceans keep up with human demand? Not at this rate. Not with this technology, that allows us to catch, kill, clean, package and ship to your plate in the blink of an eye.

Something’s gotta give.

 

tonga pacific travel island brianna randall rob roberts sailing boat

Vava’u islands = Rocky Mountain peaks

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Ocean Tales, Traveling

tonga pacific travel island brianna randall rob roberts sailing boat

One of the reasons we feel comfortable in Tonga is because the topography is so similar to the Rocky Mountain landscape we came from. Did you just do a double-take after reading that sentence? Good, that means you’re paying attention. But the statement is true, geographically speaking: Vava’u is a series of high mountain peaks, bordered by sprawling meadows nestled above deep canyons.

Sure, those meadows and canyons are covered by miles of ocean, instead of Ponderosa pines and Douglas firs. Yet the energy feels the same. I can easily picture this landscape as mountains and valleys through all the coral and sand.

boats in neiafu harbor tonga

Where I’m sitting in Vava’u right this moment is only a couple miles away from the second deepest oceanic trench on the planet. The Tongan Trench is 35,702 feet deep and 50 miles wide. That means the island I’m sitting on is taller than Mount Everest, if you were looking up at it from the bottom of the trench.

All of the dozens of islands in Vava’u are mountaintops, and the flat seabed between them are the gently sloped meadows. This is one of the world’s best cruising grounds partly because of the uniformity of the sea floor here. It’s all mellow sandy bottoms between 10 and 30 meters deep — a high mountain plateau, if you will. Compared to the jagged cliffs of the Marquesas, the steep drop-offs in Bora Bora, or the flat volcanic rings of the Tuamotus, these islands feel downright friendly.

MT-rob and josh on flathead lake

We sailed on Flathead Lake in Montana each summer before heading west across the Pacific. Flathead is the largest natural freshwater lake in the western U.S. It’s the remnants of a giant inland glacial lake, and sits below the tall peaks of Glacier National Park. All of the islands in the lake are actually mountains and hills that emerged as the lake receded over the millennia. Tonga looks a lot like sailing on Flathead, if you replace the pines with palms.

Not only is the Tongan Trench one of the steepest features on the globe’s surface, it’s also the fastest-moving plate ever recorded. The convergent plates that formed this deep chasm are moving at 6 to 9 inches per year, which means Tonga is basically undergoing a constant earthquake. Not the rattle-and-roll earthquakes I grew up with in Southern California, but rather a consistent tremor rippling just beneath the surface.

The Trench gives Vava’u a sense of height and breadth often lost on tiny tropical islands in the middle of the world’s largest ocean. Though the slopes are gentle, you can sense the buzz of movement, shifting ground, and the power of the Earth beneath the sea. Bottom line? It feels good here, geographically, energetically, and aesthetically.

tonga pacific travel island brianna randall rob roberts sailing boat

Today I danced naked in the sun over water so blue it hurts. I samba-ed. I hip-hopped. I waltzed. I waved my arms, wiggled my butt, and jumped around like a goof with a huge grin on my face. So, what spawns a naked dancing session on a boat? First ingredient: alone-time. Second ingredient: a remote and ridiculously beautiful location. Third ingredient: weeks without dancing of any sort. The boys took the afternoon to go hunt fish along the nearby reef. As I dried off from my swim, I suddenly realized I didn't have to put my clothes back on. Instead, I turned on music loudly and started making bread in the galley. The kneading and dough-punching rhythm soon expanded into spins and leaps, which required deck space outside. No problem: our anchorage at Beveridge Reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was deserted, save one boat in the distance. With no one to watch but the sharks, I was soon gyrating on the bow in my birthday suit. (No pictures, sorry.) I don't know if I gain such joy from my boat dancing sessions because they are so few and far between, because they are a celebration of sun and sea and music, or because they always coincide with those rare, precious pockets of me-only time. Probably the whole enchilada is what put the stretchy smile on my face, as I belted out the chorus to a pop song: "Hey, I heard you were a wild one!" Here's what I took away from my naked sunlight dancing: everyone should try it. It's like skinny-dipping or bungee-jumping -- that same bubbly feeling of being free, spontaneous, slightly naughty, open, exposed, blessed, exhilarated. Wild. You can dance to your own internal beat, or blast the music as loud as you like. Spins are pretty much imperative, since being dizzy puts life back in its proper perspective. The more shimmies and shakes the better. Kick high and swirl your arms around, finding the breeze behind your knees, beneath your breasts, between each toe. Let it all just jiggle. No audience but the waves, no critics but the clouds. Today I danced naked above the fish and beneath the birds. I was beautiful. I was alone. I was as wild as the sea, and as shiny as the sun.

Dancing Naked

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Dance, Yoga and Fitness, Fishing

dance travel south pacific islands brianna rob

Today I danced naked in the sun over water so blue it hurts. I samba-ed. I hip-hopped. I waltzed. I waved my arms, wiggled my butt, and jumped around like a goof with a huge grin on my face.

So, what spawns a naked dancing session on a boat? First ingredient: alone-time. Second ingredient: a remote and ridiculously beautiful location. Third ingredient: weeks without dancing of any sort.

The boys took the afternoon to go hunt fish along the nearby reef. As I dried off from my swim, I suddenly realized I didn’t have to put my clothes back on. Instead, I turned on music loudly and started making bread in the galley. The kneading and dough-punching rhythm soon expanded into spins and leaps, which required deck space outside. No problem: our anchorage at Beveridge Reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was deserted, save one boat in the distance. With no one to watch but the sharks, I was soon gyrating on the bow in my birthday suit. (No pictures, sorry.)

Today I danced naked in the sun over water so blue it hurts.  I samba-ed.  I hip-hopped.  I waltzed.  I waved my arms, wiggled my butt, and jumped around like a goof with a huge grin on my face.    So, what spawns a naked dancing session on a boat?  First ingredient: alone-time.  Second ingredient: a remote and ridiculously beautiful location.  Third ingredient: weeks without dancing of any sort.    The boys took the afternoon to go hunt fish along the nearby reef.  As I dried off from my swim, I suddenly realized I didn't have to put my clothes back on.  Instead, I turned on music loudly and started making bread in the galley.  The kneading and dough-punching rhythm soon expanded into spins and leaps, which required deck space outside.  No problem: our anchorage at Beveridge Reef in the middle of the Pacific Ocean was deserted, save one boat in the distance.  With no one to watch but the sharks, I was soon gyrating on the bow in my birthday suit.  (No pictures, sorry.)  I don't know if I gain such joy from my boat dancing sessions because they are so few and far between, because they are a celebration of sun and sea and music, or because they always coincide with those rare, precious pockets of me-only time.  Probably the whole enchilada is what put the stretchy smile on my face, as I belted out the chorus to a pop song: "Hey, I heard you were a wild one!"  Here's what I took away from my naked sunlight dancing: everyone should try it.  It's like skinny-dipping or bungee-jumping -- that same bubbly feeling of being free, spontaneous, slightly naughty, open, exposed, blessed, exhilarated.  Wild.    You can dance to your own internal beat, or blast the music as loud as you like.  Spins are pretty much imperative, since being dizzy puts life back in its proper perspective.  The more shimmies and shakes the better.  Kick high and swirl your arms around, finding the breeze behind your knees, beneath your breasts, between each toe.  Let it all just jiggle. No audience but the waves, no critics but the clouds.    Today I danced naked above the fish and beneath the birds.  I was beautiful.  I was alone.  I was as wild as the sea, and as shiny as the sun.

I don’t know if I gain such joy from my boat dancing sessions because they are so few and far between, because they are a celebration of sun and sea and music, or because they always coincide with those rare, precious pockets of me-only time. Probably the whole enchilada is what put the stretchy smile on my face, as I belted out the chorus to a pop song: “Hey, I heard you were a wild one!”

Here’s what I took away from my naked sunlight dancing: everyone should try it. It’s like skinny-dipping or bungee-jumping — that same bubbly feeling of being free, spontaneous, slightly naughty, open, exposed, blessed, exhilarated. Wild.

dance naked island boat sail brianna randall

You can dance to your own internal beat, or blast the music as loud as you like. Spins are pretty much imperative, since being dizzy puts life back in its proper perspective. The more shimmies and shakes the better. Kick high and swirl your arms around, finding the breeze behind your knees, beneath your breasts, between each toe. Let it all just jiggle. No audience but the waves, no critics but the clouds.

Today I danced naked above the fish and beneath the birds. I was beautiful. I was alone. I was as wild as the sea, and as shiny as the sun.

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