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.

bora bora beaches travel blog

So, you’ve heard of Bora Bora?

Posted on 1 CommentPosted in Hiking, Traveling

bora bora beaches travel blog

We sure had. After all, it does have the reputation of being the most beautiful island in the world. Bora Bora was another one of those lagoons fringed by coral islands that Rob and I had fondled virtually via Google Earth before we ever set sail, and a definite “must see” on our list of tropical ports. A local told us that the original Tahitian name is actually “po po ra,” which means island of applause. It’s worth applauding, for sure.

But Bora Bora also has a reputation for being hoity-toity, a playground for rich people who fly in, jet around in power boats, and spend $1,000 per night for over-water bungalows and luxurious spas. Rob and I are about as far from hoity-toity as dog poop, especially after four months at sea. For example, I just finished my monthly leg shave from a metal bucket full of sea water on the bow (and enjoyed it). The resort guests would gasp.

bora bora beaches travel blog

We’d heard from a few cruisers that Bora Bora wasn’t anything to write home about, unless you could afford one of the exclusive resorts on a private island. Several said the town was their least favorite. “It’s a dump,” said one friend, eloquently. We went anyway. And ended up staying two weeks. You know how some places just feel a little more magical than others? A little older or wiser or just plain more mystical? We felt that magic in Bora.

Part of the magic is the setting. The other part is the people. We’ll start with the backdrop: Bora is distinct from other Society Islands because it has a big mountain on the island in the middle of the lagoon, which is surrounded by a chain of smaller islands, called “motus.” We climbed to the peak alongside 14 friends from other boats, using old ropes tied to rocks and roots to ascend 700 meters (2,100 feet for those non-metric readers). As you can see, Rob wore his safety headwear even though he also climbed the whole thing barefoot — it’s important to prioritize which end of your body deserves protection.

Oddly, a fire broke out at the heiva fairgrounds as we descended the hike. We heard explosions, and watched from above as cars exploded and mushroom clouds of fire soared off thatched roofs about a football-field length from where our boat was anchored. Crazy. After hurrying down the last of the trail, we joined the crowds of locals to watch the firefighters put out the last of the flames. The local dive instructor, who we met in Fakarava, told us dismissively, “This happens all the time during heiva.” Huh. I guess if you build a party venue with sticks and dried-out palm fronds to host all-night dance fests for a month, fires are to be expected.

bora bora beaches travel blog

In addition to the mountain, Bora Bora is famous for its clear turquoise waters, which we explored happily with our caravan of friends. We swam with eagle rays and manta rays, marveling at their grace flying between coral. We splashed and dove and did somersaults and headstands in the glowing green “swimming pool” at anchor.

I had an intimate experience with my first octopus. She and I watched each other for about 20 minutes, playing hide and seek in coral. I’ve never seen anything more magical than an octopus. She changed color faster than I could blink, stretching and contracting to swim, leading an entourage of curious fish who also watched her curious color changes. Her big eyes blinked, tracking me as I hovered 15 feet above on the surface. I fell in love, but couldn’t find her the next few days.

We met Patrick, a local who opened up his lovely property and invited us to use his lawn for yoga. He guided us on a trek along the motu’s ridge, pointing out fruits, beehives, and — randomly — 10 WWII bunkers built by U.S. soldiers. Turns out the U.S. had thousands of soldiers stationed in Bora, expecting the Japanese to push into Polynesia.

bora bora beaches travel blog

On the way back to our sailboats, we walked through the Hilton’s resort. It was kind of like going to a zoo, since the creatures who were sweating on treadmills, driving in golf carts, and walking around in makeup and high heels seemed as foreign from our cruising lifestyle as a pack of wild baboons. Ok, maybe more foreign than a pack of wild baboons! Lovely resort, though.  A few days later, we took a girls’ trip in to the St. Regis resort on its own private motu.  We snuck in to lounge by the pool, and used their hot water showers.  Pure bliss, I tell you.

The weather window to head out on our 5-day passage to the Cook Islands kept getting pushed later, as light winds and rainstorms circled overhead. We didn’t mind, though. Bora is a wonderful place to wait, made more wonderful by all the fun friends who congregated here the past couple of weeks. We met new cruisers our age, and hung out with people we hadn’t seen in weeks — enough friends to warrant using our own VHF channel to coordinate all of the social events. Yoga every morning, afternoon tea chats, game nights, potlucks, a jam session, spearfishing expeditions.

bora bora beaches travel blog

Bora was our last stop in French Polynesia, after visiting eight islands that were all special in their own way. We’re heading to the Cook Islands next.  Bora felt like a crossroads, a place to launch new beginnings and a gathering place for people from all points of the globe. We left feeling full to the brim of Polynesian magic, open and ready to find the next adventure, the next country, the next crossroads in this vast blue sea.

galapagos brianna randall on the horizon line blog turtle

48 Dreamy Hours in the Galapagos

Posted on 3 CommentsPosted in Ocean Tales, Outdoor Adventures, Traveling

on the horizon line sailing blog cruising galapagos islands in pacific

We never thought we’d get to see the Galapagos on this journey. It wasn’t in the plan, mostly because it was so far out of everyone’s budget. Tourism fees are steep, and Llyr’s crew doesn’t have the time or money to fully explore these protected equatorial islands. In a twist of fate, though, our skipper decided to stop to refuel in the Galapagos and our boat was granted 48 hours in San Cristobal without having to clear in and pay the traditional fees. (Apparently, it’s usually only a 12-hour window, but the bureaucrats were taking a siesta when we arrived.)

galapagos brianna randall on the horizon line blog turtle

Rob and I made the most of those 48 hours. We wandered the quaint seaside town, ate really good food like cheese-stuffed plantains and fish stews, hung out on park benches with sea lions, swam with giant sea turtles, chased big iguanas over volcanic rocks, and poked around shrubs looking at birds. While we’d love to spend a solid week or two exploring the amazing wildlife here, we both feel blessed to have been given this unexpected window to experience the Galapagos. Plus, the 2 solid nights of sleep without watches were almost as cool as the turtles. Check out some of the pictures of from our stop below.

on the horizon line sailing blog cruising galapagos islands in pacific on the horizon line sailing blog cruising galapagos islands in pacific on the horizon line sailing blog cruising galapagos islands in pacific on the horizon line sailing blog cruising galapagos islands in pacific on the horizon line sailing blog cruising galapagos islands in pacific on the horizon line sailing blog cruising galapagos islands in pacific on the horizon line sailing blog cruising galapagos islands in pacific

on the horizon line sailing blog cruising galapagos islands in pacific


on the horizon line - sailing and traveling blog in mexico

Embrace the Now

Posted on 5 CommentsPosted in Fishing, Ocean Tales

on the horizon line - sailing and traveling and fishing blog in mexico

Rob pulled himself into the dinghy. “Man, I sure wish I’d had our GoPro down there,” he told me, pulling off his mask. “How cool would it have been to get video of those sea lions side-swiping us?”

We’d just snorkeled off Los Islotes, a small rock outcropping north of La Partida island where we were anchored on our friend’s boat, Sea Raven. It’s famous for the sea lion colony that lives on the ammonia-scented, guano-stained rocks. And the fame is well-deserved: it was unbelievable to have humongous slippery mammals skyrocketing past us in the sea.

The lions, called lobos del mar or sea wolves in Spanish, honked and barked, blew bubbles when we got too close, and chomped on the millions of tiny bait fish shimmering like a silver wave just beneath the surface. This marine reserve looked like the Sea of Cortez must have looked a century ago – ripe with fish of all colors, shapes and sizes. It was quite a contrast to the more barren underwater scene near the rocks at our anchorage a mile south, where only a handful of smaller fish dodged hungry fishermen’s nets and lines.

on the horizon line - sailing and traveling blog in mexico

We put some distance between ourselves and the clutter of tourist boats at Los Islotes, and snorkeled again at the next rock island. Rob swam around for 20 minutes, then jumped into the dinghy so I could do the same. This time, he didn’t say a word about missed opportunities behind a camera. He was full of stories of the world below: “I saw tons of trigger fish, and a huge surgeon fish! Did you see that sea lion glide in off the rock? This place is seriously awesome.”

That evening, we both stretched on the foredeck as we watched the red light of sunset roll down from the mountains and break across the sea. Rob pointed out turtles as they popped up to breathe (he’s seen approximately 43 turtles this past week, compared to my 2), and we followed a young sea lion that was playing between the catamaran’s hulls.

on the horizon line - sailing and traveling and fishing blog in mexico espiritu santo sunset in baja

“You know,” Rob said, “I’ve been thinking about my time in Madagascar. I didn’t have any of that shit we just lost. I keep thinking it’s a blessing in disguise that our electronics got stolen. If I’d had the GoPro today, I would’ve been fiddling with cameras instead of just enjoying the dive, and I’d probably be inside editing the video right now instead of watching turtles swim in the sunset.”

It definitely still stings a lot that we lost all of the gear we so carefully researched and assembled. Mostly, though, it stings that we made dumb mistakes that led to that occurrence.

That sunset, Rob and I came to agreement that we don’t need to prove how cool and interesting this trip is, to ourselves or others. Sure, it’s natural to want to share our experience, and to capture remarkable moments to enjoy again later. But then you lose the now. The cost of recording those events means we’re behind a computer, camera or recorder, rather than fully experiencing how cool they are. The universe may well have been telling us that it’s our time to embrace the now.

on the horizon line - sailing and traveling and fishing blog in mexico

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