rob roberts and talon on a standup paddleboard on flathead lake

14:1 | The Perfect Ratio for Vacational Whimsy

Posted on 2 CommentsPosted in Parenting, Sailing

Last Wednesday, I eased a stand-up paddleboard down the Clark Fork River through an eerily smoke-filled Missoula with a group of new and old friends. We had the river to ourselves, paddling our craft beneath a blood red sun. We weren’t about to let the dense wildfire smoke deter us from enjoying the inaugural adventure of a wedding weekend extravaganza.

This was the float where Kevin Colburn coined the term “vacational whimsy,” an apt description for fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants holiday planning. Vacational whimsy isn’t for the faint of heart. Rather than rainbows and gumdrops, unplanned adventures can lead to rainstorms and gum in your hair.

talon on a standup paddleboard on flathead lake - on the horizon line


But, sometimes, letting whimsy direct your downtime allows the stars to align into an unexpectedly magical mix of people and energy. That’s why it’s addicting.

Last weekend, the stars aligned. The Montanabama Wedding brought together dozens of people who all felt inclined to trust the whimsy. It led us into long breakfasts, late nights at the campground, costume-fueled dance parties, skinny-dipping off sailboats, and inventing the new sport of SUP-tooning (surfing an inflatable stand-up paddleboard behind a pontoon boat).

brianna randall SUPing behind a boat on flathead lake

The latter was definitely a highlight. We laughed at ourselves for getting thrill rides out of slow craft while wakeboarders flew past us towed by jet boats. (“It’s kind of like snowboarding without edges,” said one friend, watching his wife try to turn the SUP. “And boating without edges, too!” replied the pontoon driver struggling to turn.)

Our vacational whimsy worked because of the combination of personalities, the access to interesting recreation, and the beautiful location on Flathead Lake (which we remembered was beautiful after the smoke cleared on Saturday night). It also worked because we stumbled upon the perfect adult:baby ratio for Rob and I to fully participate in all events–14:1.

brianna randall and talon roberts at a wedding in montana

Yes, it’s true. It took more than a dozen adults to corral Talon from trotting into the lake or throwing pint glasses onto concrete. Even with the superb supervision, he still got two bloody noses and demolished a glass vase. Plus, with so many helping hands, Talon was able to have way more adventures of his own. In a mere 72 hours, our 1 year-old rode in more watercraft than many people board in a lifetime: sailboat, packraft, SUP, pontoon boat, and canoe.

rob and brianna randall and talon on spindrift sailing flathead lake in montana

We couldn’t have planned the easy flow of last weekend if we tried. Partly, this is because you can’t plan for magic. And partly it’s because planning is definitely not our strong suit. For instance, it’s currently 1:00 p.m. and Rob and I still haven’t decided if we’re driving 9 hours to Bellingham today to spend the long weekend with our friends at Controlled Jibe.

We’re waiting for vacational whimsy to guide us. I’m ready to trust that whimsy when it hits.

rob roberts and talon on a standup paddleboard on flathead lake


Steve Randall, John Castle, Bob Randall, and Brian Pike showing off their "raft" before launching on the Colorado River.

Just Like Huck Finn

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Outdoor Adventures

When my dad was 17, he floated 60 miles of the Colorado River on a ping-pong table.  Along with two friends, he set off like Huck Finn into the wilderness to see what might happen.  Luckily, they tested their “raft” in the neighbors pool before setting off.  The suburban backyard didn’t have the desert winds or rapids that quickly poo-pooed their primitive rudder system, but the contraption did indeed float.  Somehow.

Steve Randall, John Castle, Bob Randall, and Brian Pike showing off their "raft" before launching on the Colorado River.
Steve Randall, John Castle, Bob Randall, and Brian Pike showing off their “raft” before launching on the Colorado River.

Fast-forward 45 years to a smaller river in Oregon, where Rob and I loaded his grandson onto a real raft for a 5-day, 70-mile float.  Even though I’ve been on dozens of river trips, rafting with a 9-month-old felt a lot like getting on a rickety ping-pong table strapped to some inner tubes: precarious.  I wasn’t scared of the Class III/IV rapid we’d cross on the John Day River.  I wasn’t scared of wildlife or weather events.  I wasn’t even scared that Talon might fall in the river.  I was terrified, however, that Mr. Wiggly-Crawly-Has-To-Stand-And-Move would scream bloody murder about being trapped in a small space.

Margi gets some time with little man while we rig the raft.
Margi gets some time with little man while we rig the raft.

Talon, like his grandfather, is an adventurer at heart.  But, unlike his grandfather, he required a LOT more gear to get down his first river.  My dad and his friends took a couple of lawn chairs to sit in, sleeping bags to huddle in, and a wooden chest bolted to the middle of the “raft” to hold food (and quite possibly beer).  Our party of roughly the same size filled a 14-foot boat to the gills.  To be fair, Talon’s gear accounted for one medium-sized dry bag.  Kipp, Rob and I, however, like having tables and guitars and comfy tents and binoculars and all sorts of other fun toys.  Plus, we brought along a 110-pound wolf/shepherd, too, which really impacted the Jenga-like raft packing system.

Just chillin' in the Alpaca packraft.
Just chillin’ in the Alpaca packraft.

Once we figured out how to rig the boat to contain the giant dog, tiny baby, three adults, and oddly-shaped gear, we were off.  Sort of.  Turns out that he John Day is awfully slow.  Low flows and up-canyon winds combined to push us backward instead of forward.  Uncle Kipper saved the day by rowing non-stop … for five days.  Meanwhile, Rob and I took turns corralling Talon in the bow, scouring the red riverside cliffs for new birds, and generally enjoying the pace of life on water.  (Thanks, Kipp.)

Talon’s highlights from his first river trip include:

  • watching a pair of peregrine falcons
  • playing with zippers in the tent
  • banging on a bucket
  • staring at riffles
  • eating rocks

His parents’ highlights from the John Day include:

  • mom sleeping in a separate tent to enjoy uninterrupted sleep
  • dad teaching Talon to give high-fives
  • not riding on a ping-pong table
  • good conversations
  • whiskey
Talon made sure that Kipp is rowing straight.
Talon made sure that Kipp rowed straight.

The rafting trip was such a success that we decided to try our luck at a second week.  We traded in the raft for the car and headed to the Oregon coast for an impromptu extended vacation — and my worst fear was realized.  The car seat always causes Talon to scream bloody murder.  Fortunately, he forgot the torture of the road as soon as we arrived at new shores, full of new rocks to taste and new waves worthy of his gaze.

Someone is as obsessed with tending the fire as his daddy.
Someone is as obsessed with tending the fire as his daddy.
Uncle Kipper serenading us before bedtime on the John Day River.
Uncle Kipper serenading us before bedtime on the John Day River.
brianna randall packrafting the siletz river
Bri enjoys a solo afternoon packrafting down the Siletz River.


talon and brianna randall on oregon coast - adventures in parenting
Bri and Talon enjoying the Oregon Coast.
talon playing in sand on oregon coast - adventures in parenting
Talon happy about eating sand near Newport, Oregon.
"Hey, did you guys know we're in the middle of this big river?"
“Hey, did you guys know we’re in the middle of this big river?”
bright lights and big city - protests in bangkok thailand

One Minute in Bangkok

Posted on Leave a commentPosted in Community and Culture, Traveling, Videos

River ferries, food stalls, woks, kids, temples, bright lights, fast motorcycles, foreign alphabets.  Bangkok has been a blur of activity and culture after the past year of our slow-paced South Pacific Ocean explorations.  I tried to catch the vibe of Bangkok in this 60 second video.  Check it out.

After a week in Thailand’s largest city, we’re heading north on the overnight sleeper train to Chiang Mai.  Looking forward to seeing the mountains again, and a few adventures out of the big city.  To see more photos from Bangkok, click this link to see our recent Thailand photo album.

[framed_video column=”full-width”][/framed_video]

The Pinch Point

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Reflections on Life

I don’t run, usually. Occasionally, though, tension builds up in my body and pushes toward my throat. Right about when it’s starting to choke me, I put on some shoes and start running.

It’s rare. Maybe 3-4 times a year. Today was one of those occasions.

About 2pm at the office, I ignored the multiple programs open on my computer and put on an ancient pair of tennis shoes. I started running downriver on the Kim Williams Trail near my office. The cold wrapped under my thin shirt, around my neck, snaking down my arms and chest. My feet started aching almost immediately, unused to the pounding.

My head didn’t clear, and it seemed to fill faster in rhythm to my stride. These days, it’s full of 70% work, 30% details surrounding leaving, and 30% social logistics geared to eeking out the most of my remaining time with friends and family.  Yes, I know this adds up to more than 100.  And that’s why I was running.  It’s also why I’m writing this blog post at 11:25pm after finishing one last work task this evening.  Writing and running provide a release.

heron on river

Most days, it feels like my brain is just a reflection of my computer screen or iPhone: toggling every few seconds from program to program, task to task, call to call.

This is not a healthy way to live.

This is not a healthy way to leave.

This is not something that is going to change in the next 6 weeks.

I reached the California Street footbridge over the icy Clark Fork River.  I looked down to see the whole river funneling into one very tight, narrow opening between the icy banks.  My brain stopped toggling, and came to rest on this one spot.  It reflected exactly how I felt this afternoon: a river of water moving toward me, pinching and dragging and towing me under … to what?

I walked to the other side of the bridge to see.  The whole river went under a shelf of ice after that pinch point.  It was a start contrast: fast, frenzied, loud as water funneled through the last ice-free section, then it went quietly under the ice.  Still.  Calm.  Peaceful.

I breathed in the peace for a moment.  But then I turned back to the chaotic pinch point, because that part of the river resonated more with me in this time of 130% brain-toggling tension.  I turned back because it was comforting to see the tension dissipate into stillness, and because it renewed my faith that — just like the river — I will soon be through the pinch point and have room to spread and flow, quietly and calmly.

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