Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Diamond was sitting on the steps of the porch of the Katahdin Stream Campground ranger station when Randy pulled the Dakota to a stop. She didn't pay much attention as he pulled to a stop, and didn't look up till he got out of the truck and called her name.
"Oh, hi, Randy," she said, a little sadly. "I didn't recognize the truck. I guess I just associate you in my mind with the old white Dodge."
"Yeah, well, things change," he said. "How you been?"
"Pretty good," she replied quietly. "Just got here a couple hours ago."
"You made good time from Monson," he said. "I figured on being able to mess around here for a day, but I thought I'd better push on through, just in case." It had been a long drive, two full days from Spearfish Lake, with part of a night spent on the seat of the truck at a roadside stop in Ontario. All summer long he hadn't been sure he'd be able to make the trip to Maine, but the school had signed off on the certificate of substantial completion a week ahead of what had been projected. Grandfather Brent, knowing what his plans were, told him to take off at the end of the week, go pick up the girls, and celebrate a little.
When that had happened, he'd known Diamond had been close to Monson, the last town on the trail by that point, and she called that night, so all the pieces had fallen together. Monson was a hundred miles up the trail, but she'd made it in five days, good time in anyone's book on that patch of trail. Now, they'd actually have plenty of time to get back and pick up Myleigh at Cornell.
"Yeah, I was pickin' 'em off pretty good there," she affirmed. "If I hadn't known you were coming, I think I'd have sauntered a bit. I've looked forward to this trip for so long, and now, here it is, over with in the morning. Are you going to climb Katahdin with me?"
"If you want me to," he told her. "I thought maybe you'd think I was out of place since I hadn't made the approach march with you."
"Yeah, well, it doesn't matter, I guess," she said. "At least you'll have walked a little of the trail with me. I really wish I was climbing it with Scooter or Marlin, but I guess not. I half thought you'd have Marlin with you."
"Afraid not," he grinned. "Boy, that's one thing, when you go out in the woods, you get away from the news. Marlin couldn't come, she's doing something else, and you're to blame."
"What?" she asked, looking up and smiling for the first time.
"Marlin's at OLTA," he said.
"Well, it surprised me, too," he laughed. "I guess all that talk of yours about OLTA got to her. She's doing the Wilderness First Responder course. The Girl Scouts came up with some sort of grant to pay for a chunk of it."
"Well, son of a gun," Diamond said brightly. "That's not quite like the regular marine boot camp courses, but they still work your ass off pretty good."
"She called the night after you called from Monson," Randy reported. "I guess they've been keeping her busy, but part of the reason she wanted to go in the first place was to take a look at the regular courses. She says she might squeeze one in next spring. Part of the deal with the grant is that she has to work Mosquito Valley again next summer."
"I guess it doesn't surprise me," Diamond smiled. "She liked being out on the trail with me."
Randy shook his head. "Diamond, you've warped her mind. There's another reason she didn't come with me. She said she doesn't want to climb Katahdin until she can do the whole approach march."
"You're kidding!" she said again, eyes wide. "When we talked down at Harper's Ferry, she was sounding like she wanted to do it sometime, but didn't think she'd ever be able to find the time."
"Looks like two years off, now, well, a year and a half. I saw her for about four days before she headed out to Idaho. Diamond, she's got Springer Fever bad. I guess some other girl down at Mosquito Valley has it too, and they fed on each other pretty much. She says, whatever you do, don't head out of Spearfish Lake before she has a chance to talk to you."
"Sure, I'll hang around. I wanted to see her, anyway. Randy, what do you think about it?"
"Tell you the truth, Diamond," he said, "I wish I was going with her. But then, I wish I'd been with you this year. Damn, it's been hard, busting my ass on the site, and thinking about the things that you've been seeing." He let out a big sigh. "But, it ain't gonna happen."
"A pot load busier than I want to be. Can't piss around much getting back, either. We start another school job in Warsaw just as soon as the board accepts the bid. That's supposed to be tomorrow night, in fact. It's gonna be a hell of a race to get it closed in before the snow flies. But, hell, I'm with you, now, and I don't want to think about that. I want to hear about the trail."
"Yeah, I've got a few memories," she told him. "I've been sitting here, just thinking about the whole thing, trying to get it all into perspective. I keep thinking about Mom and her one big adventure. I told you that story, didn't I?"
"The Grand Canyon? Yeah, I remember that, the first time we went to Buddha and Giselle's."
"Randy, I keep wondering if this is my one big adventure. I don't know. I don't want it to be. Maybe it should be. Nothing's making a lot of sense. I guess the trail is still with me, pretty bad."
"Probably will be for a while," Randy said. "You remember Josh Archer?"
"Yeah, Tiffany's husband, right?"
"We have breakfast together some mornings out at the Spearfish Lake Cafe. He's a railroad engineer in the summer, and runs dogs in the winter. Anyway, he says he's been to Nome three times now, and every time he gets in, he collapses in a bed, sleeps for a while, then wakes up and thinks he's got to get back on the trail. He says it takes a week or more to get it out of his system."
"I know exactly what he's saying," Diamond grinned. "It may take me a few days. Maybe a few months, I don't know. I'm about half ready to turn around and head back to Springer. I know people who have done it. Maybe they got the right idea, I don't know." She looked down at the ground for a moment, seeming rather dejected. "But what the hell," she said finally. "Maybe I'll just go with Marlin."
"Wouldn't surprise me," he laughed.
"Come on," she brightened. "Let's go find a campsite. We can sit around there and I'll tell you about the trail. Then, we can go climb Katahdin in the morning."
They slept in the same tent that night, arms around each other. It was the first time he'd been with a woman since he'd been with her down outside Wesser, almost six months before, but changes had happened since then, he knew. She wasn't quite the same Crystal who had seemed nervous about the whole thing that night. She'd been there, done that. She'd seen the elephant, looked it in the eye, and it had looked deep into her soul.
Somehow, as they lay there together, naked, arms around each other, the memory of the surfing trip up at Second Sand Bay came to him, when it had seemed to Gary that he and Crystal had seen something and done something that no mere mortals could understand. Now, he was like Gary, looking in from the outside at things he could never know unless he'd done them himself, and there wasn't much chance of that.
They arose early the next morning in the half light, had a couple cups of coffee and a better breakfast than Diamond had been used to, signed out of the ranger station for the climb, and were on their way as the sun was coming up. Katahdin isn't all that big a mountain, compared to western mountains, but it's a big one for the east, with a 4000-foot climb. Thru-hikers claim that it's the most beautiful mountain on the trail, but only if they've walked the 2000-mile approach march to get there.
Diamond, of course, was in excellent shape, perhaps the best she'd ever been in her life, but Randy was not in the condition he'd been in at this point of the year the last two summers. There hadn't been the continual hard labor pouring concrete to keep him fit, although he'd tried to stay in decent shape. He had to work hard to keep up with her trail-hardened legs, and at that she was taking it easy. Technically, it wasn't a very difficult climb, and well-marked all the way, but Randy was puffing and tired when he followed Diamond out onto the flat summit, and up to the rude marker that defined the end of the long trail from Springer Mountain.
A few feet short of the marker, she stopped, pulled off the light daypack she'd been wearing, and from inside it she pulled a small bag. "This is kind of a tradition," she told Randy. "I carried this pebble all the way from Springer." She looked at the marker, tears in her eyes now, then walked up to it and placed the pebble in a pile at the foot. "Well, that's that," she said, standing up and taking in the view. "It's over."
"Diamond, let me take a picture or two," Randy offered.
"Picture's fine," she said sadly. "But I think you'd better start calling me Crystal again."
It was easier going down the mountain -- it was downhill, after all -- but Crystal didn't have much to say on the descent. Randy thought he could understand why; Crystal was going to have to let the experience go and put it in her past. There were a number of things he wanted to talk with her about, but he sensed this wasn't the time, and that he needed to let her sort things out for herself.
Down off the mountain, and with their gear already loaded under the white cap of the Dakota, she and Randy soaked their feet in the icy waters of Katahdin Stream, almost as cold as surfing Lake Superior in the spring, and Crystal was still silent to the point of being morose. Finally, when Randy's feet were numb and he was really wishing he'd at least brought the wetsuit booties, he pulled his feet from the water, dried them with a towel from the truck, and put on fresh socks and running shoes, while Crystal just sat, alone with her thoughts. Finally, he gently hinted, "If we were to get on the road now, we could still get a long way toward Ithaca before dark."
"Yeah, I know," Crystal sighed. "Guess we better be going. I just can't believe it's over."
"Every ending means a beginning," Randy said, trying to sound philosophical.
"Yeah, I guess," she grumped, pulling her feet from the water. "Beginning of what, I don't know."
"You got any plans?" he asked, knowing what one option was, but not wanting to mention it.
"Well, I guess if your folks will let me hang around a few days, I'll wait for Nicole to get back," she said. "Maybe I'd better call my mother, too, or go down and see her."
"Did you call her from Wesser like you planned?" Randy asked, knowing damn well from Karin's repeated phone calls that she hadn't.
"No," Crystal said. "I didn't have the guts. I was afraid she'd talk me out of the trip, or bring it down, or something."
"She's called me several times, asking if I knew where you were. Myleigh and I have been talking. We've both lied a lot. I finally started telling her I knew where you were and that you were OK, but that you'd asked me not to tell."
"Thanks, Randy. I guess maybe that's one thing I have to do. Maybe I'll run down and see her after you get me back to the Olds. Maybe I can even pick up the rest of my stuff down there, if your folks will let me stash it at your place."
"As long as you need, Crystal," she said. "They know what happened, and they're worried about you, too."
"It's good to know there are people who care," she said. "You. Myleigh. Nicole. Your folks. Scooter. Sometimes it's hard to remember. I've been pretty alone on this trail, except for the weeks that I was with Scooter and Marlin. I guess I haven't been too sociable. I've been pounding out the miles harder than some people, so I haven't made many trail friends. Maybe that was a mistake. Hell, I don't know." She rolled to the side and stood up, still barefoot. "Maybe we better get out of here," she said finally. "If I think about it too much more I might start back for Springer after all."
"Fine with me," he said as he watched her pick up her shoes.
"Hey," she said brightly. "There's no way in hell we can make it to Ithaca tonight, right?"
"No, we'll have to make a night stop, unless we drive all night."
"The hell with driving all night," she said. "I want to see Myleigh again, but you said we have a little time to spare. Let's get a motel somewhere. Do you know how long it's been since I slept between sheets?"
It was good to see Myleigh again; neither of them had seen her since Christmas. She was happy to see them, too. "I can't tell you how happy I am to have the three of us together again, even if for only a brief period," she said. "It shall be like old times for a couple of days."
"At least for a couple days," Crystal said. Randy knew they'd spent four years largely living in each other's pockets, but a year and a summer had pulled them apart. "Paula's gone, right?"
"Yes, she's off to Antioch," Myleigh said. "She left three days ago. I've spent the time anxiously awaiting your arrival. I think I've accomplished what I needed to do, and believe I am prepared to leave."
"Looking forward to it?" Randy asked.
"Yes," she smiled. "This has been a good and successful place for me, but somehow foreign, and I've come to the conclusion I shall be happy to move on to Athens."
"How'd it work out with her for a roomie?" Crystal asked.
"It was tolerable," Myleigh said absently. "We never quite became the sort of close friends that you and I did. We mostly occupied the same space without bothering each other too much." She grinned. "I'm afraid I intimidated the poor girl a bit. She didn't quite know what to think of me."
Randy snorted. "Hey, I've never really figured it out myself. What got to her more, the flowery language or the surfing?"
"Oh, she used the language as well as I," Myleigh grinned. "It must have been the surfing, and perhaps the calls from my best friend who was out hiking all summer. How did it go?"
"Pretty good," Crystal grinned. "What do you say we get the truck loaded and get out of here? It's a long drive, and I can tell you some stories on the way."
"A capital idea," she nodded brightly. "I confess I shall be just as happy to be getting some miles under my fanny."
Even with the three of them working at it, it took a couple hours to get the truck loaded up and headed away from Cornell. Most of the miles they made that afternoon sitting three wide on the front seat of the Dakota were filled with stories of the Appalachian Trail; Randy had already heard some, but now he heard some more. They ate dinner in Ithaca after finishing packing, and stopped later at a motel a hundred miles or so to the west. They got a double room, but Crystal insisted on sleeping in her sleeping bag on the floor. "I'm used to it," she shrugged when Randy offered to do it.
They heard more stories about the trail the next day, but the discussion changed to Myleigh's experiences and plans. Athens hadn't even been on her original list of possibilities for graduate work, but one of her professors had told her that they had a very good English lit doctoral program, and since it was in her home state, she'd get a break on tuition. A couple of grants broke the right way, and with the dregs of the savings she'd managed to accumulate at NMU and her income from the research project that summer, she thought she might be able to eke her way through.
"Don't cut yourself short for the sake of a few bucks," Randy told her. "If you find yourself running low, call. I should be able to help you out some."
"Randy, I really appreciate it," she replied. "But you know I don't want to take charity from you."
"Charity, shmarity," he grinned. "You ought to be getting a job eventually. You can pay me back."
"Oh, well, in that case I might have to consider it," she said. "Actually, I have the most marvelous opportunity to study in England next summer. I've already been accepted into the program, and have partial funding, but I do need to come up with matching money."
"How much?" he asked.
"About three thousand, which would also include airfare and living expenses," she told him. "I have some lines out for other grants that may pay the difference."
"Is this going to slow down your doctorate?" he asked.
"No," she said. "In fact, I was talking with the people at Athens, and they suggested it. I would dearly love to do it. It would add a great deal of practical experience to my studies."
"Can this be green money, or does it have to be funneled through CEAP?" he asked.
"Green money would suffice, but the possibility of getting it through a grant might lead to other grants."
"OK, if you need it, CEAP will cover it, even if I have to give them the money . . ." his voice trailed off, thinking hard. "Yeah, it's worth a try," he said. "Myleigh, let's get you up to Spearfish Lake this fall. There's a couple people you should talk to, but I need to plant a couple seeds, first."
"Randy, my lad, what are you speaking of?"
"My step-grandmother left a wad of money to a foundation she set up, the Donna Clark Foundation. Dad's on the board, along with a couple women I don't think you know. It's not exactly a done deal, but if we did it right . . . well, it's worth a try. Usually they only give money to kids who have gone to the local schools, but sometimes they have a few bucks left over in the budget toward the end of the year, and when that happens sometimes they'll fund anyone. Might not be full funding, but a buck is a buck."
"Yes, we shall have to explore this further. Crystal, I sometimes find that we share the most useful boyfriend."
"He can be a help at times, if you smile at him just right," she grinned, and changed the subject. "Actually, I was a little surprised you decided to go to Athens at all. After all, it's awful close to Franklin."
"Fifty miles," Myleigh nodded. "I confess, it is a concern. However, my contacts with my parents have been so limited during the past year that it doesn't appear as if it shall matter that much anymore. I believe they've given up on me."
"Well, I hope you're right," Crystal told her. "It would be a pain if they decided to reinsert themselves into your life. I know that I'd be concerned, in your shoes."
Since Athens was well to the south of Spearfish Lake, and they still had some Great Lakes to go around, Randy had decided long before that the only obvious way to get there was to go around the south sides, even though that meant going through Chicago. The best route through Chicago took them right up the Tri-State, only a few miles from Glen Ellyn. While Randy hadn't said anything about it, he wondered what Crystal would think. Apparently, Myleigh was thinking about it, too: "Has the situation changed with your parents?" she asked.
"Not that I know of," Crystal told her. "Other than the phone calls you two have had from my mom, I haven't heard anything since I talked to Jon back in March. I think I'm going to touch base with her after we get my car and find out if I'm still persona non grata."
"Your mother has been quite concerned about you," Myleigh said. "I haven't explored the topic much beyond that, I'm afraid. Randy and I discussed several times how much we should tell her, and finally decided that without your permission, it should be little more than to tell her you were all right."
"I suppose you could have told her more," she said. "But, you two, this is something I'm really going to have to work out for myself. I don't want you getting in the middle."
In the end, they drove right through Chicago telling stories about surfing days in Florida and other adventures. The subject of Crystal and her parents never came up again, but Randy suspected it wasn't far from her mind. There was an awful lot of unfinished business there, business that he knew Crystal would have to deal with, soon.
They made another night stop at a motel not far outside Athens, since it was late and Myleigh couldn't check in until the next day, but early in the morning they were pulling onto the campus. Athens was an older university campus for the Midwest, and the liberal arts colleges occupied some of the older, greener and more picturesque parts of the campus, while the science and trade colleges were in newer buildings on the outskirts.
Myleigh's room proved to be in a century-old building, although it had been recently remodeled, and was in good shape. About halfway through the unloading, Myleigh's roommate, Olivia Reimers, showed up. She seemed friendly enough to Myleigh and Crystal, but she and Randy took an instant animal dislike to each other. There was something about her that just rubbed him the wrong way. Still, he tried to be nice, and invited the three out for lunch before he and Crystal had to leave, but Olivia turned him down flat. They went out to lunch anyway, just the three of them -- time was getting tight for Randy, who had to be back to work in the morning, and there were a lot of miles to drive yet.
He had an uneasy feeling about Myleigh's roommate and said so as the three ate in a small Greek restaurant near the campus. "I'm not sure it's going to work out between you two. She ain't Paula, that's for sure."
"Paula and I also were not good friends," Myleigh said. "We managed to get along. I shall probably manage to get along with Olivia."
"She seemed OK," Crystal said, "Just a little weird."
"I don't know. Look, if for some reason it gets out of hand, why don't you get an apartment off campus?"
"If your fears prove correct, I should like to be able to do it," she said. "But my funding only covers living on campus."
"Myleigh, I know how you feel about charity," Randy said. "But if this proves to be a problem with you getting your doctorate, get in touch with me. I'll cover you somehow, and you can pay me back when you can."
"It might be years," she replied. "I fear I am up to my eyebrows in debt on student loans as it is."
"So it takes years. I think you're good for it. I'd just hate to see things get screwed up after you've come this far."
Crystal shook her head. "I don't think it's that serious," she said. "But if it turns out that way, take him up on it. I'm not real crazy about having to go to him if I have to, but I don't have any backups other than him either. We know Randy's good for his word."
"I don't think it will be a problem. Perhaps she and Randy just struck some sparks somewhere that I don't know about. But, yes, Randy, if it does become a problem, I shall contact you."
"All right," he said reluctantly. "Don't go getting proud on me at this point, OK? I want to be able to call you 'Doctor Harris.'"
"Yes, my lion," she grinned at him. "I shall obey."