GRAND CANYON, Ariz. — After six years teaching science and culinary arts at Grand Canyon School, Sara Newton and David Sheppard are riding off into the sunset – for now.
While retirement often conjures images of lunging by the pool, leisurely vacations and time spent unfettered with family and friends, Newton and Sheppard are looking for a bit more of a high-octane experience.
The couple doesn’t plan on slowing down one bit.
“We have places in Tucson and in the Sierras,” New ton said. “We’re going to put them both on the AirBnB circuit, and if they’re both rented out, we’ll be on the motorcycle traveling and sleeping in a tent.”
After packing their belongings, Sheppard will head down to the couple’s home in Tucson for a few days while Newton returns to Illinois for a family visit. After that, Sheppard will meet Newton in Colorado for a whirlwind road trip to South Dakota, Minnesota and Maryland, and that’s just a few of the stops they plan to make visiting friends and family.
Sheppard, who is originally from Sydney, Australia, came to the United States in 1974 by answering a newspaper ad to work at a youth summer camp in southern Illinois. As luck would have it, Newton was working at the same camp, and she decided right then that Sheppard was the man for her.
“I looked at him and said, ‘That is a good-looking man,’” she joked.
Thirteen years later, the couple married and two years later moved to Phoenix. At that time, Newton was working as a cartographer and Sheppard as an architect. When the couple relocated to Grand Canyon in 2012, however, a change of careers was in order.
“When we moved here in 2012, the bubble finally caught up to the recession and there were no architect jobs anywhere,” Sheppard said. “And the nearest firms were all in Flagstaff, and they weren’t hiring.”
Sheppard said he looked for work at the canyon in any form, and was hired to work in the Grand Canyon School kitchen. He also served as the school’s best crossing guard, Newton joked, and required kids to answer a joke or riddle before they could cross the street.
“Sometimes they laugh, and I do get some eye rolls,” Sheppard added.
Sheppard had worked in the kitchen at the summer camp where he and Newton met, so he already had some kitchen experience, and after three years, he was eligible to be certified to teach culinary arts, resulting in some funny moments for both he and his students.
“It’s always kind of funny when they mistake baking soda for baking powder,” he said. “We baked some muffins that came out like flat hockey pucks.”
Newton also recalled her amusement when her students turned up with a big farewell card.
“On the inside, it was a giant picture of Brad Pitt,” she laughed. “When the students were looking out the window or into the hallway, I would always ask them if Brad Pitt was out there, so they put a giant photo of Brad Pitt and another person with my face on it inside the card.”
Asked what they’ll miss the most, Newton and Sheppard both agreed that the hiking and adventuring was a big part of their time at the canyon. The pair led many canyon hikes with students, family and friends alike, including many of Sheppard’s relatives from Sydney. Newton joked that she still knew some people who refused to visit, since it was likely they would be taken on a lengthy hike.
Newton and Sheppard both said they will miss the community as well, since they and their fellow teachers had bonded over afternoon backyard parties and even a poker group.
After their cross-country road trip, the couple thinks they may take up cooking at a boating lodge in New England.
They also don’t plan on bidding the canyon farewell for good. Among many likely planned and unplanned visits, the pair hopes to become long-term substitute teachers at the school, and Newton said students are already excited about hikes they hope to take, including a potential rim-to-rim-to-rim.
Newton said they’re up for the challenge.