Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Book 1 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
They stayed up at the Baseball Man Water Pocket until the shadows of the Canyon began to creep down the walls, a family finding itself somehow strangely together for the first time. As Crystal said, it made a lot of sense, and so did some other things they discussed. Finally, when they had to be going before it was too dark to safely descend, they walked back down the path to the Canyon Tours party. It was unspoken among them, but they all realized that the revelations of that afternoon would have to stay there, at least for a while; perhaps, in time, some could be revealed, but for now, they had to be a family secret.
They got back to the camp to find the hikers had returned, and supper was under way. It was a good one -- Canyon Tours had always prided itself on feeding the customers well, and there was no exception this night. As the light grew low after supper, another campfire was flaming up. Randy played some of the old songs on the guitar, some of Jennifer's songs that Crystal had first heard up in her dorm room with Myleigh, and Al told some Georgie White stories, and, for the first time, some Louise Buck stories.
But as the fire burned low, people started drifting away, and somehow, in the darkness, the three found themselves sitting together down by the river, sitting on one of the rafts.
"Al, I've got one question," Crystal said softly, so that only he and her mother could hear. "Were you ever a surfer?"
"I about grew up on the beaches in California," he laughed quietly. "Why would you ask?"
"That's the one piece of the puzzle that didn't make sense," Crystal snickered. "I've probably done some other things you've done, but nothing quite as passionately. That was my one real plan for the winter, to somehow get back down to Buddha and Giselle's again."
"Buddha?" he frowned. "Wouldn't happen to be a guy a little shorter than me, sorta heavy set, shaves his head, English lit major, into eastern religions, would it?"
"Oh, shit, don't tell me," Crystal laughed. "Naw, it couldn't be. Well, after today, anything is possible. Yes, it could."
"If we're talking about the same person, he was my best surfing buddy when I was a kid," Al grinned. "Had a real talent for copying people's accents. Could do anything I ever heard. Lost track of him years ago."
"Al, have you surfed for a while?"
"Not for years," he grinned. "That wasn't Louise's bag. Something tells me that I'm going to be surfing when the season is over."
"Good guess," Crystal laughed.
They were silent for a moment, just enjoying being together. It was a new feeling for all of them, but they sat there till late, and most of the camp had gone to bed down in the sands alongside the river. "Hey, you two," Al finally said. "It's late, and we got a big day tomorrow. I think I'll turn in. We can talk some more tomorrow."
"See you in the morning, Al," Karin said. "Sleep tight."
Crystal and Karin continued to sit on the raft, talking quietly. The bitterness, the anger they'd shared this far down the river had evaporated now, and they could enjoy being together. Finally, in a strange tone, Crystal said, "Mom, I got a question. About Jon."
"Yeah," Crystal said. "Look, you said that you talk to him some, but he never says much, and you have the impression that there's a girl involved."
"Yes," Karin said. "I think now before I go back to Glen Ellyn to clear out my desk at Heller-Aller, I'll rent a car and drive down to Phoenix."
"Uh, Mom, I got a question. When he talked to you, did he ever let the word 'Tanisha' slip?"
Karin furrowed her brow. "Well, yes and no," she said. "One time he seemed to start to refer to someone, and got out 'Tan,' but broke it off. I figured that was something he didn't want to talk about."
"That would make sense," she said. "Mom, I promised Jon I wouldn't rat on him, but this is a day for telling secrets, I guess. Things have changed."
"You think this Tanisha is involved?" she asked quietly.
"It'd answer why he doesn't want to talk to you," she said. "I met her once, back before I did the AT. Up in his dorm room. I sorta walked in and surprised them. They were, uh, feeling each other up pretty good."
"Yes," Karin grinned, "I know how that works. Jon is human, after all."
"Like I said, Mom," Crystal continued slowly, as if a little unsure of herself, "I only met her the one time, and real briefly, but she seemed like a nice kid. Engineering student, and just as smart as Jon, pleasant kid. But, Mom, she's as black as the night sky."
"I . . . see," Karin said slowly. "Yes, that would make a great deal of sense, and yes, I can see why Jon would not want to mention her to Pete. It would devastate him."
Crystal cocked her head and asked, "You don't mind?"
"I do mind," Karin said. "I mind that Jon may be so ashamed that he thinks he has to cover it up from me, although, I can understand the need to hide it from his father. But I do want to meet and thank the woman who made Jon think for himself enough to pull away from his father's plans for him."
"Uh, look, Mom," Crystal said, "Maybe you'd better not just go barging in or he might take it the wrong way. I'm not dead sure that's what's happening anyway. Maybe you'd better let me make contact with him first, because he knows I know about her. If he's in Phoenix, I can run down there while we're on break."
"It sounds like a good idea," she said.
"Mom, it's over with you and Pete, isn't it?" Karin noticed that since her revelation earlier, Crystal had never once referred to him as 'Dad.' Already, that was a term reserved for Al, although only in private, among the three of them. Idly, she wondered how long it would take to become public, but she didn't mind.
"It was over a long time ago," she said. "It just took till now to seal it."
"Do you know what you're going to do?"
"No, Crystal, I don't. There has already been enough to think about today, and I don't plan to try to think about it right now. There will be enough time to think about it after Diamond Creek."
"Look," she said, "We're short-handed now, and there's no way I can take off the next trip, or I'd go back to Glen Ellyn with you. Maybe we'd better confront Pete together."
"This isn't an issue between you and him, now, Crystal," she said. "It's between me and him."
"I wasn't thinking about that, Mom. I was thinking he might get violent."
"I don't think he would," Karin said thoughtfully. "But there is that risk. On the other hand, there's always the telephone. Everything I really want is already out of the house. I learned that from you, Crystal. But, perhaps you're right. Maybe I need to be thinking about the next steps. Crystal, you've been there, and your input would be valuable."
The challenges eased after Crystal Rapids. Oh, there were still rapids, of course, perhaps one per mile, at the beginning, then easing to perhaps one every two miles, but except for Lava, several days down the river, they were easier. They got out to scout some of the big ones -- 104 Mile, Specter, Dubendorf -- but after Crystal Rapids, Crystal didn't even bother to have one of the other boatmen ride with Randy when he ran them in the gearboat. She was confident about his ability, and so was Al; and that gave his own confidence a boost. He could do this.
It meant long hours sitting at the oars, and his back and his arms got tired, but he got used to it, making a mental note that he needed to spend more time working out, maybe some time with some weights. He'd once enjoyed feeling fit and strong, and the feeling started to come back.
The shuffling of passengers at Phantom gave each boat an odd number, and things weren't as well organized as they had been before, but no one seemed to mind, and to help with the discomforts the other customers now tended to move around from boat to boat at each stop. They weren't individuals anymore, or even individual rafts; they were a group, a team, dealing with unexpected adversity and carrying on. Everybody closed ranks to make up for the absence of one of the boatmen.
Bob Loveberry, for example, proved to be an excellent camp cook. With help from some of the boatmen and Karin, who was picking up the skill, excellent meals kept coming. Several people said they figured they were gaining weight on the trip, but didn't mind.
Being in the gearboat by himself, Randy often felt a little isolated from the rest of the party, a watcher from outside, as it were, and as the days passed, it made him notice things he might not have otherwise seen. He noticed, for example, that there was a guy who seemed to be rowing Scooter's raft a lot, even in some of the milder rapids. In the evening, sometimes they'd take long, quiet hikes together. Randy smiled to himself, but said nothing.
He also noticed that Karin tended to move between Al's raft and Crystal's, but she never rode with Scooter or Dan. Randy had tried to stay a little away from Crystal on this trip -- oh, he spent a lot of time with her, but always when she was being the public Crystal, sassy, happy, competent, a real leader. He had a couple reasons to try to steer clear of the private Crystal. The biggest reason was Nicole, of course. He knew he was still strongly attracted to Crystal, in spite of Nicole, and didn't want to go down that road and complicate things. Apparently Crystal didn't either -- he knew that she was perfectly capable of sneaking a proposition at him in front of everybody, one that only he and she would understand, but she never did it. Perhaps she understood about Nicole, too.
Besides, Randy knew that there was some tension between Crystal and Karin, especially after Karin's comments far upriver. He felt it'd be best to stay out of the middle, and let them work it out themselves. Maybe it was happening; he noticed that in the afternoons, when the rafts were pulled up on the bank for the day, that Crystal and Karin sometimes would go off on long walks with each other. Not real often, though. As the trip progressed, it was often Al and Karin that were off exploring some side canyon by themselves, occasionally Al and Crystal, and sometimes the three would go together. Maybe they'd asked Al to referee, to keep things from getting out of hand. Randy didn't know, and, deep down, was just as happy to not be involved. He had enough to handle in the seat of the gearboat.
Day followed day as they floated down the river for a week. There were stops every day, sometimes several; long, lazy riverside lunches, short hikes, often up to a waterfall or overlook, places like Elves Chasm or Havasu Creek, where there was a waterfall plunging down into a rock-girt pool. They were long days, wonderful days, memorable days, filled with sights like nothing else on earth. Randy spent a lot of time with his jaw agape at the wonder of the spectacular landscape as he sat at the oars of the gearboat. But now, except for the specter of Lava Falls ahead, his thoughts were turning to things outside of the Canyon.
He thought of Nicole, of course. He imagined her dressed for teaching, in blouse and skirt, standing in front of a class of high school kids, talking about George Washington or the American Revolution, or maybe even Lewis and Clark, far from the rough, dirty, bronzed and proud Appalachian Trail hiker she'd been a month ago. Hopefully she was wondering about him out on his own adventure as she talked of days in the past.
Once or twice, he mused about a honeymoon. It would be nice to bring Nicole down the Canyon, he thought. She wasn't a big whitewater fan, and he knew it, but the sights and the sounds and the sheer awe of the Canyon would thrill her beyond compare. Ultimately, he decided against suggesting it, at least for a honeymoon; wherever they went, it should be some place new, some place that they could share together for the first time. Besides, there wouldn't be the chances to be alone together that honeymooners should have. Perhaps a river trip somewhere else, if he could manage to get free in the summer, sometime. The thought of the two of them in a canoe, in someplace spectacular in its own way, with a taste of history, like the Missouri Breaks in Montana, yes, that held possibilities. For that matter, Nicole had been out in the sea kayak several times in the few days they'd managed to spend together in the past year, and she took to it readily. Maybe a sea kayak trip, he thought.
After some days, he realized, a little to his surprise, that he'd thought about the house relatively little. Oh, it took little effort to imagine the whine of power saws, the thump of hammers as the frame rose into the trees around the shore of Spearfish Lake, of the sight of Bailey's crew working on it, making it a reality. He knew that if he were home, he'd have difficulty staying away from the site, just watching it take place, and, yes, picking at Don about it. It was just as well that he was at the bottom of the Grand Canyon where he could stay out of Don's thinning hair and just let him do the job he knew how to do.
The day after Havasu Creek, they reached Lava Falls. The Canyon had changed some, now. According to Al, several major volcanic eruptions had poured black lava down into the Canyon, very recently, geologically speaking -- a million years or so, when the river had cut down to very nearly its present bed. In that million years, the river had brushed aside most of the traces of the lava, but what remained changed the character of the Canyon. In the worst spot lay the toughest rapids on the river, Lava Falls, a thundering, heartstopping white cataract.
As Randy stood on the right bank with the other boatmen and the rest of the party, he was awestruck. They really weren't going to run that, were they? But, no, the boatmen were standing there, looking at the spectacle, and talking about lines, and with his heart in his throat again, he realized he was going to be running it, too.
The choice of lines seemed limited to either the right or left of a horrendous hole in the center of the rapids. Still, he stood there, studied it hard, and decided that if it was his choice, he'd try the left side. With the other boatmen, he walked up and down the shore, looking at it from different angles. Yes, the left; it seemed a little better, but it would still be a hell of a rough ride.
"Well, might as well do it," Crystal said. "Let's do it one at a time. Scoot, you go first. That'll put you below in case you have to pick up swimmers."
No running together this time; the rest stood on the bank, watching Scooter make the run with her customers, a full load for the biggest challenge the Canyon had to offer. She ran it perfectly -- a wild, bucking ride, but there were no problems, and soon she was in an eddy below, raft waiting for the next run.
Dan made the second run, again with a full load of passengers. He got a little sideways, and it was a wet ride, but in a couple minutes, he was pulling up along shore, so his customers could get out and watch the runs to come.
"You're up, Randy," Crystal said. Together, they walked down to the gear boat. He tightened the straps on his PFD, hardly noticing her, and sat down at the oars, heart pumping fast. "You ready?" she asked.
"Ready as I'll ever be," he said.
"OK," she said. "Good luck!" She gave a mighty heave on the bow of the gear boat, and stood on shore, watching him back out into the current -- and then, his heart really pounded, for only then did he realize that Crystal expected him to run Lava solo!
There was no time to think about it. He pivoted the raft, picked out the landmarks he'd need for his entry line, pulled hard to get on it, and pivoted the raft for entry. It was mild, but fast, running down to the first part of the drop, then the nose of the raft dropped as he began to run down the tongue. Somehow, it seemed longer than he expected, but all he could see now was the curl of the hole at the bottom, reaching out to eat him. He pivoted hard, pulled to the left, got a little momentum, and plunged down into the churning white chaos. Then, the raft reared up and all he could see was the tumultuous white mountainside, but somehow, he managed to keep the boat straight. The raft reared up, plunged down again, one monster wave after another. Then, he was bouncing along, in smaller waves, more or less under control, and they became just white swirls. His adrenaline was going so hard he almost passed out; he was barely aware of what was going on. With shaking hands again, he pivoted the boat and began to pull for Dan's raft, pulled up on shore.
By God, he'd done it! Run Lava solo! The hell with construction, he'd rather be a boatman!
It was just an initial reaction, though. He could do it now, he knew as he calmed down, could do it if he wanted to, but in the end, it'd be a memory to take back to Spearfish Lake, not a life to live, like it was for Al and Crystal. The thrill and joy and the excitement of victory hung with him, would hang with him for a long time, be a memory to cherish, just as Nicole would have the hike up Katahdin with Jackpine to cherish as a moment of personal victory.