Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
So, Randy became a boatman after all, just like Crystal had said back on the crew bus. The next morning, they got an early start, reorganizing the gear. This would be a big day, with some of the biggest water in the Canyon, and it would be slow, with some of the boatmen having to run rapids twice in different rafts. Early that morning, by himself but in the middle of the party, Randy pushed the box- and drybag-filled raft out into the rushing water of the Colorado, scrambled to the oars, put them in the water, pivoted, and started out on the second half of the trip. Ahead lay big water, big rapids -- the biggest of them all.
There were four rapids this day that Al and Crystal felt Randy shouldn't try to run by himself, and to cut the running around down to a minimum, each of the boatmen had agreed to run one of the rapids with Randy. It would be a long day, and they'd decided, partly from the heat of the Johnny Walker the night before, to try to get through them all this day, even if it meant pushing a little. After that, things would ease some.
Running close together, the party pushed on, with Randy getting the feel of the raft in a couple of riffles and mild rapids. In the deep shadows of the soft early morning light, the river was big, impressive, humbling, a joy and a relaxation to be out on after the hectic events of the day before.
Virtually all of the Canyon's big rapids lie at the mouths of side canyons, where flash floods have washed rock and talus out into the river, damming it up slightly, providing the fall that makes white water. This was the case at Horn Creek Rapids. Very soon, it seemed to Randy, much of the party stood on an outcrop overlooking the rapids.
"Piece of cake," Al said; he had the duty of running this one with Randy. "Just watch as we go through to get an idea of the line. You enter so you pass by the right of that big boulder up at the head, then you've got a clear run that'll keep you left of the main flow. Might not hurt to have a little momentum to carry you in behind the boulder, if you can get it."
Randy stood alone on the outcrop, with a clear view of the other rafts' runs, and watched each of them pull madly as they approached the big boulder, saw them move hardly at all, and one, after another, saw each one of them washed down into the white turmoil, boats getting slopped with water as they bucked through it. Maybe he'd just let Al take the raft, and he'd walk.
But, no -- "Take it," Al smiled from his seat in the back of the raft. "Shit, this is your raft, after all."
Randy shook his head, gave a big gulp, got at the oars, and started to pull. He came down exactly as planned, just right of the boulder, and established a little leftward movement. Then, he was pulling harder and harder, his muscles bulging, but the momentum died. They swept past the big boulder, down into the raging turmoil, careening through monster waves, close to a big black rock downstream . . . and then it was over, and he'd made it. Sonofabitch! Now, he was glad he'd run it.
There wasn't a lot of time to waste; Randy dropped Al off at his raft up on shore, then pulled right back out, sitting back, breathing heavily, getting himself calmed down and pulled back together. Given a little chance to get used to it he saw how it could be fun, but the responsibility a boatman had for his passengers was daunting, and he was glad he didn't have to share it like Al and Crystal and the others.
Next up, a little farther on, was Granite, about as hard as Horn Creek, but Randy felt a little more confident. Dan, the boatman he didn't know well, just plopped down in the back of the boat, smiled, and said, "You've seen it, you've seen us run it, now do it."
Scooter drew the duty at Hermit; it wasn't any easier than the first two that day, but Randy was a little more confident in the gear boat, now. Yes, he could do this. "Don't get too damn cocky," Scooter smiled. "Crystal and Crystal are next."
They arrived at Crystal in the early afternoon and pulled the rafts up on river right. With hurried lunches carried in hand, the parties scrambled up to have a look at one of the Canyon's monsters.
It was indeed a monster. It was relatively new, only formed by a huge flash flood in 1966, Al told them, but he'd had to deal with it all of his career. "Back in '83, when the river was running higher than snot, up to almost a hundred thousand cubic feet a second, we had swimmers all over the place. I remember one time when a couple of motor rigs flipped. Boy, what a pisser of a day that was! This is easy by comparison. Randy, what line do you think you'd take?"
Randy looked hard at the river. "In a kayak, I guess I'd try to thread my way down the right side, around those big holes," he said. "But there's no way you could make those moves in a raft. The only thing I can see to do is run the main current down left, and just take those big stoppers as they come and hope you get through them." He realized now that the picture of Crystal, half in the air in a raft, taken last spring, was when she was atop one of those big stoppers.
"That's about the choice," Al said.
"We can stand here all day and talk about it," Crystal said. "Let's do it." She turned to Karin. "Mom, you really did name me for this, didn't you?"
"I did," Karin grinned.
"Thanks, Mom," she smiled sarcastically.
The rest of the party headed back down to the rafts, while Randy stood and watched them get in, get helmets on, tie everything down, take a deep breath and push out into the current. It was heart-stopping, worse than Horn Creek by far, and there was no question in his mind that Crystal was going to make him run it. Heart in his mouth, he stood watching, trying to get his mind organized, calmed, and ready. The other boats lined up, and one at a time, made successful runs, wild, bucking runs, boats full of water, flying over the crests of the stoppers. That proved it could be done, anyway. One by one, he watched them ease into eddies not a long ways downstream, then pull for the shore.
Come on, Randy. Get your head together. You can do this.
It seemed like it took forever for Crystal's head to appear alongside the shore, picking her way up through the talus, and he worked his way back to the raft to join her. "Ready?" she asked quietly.
"As I'll ever be," he said, looking at her. He was scared shitless. At least Crystal had done it before, knew what she was doing. He remembered she'd said that the first time she'd done it: she'd been at the oars, with Louise in the raft. Louise, he thought silently, I'm sorry I never met you, but wherever you are, help me like you helped Crystal.
The approach was roiling, but routine whitewater, he knew he could handle that, but then came the heart-stopping drop, and heavy water, boiling cold, and there wasn't much he could do but try to keep the raft heading downstream through the gaping white cauldron of the hole. At first, the flow held straight, then it swung right and carried the raft with it. The waves were huge and hostile now, encompassing them as they never had before, and there seemed no clear distinction between the raging whiteness outside the raft and inside it . . . then they were dropping as the white chaos still rampaged around. The raft angled steeply downward, and Randy felt sure there had to be boulders below that they'd crash into any second. They splashed through it on sheer momentum, the boat full of water, but most of it splashed right out again as they went up and up and over the back roller, down into the next one, out again . . . all of a sudden, it began to ease. That hadn't been as bad as he thought . . . maybe he'd worried too much, but his heart was still pounding and the blood rushing through him as he pivoted the boat and headed for the cluster of rafts along the bank.
"Holy shit," Randy breathed as he turned to the shore.
"Yeah, a little wild," Crystal said, soaked to the skin in her bikini and PFD from the water that had crashed through the raft. "Alive Below Crystal. Crystal is a bitch."
"I'm glad you said it, and not me," he laughed.
"I used to think it was neat that Mom named me for this," she laughed back. "But it makes it a bitch to swear at. You done good, Randy. I think I could make a boatman out of you if I tried."
Everyone was still a little shaken in the small cluster of rafts below the rapids. Some people stood on the bank, others sat on the rafts, just recuperating. "Hey, Al," Crystal spoke up, "That business with Jerry yesterday got us a little out of our normal phase. You know any good places to stop right around here?"
"Yeah," he said, "There's a good one a little ways down, on the left bank. Don't use it much, anymore. Not a real big beach, it's washed out some from what it used to be, but big enough for us. A nice, easy hike out of there, too."
"I'm not sure where you're talking about," she said. "Why don't you take point? I'd just as soon get down there and get everybody off the water and recuperating."
"Yeah, me too," he said. "It's all easy, though."
Karin sat back and tried to remember back a quarter century. The Baseball Man Water Pocket wasn't far below Crystal, she remembered, and on the left bank. It had been a long time, and she couldn't remember how far it was.
Al had been coming together the last few days, not the withdrawn, morose Al she'd seen up at Lee's Ferry. Was it a public face, or was it just Al? She had no way of knowing.
In the past days, there had been several other times that she had tried to talk to Crystal, and it had still been touchy. Each time the conversation started off promisingly, like Crystal was trying as well, but somehow the topic would veer to one side, and they'd broke it off before they got very far. It was all very frustrating. Then, the stresses of the yesterday, with Jerry's accident, and the four big rapids today, and she felt as drained as everyone else.
Reluctantly, she pulled her PFD back on, and got back in the raft with Al. They were only on the river an hour or so before she saw the familiar beach that had been burned into her memory, smaller now, but still recognizable, the narrow side canyons, and back in the right hand one, a ledge and an overhang. Yes, this was the place. Had Al planned this?
She doubted it. She knew from discussions a couple days earlier that they'd planned to stop for the night at the sandbar where Jerry fell, then stop for the next night above Crystal, so they could run it in the morning when they were fresh, then dry out and run several miles downstream. No, this had been a result of Jerry's accident; they'd said there weren't any really decent places to stop above it, and none for several miles downstream.
A few minutes later, the boats pulled up onto the sandbar, and the boatmen tied them off. Everybody pulled off PFDs and started pitching in on the unloading. Scooter cracked open the drag bag that had been towed behind the raft in the cold water, and passed out a ration of cold beer to anyone who wanted it. Most of them did; they collapsed on the bank in the shade of a few scrubby tamarisk trees along the shore.
The beers went fast; they were a relief. It was still fairly early, and they could have run more, but no one was up for it. "Never been here before," Crystal said. "I don't know about hikes."
"Good one up the left side canyon," Al said. "Pretty easy, not a lot of climbing till you get back a ways. Nice little pool before that, with a waterfall. Kind of pretty."
"I'm up for it," Randy said. "I think I've had enough river to hold me for today."
"Me, too," Scooter said. "Anybody else?"
Most of the party proved to be up for it, even the Loveberrys, who rarely went on the hikes. Only three or four stayed behind, including Al. "I'll let everybody have the thrill of exploring without me around," he grinned. "Maybe I'll take a nap."
Crystal was another one who stayed around, also to Karin's surprise. Wearing a big, floppy hat, she found a place back in a patch of shade, and stared out over the river, and Karin wandered over to her. "I thought you'd go on the hike," she said.
"Didn't feel like it, Mom," she said. "God, this has been a tough couple days."
"Yes, I don't blame you for being worn," Karin smiled. "The stress on you has been pretty bad."
"Yeah," Crystal said, "Add that to Randy and you, and I'm pretty drained."
"Randy," she frowned, "Is there some problem?"
"No, not really," she said. "I've just been kicking myself because I fucked up so bad with him. Mom, I've sucked Randy into a lot of things over the years, him following along behind me like a little puppy dog. Whitewater, surfing, stuff like that. Now, this. He'd make a damn good boatman. I'd give a lot if I could live on this river with him. But, he's got his job, and he's got Nicole, and they're going to have a big house on a long, beautiful lakeshore lot -- I've been there and seen it. I could have had that. Mom, do you know his family is worth maybe fifty million bucks?"
"I knew they had to have some money. They own the plant and the construction company, after all. They did when I was a child. But, they've never flaunted their wealth."
"I could have had that, if I'd half wanted to," she said sourly. "I could have sucked Randy into it, easily. But no, I wanted to do my own thing, and I kept pulling him along. Now, I'm afraid I'm going to turn him into a boatman and take him away from all that, and it's not right. I've been a real distraction to him, especially since I left college. I know I came damn close to sucking him away from Nicole, and that's not right, either."
"I don't think you're going to pull him away, this time," Karin said. "He's enjoying himself, sure. He's going to have a big adventure to tell stories about for the rest of his life. I can't see him becoming a river bum."
"I hope you're right," Crystal said glumly. "I've just messed with his head a lot when I shouldn't have been doing it. Damn it, if I hadn't been run out of the house, it would never have happened. When we left Northern that day, we kissed like it was goodbye forever. Maybe it should have been. I know he went to Nicole after that, to try to get me out of his head. Then I jammed myself back in. It wasn't fair to him, and I guess I'm bummed about it."
"He seems to be getting along well," she said. "I've talked to him two or three times, and he keeps saying how he's loving the trip, but how he's looking forward to getting back to see her, too."
"That's good to know," Crystal said. "I guess I've lost him. Shit, I shouldn't have jerked him around like that."
"You couldn't have known," Karin said. "You're talking hindsight. I can look back in hindsight and see that we made a number of huge mistakes with you. There's no way of going back and correcting them. I may be making a mistake leaving Pete. I don't think so. If I'm wrong, I'll be able to look back in a few years and say I'm wrong, but there probably won't be any way of correcting it."
"Look, Mom, it's a good move for you. I wished you'd have done it long ago. I know we haven't been too good at talking, but all the time has built up stuff between us, and it's hard to tear down. I'm glad you came on the trip, so you can see me, see how I want to live, at least for a while, maybe forever."
"You're staying in the Canyon, then? Randy said you felt like it's the place you're supposed to be."
"Yeah," she said, "But, there's more. I've gotten to the point where I really like Al. He's been like a father to me, a real father, not a jerk like Pete. I think I'll stay here and try to help him get over Louise, and do what has to be done."
Karin had long since realized that there was no affair going on between Crystal and Al, and that her fears were groundless. Now, they weren't again.
"You mean, give up on hope of having a normal life, like Randy and Nicole?"
"Yeah, Mom. I'm not cut out for being a good little suburban mom like you were. Maybe that's always going to be between us."
"That's now," Karin said, temporizing as she spoke. Was this the time? "You may change."
"I don't think so, Mom," she said. "Maybe we'd better not talk about it anymore. You know where it'll head."
"Fine," Karin said. Yes, this would have to be the time. There would never be a better one. "Let's go for a walk."
"I don't really feel like hiking," Crystal frowned.
Karin glanced up; Al was messing with something on a raft, not far away. "Al," she said loudly. "Would you go on a short hike with Crystal and me?"
"Sure," he said. "I don't really want to go very far, though."
"It won't be far," Karin said, getting up. "Come along, Crystal. I need to talk to both of you."
"Oh, all right," she said, wearily getting to her feet, reminding Karin, perversely of Pete, at this of all times.
Al came sauntering over. "Where we going?" he asked.
"Just a short way," Karin said. "I think I remember the way."
Karin glanced back at Al and saw a smile spread over his face. Yes, he did remember. She turned and started down the beach, looking for the place that was burned into her memory like every event of that afternoon. In a few seconds, she saw the ledge and the handholds and footholds leading to it, and started up them without stopping to think about it. She didn't look back, but she could hear Crystal behind them, saying quietly to Al, "Do you know what this is all about?"
"No," he said gently. "Let's find out."
"Mom, do you know where you're going?" she asked.
"Yes, Crystal," she said, several feet up the angled rock now. It was steep enough that she had to use hands and feet, but there was no problem moving on it. She was older now, twenty-five years older, but she could still handle it. She glanced back, to see Crystal shaking her head while Al started to follow.
It was several more feet up to the ledge, the one that was hard to see from the ground. Twenty feet above the river now, she edged sideways along it, and it was just like she remembered. It didn't seem as far along the ledge as her memory told her; she remembered being fearful on that day long ago, but the ledge soon bent away from the sandbar just as it had long ago. Farther on, there were still a couple of handholds and footholds that took her to the higher ledge, and this one was more like a trail, winding its way upward, and soon they were looking at the reddish shield of the Baseball Man. "Hasn't changed, has he, Al?" she asked.
"Maybe not for a thousand years," he grinned. "Still trying to figure out whether it was a ball or a strike."
Karin smiled; she could see Crystal relax a little, coming to the realization that she was taking a trip down memory lane. She could almost hear her relief. Wordlessly, Karin turned and strode on up the trail. They worked their way up the narrow little wash to the flat expanse, and she was surprised at how well her memory was guiding her. In a few minutes, they were under the overhang, and the water pocket lay before them. So much had started here, for good or bad, she thought. She'd thought for a quarter century that she'd never be here again, yet here she was, full circle now.
"Remember it, Al?" she said, looking at the water pocket, and the stretch of river that spread out below them.
"I remember it well. It was the last time I was here. I guess you've taught Crystal something about this Canyon."
"Come, sit down," Karin said. "I suppose on a day like this, it'd make for a nice bath, but we didn't bring any soap this time, did we?"
"You two were here on the other trip?" Crystal looked a little confused.
"Yes, Crystal, we were," Al said, squatting down, and then resting on his butt, legs out to the side; Crystal sat down, too. "Karin, you know this takes me back to happier days."
"They were happy days, Al," she said. "A lot of water has flowed down the river since then, and the time has come to tell you both something." She stopped for a moment, trying to figure out what she wanted to say. "In those years since then, Al, I've had three children. I have a daughter, a bright, energetic girl who has loused up her life, and can't seem to get it on track . . ."
"Mom . . ." Crystal started, sounding ready for a fight.
Karin realized that she thought she must be talking about her, but pressed on. "Then, Al, I have a son, who is also bright and energetic and brilliant, a son whom I love, who has taken after his father in many ways, but who has broken away from us, and why, I don't understand. And, Al, I have a wild, adventurous, free-spirited Amazon of a daughter whom I envy and admire more than you can imagine, at least partly because she takes after her father . . ." There was silence for a second as Karin paused. It was her last chance to avoid blowing up twenty-five years of history, but she didn't balk: ". . . Our daughter, Al."
Crystal’s eyes were wide, and her jaw dropped, but Al just gave a knowing smile. "That time up here, huh?"
"Possibly," Karin grinned. "Actually, I think the odds favor our night in Las Vegas, but symbolically, here. I've tried to do well by her, Al. I think she's a hard, tough young woman who has taken after her father in so many ways that I can understand why she has fallen in love with this Canyon like you have."
Crystal had been gasping for words for seconds. "Mom, are you sure?" she asked.
Karin smiled. "It's a pity that there are no large mirrors down here in the Canyon, but when we get out, go find one and stand next to your father and compare yourselves. The resemblance is awesome."
"Mom, how long have you known this?"
"That's not an easy question to answer. I had no idea I was pregnant until after I married Pete. You know the story of how we got married right after I got back from the Canyon the last time." She let out a breath. "I always knew it was a possibility, and in the beginning, I thought as a child you resembled Pete, but after you shot up past him, there was little doubt. There's been none in my mind for ten years or more."
"And, you hid it all the time?"
"What else could I do? Think about it, Crystal. I had no choice. Why do you think I went around Pete and fought with him so much when you wanted to take karate, go to the Adventure Camps, go to OLTA?"
"Yeah, I think I see," she said, nodding her head slowly.
Karin turned to Al. "I'm sorry, Al," she said. "Pete was never an outdoor person, never will be. It was the best I could do for you."
"Worked out pretty good," he smiled. "You remember the other day, when I said I'd always dreamed of having a daughter like her?"
"Of course, I remember," Karin said. "It hit me in the gut so hard I knew I had no choice but to tell you sooner or later. I've just been waiting for the right time, and when we landed here today, I knew there could be none better."
"Karin, I can't tell you how much I appreciate you telling me."
"As I said, it was mostly working up my courage to do it," she said. "I know this is going to change some things, mostly for me." She turned to her daughter -- no, their daughter -- and continued, "Crystal, I know I've been apologizing to you an awful lot on this trip, and you're going to have to accept another one from me. I have never breathed a word of this to Pete. I didn't dare. I can't say for sure, but somehow I think he sensed that something wasn't right, and that may have been the root of all the problems you and I have had with him the last few years. As we have discussed, they probably can't be fixed, now, and now, with this in the open, I have no hope of it. But, understand, I lost track of Al many years ago, before you were born, in fact. I had no idea until I received that picture from Randy that Al was still alive, or still in the Canyon. But, since then, I've remembered that your father had to roam around and quench his wanderlust until he found this wonderful place. Perhaps in the last years, that's why I hadn't been more forceful with Pete, because I knew somehow in my subconscious that, like your father, you needed to roam till you found this place on your own. I'm very sorry about the pain it's caused you, but I can see now it was the right thing to do."
Karin could see that Crystal's eyes were wet with tears -- of happiness, of sorrow, she couldn't tell. "Mom," she said, "I can't believe it. It . . . it makes a lot of sense."
"Of course, it does," Karin grinned. "The truth does, sometimes."
Al stood up, went over to Karin, and extended his hand to help her to her feet. "Crystal, you and Scooter were right. I had to get back down in the Canyon to heal my soul, but I never figured it would be this way. Now, come over here and give your mom and dad a hug."