There are times in life when opportunity comes a knocking. Sometimes it can be disguised as hard work and cold nights, but it’s opportunity all the same. Recently, Toad&Co Ambassador Emily Jackson was approached with an opportunity to kayak the Grand Canyon. She had her doubts, but her decision to join the expedition ultimately turned into an experience she will never forget. The following is Emily’s account of 15 days in the Grand Canyon.
“You’ll never guess what?! We got another Grand Canyon Permit!!! Are you interested?”
Um of course I am interested!
“OK, because the launch date is in two weeks….”
This was the beginning of my recent adventure down the Grand Canyon. I wasn’t even home when the first wave of texts started coming in from the Holcombes. I was visiting my in-laws up in Canada in several feet of snow and couldn’t quite fathom what we were agreeing to go do.
I had been down the Grand Canyon almost 10 years before, only that trip was a commercial trip where we were royally spoiled and I paddled a playboat the whole time. My husband Nick’s first piece of advice was to not think this trip would be anything like it.
Not quite sure what he meant,I agreed to the trip, because I had turned down one trip into the Canyon before and I wasn’t about to let that happen again. My kids are 17 months and 4 1/2. Both are incredibly social, can be on any schedule, and love spending time with their Grandmother and Uncle KC. I selfishly thought this might be the perfect weaning opportunity for my daughter as I was ready to stop breastfeeding her and she loved the boob.
On came the next wave of texts: “Here is our friends packing list- trust me you’ll want to review it and base off of it.”
I was like YES! This is exactly what I needed as I had no idea how to live out of a kayak for 15 days. Then I looked at the list and my response was more like “what the heck?!” They forgot to mention the creator of the list was a rocket scientist, and had thus created a list that was too perfect for me to even review. It was down to the last drop, and had so much information, I couldn’t even process the list. (This guy recorded the weight of his food, and the weight of his poop at the end.) It was VERY detailed. He also managed to pack 3 pairs of shoes? Who does that?!
So I wrote the list out in doodle style and tried to pretend like it was my own, in hopes of assisting the chaos of preparing for this trip. Oh, and now we’re home with 5 days till departure.
Finally I decided I couldn’t pack off this list. I handed it to my husband and began to pray he didn’t skimp us on any necessities.
Now only a couple days left before departure, and I had to pack for my kids to be off with Grandma as well. With them not needing to weigh any luggage I simply rolled two bags into their room, and hail mary’ed just about every item of their room into the bag. Now that’s how you pack!
Nick had carefully laid everything out and then told me I needed to pack my clothes, as he didn’t want to do that for me. So I said, “That I can do!” and ran upstairs…and came down with about 5 too many outfits. All of which were for every type of climate. Then we checked the weather, I cursed under my breath and went back upstairs. Down coats, hats, under layers, and fleece, lots of fleece.
The bags were now packed. I had no idea what Nick had packed, but I knew I had my clothes. We dropped the kids off and hopped on the plane. And we really did hop on the plane with no hassle – flying without kids is cake!
The Holcombe’s picked us up in true style – their RV and trailer loaded with more kayaks then I could imagine. This was going to be my first time really packing out the Karma Traverse kayak. You could sense how prepared they were, lists upon lists and asking me questions I knew nothing about – like allum, bleach, and groover wrenches. I said Nick had it under control and then Nick asked us to be driven straight to REI. Lucky for us they needed to go too.
We got our stove fuel, (as you cant fly with it) and a few other missing necessities, like that groover wrench, allum, and so on.
That evening we stopped at our local dealer, Desert Adventures, and picked up the remaining boxes of stuff we needed. Then we headed to the RV Park to pack…in the dark.
I couldn’t believe we were packing to live out of our kayaks for 15 days and I needed a head lamp to see what I was doing. If I wasn’t stressed out enough already I now have no fingernails left and I have already stressed eaten several of my snacks that were for IN the canyon. Crap…
Nick took one look at me and said, “Don’t worry I got it, just lay out all of our food and only do that.” SWEET, something I can do. Kathy also told me how to do it, by day, by meal. So sure enough I had each day laid out. 15 days is a lot of food when you lay it all on one tarp.
My food choice was 90% Heather’s Choice meals. With each one being dairy and gluten free, and almost 40 grams of protein per serving, I knew it would be the perfect fuel for me. We also had Heather’s Choice Packaroons, which I was excited about, but didn’t know how excited I would be about them until later. To be honest, I’ve already ordered more of the Smoked Salmon Chowder as it was the best thing ever (don’t judge me for backpackers food at home.)
Emily packed the Airvoyant Puff Vest to fend of the chill of the Grand Canyon.
Now I had to pack all of my belongings into bags, and into a kayak… still in the dark. Luckily Las Vegas gives off such a warm orange glow that you can basically see way more…. (yuck, but was an advantage this day.)
I popped off the bulkhead in the Traverse and slid 50% of the food for Nick and I into my bow. It fit perfectly! In the other side I had my Thermarest pad, pillow, and bathroom bag. It fit just right. Behind my seat I kept two dry bags, one with my down jacket and hat, the other with that day’s lunch, snacks, lip chap and extra hair ties.
In the back hatch I had my first week of food, my chair, my Thermarest Sleeping bag that snuggled into an AWESOME SealLine compression sack (basically, I never needed to pack my sleeping bag into any other bag then the actual dry bag!) I had a stove, and cooking stuff, my clothes and journal, flip flops, and camera. Nick carried the tent. Then on top of the hard hatch I had my Groover tube and all its necessities tucked inside.
Somehow I had WAY more then I expected, including two pairs of shoes (was not expecting that) and it all fit perfect. We then laid our kayaks next to each other, a true team effort as the kayaks were HEAVY!
Now it was time to get picked up and delivered to the Put In… Pick up was at 6AM and it was already past midnight!
I didn’t sleep well. I wondered if I made the right choice. I thought of my kids, the challenges ahead, the time away from the usual grind… but I also looked forward to the experience of just being with my husband, away from the kids. The thought of big waves crashing into my face over and over again made me excited, and ultimately made the decision for me.
I fell asleep for the last hour, and when I woke up I was ready!
We climbed into the car and drove the fastest 6 hours I can recall. I think I slept for almost 5 of them, and the other one hour I ate delicious cookies someone brought along. I arrived at Lees Ferry ready for action. We had our check in, our orientation with the wonderful Penny, set up our tents (which is always awkward the first time) and that was it. We were officially launched! Now, we kinda cheated the first nights dinners and hitched a ride up to the lodge and ate a gazillion French fries, burgers, chili and beer… hitched back to our tents, cursed the cold that was already much worse then I anticipated and slept, hard.
The first day I was slightly intimidated at the weight of the kayak – how was rolling this beast? The cold simply kept me from even trying, but I was curious what rolling that amount of weight would feel like. I couldn’t begin to tell you how excited I was, and the idea of paddling 280 miles had me cruising the first ten. We were told we were going a little too fast so we backed off and ended our day at 18 miles. I was not sure how stopping 2 miles short was going to work as I knew it meant picking up more miles along the way, but everyone was a bit sore from not being accustomed to paddling this weight and the weather was COLD! We also wanted to make camp before it got too late.
The first day didn’t have much for rapids, but our crew was doing a great job. It was Nick and I and the Holcombes: Peter, Kathy and Abby. We all were in Traverses, Abby and I in 9 foot Karma Traverses, and the rest in 10 foot.
I couldn’t believe how well this kayak floated, drove, and maneuvered in the bigger rapids, ALL while being insanely loaded down. I could get the kayak where I wanted and when I did hit huge breaking waves and holes it was stable throughout the entire hit. I found my confidence after the first two days and began seeking out the wetter lines. Now and then I avoided wetter lines for the sheer thought of being wet and adding to the cold… but otherwise, the bigger waves were calling!
I was also impressed with how packing became a flow. Each day I would wake up and the routine of being in the canyon seemed to happen without my thinking about it. Nick would go make coffee while I packed the sleeping bags and pads. Then we would have breakfast and coffee together. I would bring the bags to the boats and he would take the tent down. I don’t remember being so vocal in asking for specific help or taking turns doing certain responsibilities and this reminded me that I often have that silent expectation for Nick to do what I want without me even sending him any hints. By learning and becoming vocal about us helping each other, we felt much more like a team and I was reminded how much easier my life and raising the kids would be if we could simply carry that communication home.
We had so many high moments in the canyon (and low temps) and I couldn’t wait to share the experience with the kids. From hikes, to caves, to that incredibly blue water in the Havasu River. From fish to eagles, deer and sheep, arrowheads, shooting stars, lizards, ice, and waves. OH the WAVES! Each one that hit me was a reminder of how much I love kayaking. Each day was a reminder of the simple joys in life. Each day taught me that nothing is for granted. I can’t tell you how much we laughed and clamored over each other for the idea of a bite of a Packaroon after a long day’s paddle.
The disconnect of being in the canyon was a wonderful feeling. I never realized how much I loved music, or missed it, until the last few days when Dave Matthews Band, Aerosmith, Red Hot Chili Peppers, U2, the Cranberries, Alanis Morisette and Nirvana popped into my head if any word reminded me of a song. I also thought of how much I missed just engaging with my kids, not necessarily doing anything, just simply interacting.
I have so much appreciation for the Grand Canyon opportunity. For the strength I found to go, for my husband coming along, for the Holcombe’s for inviting us, for my parents for watching my kids. And for my boat! My boat, was my home, my safety, my vessel for the 15 days in the Canyon. I have much love for my boat and its ability to carry me through those big splashy rapids day after day.
I hope everyone has an opportunity to see nature in some of its rawest forms. To connect with the outdoors, disconnect from everything else, and to use a river to carry you through your adventures.