Canyon Fires
Book 4 of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 11

April 29, 2001

"I thought this morning Iíd take something from Edward Abbey," Scooter said as people were pretty well loaded on the rafts to get under way. She pulled out the Words for the Wild book again, and began to read. "ĎThe canyon country does not always inspire love. To many it appears barren, hostile, repellant Ė a fearsome land of rock and heat, sand dunes and quicksand, cactus, thornbush, scorpion, rattlesnake, and agoraphobic distances. To those who see our land in that manner, the best reply is, yes, you are right, it is a dangerous and terrible place. Enter at your own risk. Carry water. Avoid the noonday sun. Try to ignore the vultures. Pray frequently. For more and more of us, who now live here, however, the great plateau and its canyon wilderness is a treasure best enjoyed through the body and spirit in situ as the archeologists say. It is a regional, national and international treasure too valuable to be sacrificed for temporary gain, too rare to be withheld from our children. For us, the wilderness and human emptiness of this land is not a source of fear but the greatest of its attractions. We would guard and defend and save it as a place for all who wish to rediscover the nearly lost pleasures of adventure, adventure not only in the physical sense, but also mental, spiritual, moral, aesthetic and intellectual adventure. A place for the free.í"

She closed the book, stood silently for a moment. "Bottom line," she said finally, "is that the adventure is what all of us are here for, and much of it doesnít have to do with running rapids. Iíd be a liar if I didnít say that sometimes Iíd be just as glad if we didnít have them, because thereís still plenty of room for adventure here, and maybe, in one way or another, thatís why weíre all here." She let out a sigh. "With that, people, letís be about it."

One by one, the six rafts pushed away from the bank. Scooter had told them earlier that this would be a short day and that they werenít going to push it Ė she only planned on running to Nankoweap, eleven miles downstream, but that it was a good place to spend a lazy afternoon, with some good hikes.

It was a good morning to just drift and watch the passing scenery, which was spectacular, as always. The canyon walls were still pretty vertical and colorful with earth tones. Everybody was just getting settled in reasonably well an hour or so out when they came to the biggest rapids theyíd see this day Ė President Harding, at Mile Forty-four. "President Harding isnít much of a rapids," Scooter told them, "but then, Harding wasnít much of a president, either. Really, when you get right down to it, the Colorado isnít much of a river, either." By eastern standards, it was really pretty small Ė only about a hundred yards wide much of the time, sometimes a little wider; there are many rivers in the east that flow with much more volume without comment. But, for the arid west, itís a big river Ė and the views were rarely bigger anywhere.

Nicole had again been rowing Ė Scooter had noticed that she was a good raft handler in fast water; she had the touch, and as long as she enjoyed doing it, being at the sticks took her mind off the fear of the rough water. Scooter just stayed perched on the side tube without comment while Nicole ran President Harding.

From several rafts behind, Crystal noticed that Nicole was at the sticks of the lead raft Ė and noticed that she was doing well at it. The really big stuff, in Upper Granite Gorge, was still a couple days away, but Nicole was coming along, and maybe sheíd be able to handle it. She wouldnít have wanted to bet on it back up at Badger.

So far, this trip had gone pretty well, Crystal thought. Usually, she rowed most of the trip, but with her mother and Noah both rowing a lot, sheíd hardly been on the sticks at all. She hadnít been able to just sit back and drink in the scenery like this since her first trip down the Canyon with Louise, Alís late wife, at the sticks a couple years before, and sheíd still wound up rowing a lot of that one.

Having Nanci along was a big surprise Ė all the way around, but it seemed to be working out well; she seemed a little more subdued than she remembered, and when there was work to be done, she did it without complaint. She was even carrying her share of the load and more with setting up and taking down the groover with Trey, and that wasnít always the most fun job on the trip. Well, perhaps her recent history, mixed with the awe of this place, was starting to work its magic, she thought. "So how you liking the trip?" she asked her sister.

"Pretty good," Nanci smiled back at her from the top of the gear pile. She was wearing that ugly brown swimsuit again, with a pair of shorts. "This sure isnít much like that other raft trip you took me on."

"No, itís pretty different," Crystal agreed. "I sometimes wonder how Noah and I managed to do that as long as we did."

"It did get to be an almighty hassle," Noah agreed from the oars. "Always at a rush; almost always a mob scene; always new people. On a trip like this, well, you get to know people a lot better, get a chance to sit back and contemplate it."

"I just canít believe that you and Mom get to do this all the time," Nanci grinned. "Doesnít it get sort of dull after a while?"

"No," Crystal said. "Thereís always something new, something youíve never seen before. The worst part is always riding the crew bus up from Diamond Creek, having to turn your back on the place."

"I donít run as much as Crystal," Karin said. "But itís always hard to leave, and Iím always counting the days until I can get on the river again. Iím actually a little surprised at that. I mean, I enjoyed my first trip down here, before Crystal was born, and I always wanted to do it again. But back there in Glen Ellyn, Iíd never have imagined that Iíd be doing several trips a year and always be eager for the next one the minute the last one is over with."

"Mom, donít you miss those days back in Glen Ellyn?" Nanci asked.

"Well, yes, sometimes," Karin admitted. "Letís face it, Nanci. It was a different world. It was a good life for a long time, but after it started to go sour, I hung onto it a lot longer than I should have, mostly because I couldnít see any good way out of it. I mean, your father and I had some good years, but it went flat. But, itís hard to make the decision to change, and it has to get pretty bad."

"Yeah, I guess I know how that works," Nanci agreed. "I guess I knew for a year or two before I left Chicago that I didnít like the way I was living, but I couldnít see much of a way out. I mean, this trip still seems like a dream, and I donít know what happens when itís over with, but at least I get a chance to step back and think about it."

"I donít know what happens either," Karin said. "About all I can say is letís just enjoy the Canyon and the being together for now. When we get down to Diamond Creek, we can think about it and see where weíre going."

In fact, Karin and Al and Crystal had already had several brief discussions of the problem. Nanci seemed to be working out well on this trip; although only a couple days in, it was still too early to tell how it was going to work in the long run. If she continued to do as well as sheíd done so far, it seemed likely that sheíd be offered a job as a swamper through the summer and fall. Karin had thought to herself that maybe over the winter Nanci might well work out in the office. While Karin was the office manager, at least in theory, in practice she and Michelle shared the job, trading off trips. There were problems with that Ė mostly a lack of continuity Ė and in reality, they were a little light on office staff, anyway. But Karin hadnít even raised the possibility with Al yet; she wanted to be a lot more sure of her wayward daughter before she was left to handle the office on her own. Maybe with some oversight, between Michelle and Karin it might work. But, she wasnít ready to make that decision, yet, although it clearly might be an option in the future. A lot seemed to ride on how well the rest of the trip went.

"I guess," Nanci said. "I still canít quite imagine that you made this big a change in your life.í

"I have to say that a lot of it just happened," Karin grinned. "Which is how a lot of things happen. Three years ago, when I was sitting in the accounting department at Heller-Aller, thereís just no way I could have imagined that Iíd be a part-time boatman in the Grand Canyon today." She sighed. "Luck got in the way there, quite a bit."

"I still canít believe it," Nanci said. "I mean, I can imagine people like Crystal and Scooter and Al running these rafts, but I canít imagine me ever doing it."

"Itís not that hard," Karin grinned. "Noah, why donít you let Nanci at the sticks for a few minutes? This is easy water, she canít get into trouble."

"Mom, are you sure?" Nanci said, a question on her face.

"It takes some learning," Crystal told her. "Especially since youíre starting from scratch. But, once youíve built up the muscle and developed the eye that goes along with it, itís really not that hard."

"Well, all right, if you say so," Nanci said, a bit dubiously, getting up to replace Noah at the oars.

"All right," Crystal said. "All we want to do for now is to just stay sideways in the fast water and let it drift us along." Slowly, Crystal began to coach her sister in running the raft. To the best of her knowledge, Nanci had never been at the controls of any boat before, so it was a slow process. For the next half hour, Nanci learned a little about how to move the boat, to pivot it. There were mistakes, and she was pretty clumsy with it at first, but after a while, she began to get the basics Ė and Crystal let her build up her confidence a little by letting her run the raft through a couple of patches of riffles.

"Itís pretty hard," Nanci said finally, "but I think Iím starting to get it a little."

"Youíve been doing fine for a first timer," Crystal said. Why donít you let Mom at the sticks for a while, but later, weíll let you do it some more. Kind of fun, isnít it?"

"Yeah, it is," Nanci grinned as she got up. "I canít help but think what Dad would think to see us like this."

Crystal grinned. "Heíd think we were all out of our minds. All of us. And, the way he thinks, we would be."

*   *   *

Nankoweap, at Mile 52, was the first place since the Leeís Ferry area that the Canyon really widened out to a broad valley perhaps half a mile wide and a mile long. River left was still a nearly vertical cliff rising around five hundred feet, but on river right there was a broad outwash plain where debris had washed down Nankoweap Creek.

Even taking it easy, theyíd made good time down to Nankoweap, arriving at midday. There are several good, large campsites at Nankoweap, and stopping for the day before lunch, they pretty well had their choice of places to camp. Scooter had Noah pull out river right in an eddy immediately below Nankoweap Rapids, where Nankoweap Creek came down from the north. They unloaded, had lunch, and settled down for a quiet afternoon.

Over lunch, Scooter told the group that Nankoweap was one of the places that there had been a fairly large concentration of Anasazi Indians living eight hundred years ago. Far above the river, up a broad talus slope, there were four hollowed out and walled-up "granaries" where the ancient Indians stored their grain. "The view from up there is one of the best ones we get on the river," Scooter told the group. "Itís a long climb, but relatively easy until you get to the last bit up at the granaries. You have to get to them across a narrow ledge, and it scares a lot of people. Even if you donít go across the ledge, the view is pretty good. After we get back down, if anyone wants a longer hike, weíll explore up Nankoweap Creek a bit."

A big majority of the party went on the hike, although a few decided not to risk the exposure of the ledge. The view was, as advertised, pretty awesome; the view downstream was especially nice, and a lot of photos were taken. In a few minutes, after everybody had caught their breath from the steep climb, they started back down slowly. Crystal caught up with Noah before he left, and quietly said, "Unless you really want to hike up the side canyon, why donít we stay behind?"

In a few minutes, only the two of them were left, sitting on convenient rocks, looking out at the river and the camp far below. "Nice view," Noah said, feeling just a little awkward.

"Yeah," Crystal sighed. "I donít always make the hike up here, but do most times. Like everything else, itís different every time."

"You said the other day you wanted to find some time for the two of us to get together alone," Noah commented.

"Yeah, I didnít plan it this way," Crystal told him. "It just seemed like a good idea. It can be hard to get a little one-on-one time on trips like this, and there are so many people Iím close to that itís even harder than I thought it would be. So, how are you liking this trip so far?"

"Just fine," he replied. "I guess you know I was a little reluctant to make this trip, but now, Iím glad I came. I envy you your life, Crystal. Things have worked out pretty well for you."

"Most of the time, I think they have," she said a little pensively. "Itís strange how things worked out. Noah, the other day, I told you how I had to leave home the day I graduated from college, because Pete wanted to blame me for Nanci."

"Yeah," he nodded. "That had to be painful."

"You have no idea," she said. "I got in the car and burned rubber getting out of there, but before I got out of the subdivision, I just pulled to the side of the road and cried. I must have sat there crying for almost an hour, just because things had gone to shit for me so bad." She let out a sigh. "I suppose I could have gone back, but there wasnít any reason to think it would have been any better if I did. I had sort of been expecting it to happen, but I hadnít admitted to the reality of it happening, so I hadnít really thought my options out too well."

"People rarely do when theyíre upset," he replied consolingly.

"Yeah," she said. "There have been times Iíve been sorry that I made the decision that I did. Really, I only had two choices. I could go up to Spearfish Lake, to Randy, or I could go to Myleigh at Cornell. Iíd just said goodbye to Randy a few hours before up at Northern, and I knew damn well that I could go back to him, and weíd probably have wound up getting married, maybe not right then, but soon. At the time, it didnít seem like the right choice. I had a lot of wanderlust. I still wanted to get out and do things. I already had my plans to do the AT well along, and I thought that going to him would probably have ruled the hike out."

"But, you didnít," he said, trying to be a good listener and help her talk through what was on her mind. It was clear to him that what she was talking about wasnít the problem; it was in the distant past, but still affected her.

She let out another long sigh. "Randy and I had talked about it, several times. I told you that weíd thought about living together my last semester. Weíd talked about getting married, too, not seriously, just exploring the idea, if you know what I mean. The hell of it was that I knew that if I got married to him, Iíd pretty well have to make a life up there with him, and that meant, well, no AT, none of the other stuff I wanted to do. Randyís pretty serious about his job and his family, and it wouldnít have been right to saddle him with my troubles and my wanderlust. He got a pretty bad dose of having to put up with Nicoleís own wanderlust, and I just added to it. But, thatís all water down the river now. I didnít go to him, and went to Myleigh, instead. One thing led to another, and it all wound up here. I guess it all worked out for the best in the end."

"Let me guess," he said. "You look at Randy and Nicole, and you think, ĎWow, that could have been me.í"

"Thatís about the size of it," she said. "Donít get me wrong, I wish them the best, and think itís worked out pretty well for them. Sheís a lot closer to the woman he needs than I could have ever been. But, damn it, theyíre a lot closer to what people are supposed to be doing with their lives than I am, and I canít help but think that maybe I made a mistake."

"I shouldnít be offering a judgment," he said. "But I think that things worked out pretty well for you."

"Yeah, they did," she agreed. "Noah, thereís so much thatís happened with me since I last saw you it isnít funny. After I had to leave home, I went to Myleigh, and she and I decided to go surfing down at Buddha and Giselleís. Myleigh didnít have a car at that time, and no money to speak of, and I planned to stay in Florida, to train for the trail. She got the bright idea of asking Randy to come down, so she could ride back with him. I honestly think she had in mind setting the two of us up, but she never said anything. Well, lo and behold, Randy had already asked Nicole to go down there with him. They were boyfriend and girlfriend back in high school, and he pretty well wanted to get back together with her, I think mostly to get Myleigh and me out of his heart. I wasnít making a lot of sense at the time, but Myleigh asked the both of them to come down. She really couldnít have said much else, I guess. Anyway, they did come down to Buddha and Giselleís, and we all hung around, just good buddies."

"It must have been a little awkward," he commented.

"Amazingly enough, it wasnít," she said. "Like I said, we just stayed good buddies, and never let anything get romantic. Myleigh and I had a lot of practice at that with Randy. Anyway, Nicole and I got to talking about hiking, and one thing led to another. She wound up doing three weeks on the AT with me the next spring. While Nicole and I were hiking we spent a lot of time talking about Randy, and I wound up telling her that Iíd stay out of her way. I think I realized that she would be better for him. Believe me, the next year to year and a half, there were several times I came close to breaking my word. Randy offered to marry me if I needed to, but I didnít want him doing it out of pity, so I just sort of let it slide. I sort of based myself out of his house for the next two years, but I was never around very much. I was sort of heading back to Spearfish Lake to see if maybe I could get something going again with Randy, when I discovered this place. By the time I got back to Spearfish Lake, I discovered he and Nicole had gotten too tight, and I knew I shouldnít try to bust them up."

"That had to have been hard," he said mildly.

"Yeah," Crystal nodded. "I mean, Randy had always kind of been there as a backstop, and I think if Iíd put it to him heíd have kept his word. But it would have been the wrong thing to do." She sighed. "So then, I was really without a home. I spent the next four months living in an old pickup camper at Josh and Tiffanyís, helping them train their dogs, then came back out here. I figured it would last for a year or two, and then Iíd go do something else. Then, Mom showed up, and I discovered Al was my dad, then we found Jon and Tanisha, all in the course of about a month. Then, I started to realize that this had become my home. And really, itís fine with me. I canít think of anything Iíd rather do. Really, itís a pretty good deal. Scooter and I hiked for about a month on the AT, and when Al needed some experienced hands, well, I called her up and asked her to come out. I called you then, too."

"I remember," Noah said. "It was tempting, Crystal. Very tempting. But I was still pretty new at Glen Hill Road, and it wouldnít have been a good idea for me to just take off."

"I know," she said. "When I heard you were there, I almost didnít call you, because I figured that was what youíd say. Anyway, Scooter did come out, and weíve become about as good friends as I was with Myleigh. Better, maybe Ė Scooter and I are pretty much alike, we tend to see things the same way, which isnít the way most people might see them. Weíve run together all summer the last two years, and then weíve taken off in the winter and just did something about our wanderlust. Surfing, skiing, like that. Last year, we rented a twenty-eight-footer and spent three weeks sailing in the Bahamas." She let out yet another sigh. "Itís going to be strange to not be running with her this summer. Like I said, we are good buddies, and last year we switched off being trip leader. Itís kind of a hassle, and doing it that way eased the stress. I donít know what Dad has worked out, but Iíll wind up with running with one of two guys as assistant trip leader. Theyíre OK, but itís not like theyíre my friends, and thereís no way I can change off with them like I did with her. Itís gonna be a long summer."

"Itíll go fast," he offered. "Itís only four months, after all."

"I suppose," she told him. "You remember when we were talking earlier, and I said the hardest part of every trip is getting on the crew bus and driving away from the river? Itís agony when itís the last trip of the season. The last two years, Scooter and I have mostly spent the winter counting the days till we can get back. Itís been fun, weíve had a great time, but itís not very serious, if you know what I mean."

"Youíre saying that if youíre having fun, it canít be serious?" he frowned. "You know better than that."

"Thatís not what I mean," she shook her head. "Look, I chose to leave Randy because I wanted to live my own life, be free to do what I wanted to. Iím starting to realize that it may not work out that way here."

"How do you mean?" he asked.

"I gotta talk about Randy again," she told him. "I mean, I always knew his folks were comfortable, but not exactly what I thought of as well off. Well, when Nicole and I were out hiking, she set me straight on that. Randyís dad and granddad pretty well own a couple of big businesses in Spearfish Lake. The construction company is the smaller of the two. She guesses theyíre worth maybe fifty million bucks."

"Yeah, Iíd say thatís well off," Noah grinned.

"The problem is, that the money is all tied up in the businesses," Crystal said. "They could maybe sell them for that much, but they have to live on the incomes. Anyway, the point is that heís pretty well tied to Spearfish Lake because of the value of the two companies. When I realized that, I knew Iíd never get him out of there, and the only way I could have him was to be there with him. Thatís why Nicole wound up marrying him; sheís willing to be there with him. The hell of it is, Noah, that I didnít realize until I got on that Park Service trip this spring that Iíd pretty well fallen into the same trap."

"Crystal, I donít follow you," he said with a frown.

"I didnít think about it myself until this spring," she said. "Noah, do you have any idea what an outfit like Canyon Tours is worth?"

"Hard to say," he said. "I donít think in terms like that. Not a real big business, Iíd think."

She shrugged. "I donít think like that, either. But the scuttlebutt on the trip was that one of the smallest companies changed hands last winter, for a million five."

"Thatís bigger than I would have thought," he said.

"The problem is that the Park Service only allows so many concessionaires," she said. "They arenít giving out any more, and each concessionaire is limited by the number of passengers and launches we get. That means that the concession license itself is worth more than all the rafts and gear and vehicles and real estate. Anyway, after that trip, I had a talk with Dad about it, and he told me heís turned down an offer of four million. Weíre not the biggest company, but we are one of the bigger ones. Itís not in the same category as Clark Construction and Clark Plywood, up in Spearfish Lake, but itís nothing to laugh off, either."

"I get it," Noah said, enlightenment dawning on him. "Youíre Alís only kid."

"Right," Crystal said. "Al didnít flat come out and say it, but most likely in time this outfit winds up in my hands. The scary part is that Iím probably going to have to be managing it a lot sooner than that. In fact, what Al did say is that he wanted me to start getting in some office time this winter, rather than just going out and helling around. Dadís fifty-four, and I know he wants to start slowing down a little, especially with Mom and him together again. I may be able to get away with running wild in the winter for another few years yet, but then Iím going to have to be putting in the majority of my time in the office."

"Youíre telling me youíre scared of having to grow up," he smiled.

"Yeah, I guess, if you want to put it that way," she sighed. "I love it out here more than you can imagine, but this spring Iíve kept thinking Iím going to have to get serious sooner or later. Iíve given some thought to taking the fall off, letting Scooter lead the trips, and go back to school myself to take some business courses. Maybe I will, maybe Iíll put it off for another year, or maybe do it online or as a correspondence course or something. I donít know how much I could learn that I couldnít learn from Dad and Mom, anyway."

"You wouldnít have to do it all at once," he offered.

"I suppose, but thatís what keeps me thinking about Randy. He likes to get out and travel, do backcountry stuff, and he doesnít get to do it anything like he wants to. He and Nicole and I had a long talk about that back over Christmas. See, at the construction company, his winters are pretty slow, if heís not off almost entirely. He could take off for a month or two then, but heís busy as hell in the summer. Nicole is a teacher, she gets three months off in the summer, and she takes off and runs a Girl Scout camp part of the summer since heís never home then anyway. They donít often get the chance to go anywhere together, and she had to take this trip on unpaid leave. Damn, last winter, I thought about asking Randy to join Scooter and Michelle and me on the sailboat for a while, just so heíd have a chance to get away, but for him to take off with his old girlfriend and two other women . . . "

"It wouldnít have looked very innocent, even if she knew what was going on," Noah grinned.

"Right," Crystal grinned. Thatís part of the reason I wanted him and Nicole to come on this trip, to sort of make that up to him. But, the thing of it is, I can see myself getting into the same trap, where I canít go do stuff even in the off season, because of family stuff."

"The death of a free spirit," Noah nodded. "I can see how it would be difficult to contemplate."

"I know," Crystal said. "Like I told you back upriver, itís nothing that has to be solved right away, but I can see the problem coming, and I figure Iíd better at least think about it. But, thatís not all the problem."

"Something else?"

"Yeah," she said with resignation. "Again, having Randy and Nicole in front of me just rubs it in. Like I said, I could have had Randy if Iíd wanted him bad enough, if Iíd been willing to go to the effort to have him. He and Nicole have got this big new lake shore house, really beautiful, good jobs. Look, itís not been any secret to you that Nicole has been nervous as hell about this trip, right?"

"Of course," he said. "I mean, nothing much has been said, but all you have to do is look at her to know it."

"Sheís getting through it on guts," Crystal told him. "She doesnít want to quit this trip for Randyís sake, because she knows he has this problem with being able to get out. He doesnít want to put her through the stress. The reason we stopped at Badger the first day was to give her the option to walk out. Iím a little surprised she didnít, but she didnít because she loves him. Scooter is planning on stopping at Tanner tomorrow to give her the option to walk out again, up the Tanner Trail, before we get to the big stuff. Iíll bet sheíll stick it out, for his sake, but if she decides to walk out, heíll go with her." She shook her head. "Noah, I canít think of a comparable situation, but I miss having someone who cares about me like that. Like both of them care about each other." She sighed, and he could detect a tear forming in her eye. "If it was him and me instead of him and Nicole . . . well, damn it, I miss being loved like that. I could have had it, and I blew it."

<< Back to Last Chapter
Forward to Next Chapter >>

Creative Commons License
This work is licensed under a
Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.