Grand Canyon Date Night


Nick: “Want to go on a date?”

Some days, it feels like my life is a never-ending maelstrom of deadlines, meetings, teaching, parenting, paddling, training and traveling. The hustle and grind to fit it all in are constant, yet the word “busy” leaves a bad taste in my mouth.

With so much going on, my husband and I try hard to prioritize being fully engaged in whatever we are doing at that moment. Whether it’s exercise, work, or family meals, the goal is to be present and give it our all. But this is hard when you live primarily in a trailer, and your kids (aged 10 and 7) want you to “be there for them, too”—unless they are sneaking in extra minutes of screen time on the iPad or Switch.

But as we add more responsibilities and obligations to our lives, something has to give. If I’m honest, our “us time” goes first. While we do lots together every day, we haven’t prioritized our dates as much as we used to. Partially because we both assume the other person will schedule one if they really want it. After a year of fewer opportunities, we both agreed we could do better. So, when I received a text from my husband, who was at a kayak race in North Carolina, while I was home in Tennessee with the kids asking, “Want to go on a date?” I said, “Of course!”

Nick: “I won a permit for the Grand Canyon.”
Me: “Exciting!”
Nick: “The launch date is in four days.”
Me “………” 

Okay, so his concept of a date was a little more chaotic than Drunken Noodles at our favorite Thai restaurant.

Nick works within his own schedule, with very few boundaries around how and where he spends his time. He is incredibly resourceful and always finds a way to make something he wants happen. The only blocker to “date night” for him would be me. I don’t share the same freedom with my schedule, but miraculously the timing worked.

My family was home and happy to help with my kids. My coworkers gave their blessing, and within 15 minutes of the official okay, I was in planning mode. I knew if I started thinking too hard about all the other parts of my life that needed my attention, the trip wouldn’t happen. It would only take one excuse to convince myself this was a terrible idea.

I don’t do uncalculated things often. Normally, I preplan, then triple ultra-check things. For this “date,” there simply wasn’t time. So, I pushed my doubts aside and committed to being all in, fully present. No distractions. Before the day was over, I had called a local outfitter and rented kayaks, booked plane tickets and had an in-depth packing list. At the top, I wrote a reminder to trust the process. “Leap and the net will appear.”

We had three days to get ready. Nick couldn’t wipe this shit-eating grin off his face. He thrives in chaos. “Make the most out of every scenario,” “YOLO,” and “a touch of rebellion” are his MO. He was in heaven, and me joining him was making his year. We said bye to our children and off we went, trusting in experience rather than plans.

By the time we were at Lees Ferry, Moekopi Outfitters had everything we needed, from boats to poop tubes. Minus soap, but fortunately, I had grabbed a bar from the motel the night before. It felt like fate, another subtle reminder to trust the process, to trust in us.

We turned off our phones, packed bags into boats, looked at each other, and thought, “Holy shit. We’re actually pulling this off!” As we pushed away from the shore, the weight of responsibilities melted away, and I whispered to myself that everything would be okay. I would be okay. My kids would be okay.

When the first wave splashed my face. It hit me along with the water: I was 100% in the Canyon, with nowhere to be but present with my husband for the next nine days.

As Nick and I paddled, wave after wave, corner after corner, we soaked up the view, unspoken mutual awe of the colors, landscape, silence, awash in appreciation and gratitude. To be in the presence of someone you love, doing something you both love, is something special. You understand each other even in complete silence.

We swam in pools naked, enjoyed every morsel of our dehydrated food and dark chocolate, played card games and napped. We navigated rapids, hikes, packing and conversations. As a couple who had failed each other time after time with our ability to be fully present, together we redefined what we needed, wanted, and expected.

The Canyon fed us ways to appreciate the calm amongst the chaos and recenter, both here and now, but also in our lives at home.

Now that we are back home, we have a more in-depth appreciation for presence and what that looks like. We better understand how to be where we are, not where we’ve been or are striving to reach.

Nick and I met as kids. We dated as teenagers, wed as we entered our 20s, and now navigate parenthood in our 30s. Our parameters of what counts as a date have evolved much as we have over the last 20 years. What started as taking any opportunity to be alone evolved into food and movies, elaborate dinners and hotel rooms, and is now cycling back to spending time with just the two of us.

All of our dates have been an attempt to connect. Lately, we find that less distraction is key, recognizing that it’s the small present moments that give us the best connection. For us, the river is one of the best places to be in the present moment.

Perhaps it’s knowing you will never be on the same water twice or the joy it creates, but the river brings us together. It’s how we met, where we fell in love, and what we still structure our lives around. Before kids we shared the water more often, with less effort. Now it takes a bit more thought, but the result is something we both notice—and appreciate—when it happens.

My anxiety may now spike each time Nick requests a date, even if they might not all be as involved, but I have such a hunger to show up fully in whatever capacity I can.

You don’t need grand plans, grand gestures, or even the Grand Canyon to be present. It’s choosing to say “yes” to time together.  Choosing to prioritize your relationships with your loved ones and committing to see where going on a “date” can take you.


Guest Contributor Emily Jackson is the Director of Marketing at Jackson Kayak. A Team NRS athlete and US Freestyle Team Member, Emily holds multiple World Champion titles and the coveted title of “mom.” Follow her adventures @emilyjacksonkayak and @great.family.adventure.