Self Support Grand Adventure

by emily-jackson
Wednesday, May 30, 2018
Wednesday, May 30, 2018
A self-support kayak trip down the Grand Canyon is 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.
Emily Jackson
by Emily Jackson

   Full Bio

“You’ll never guess what?! We got another Grand Canyon Permit!!! Are you interested?”

My reply, “Um of course I am interested!”

“Okay, 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 Holcombe’s who had acquired this last minute permit. I was visiting my in-laws in Canada where there was several feet of snow, and I couldn’t quite fathom what we were agreeing to go do.

I had been down the Grand Canyon almost ten years before on a commercial trip, where we were royally spoiled and I paddled a playboat the whole time. Nicks first piece of advice was to not think this trip would be anything like that. 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.

Grand Canyon

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 also thought this might be the perfect weaning opportunity for my daughter as I was ready to stop breastfeeding her.

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 fifteen 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 weighed the weight of the food, and the weight of his poop at the end, it was VERY detailed. He also managed to pack three 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 are home in Tennessee with five days till departure. Finally I decided I couldn’t pack off this list- handed it to my husband Nick, and began to pray he didn’t skimp us on any necessities. Now only a couple days left, 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. “That I can do!” I ran upstairs and came down with about five 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.

Emily bundled up
Emily bundled up in her dry suit and down jacket.

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 a plane. And we really did hop on a plane with no hassle- flying without kids is cake!

The Holcombe’s picked us up in true style, with 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. 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 to be driven straight to REI. Lucky for us they needed to go too. We got our stove fuel, (as you can’t 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, to pick up the remaining boxes of stuff, then headed to the RV Park to pack in the dark.

I couldn’t believe we were packing to live out of our kayaks for fifteen days and I needed a head lamp to see what I was doing. If I wasn’t stressed out enough already I now had no fingernails left and had already stress eaten several of my snacks that were for in the canyon, crap…

packing the kayak
Making it all fit.

So then Nick took one look at me and said “don’t worry I got it”, you 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 and 15 days is a lot of food when you lay it all on one tarp. My food choice was 90% Heathers Choice meals. With each one being dairy, gluten free, and almost 40 grams of protein per serving, I knew it would be the perfect fuel for me. We also had Heathers Choice Packaroons, which I was excited about, but didn’t know how excited I would be about them until later… and I’ve already ordered more of the Smoked Salmon Chowder as it’s the best thing ever!! Don’t judge me for eating backpackers food at home.

Heather's Choice Packaroons were a big hit!
Heathers Choice Packaroons were a big hit!

Now I had to pack it 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 at night. Yuck, but was an advantage this day.

I popped off the bulkhead on my 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 days lunch, snacks, lip chap and extra hair ties.

packing the traverse with 15 days of gear
packing the traverse with 15 days of gear

In the back hatch I had our first week of food, my chair, my Thermarest Sleeping bag that snuggled into an AWESOME SealLine compression dry sack, which basically means I never needed to pack my sleeping bag into any other 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, and it was a 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, and 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, this made me excited, and ultimately chose for me. I fell asleep for the last hour and when I awoke- I was ready!

We climbed in the car and drove the fastest 6 hours - I think I slept for almost 5 of them and the other one hour I was eating delicious cookies. 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 night dinner and hitched a ride up to the lodge where we ate a gazillion french fries, burgers, chili and beer. We hitched back to our tents, cursed the cold that was already much worse then I anticipated and slept, hard. Ready for the days ahead, or simply because I didn’t have two children who sleep like drunk octopuses looking for car keys in my bed!

Now, kayaking….

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 about the idea of paddling 280 miles, and so I was 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 used to paddling this weight and the weather was COLD, so we wanted to make camp before it got too late.

Emily and Kathy
Emily and Kathy

The first day didn’t have much for rapids, but our crew was doing a great job. It was Nick and I and the Holcombe’s: 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 then I enjoyed taking the wetter lines. Now at times I avoided wetter lines and put my hands in the air for the sheer thought of being wet and adding to the cold… But otherwise, the bigger waves were calling and I was wearing my Kokatat dry suit!

Emily enjoying herself

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 reminded me that often I have that silent expectation for Nick to do what I want without me even sending him any hints. By learning and becoming vocal on 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 simply 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 of paddling.

The disconnect of being in there is 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 opportunity, the strength I found to go, my husband for coming along, the Holcombe’s for inviting us, my parents for watching my kids and my boat. My boat, was my home, my safety, my vessel for the fifteen day journey down 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.

Happy Paddling - Emily Jackson-Troutman
Happy Paddling - Emily Jackson-Troutman