Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
The surfboards lying among the kayaks since spring break had been the cause for a certain amount of amusement among the Outdoor Club members. Randy and Crystal had to endure a not unexpected degree of teasing as they carried them outside and tied them to the roof rack of the Olds -- "Surf's up, eh, dude?" They did get some funny-looking expressions, which was part of the fun. Still, there was a little muted awe on some faces from people who had an idea of how cold and rough Superior could be.
Eventually they got under way, formed up into a caravan following the van pulling the kayak trailer, and headed west through Negaunee and Ishpeming and smaller towns along US 41. It took them over an hour to get to the put-in on the Fall, where Marty gathered them around. "OK," he told the crowd, "With this many people, and some without a lot of experience, I think we'd all better scout the more serious drops before we get started. It shouldn't take that long, but we'd better be safe."
Most of the drops could be scouted by driving close to them, so they got back in the cars. "You were right," Crystal said shaking her head as she dropped the transmission into Drive. "It's gonna be a zoo. If we came over here with four or six or even eight people who knew what they were doing, this would rock."
"Yeah, I'm beginning to think I'm glad we brought the boards," Randy agreed, looking at the way the wind bent the barren trees. "Looks like it's picking up a little."
The first drop they came to was Powerhouse, where water had once been fed back into the river from an old dam upstream. "I think probably everyone should just portage this river right," Marty told the group as they all looked at it.
"Works for me," Crystal told Randy quietly. "The only line I see is way over on river left."
"That's not real good," Randy conceded. "And you'd have to get over to it from way on the right. It looks real shallow and rocky below the drop. You could break a boat there easy, and maybe your ass, too."
On downstream, they came to another tough drop, not as bad as Powerhouse, called The Slot. Here, the whole river funneled down to a narrow chute into a hole backed up by another huge rock downstream. "There's a few of you who can probably run this, but most of you should walk it," Marty told them. "If you don't think you can handle it, don't try." He led them on down the river, past a pair of runnable waterfalls, Big and Little, and then a pretty rapids over a series of ledges, called Barking Dog Rapids after a dog that cheered on kayakers from the back yard of his owner's house. Below that came the US-41 bridge and two more big drops: the first was Middle Falls, a series of riverwide ledges, waves and holes that looked fairly intimidating but runnable. A little farther on, the river bent to the left and went down a long, shallow slide. Just past that, the river pooled up a bit at an old dam. A slot had been cut through the middle, and it could be run. A number of fishermen stood about just below the dam, casting for walleye or something.
"All right," Marty told the group as they stood at the last drop. "You've seen the river. I think it's pushy enough that we'd better have someone experienced run it first so you can see how it goes, especially at The Slot. Crystal, I know you've done this before and you have more experience in whitewater than anyone else here, including me, so do you feel up to the pilot run? And who would you like to take with you?"
"Oh, Randy can handle it, if he'll go with me. I know what he can do."
"Thanks, Crystal," Randy said sarcastically as they got back in the car. "I don't need to show off."
"You can handle it, and I know you better than I know any of the rest of this gang. Randy, in case you haven't guessed, it's gonna be carnage city out there today. Someone has to show them how it's done."
"I know that," he told her. "At least you've got more confidence in me than I've got in myself. Some of that stuff looks hairy. Hell, after what you told Marty in front of everyone, I'm gonna have to run The Slot."
"Just watch out for the big rock at the bottom," she said. "They call it The Hemorrhoid, since it's such a pain in the ass. In fact, some people call the whole drop The Asshole. Just hit the tongue hard so you've got speed to carry you through the hole, and boof off The Hemorrhoid if you have to."
A few minutes later Randy was pulling on his wetsuit. He'd been wearing his surfing springsuit under his clothes from the beginning so he wouldn't have to go through the ritual of finding a secluded spot to change. He was just as glad he had the extra layer; it seemed pretty certain that he was going to be swimming before the morning was out, and he might welcome the extra protection, as cold as the water was. This time, he added neoprene booties, gloves, and balaclava, leaving himself swathed in rubber from head to foot, and Crystal was similarly attired. Then, as Myleigh watched, they slid into the Acrobats and began paddling.
The run started easily, with a couple of small ledge drops, and some good, moving, easy water, and over a double ledge where the old dam once stood; just below that, Crystal pulled up into an eddy river right, and Randy followed. Quickly, they grabbed their boats, put them on their shoulders, and carried down past the Powerhouse, which didn't look any better this time as they passed it.
"There aren't a lot of good places to stop below here," she told him as they hooked up their spray skirts before they got on the water below Powerhouse. "We're just going to have to run right down and do The Slot. You're pretty well committed if you get close."
"Oh, piss, let's run it," he said, looking at the crowd gathered on the rocks downstream to watch. "You go first, I'll stay back a bit."
"OK with me," she said, peeling out of the eddy. Randy sat and watched her go down through the steep froth approaching The Slot, set a line, and disappear over the drop. Well, there was no choice now, but at least there would be people down there with throw bags if he screwed up. With more than a little trepidation, he shoved off from where the stern of the boat lay resting on the bank, took a big bite with his paddle, popped out of the eddy on a nice brace, and headed downstream. The gradient of the river increased as he got there, bouncing up and down in nice Class II, but, as Crystal had said, there weren't a lot of places to stop. He edged his way well over to the right, so he'd have a good line for the slot, then, as he got close, turned and paddled like hell. He shot over the top of the drop, fell down into the froth at the bottom, and as he emerged from the hole, there was Hemorrhoid right in front of him. He rolled to the side a little to bounce off it, found the eddy below, and eddied out.
It had only taken a few seconds, but they were long seconds, and his heart was pounding. That was a lot tougher than Lesser Wesser, and he realized he'd just run his first Grade IV!
"God, that was cool," he breathlessly told Crystal, who bobbed beside him in the eddy, almost oblivious to the shouts of congratulation that came to them from the rocks. He looked back up at the drop; it looked even harder than it had from the shore, but now he knew he could do it.
"Knew ya could do it," she replied with a grin.
After they waited for a bit for the crowd from the Outdoor Club to get down the river a ways, they peeled out, and ran right down Big and Little Falls, then had fun bouncing down the ledges of Barking Dog, the dog barking them on. The US-41 bridge went by overhead; Randy followed Crystal as they went down the choice line to the left side of Middle Falls. Lower Falls proved to be easy, but shallow, ending in a hole that they had to punch through. Randy was tempted to stop and play in it, but as he went by he realized that it was too shallow to attempt an ender, and he was going too fast, anyway. The river pooled up below that, at the old dam. From the pool, they could see down through the slot in the dam that the guy was still fishing in the fast water, but Crystal caught his attention with a shrill whistle, and he waved them on. The last drop was fun, if approached right, and in a few minutes they were floating in the calm water where the Fall approached Lake Superior.
It had only taken them a little more than half an hour. "Good run," Randy said, beaming, both from the adrenaline excitement, and from the fact that he'd done the whole run clean. He hadn't had to swim, or even roll, after all!
"Yeah, too bad," Crystal agreed. "With this crowd, we might be lucky to get another one in. But take a look at the lake, will ya?"
Randy glanced out at the lake. The wind was blowing pretty good, now, and he could see whitecaps farther out. "Does look promising," he said. "The surf's nothing right here, but it might be around the bay where it can get a direct shot."
"We'll have to go take a look later," she said, as they pulled into the shore, where Marty waited with most of the group and the trailer.
"What do you think?" Marty asked when they got out of the boats.
"Two things," Crystal said. "If you got people walking both the Powerhouse and The Slot, they might as well walk both of them at the same time, and that's gonna take a while. Why not just have people put in below the Hemorrhoid, with this big a crowd? You miss a little nice water above, but that'll speed things up a lot, and still give everybody a good shot at Big and Little Falls and Barking Dog."
"Sounds reasonable," he said. "What else?"
"Maybe you ought to have everybody take out at the 41 bridge," she suggested. "None of the drops are all that hard, but you're gonna grind up the boats pretty bad on that long slide on Lower Falls. I was dragging plastic all the way. And, the guy fishing was nice enough to let us through, but he might not be so nice about a long stream of people."
"That sounds reasonable," he said. "That'll give all the newbies and wannabes a shot at some exciting stuff they can handle. We'll keep the list for tomorrow down to eight or ten, and maybe we can go do the Silver or something."
"Sounds like a plan," Crystal said. "Randy and I were just talking about going and checking out the surf."
"I don't mind," Marty said with a grin, knowing that would free up a couple boats. "But could you hold it off a bit? I'd just as soon there was someone at Big and Little Falls with a throwbag or two while everybody's making their first run."
"Sure, no problem," Crystal agreed. "We'll take off after lunch."
There was still a pretty good accumulation of snow on the shore alongside Big and Little Falls, although the day was tolerably warm. Myleigh took one look at the snow, and decided that discretion, and studying, were the better part of valor, so stayed in the Olds. Randy and Crystal were just as glad they'd left their wetsuits on as they sat there in the snowdrifts, waiting for the first run to come through. "I hope you don't mind me volunteering you for this," she said.
"Not really," he said. "Even if it was the best surf in the world, we couldn't stay out in it that long, as cold as it is. We might as well do our bit for the club."
"Yeah, Marty and the club have been pretty good to us," Crystal smiled. "You realize that we're the only ones who are going to get a full run in today?"
"I tell you, I thought I was in over my head, going over The Slot," Randy said. "I was so surprised I ran it clean that I was shaking."
"You did fine," she said. "Randy, I know you have the talent to do about what you want to do with whitewater. You do need more experience, and maybe some of it shouldn't be with me. I do tend to hang it out a little, I know, but I have my limits, as well."
"I've been thinking about it," he said. "I think I know a guy back home who's pretty good. He's been doing it for years. Maybe I'll look him up when I get back."
"Might be a good idea, but don't let him push you over your head," she said. "If you can find a boat this summer, work on your roll some more, especially the offside."
"I'll try," he promised. "Damn, here we are sitting up to our asses in snow, and it's hard to believe that what I think of as summer is a week away. This time next week, I'll be driving home."
"Yeah," she said. "And I'll be running a raft down the Ocoee. That's gonna be a hell of a change."
"It is," he agreed. "Crystal, thank you."
"Why, for conning Marty earlier?"
"No, for everything," he said. "It's less than three months that you and Myleigh and I have been hanging out together, but they've been a great three months. Easily the best I've had at NMU, maybe the best I can remember, period. It's going to seem so far away in Spearfish Lake."
"Well, thanks for being a part of it," she told him. "It wouldn't have been nearly as much fun without you. You've allowed me to play harder than I could have when it was just Myleigh and me. But, you've been good to her, and good for her, too. Randy, she was shy when I first met her. I mean, really, really shy. I knew from the moment I met her that I was going to have to be careful with her."
"She told me about that, back when we were heading out on spring break."
"She didn't tell you enough," Crystal shook her head. "She really was pulled way back into her shell. In three years, now, we've gotten to be pretty good friends, and we can talk to each other about things we couldn't tell anyone else. But, she doesn't let people past that prissy front she puts up very easily. In fact, you're the only one besides me I know who has done it, but since we've been hanging, she's come out in the open with other people a little more, too. I think that's a good move for her."
"So do I," he agreed.
"She told you about her parents, I take it."
"Yeah, some," he admitted. "I didn't get a lot of details."
"I don't know as much as I'd like to, either," Crystal nodded. "What I did get from her makes me think that it was probably even worse than she admits. Maybe she's starting to come to terms with it and shake it off, now. If so, God, it's taken long enough."
She let out a big sigh and appeared to Randy to be trying to say something. Finally, she said, "Look, I appreciate it that you promised to help her move next weekend, and that you're going to come up and see her in the summer. She needs the contact with a friend. It'll do her good. Randy, just be gentle with her, and let things happen at her speed. Don't push her."
"I've always been gentle with her, and have never pushed her," he replied defensively.
"Yeah, but you've always known that Killer Chladek is around, ready to break you in half if you step out of line. She won't be, not till fall. By then, it might be too late."
"That never entered my mind," he said, still on the defensive. "I'm not some goddamn hockey player, you know. I've always understood that as hard headed as she is, Myleigh is very fragile, and I don't want to hurt her. It looks to me that enough people have tried."
"She told you about her graduation speech, I take it?"
"Yeah, that took balls."
"Not courage, Randy. Anger. There's a difference."
Randy looked upriver. There was a kayak coming, up around the bend a ways. He grabbed the throwbag he'd brought, and began to stand up and get in a good position so he could throw a line to the kayaker if they should happen to dump going over the drop. "Yeah, you're right," he told Crystal as he stood up. "That was a dumb statement. Whatever happens, I'll be careful."
It was after noon before the whole group trooped into a fast-food restaurant on US-41, many of them, including Randy and Crystal, still dressed in wet suits. While they were waiting, a freshman Randy only knew slightly asked, "You guys goin' surfin', or what?"
"We're going to see if we can find some surf after we eat," he told him casually. "There's some big waves out there, but I haven't seen a break that's much good."
"Mind if I tag along and watch for a while? I'd like to get another run in, but it won't happen till later."
"It's a free country," Randy replied. "We may drive all over the place and not get out of the car."
So, they had a car following them as they headed west out of L'Anse after lunch. A couple miles out of town, which was a little sheltered by a low point, there were some nice waves rolling in. "There's a pretty good break," Randy noted, "But, piss . . ."
"Yeah," Crystal agreed. "We'd have a bitch of a time launching off that riprap in that shore break, and I don't really want to have to surf into it and have to land on this stuff. Let's look on around the bay."
The next good place they had access to the lake was at a state park a few miles farther on. The shore break looked fair, but there just wasn't a good break to surf on, so they didn't even slow down to look. They drove on to the next place they could get to the lake, and it was even worse. "The wind's wrong," Randy grunted. "Too far around for this side, and we're not likely to find anything on this side of the bay."
"You're right," Crystal agreed as she pulled into a rest stop, and indicated a water tower on a point on the far side of the bay, several miles away. "That peninsula will probably chill out anything on the back side of it on that side of the bay, but there might be something on the other side."
"Worth a look," Randy said. "We could go back and surf the riprap if we had to, but I don't think we have to that bad."
"Yeah, you're right," she agreed. She pulled out of the rest stop, and turned to head back for L'Anse again.
It took them half an hour to get over to the far side of the peninsula. They swung around a curve, and through the trees they could see some nice-looking surf crashing into a nice beach at a park. "Yeah!" Randy and Crystal breathed together, before they even turned off the road.
Crystal roughly braked the car to a stop, and peeled out as Randy jumped out the other side. Wordlessly they looked out at the surf crashing in front of them. The shore break was pretty large, but the offshore break was pretty, maybe waist high, beautifully formed. Totally heedless of the second car pulling in alongside them, the two stood on either side of the car, just looking, as the cold wind off the lake bit at them. Finally, Randy looked at Crystal and said, "Shit, there's no way we're not gonna surf that."
"Right," she said, turning to start untying the boards. "Let's take our time and get everything right."
"For sure," he said, turning to the tiedowns on his side. "Supercold wax?"
The freshman who had followed them got out of his car and came up to help with the tiedowns. "Jesus, that wind's cold," he said. "You guys are going out in that?"
"Hell, yes," Randy told him, pulling his board off the car. "Look at that break, will you? This is cool shit!" He was preoccupied with getting ready, and didn't notice the freshman shaking his head, a little awed at what he was seeing.
It didn't take long to get ready; he and Crystal already had their wetsuits on, and were still wearing their booties from earlier. In minutes, they were down at the beach only a few steps from where they were parked, laying a coat of wax on their boards. If you ignored the cold, and just looked at the waves, they were as pretty as any he'd ever seen. "They're pretty fast," Crystal said absently. "Pretty short-coupled, too. We're gonna have to paddle hard to catch one, but if we miss, there'll be another one right now, so keep paddling."
Moments later, they had their gloves on and were heading out into the shore break. Even with the wet suits on, the first touch of the water was like ice, but they carried their boards out as far as they could through the break, got up on them and started to paddle out. The waves were too big to just paddle over, and they had to duck-dive several times before they managed to make it outside, and every time one of those ice-cold waves washed over them it was aching, terrifyingly cold, but they barely noticed. "We're not gonna be able to stay out in this long," Crystal said as they paddled close together. "But let's make it count."
"Fine with me," he said, turning the board around and looking over his shoulder at the oncoming waves. "Let's go!"
As it turned out, Crystal caught a wave just in front of him, but he wasn't far behind her. It was hard to catch the wave, but once he knew he was on it, he sprang to his feet, turned onto the shoulder, and began to move up and down it to find the sweet spot. "Yyyeeeeeeeeee-hhhhaaaaaa!!" he yelled in his excitement. It was a beautifully shaped wave, and he rode it for a long time, well down the shore. Finally, as it showed signs of starting to break out from under him, he saw Crystal pull out and flash by in front as she slowed, and he pulled out too.
Off the wave, he fell to his board, noticed Crystal a few feet away, and gave her a thumbs up. "All right!" she yelled. "Let's do that again!"
They stayed out there longer than they really should have. In spite of the cold, these were the best waves that Randy had ever seen, and it was hard for him to quit, hard for Crystal to quit, but finally, as they were both shaking from the cold, they headed for the beach. Together, they rode the shore break in, picked up their boards, and walked up the beach toward the car. "Jesus, I'm cold," Randy said. "I'm shivering, but that was great."
"Me too," Crystal said. "But look at those big eyes on those hodads watching us." She grinned, "I know the expression is wrong, but let's not let them see us sweat."
"A little sweat would feel . . . oh, I see what you mean," he grinned. He pulled himself together a little, and some of the shivering went away. As casually as he could, he set the surfboard down next to Crystal's in front of the car and unhooked the lanyard from his ankle while the freshmen piled out of the car. As he and Crystal stood up, they turned and took each other in their arms, to share a big kiss and some good backslapping. It was a great moment, one to remember.
"That was neat," one of the freshmen said. "Wasn't that awful cold?"
"Naw," Randy said, breaking his hug with Crystal. He noticed that Myleigh had left the car running, hopefully with the heater going full bore so it would be like an oven in there, but no way was he going to let on that was his main interest at the moment. He casually scratched his head, got a faraway look on his face, as if to say that he had seen something and done something that no mere mortals could understand, and said in a distant way, "It was pretty cool."
Randy let his composure drop as soon as the car door was closed. "You posers," Myleigh teased from her book in the back seat. "You shameless exhibitionists."
"W-w-w-what?" Randy said from the front seat, giving up to the shivers while he fumbled to unzip his wetsuit so more of the warmth from the car heater could get inside.
"I saw what you two were doing to those poor, impressionable freshmen," Myleigh grinned. "Jane Cool and Joe Cool out there, grooving around on your surfboards in ice water, just to make those poor children think they were in the presence of some sort of superhumans."
"Th-th-that was great," Crystal chattered, ignoring Myleigh, while unzipping her wetsuit for the same reason as Randy. "Th-th-that was c-c-cold. It w-w-wasn't that b-b-bad in N-N-November."
"You realize how fast that exhibition is going to get around the Outdoor Club, and thence around campus, don't you? Now, there are two of you who dare to play around in Superior's ice-water mansions like it was Hawaii. And Randy, you already had people in awe of you for daring to wrestle and do martial arts with Crystal; you've proved you're as tough as she is, and you've now proved to be the only one who can kiss her or surf with her. Oh, my, yes, that will get around quickly." She let out a big laugh. "After that, the two of you will be an NMU legend."
Myleigh was laying it on a little thick, but she had to; the two in the front were preoccupied with their shivering.
"Th-th-thatís w-w-w-what I like about s-s-s-surfing," Randy said. "It impresses the ch-ch-chicks. 'C-c-course the only ch-chicks I want to impress know how c-cold I am."
"D-d-don't think it d-d-doesn't m-m-m-make you a legend," Crystal tried to tease back. "Y-y-y-ou're the only one that'll d-d-d-dare to read us off."
"Well," Myleigh said with a big grin, "It does do my reputation around campus good to be seen in the close presence of such demigods as the two of you."
They sat in the car another few minutes, until the shivering subsided, then got out of the car, trying to keep themselves under control, and tied the surfboards onto the roof rack again. Randy allowed himself one final tweak; he walked over to the car where the freshmen sat huddled, still a little amazed at what they'd seen, and told them, "It'd be nice to get out some more, but we told Marty we were going to be back in a couple hours. We'll be along in a few."
"Yeah, we might as well head back," a voice came from inside the car. "We might be able to get another run in."
Randy shrugged. Mostly he wanted to get the kids out of there so they wouldn't see him collapse from acute hypothermia. "Yeah, we might too," he said casually.
As soon as he was looking at their taillights, the shivering overtook him again, and he and Crystal were only able to finish tying the surfboards to the roof rack with Myleigh's help. "I think I better drive," she said. "You two fools can huddle in the front seat to share your warmth and be closer to the heater."
It felt warmer once they got under way, with Randy in the middle between the two girls. He was starting to get himself under control again. "If we'd stayed out about half as long, it'd have been fine," he said, "But those waves were so nice it was hard to stop."
"Was pretty good," Crystal agreed, recovering a little herself by now. "If we get a good north-northeast blow next fall, we'll have to come and check it out when the water's a bit warmer."
"Yeah," Randy grinned. "That's another reason to look forward to fall."
Myleigh drove them back to town, and they stopped at a drive-through for large cups of coffee, then went on down to the US-41 bridge to check in with Marty, who was waiting with the trailer for the latest batch of river-runners to come through. Some of the freshmen who had been watching them surf were standing around. "Heard you found some pretty good surf," Marty said.
"Yeah, not bad, a little small," Randy admitted casually. "Made it worth the trip, though."
"Still want to do the Silver tomorrow?" Marty asked. "It won't be a mob scene like this. Six, maybe eight of us."
"Probably," Crystal told him. "I guess if we do, we'd better get back and hit the books tonight."