Facing the Storm

"A Spearfish Lake Story"

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2001, ©2009, ©2012

Chapter 32

Like Phil and Brandy, John and Candice had decided that the tent was too small to get undressed in, especially in the dark, so they had taken advantage of the darkness to strip bare before crawling into a doubled sleeping bag. Candice’s wet swimsuit hadn’t thoroughly dried when she had put shorts and shirt on as the evening cooled, so in the dark she hung the wet clothes over a tree limb in hopes they’d dry out, and John, having the same problem, did the same. However, they discovered they’d failed to consider two things – first, that it would be daylight when they got up, and second, that things hung out overnight on a dewy night get damper, not dryer.

"Well, hell, we’re among a bunch of nudists, I guess it doesn’t matter," John said quietly to his wife while considering their dry clothes sitting in dry bags several feet from the tent. "Maybe no one else is up, anyway."

He unzipped the tent door and crawled through it. Once outside, he stood up and took a look around. It was a beautiful morning, bright and clear. The sun was up pretty high, filtering through the few trees to one side of them, and the sky was a stunning blue. It was still a little chilly, but the lake was flat calm. In the distance, a flock of geese were swimming around on the water.

"Toss my drybag in here, would you?" Candice said, reluctant to leave the warmth of the sleeping bag.

"Can do," he said, grabbing the blue drybag that he knew was hers and handing it through the door. "Can’t take a shower, so I guess I’ll go for a swim."

"Enjoy yourself," she said. "I’ll go later."

John ran down the beach – the water was going to be cold enough, he knew from yesterday, that getting it over with in a hurry was going to be the best bet – and out into the water. Once in knee deep, he gave a little leap and threw himself in, and came up with a scream. It was invigorating, to say the least. There was no point in staying in long, so he thrashed around for a few strokes in the waist-deep water, then stood up and headed up to the shore.

"Ah, there you are," said Jennifer, who was standing at the edge of the trees with Blake. "Breakfast is almost ready."

"Let me get dried off and get some clothes on," John replied, forcing himself to be nonchalant. "We’ll be right there."

"Be along in a minute," Candice promised from inside the tent, stifling a giggle at what she knew her husband would have considered a predicament. At least it wasn’t her, but it did encourage her in what she’d already decided she was going to do anyway, just to tease her husband.

A dry swimsuit in itself wasn’t the problem – she had two spares in the drybag – but the one she selected she didn’t think that John knew she had, and she had been saving it for a special occasion. This was perfect. It was a tiny black string bikini, a little lacy, especially in the top, easily as daring at the ones Brandy and Tiffany had worn the day before, if not more so. She thought of it as her "John-please-rape-me" bikini, and now she pulled it on, tied the strings, and pulled on a dry pair of shorts and a shirt over it. She smiled; hopefully there would the perfect time to unveil it.

A few minutes later, and now adequately dressed, they walked into Josh and Tiffany’s campsite. "There you are," Tiffany said, managing several Trangia alcohol stoves with large pots balanced on them. "We wondered if you two were going to stay in bed all day."

"I slept really well," Candice yawned. "I guess we’re going to have to do this more often."

"We’ve been up for a while," Josh announced. "Got up to check out the sunrise, and paddled around for a bit while the mist was still on the water. It was neat."

"When do you ever sleep?" Candice said. "We were up pretty late last night."

Josh smiled. "Like we say on the trail, you can sleep when you’re in Nome. You don’t get a chance to get out in mornings like this very often."

"You like some coffee?" Blake offered to Candice and John.

"Sure, I can always use some eye-opener" she replied.

Blake poured a cup; the smell was awesome, even without tasting it. She took a sip. "This sure isn’t the store brand from the Super Market," she said with surprise. It tasted, well different. Stronger, sharper, more exotic.

"Sumatran," Blake smiled. "A little authoritarian for later in the day, but real good for levering those sleepy eyes open."

They sat down to a gargantuan breakfast of hash browns, corned beef, and fresh muffins, baked, as it turned out, in a little alcohol stove-powered oven that Tiffany had brought with her. "I like alcohol stoves, at least for this kind of thing" Tiffany explained. "They’re very quiet, and very safe compared to gas stoves. They’ve even been going to alcohol out on the trail more and more, although there are still the kind of people that like to dump a gallon of Blazo on a ten-pound bag of charcoal and flip a cigarette butt on it from a few feet away."

" Charcoal can be hard to get going," Phil said. "But there was this funny website I came across a while back. These guys kept experimenting with faster ways to get charcoal going. They finally got up to the point where they’d set up this pile of charcoal, set a cigarette butt going in it, and take a long stick with a can on the end and dump a quart or so of liquid oxygen on it. POOF! Embers right now!"

"Too bad that liquid oxygen would be hard to get out on the trail," Josh mused. "Of course, there would be someone crazy enough to use it. Wouldn’t that just scare the living hell out of every dog team within forty miles?"

"You don’t really want to give it up, do you?" Candice asked quietly.

"Want to, no," Josh said. "Have to, maybe. But it could still be a few years off, depending on how things go this year." He changed the subject. "Candice, do you know how to do dishes out here?"

"I’ve been wondering," she said.

"Well, it’s any way you can. We’ve got some more serious dishes this morning, so let’s do ’em so I can show you."

Doing the dishes wasn’t that hard; Josh showed her how to do the heavy scrubbing using lake water and beach sand, then come back in with hot water and soap to wash and rinse. "It’s enough of a hassle," Josh explained, "that you try to use as few dishes as possible, unless, of course," he said, shooting a smile at Tiffany, "you’re not the one doing the dishes."

"Which is why he eats things like frozen burritos, warmed over the dog food cooker, while he’s out racing," Tiffany said.

"Well, what do you do?"

"Oh, I do the same thing, more or less, but I do think it out a little more. Sausage is good, for example – lots of fat and protein. Toward the end of the race, sometimes I’ll just thaw a stick of butter and eat it from the wrapper like a candy bar. Actually, there’s enough stops at little towns and checkpoints where you can get a real meal that I don’t worry too much about in between."

"And you can get damn hungry, doing that," Phil said. "Especially when you pull into some place like Shaktoolik and they offer you seal stew."

"Hey, that’s good," Tiffany said. "Nice and fatty. After you’ve been out on the trail for days, in that cold, you want all the fat you can get. It’s fat that keeps you warm, but I couldn’t even dream of eating something like that down here."

Once again, Candice quietly marveled. It was hard to believe that among the eight people on the beach, three of them between them had raced the thousand miles across winter Alaska, behind dog teams a total of a dozen times, and to them it seemed no big deal. How could Tiffany do that? Or Josh, or Phil, for that matter? Could she face such a test? She doubted it.

"So, what do you have in mind for today?" Jennifer asked.

"Well, it’s up to everyone else," Tiffany said. "But really, there are only two long day trips out of here. One is to head south out of here down into Albany Bay. The bird watching is usually good, especially when you get up into the river delta and the swamps south of it. The other trip is to go back the way we came in yesterday, go past where we finished the crossing and down around Goose Bay to about where we stopped for our rest break yesterday, and then basically come in the way we came in yesterday. The Albany Bay trip is probably a little shorter; we’d be looking at four or five hours, as opposed to maybe five or six for Goose, depending on how much we dawdle around. If we get moving fairly soon, we can stop some place for lunch and get back midafternoon, about the time the heat is getting near the peak. Then we can lie around here, go swimming, or whatever. I’d sort of figured on doing one trip today, and the other tomorrow."

They talked it around for a while and decided finally to do the Albany Bay trip. Candice flashed a glance at John, but he seemed intent on paddling the trip, which was fine with her; while fun and games on the sand was part of the trip, she’d come out here to paddle, too.

It was still cool when they loaded into the kayaks and headed southeast past Woodlark and Albany Islands, and paddled down the Albany Peninsula, past where the wood hunters had found wood yesterday, she and John were told.

The coast along the south shore of the Albany peninsula was very rocky and convoluted, with lots of smooth rocks, and rocky and sometimes sandy and swampy islands of all sizes. There was just enough breeze to take most of the edge off the increasing heat as they spent some time working their way through a maze of rocks and islands, all of it wild and remote, an interesting exploration of a place most of them had never been before.

As the bay began to narrow down, the countryside became swampier, and to one side there was a watery maze of channels and openings. They poked up the river until the current became noticeable, then found a nice little beach, the first one in miles. They stopped, and climbed to the top of the bluff where there was shade, a nice breeze and a nice view out the long, narrow bay to the lake a few miles away.

Tiffany pulled out one of her alcohol stoves and set a pot going. They ate their lunch there – cheese fondue with pieces of baguette and broccoli crowns to dip.

After having eaten, they headed back out on the water and explored the edges of the swamps a bit. "Get out here in the fall, and it’s really duck-hunter country," Tiffany said. They could see why – in the course of an hour, they picked out a total of eleven different species of ducks and geese, now all in the late phases of nesting season, or well past hatching with babies swimming around in tow.

By the time they got done messing around in the swamp, it was getting warm out there. They elected to paddle down the middle of the bay to take advantage of what cooling breeze there was. By the time they reached the open lake, still two or three miles from their campsite, they were all getting pretty warm, and the group began to spread out for the last leg back to camp. Blake and Brandy were off well in front. Blake was a physically strong paddler and didn’t mind the exercise. John and Tiffany were paddling to one side, and Jennifer and Josh to the other, while Candice was slowing a little in the heat and lagged behind.

Candice wanted to peel down to her bikini top like the rest of the women, for the sake of cooling off, but wanted to keep the surprise of the "rape-me" bikini until a little better time, so she stuck with her T-shirt. She was struggling along behind the group when Phil pulled up alongside her. "You want a break?" he asked.

"No, I’m all right," she protested, the sweat rolling down her. "I’d just like to be able to cool off a little."

"Do a roll," he suggested. "That’ll do the job nicely."

"I dunno," she said. "It’s not like we’re just off the beach."

"You did it yesterday, you can do it today," he said. "We’ll just slow down for a minute. Take your time, get a good setup, think about what you’re doing, and do it. I’ll be right next to you."

"Well, all right," she said, pulling off her sunglasses and tucking them deep under her spray skirt.

"I’ll be right here." Phil said.

A little grimly, she got into the set position, leaned out and flipped over. She reached for the surface, found it, started a sweep, gave a hip snap, and popped right back up, dripping water from her now wet T-shirt. "That felt good," she said.

"Looked good," Phil said. "Maybe we can work on some variations when we get back."

The rest of the paddle went quickly, although Phil and Candice stayed well behind the rest of the group, with Phil musing on how the group had split up – the same way that he had predicted to Brandy the night before. He looked at Candice paddling alongside him. She was a good-looking woman, and the wet T-shirt made clear that she had a nice body to go along with the pleasant personality and long black hair. Still, when he mentally compared her to Brandy, she came up short. There was a reason why they had been together so long, and any temptations he felt were purely intellectual.

They stopped one more time for a cooling roll. "It’s getting hot out here," she said. "I’ll be glad to get back in the shade and pop open a beer."

"Me, too," Phil agreed. "We ought to suggest that if we’re going to do an even longer trip tomorrow, that we get a real early start, maybe even before sunrise, so we can get back before it gets hot."

"Sounds good to me," she said.


*   *   *

The rest of the group was waiting on the beach by Josh and Tiffany’s tent when Phil and Candice paddled up, only a few minutes behind. "Hey, since you’re out there, you want to pull up a cool bag?" Tiffany called.

"Sure, no problem," Candice said. While Phil headed into the beach, she paddled over to one of the floats, stopped along beside it, and fastened her paddle into a bungee cord on the side of the boat meant for holding it. Then she reached out and grabbed the rope beneath the little float and gave a heave.

She was leaning out a little too far, the bag was heavier than she thought, and it heaved right back. Before she could think about it, she and the kayak were upside down. There was an instant of panic at the surprise, but she managed to catch herself. "I can do this," she thought, and let go of the rope, reached down – or, actually, up, under the circumstances – freed the paddle, got into the set position, gave a sweep and a hip snap and rolled right back up more quickly than it takes to tell about it.

"All right, Candice!" Phil called from the shore.

She waved back with a little bit of embarrassment for being so clumsy, worked her way back over to the float, and grabbed the rope again. This time, she was careful to lean away from the weight of the bag, and pull more gently, and within a minute had the bag on her spray deck. "Everybody but Jennifer wants a beer, right?" she called.

"I guess," Tiffany yelled back.

It took her a minute or so to separate out seven beers and a Coke, lay them out on the spray deck, tie the bag back up and put the bag back in the water. It took only a few strokes of her paddle to get to shore, where Phil met her, dragged the boat up on the beach and grabbed the cans, while she popped the spray deck.

Before she could get out of the boat, Phil handed her a beer. "You learn good, Candice," he said. "Congratulations."

"Why? Making a beer run?" she said, a little confused.

"No, you passed the combat-roll test," Tiffany told her. "You can teach almost anyone to roll, but will they do a roll when they dump unexpectedly? You never know until it happens. You kept your head and did it. I think we’re going to make a serious kayaker out of you."

"Yeah, but I shouldn’t have reached out in the first place," she said, handing her beer to John, who had come over with the rest of the group. She stood up and stepped out of the kayak and peeled out of the heavy neoprene spray deck.

It was hot out there in the sun, and while the wet T-shirt felt cool, she was still hot and sweaty under where the spray deck had been. Without thinking about it, she slipped out of her shoes and socks, peeled off the T-shirt and the shorts she’d been wearing, and dashed into the lake. The cooling shock felt good on her hot, tired body, but she was in waist deep water and swimming around before she realized she was wearing the "Rape-me" black string bikini she’d put on hours before. She’d hoped for a little more dramatic presentation, one that would quickly lead to strings being untied, but right at the moment she was a little too hot and tired for it. Since the other women – except for Jennifer, of course – were down to their bikinis by now she was sure no one else would take any particular notice, but she was sure John would.

A couple minutes of splashing around in the chilly water of the lake was enough to cool her off comfortably, so she swam back into the shallows, stood up and walked up onto the beach. She headed for a shady spot back up in the trees where most of the rest of the group had congregated. "All right, now I’m ready for that beer," she said, plopping down in front of John where he could have a good look at her.

And she could see that he was looking wide-eyed at her, which is what she had intended. While the outcome couldn’t be what she’d intended with all their friends around, it was fun to vamp him in front of everybody, without anyone really realizing it. It was no trick to read what was on his mind, but he was going to have to squirm, and she proposed to enjoy watching him, and that might prove to be more fun than if she’d been one on one like she intended in the first place.

She reached out casually and took the beer from his hand, making sure that he got a good look in the process, and with a big smile on her face, popped the top and had a wonderfully cold drink.

*   *   *

It was hot that afternoon, and since it was cooler there in the shade, they stayed out of the sun. They spent the time just talking and sipping their drinks, talking about the trip they’d just taken, kayaking in general, along with a lot of other things while the heat of the day wore on. After a while, Tiffany held an impromptu class on water rescues, and several of them took boats out onto the water and practiced getting back into them, both alone, using a paddle float, and with the assistance of others. It really was a sort of swimming party, and the cool water of the lake felt good.

After a while, Tiffany paired off with Jennifer to work on her roll – she could roll the boat, but wasn’t terribly confident about it, and Josh paired off with Brandy to do the same thing. Blake worked with John, while Phil introduced Candice to some more advanced rolls, like the screw roll, introduced her to an off-side roll, and showed her how to roll just using her hands. All of it proved to be surprisingly easy. "You keep it up like this," he said after they were up on the beach later, "And in no time at all you’re going to be doing trick roll demonstrations."

"What do you mean?"

"Oh, stuff like a cigarette roll, or a bowling-ball roll. A cigarette roll, you take something like a lit cigarette, or an open can of beer, and roll while still holding it upright. While you’re upside down, you pass it from one hand to the other, and hand-roll back up with the free hand."

"I don’t smoke," she laughed. "And we haven’t got the beer to waste trying it right now. What’s a bowling ball roll?"

"You take a bowling ball, and hold it out beside you at arms’ length. Naturally, that’ll dump you right now. While you’re upside down, you pull it back onto the spray deck and hand-roll back up with one hand. It’s absolutely useless in the real world, of course, but it’s fun to show off with."

"It’s kind of fun to do when you’re with a tour group," Tiffany said. "When you take a tour out, you want to be pretty sure everybody can at least get out of the boat if it gets upside down, so we usually do a wet exit and maybe a simple rescue demonstration as part of the setup. When I took the whale-watching trip last year, we were up there in Quebec, and we had a guy on the trip that I’d never met before. He must have gone three hundred pounds, looked like he’d never done any exercise in his life, and I figured, ‘Oh, boy, this is going to be fun to have to drag him along.’ We’d rented boats through this outfit in Quebec, rather than take them from here, and he was in this Wind Dancer and it was a real snug fit on him, so I wasn’t sure he was going to be able to get out of it. So, we’re out off the dock, the whole bunch of us, and he was sitting there smoking a cigarette. I said to him, ‘OK, it’s your turn to try it,’ so he took the cigarette in one hand, rolled over, holding the cigarette in the air. I thought, ‘Wow, he’s going to try for a dry cigarette wet exit,’ but he just stayed there upside down for what seemed forever. I started to think I was going to have to do a rescue when he changed hands, hand-rolled back up and put the weed in his mouth again. I was never so surprised in my life. It turned out he was just tweaking me. He’d paddled for years, and we spent the whole trip struggling to keep up with him. He was faster than a son of a gun."

"No kidding?" Jennifer said. "All big and fat?"

"And strong," Tiffany said. "That’s part of why Judy Sorensen is so good – she has all that strength in her arms. As if she doesn’t get a lot of exercise getting around on crutches, Ken tells me that she does weight room stuff twice a week or more. Candice, that’s why you were slowing up today. It’s not that you don’t have the endurance, but you just don’t have the upper body strength of Brandy or me. That goes for you too some, Jennifer. Plenty of kayaking and some weight room work will do something about that."

"Probably," Candice agreed. "But I wouldn’t know where to start on weight training."

"Come with me," Brandy suggested. "I do weight workouts every day, usually run ten or fifteen miles, throw a basketball around, lots of stuff. I’ll get you in shape in no time."

"Or kill you in the process," Phil laughed. "I quit trying to keep up with her a long time ago."

Brandy frowned at Phil, almost a glare. "I’m not saying that she has to be obsessed about it as I am," she said. "It’s something to do. I know I’ll never get back into the shape I was in when I was in college, but I want to get back to some place where I’m satisfied with myself."

"I’m not saying that it’s not good for you," Phil protested. "But for most people, the amount you do would be carrying it too far."

Candice could detect an underlying problem between the two of them. She desperately grasped for some way of changing the subject a little in hopes of heading off a potential open squabble. "I suppose I ought to get into better shape," she said. "But I just don’t have the time, what with everything, and I’ll even have less time once I get to work."

"You’re lucky to have that," Brandy snorted. "But, you know, working out is sort of like this trip. It’s fun, but it’s not a life."

"I don’t quite understand," Candice said, seeing that she had been barking up the wrong tree.

"It’s simple," Brandy said, letting out months of frustration. "Ever since I left Front Range, or got froze out of Front Range, however you take it, I’ve been so fucking bored that I can barely stand myself. I work out because it’s something to do to pass the time. I’m not a person who can sit on his dead ass writing a book or screw around on the net like some husband of mine I know. I have to be doing something. You’re lucky to have that. I don’t. I need something active, something where I can challenge myself. I used to have it out on the sites, even though that got so old I couldn’t stand it. Josh, Tiffany, I even thought about coming out and asking if you’d help set me up to do the race next year. I’m not particularly interested in it, but it’s a challenge and it would be something to do. But it would just be something to paper over the problem for a few months, and not a solution. I’ve spent the last three months trying to come up with some idea, and the only thing I can even come up with to do was to go out and run another ten miles. Candice, you have no idea how happy I was to be able to help you out moving. It was something I could help with, something I could enjoy, something I could be with people doing."

"Sis," Jennifer said. "I knew you were having some problems getting used to not working, but I had no idea it was that bad."

Brandy shrugged. "So, I’ve tried to do a little like you and keep my friends from knowing that I have a problem. Like Tara, too, so I guess it runs in the family. I mean, I know everybody has been busy the last few months, but I haven’t said much, since most of what you people are busy doing I can’t be too much help with. In any case, it doesn’t solve the problem, but I envy you all for not being bored. I mean, Jennifer, most people think you and Blake sit on your dead butts out there in your house all the time. But, I know you’re rehearsing hours each day, planning shows, planning albums, working on this and that. Boy, I envy the both of you, being able to do all that together. I thought maybe when Phil and I were both at home all the time, we’d find something to do that we could do together like you two. Well, we had a good week of it, and since then, well, working out is something to do. Phil does come with me occasionally, but even he has things of his own to do. God, it got so bad I even turned on daytime television once. How women can spend their lives watching that horseshit is beyond me."

Tiffany shook her head. Like Jennifer, she’d known that Brandy was a little at loose ends, but she’d had no idea it was this bad. "I wish I had something I could do to help you," she said. "But you’re not going to be a person who’s going to be happy doing routine things."

"Tiffany, I appreciate the thought," Brandy said, coming down off her rant a little. "I know if you’d think of something, you’d be the first to tell me. Any of you, for that matter."

"You know," Josh said. "Mark was always happy just being a phone repairman, and that came to an end when he wasn’t expecting it. He’s a doer, like you are, and he kicked around for months, just doing odds and ends, before he decided he had to get into the computer business seriously if he didn’t want to go nuts. He told me one time that all it really takes in life is one good idea. I guess he was lucky that he already pretty well had his, he just had to bring it to the front."

"I’ve heard the story," Brandy nodded. "I’ve thought about it backwards and forwards, and I just can’t turn up a thing. Hell, I even thought about seeing if there was a way I could get into the WNBA, but hell, I’m way too old for that, now, so I never looked into it."

"Something will come in time," Blake counseled. "Sometimes it takes a while for life to come around to you, and you just have to be ready when it happens."

"I know that," Brandy said. "I even believe it, sometimes."

"Believe me, sis, I understand," Jennifer said. "It wasn’t the same for me, but I was there and did that long ago. Maybe that’s the problem with being as successful as you and I were in our own fields so young. You hit a point where you’ve gone about as far in one direction as you want to go, and changing directions is hard. I don’t think anyone but Blake knows how hard it was for me."

Blake took that as an invitation to carefully reveal a deep secret – not the deepest one, of course, but a deep one. "There were two or three times way back there that I thought if your sister didn’t snap out of her depression, she might try suicide," he said. "Fortunately, each time, something came along to perk things up a little, but she went through a tough couple of years before she got her, well, we got our lives reorganized."

"It never got that bad," Jennifer said, flashing a frown at Blake.

"No, it never did," he said. "But there were times it seemed like it was headed that way. Fortunately, those days, those pressures are all gone, now."

"I knew you were having some tough times personally there for a while," Brandy said. "But I never realized it was that bad."

"It was out in LA," Jennifer said, conceding Blake’s point. "We managed to keep it to ourselves, but I can’t imagine how things would have turned out if I hadn’t had Blake to keep me going. But, the point is, we managed to keep it together while we wrestled with the problem. Now, I don’t think I have the solution to your problem, but I’ll bet there is one, if you can manage to wait for it to come to you."

"I wish it was as easy as that," Brandy said. "But it seems like I’m just climbing the walls all the time, looking for something to do. I know it’s hard on Phil to have to put up with me like that."

"Brandy, I told you I’d ride it out with you," he said. "The answer is out there somewhere. You might as well take it easy and relax until it comes to you, because I know you, and once it hits you, there won’t be any relaxation around."

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