Canyon Fires
Book 4 of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 16

Bill glanced up at the Bright Angel suspension bridge just downstream. "Looks like theyíre here," he commented.

Al glanced downstream to the bridge; he could see the mule train moving over it, coming down from the rim. In the middle of it were three backpackers, carrying huge backpacks. "Made it about as fast as the mules, and loaded like them, too," he grinned.

"Theyíre stacked up pretty good," Bill grinned. "You know Michelle."

"Well, if youíre not going to let us keep Dan and Jerry," Mary said, dragging the conversation back on track, "how about an extra swamper?"

"Figured on giving you one for next trip," Al said. "Itíll be a first tripper, probably."

"I meant to get us out of this trip," she replied. "Scooter said she had two swampers, and she didnít have a full load. We do, and frankly, the customers havenít been real helpful. Itís been taking a while to get around in the morning, then get set up in the evening."

"It happens," Al conceded. "Let me think about it. One of the swampers on the other trip has his girl friend along, just for this trip, so Iím not moving him. Heís a first tripper, although heís working out real well. The other kid, well, heís on his second trip, and he ainít too bad. I might have to swap him back when you get off the river. Weíre gonna be a little thin on experienced swampers this year, too. Everybodyís gonna have to share the newbie load."

"I know," Mary agreed. "It just seems like weíve got more of it, this year."

"Gonna be just as bad for everyone else as it is for you ," Al said, glancing over at the bridge again; the mule train had stopped, and someone was getting off one of the mules, with the backpackers clustered around. "Mary, Iíve seen it better," he continued, "but Iíve seen it worse, too. Weíre still sort of paying the price for my being out of it the year Louise died. Like I said, give me a little time to figure it out, and Iíll be as fair by you as I can."

"I hate to sound like Iím begging, Al," she said. "But damn, this hasnít been the best group Iíve ever had on a trip. Most of the regular customers are a family out of Laughlin, and they just bitch about everything when theyíre not fighting with each other. Thereís this one fat broad whoís really irritating, and sheís the worst bitcher of them all. And, weíre not going to have any extras left over in the drag bags, thatís for sure. Iím gonna be damn glad to have this trip over with."

"Sorry," Al said, shaking his head. "I know who youíre talking about. They hopped on this trip when I offered a discount because of the schedule being a little messed up with the wedding. Is that going to be a problem?"

"I donít think so," Mary shrugged. "You get right down to it, it hasnít been that bad, but that one womanís mouth has gotten on my nerves quite a bit."

"Well, we all know what bad customers are," Bill said philosophically. "Fortunately, I never got that many. I had a few Iíd rather forget about, though."

Al looked up to see that Dave and Fred had been standing there, waiting for a hole in the conversation. "Fred, Mary and Dave told me about the schedule mix-up. Sorry we didnít have that worked out beforehand, but no big deal."

"Sorry about that, Al," the young man said shyly. "I didnít realize there was a problem till we were out on the river."

"No big deal," Al smiled. "You can stay with us to Bass and walk out, or walk out here. If you stay on to Bass you get a ride back, but if you walk out here, youíll have to hitchhike to Flag or something."

"I can stay to Bass," he said. "I always sort of wanted to do the Bass, anyway. The only problem is that I donít have a backpack. Iíd hate to haul all my stuff up it in a drybag."

"Probably can get one from the loads coming down," Bill suggested.

"OK, good," Al said. "Weíll work out something. Sorry this happened, but no hard feelings, OK?"

"I should have thought about it," Fred replied. "Thanks, Al."

"No problem," he replied. "Mary, any idea what weíre looking at for campsites downstream?"

"Donít know," Mary said. "We havenít talked to anybody today. You want to stop at Granite, right?"

"Not necessarily," Al said. "I just donít want to go below there if we donít have to, or itís going to make tomorrowís run awful short. Iíd hate to have to stop at Crystal, then pack everything up, run it, and take out again an hour later."

"We can probably get in Horn Creek, if no oneís there already," she commented. "Itís gonna be a little tight for this big of a group, but if itís open, Iíd say stop. Weíd feel awful damn silly if we passed it up, then got down to Granite and found a private trip taking a layover day there."

"Iím gonna let you and Team 1 take point," Al said. "Just pull into the first place thatís open thatís big enough for us. If itís a tight place, well, everybodyís just going to have to close in together some."

"Hi, Al," he heard Michelleís voice say. "I see we made it in time."

"Yeah, you did . . . " he started, looking up. "Holy shit!" he grinned in surprise. "Jeff, what are you doing here?"

"Came down for the wedding," Jeff grinned. "You didnít think I was going to miss it, did you?"

Al shook his head. Jeff Pleva had been driving the crew bus for Canyon Tours for years. He was a retired school bus driver, and he was also the run-and-go-get guy for the office, and proved to be good at fixing rafts and gear, too. And, more, though he wasnít a rafter, he was a big component of the glue that held the company together, at an age well into his seventies. "You realize youíre actually going to have to get in a raft, donít you?" Al grinned.

"Yeah," Jeff laughed. "I know."

"God damn!" Al said, shaking his head. "Dave, Mary . . . do you know how long Iíve tried to get Jeff to do a trip with us?"

"Longer than weíve worked for you," Dave laughed.

"Marjorie and I only talked him into it after you left," Michelle said, squirming out of her obviously heavy backpack. "He said he didnít think he could make the walk, so I sort of stole the mule for him," she laughed. "I asked Bill and everybody not to say anything, either."

"You sneaky little twerp," Al grinned. Michelle was something else, but then she had always been something else, too. She was small and thin and blonde, and always had a look about her that made people think she should have been wearing her junior high cheerleaderís outfit. The fact that she was a serious bubble gum addict didnít help, either. But there was a hell of a lot more to her than met the eye; that pack she just set down had to weigh about as much as she did. "Whoís watching the store?"

"Marjorie," Michelle grinned. "We plugged a TV set in there for her. Anybody got a drag bag open?"

"Yeah," Mary laughed, grinning with amazement. "You want anything special?"

"Anything, so long as itís wet," the little blonde said.

"Jeff," Al said as Dave headed for a nearby drag bag, "they havenít run mule trains up the Bass since you were a little kid. You realize youíre gonna have to ride down to Diamond Creek with us, unless you want to walk out?"

"That thought did occur to me," the wiry, elderly, balding driver said. "But it only come to me when we were about halfway down. Michelle and Marjorie, they, uh, well, leaned on me a bit."

"Well, jeez, Jeff, itís good to get you down here, finally," Al grinned, watching as Dave tossed a can of Coors to Michelle, who popped it, leaned back and drained it in one fast gulp. Michelle knew what to do with a beer in her hand, even though she had to carry her passport along with her driverís license when she went out drinking Ė sheíd get carded with every drink. "Michelle, you did figure out how to get someone to drive the crew bus to do the pickups, didnít you?"

"Ray Reynolds," she said. "Heís filled in a couple times before, he knows the drill. Uh, Al, when I stole the mule to put Jeff on it, I asked Hannah and Wade to come down and help carry part of the load. They can hike out today, or they can hike out the Bass with us."

Al glanced up at the two, who had also set down heavy packs. Hannah was a tall and slender brunette; Wade was even taller, and almost as slender. Theyíd worked the summer before as swampers, and Al knew them to be good kids, event though both were a little shy. Hannah was some relation of Michelleís, a cousin, or something, and Wade was her longtime boyfriend. It was a foregone conclusion that theyíd have to be on a crew together, and they were both well on the track to being boatmen, too.

"Aaaah, thatís a long walk, down and up," Al said. "You two come along for the ride, weíll fit you in somewhere. We got everybody now?"

"We were sweep coming down from the rim," Michelle said. "So everybody who came with us ought to be down."

Mary looked around, and frowned. "I think part of our Laughlin crew hasnít made it back from the canteen," she snorted, an irritated note in her voice. "I think they were going to get more beer."

"Probably," Dave sighed. "Maybe I ought to go up and look for them."

"Letís get everybody together and count noses," Al suggested. He stood up on the gear pile. "Yo, everybody," he yelled. "Listen up. We gotta make sure we got everybody. Everyone who came in here on a raft, get around your trip leader. Those who came down from the rim, gather around out in front a ways, so Michelle can get a count."

It took a few minutes, but it proved that Mary was correct Ė there were a couple people missing from the Team 1 trip. "Hold up a minute before you go looking for them, Dave," Al said. "I think what weíll do is get Team 2 moving so we can get in a campsite. But, thereís a couple of things I want to say. First, I want to thank everyone thatís come down, and we ought to have a fun couple of days. After we get in wherever weíre camping and get stuff unloaded, I want all the current Canyon Tours employees to get together with me for a short staff meeting, so we can work out how weíre going to break up for the summer. Sorry folks, while this is a pleasure trip, we do have to do a little business." He went on to explain that only current Canyon Tours employees were going to be able to row, for insurance purposes. "I want the four summer boatmen who came down from the rim today to ride with Team 2 this afternoon, so I can have a little talk with you. Now, I need about five of the people who came down from the rim to stay behind here and ride with Team 1. Everyone else, letís get loaded on the Team 2 rafts. There should be plenty of room, so spread it out. Any questions? If not, well, like Scooter says, letís be about it, people."

Dave took off for the lodge, looking for the missing customers, while people piled aboard the Team 2 rafts. There was quite a bit of shuffling, some reloading of gear, but soon they were ready to go. Al glanced around the rafts and noticed Norma sitting on Andyís raft. She was one of the boatmen who had come down from the rim. She tended to stand out; she was a Navajo, dark-haired, dark-skinned, solidly built, another Northern Arizona college student. Al had come to know her a little the previous summer, and knew that she knew a lot about the Indian traditions about the Canyon; heíd learned a lot of Canyon lore from her that heíd never known. He rather hoped sheíd be a boatman after she got out of college, although he doubted it Ė she had plans for medical school. A sharp kid, however you cut it. "Norma, you up for running Horn Creek at the sticks today?" he asked.

"Shouldnít be a problem," she grinned. "Iíve been waiting since last year."

"All right, Andy," Al grinned. "Iíll give you a break. Whenever youíre ready, Scooter."

*   *   *

Nicole felt better with Randy sitting next to her on the gear, instead of at the oars as they were getting ready to leave. "How you doing?" he whispered in her ear, taking note of all the new people in the raft.

"Iím doing fine," she told him. "I think itís wearing off a little, now. I could walk around all right back there on the shore."

"Weíve got one more tough one," he said quietly. "We could have you walk it. Itís a short one, just a big drop."

"Oh, letís not bother," she replied. "Randy, I donít want to dose up like that again tomorrow. I donít like feeling that wasted."

"Donít have to," he said. "Thereís only three big ones, and you could walk them easier than the ones we did today."

"Weíll see," she sighed. "Randy, Iím a little bit pissed with myself."


"Randy, it would have been nice to see all that stuff today rather than go through it in a haze. I donít know if it was the tranquilizer or what, but it didnít seem as bad as Iíd been expecting, even after you and Scooter spent half the morning talking about flipping rafts, getting hung up, and all that stuff."

"Iím sorry," he said. "We were just shooting the bull. I hadnít realized you were taking it that way."

"I know," she sighed. "I mean, what else are you going to talk about? Are we going to be doing anything thatís any worse than what we did this morning?"

"Not really," he said. "Horn Creek and Granite are maybe not quite as bad. Crystal Rapids, well, itís bad, but if Duane was right, thereís an easy sneak route there now that wasnít there the last time I came through, and weíre probably going to get out and scout, anyway. Itís an easy walk around it, in any case. Lava is still quite a ways downstream. Itís a big, tough single drop, not a real drawn-out thing like Crystal or Sockdolager."

"All right," she said. "Lavaís the only one after everybody hikes out at Bass, right?"

"Well, thereís others, but not as bad," he told her. "We get through tomorrow, itís mostly downhill from there."

She was silent for a moment. "Randy, Iím sorry Iíve been such a scaredy-cat on you," she frowned. "Except for the rapids, and the worrying about them, this has been a good trip. Iím sorry there hasnít been more hiking, but Crystal says weíll have more chance after we get through with the wedding."

"Yeah, weíll be slowing down a lot," he nodded. "Youíre gonna stick it out, huh?"

"I guess," she said. "Randy, Iím sorry Iíve been such a downer."

"Donít worry about it," he said. "I think youíre starting to overcome it. Just hang in there."

Randyís attention to his wife was drawn away by the jostling of the raft; he looked up to see Scooter at the oars, and a slender young blonde throwing the coiled-up bow line aboard and giving the raft a shove off the bank. "Thanks, Michelle," Scooter said, backing the raft out into the current and pivoting it.

Randy took a look at the girl, and, well, she wasnít hard to look at. He barely remembered her working in the office on his trip out here a year and a half before; they hadnít met on this trip at all. Heíd heard stories about her, from Crystal and the other boatmen, but he still couldnít believe this teenybopper was actually a boatman!

The raft was a lot more loaded; there had been only three people aboard when they pulled into Phantom, and now they had six. The other two were a couple, both small and blonde, about his and Nicoleís age, maybe a little bit older, he thought.

"Nicole, youíre the only first-timer," Scooter told her. "Keep your eyes open, and watch quick. A lot happens in the next little bit." She took a couple strokes at the oars to line up for a mild rapids that was right under an overhanging bridge. "Kaibab Bridge," Scooter explained. "Kind of a neat story about how they got the cables down here, back in the thirties. They were too heavy to load on mules, so they unrolled the cables up in the parking lot, hired a bunch of Navahos and WPA workers, spread them out a few feet apart, put the cable on their shoulders, and carried it down like a big snake. Woulda been neat to see." She sighed and went on, "Itís about seven miles up to the rim. Nice hike though. Crystal and I walked down here on the Kaibab after the season was over with last fall, spent the night, and hiked back up the next day."

"I thought you didnít hike much anymore," Nicole said.

"I still like to," Scooter grinned. "The only thing is that I canít do it day after day. A down and up over two days was about all my knees could take."

"Nice walk," the blonde young woman said. "Good to get down here again. Itís been too long."

"Al said there were going to be some former boatmen on this leg of the trip," Nicole commented. "Does that include you two?"

"Oh, yeah," the guy said. "We both ran for a few years."

"Kind of a madhouse back there at the beach," Scooter grinned. "I guess you didnít get introduced. Pat, Rachel, Michelle, this is Randy and Nicole Clark."

"Yeah," Michelle said. "I remember the face. Guess we never got the chance to say more than hi that time you ran."

Randyís memory of her was more clear now; in fact, she sort of put him in mind of a younger Nanci, and he remembered Nanci when she was younger. "Yeah, I remember you up in the office, with a wad of bubble gum."

Scooter laughed. "Wherever you see Michelle, itís with a wad of bubble gum," Scooter laughed. "Al says when she runs they have to take an extra raft to carry it all."

"Itís not that bad," Michelle grinned, and popped a bubble. "Randy, Nicole, this is my mom and dad."

Both Randy and Nicoleís eyes went wide, and they almost sprained their necks as their heads swiveled toward Pat and Rachel. Something did not compute. Michelle may have looked like she was fifteen, but Randy knew she had to be over twenty-one from some of the stories that had gone around the campfires earlier. Yet these two . . . "Come on," he said. "I donít believe it."

"Nobody believes it," Rachel laughed. "Ever."

"You donít look old enough," Nicole said flatly. "Neither of you can be much over thirty."

"Actually, weíre both fifty-two," Pat said. "I agree, Michelle looks like sheís not old enough to be in high school, but thatís where she gets it, I guess."

"Randy," Scooter piped up, "the truth of the matter is that these two go the furthest back of any former boatmen on this trip. Rachel was the second Canyon Tours woman boatman, after Louise. She and Pat both ran that trip where Al and Karin met. The first time, I mean."

"I was only a swamper for years," Rachel said. "Willie said one woman boatman was enough. Then, after Al and Louise bought Willie out, I was the next woman raised to boatman. Pat and I got married after that next summer, and we had Michelle. After that, we traded off trips for a while, but after she got into school, we decided weíd both better get jobs up on the rim."

"What do you do?" Nicole asked.

"We run a gift shop up on the South Rim," Pat explained. "We also have some distributorships on some items. The biggest thing is Canyon-related music CDs."

"We still sometimes run half-trips for Al," Rachel went on. "Not often, a week is about the most we can get away. Randy, youíre Crystalís old boyfriend, right? Youíre the EMT who saved Jerry that time, right?"

"I didnít have as much to do with it as another passenger, Sandy Loveberry," Randy protested. "She was the one who knew what she was doing."

"Thatís not the way I heard it," Pat said. "I donít know how you missed Jerry back there. He swears he owes you all the free beer you can drink."

"Iím not the one he should thank," Randy grinned. "If he needs to thank anyone, itís Noahís boss."

"Noah?" Rachel frowned.

"Heís the preacher whoís doing the ceremony," Scooter explained. "Heís back on Crystalís raft. She and I knew him back when we ran the Ocoee and the Nanty together."

Pat grinned. "Youíre saying Jerry needs to thank God, right?"

"No," Randy laughed. "He needs to thank Noahís boss. Preach is a youth pastor; his boss is a guy by the name of Jordan." Randy let out a sigh. "Scooter, did you ever tell these people about Crystal and me down at the Ocoee takeout that time?"

"That fight you had?" she said. "I donít remember if I told Pat and Rachel, but I think Michelle knows."

"A couple guys came after Crystal with knives," Randy explained. "I was right beside her, but they didnít see me as a threat, and we had to neutralize them. Then Pastor Jordan came up and started stabilizing them. Turns out heís an EMT."

"Preach is, too, now," Scooter said.

"I didnít know that," Randy nodded. "But, with Pastor Jordan around him, it doesnít surprise me. Quite a guy. Anyway, after I got to the point where I could think rationally about it again, and that was some time, I took a lesson out of that. It doesnít hurt to have people around who have that kind of knowledge. People get hurt on construction sites, and I figured that it wouldnít hurt if I got the EMT training. The deal with Jerry was just a spin off from that."

"Not a bad thing to know," Pat nodded.

"Tell the rest of the story," Nicole prompted.

"What?" Randy frowned. "Oh, I know what youíre talking about. A year later, we were having negotiations with the carpentersí union. I donít know if you know what itís like, but itís pretty damn boring, and I got to thinking about the same thing, that people get hurt around construction sites, and it gave me an idea. I talked it over with my grandfather during a break, and we made an offer to pay for the training for anyone who wanted to get an EMT or first responder certificate, and throw in a little pay bonus for those who had them. The union rep is a jerk, but he couldnít find anything to complain about. Since it looked like a concession, he bit." Randy let out a sigh. "We havenít had a serious job accident since, thank God, but last fall, we had a bad car wreck out in front of a job site. I wasnít there, but we had two EMTs and three first responders on the job. They saved one life for sure, and probably a second one. My grandfather and I think it was worth every damn penny we spent."

"Randy," Rachel said thoughtfully. "Maybe you better tell Jerry that story."

"Yeah," Scooter laughed. "If you plan on staying halfway sober tonight, that is."

*   *   *

The campsite at Horn Creek wasnít large, but the sandbar would be big enough Ė barely Ė and there was a short hike up a side canyon for later. Team 2 already had their gear unloaded and stacked on the shore and individual campsites staked out when Team 1 pulled in, perhaps half an hour behind them.

Once Team 1 got unloaded, the Canyon Tours employees gathered down at the Team 2 kitchen area, while some of the former employees, including Pat and Rachel, led many of the others up the side canyon for a bit of hiking and exploration. Only one or two of the group from Laughlin went with them; the rest gathered up at the other end of the sand bar, where Al had been thoughtful and left a separate space for them to sample the contents of the drag bags.

Like the Canyon Tours people, most everyone had a can of something or other in their hands as they stood and sat around on the sand in the shade of the tamarisks. "This is kind of strange," Al told them. "This is the first time weíve ever had a staff meeting of everybody before the summer season gets into full swing. It took a heck of a lot of work to do it, and I hope thereís never the reason to do it again. We got a lot of new boatmen this year, more than Iíd like to have, but I do have to say that I think theyíre all pretty good. You kids just keep your heads, listen to your trip leaders and assistants, and everything ought to work out OK."

He pulled out a notebook. "This has already gotten screwed around some from what I figured out, so if anyone has any questions, just ask. Letís start with Team 3. Scooterís leading it, obviously, and Jerry, you already know youíre going to be the assistant."

"Shouldnít be any big deal. Iíve run with Scooter before."

"Good enough," Al said. "OK, for the rest of Team 3. Barbie, I figure on sending you with Scooter, thatíll help with the guy-girl balance. That means the rest of the crew is going to have to come out of Andy, Carl, and Duane. Scooter, you can take any two of íem."

"I donít care," Scooter said. "Theyíre all good kids."

"Andy, Carl, Duane," Al asked. "You guys got any feelings about it?"

"I donít care," Carl shrugged. Al glanced at the other two, who nodded in agreement.

"All right," Al said. "Letís do this Vegas style." He glanced down at his feet, and found three pebbles laying there. Two were the reddish tan of limestone, but one was the near black of schist. He picked them up, and held his hand high for each of the three to draw one.

Carl drew first, and got the schist. "Fine with me," he said. "Andy, Duane, you have fun with Scooter. Duane, if I donít see you when we get off season, you have fun looking at dogsí asses."

"Huh?" Mary frowned. "Whatís that all about?"

"Duaneís got himself a winter job," Al grinned. "Mostly feeding dogs and cleaning up what comes out the other end, but if the talk I heard around camp last night is right, if everything works out, he gets himself a trip to Alaska next winter, too."

"Howíd you manage that?" Dave asked.

"We got a couple serious dogsled racers in the passengers on Team 2," Al explained. "Just so long as they drag him back here next spring, itís fine with me. Anyway, while weíre at it: swampers. Scooter, Iíd already figured on Hannah and Wade to go with you, so try to get them up the Bass alive. OK, that takes care of Team 3. Any questions, Scooter?"

"Not that I can think of, right off," she replied.

"Good enough," Al said. "OK, on to Team 1. Dave and Mary and I were talking back up at Phantom. Fred has a schedule mix-up and has to walk out at Bass. Sorry we didnít have that worked out beforehand, but no big deal. You work out anything on a backpack?"

"No," Fred replied. "There really hasnít been time. Iíd hate to haul all my stuff in a drybag."

"No problem," Michelle said, popping her bubble gum. "You can take mine. If someone has a daypack, thatíll be all I need. I didnít bring much stuff of my own, just some odds and ends, and some supplies."

"Just ten pounds of bubble gum, I bet," Al laughed, and a lot of the others in the group laughed, too.

"No, not that much," she grinned. "Iím trying to cut down."

"Thatíll be the day," Al laughed. "OK, Iíd figured on Fred finishing this trip," Al said. "So, what Iím gonna do is leave Dan with Team 1 for the rest of the trip, and when you get back to Flag, youíre gonna move over to Team 2. Iím gonna have Norma move up to replace Jerry, so he can hike out with Team 3. Carl, you go with Team 1, to replace Fred. Dave, Mary, will that work for you?"

"Should work just fine," Mary replied. "We havenít run with Carl since he was a swamper, but he was a good kid then. Norma, weíll be glad to have you."

"Thatís gonna be just for the rest of this trip," Al said. "When we get back to Flag, Iíll have to swap one of the kids from Team 2 for Dan. I donít know which one yet. Itís going to mean sort of a burnaround for anyone moving from Team 2 to Team 1, so Iíll try and keep it to a minimum. I donít much care who rides what raft tomorrow, but the day after, I want everyone in the boats theyíre going to be running the rest of the trip."

"Works for me," Mary agreed. "How about swampers?"

"Iím not yet real sure how the summer is going to go," Al said. "But you said you wanted an extra swamper for Team 1 for the rest of this trip, so Iím gonna move Ernie up with you, since we got a smaller group on Team 2 this trip, and theyíre a real good bunch."

"Thatís still going to be a pain in the butt," Mary protested. "Weíre going to have to unload the flatbed so they can make the pickup on Team 2, then reload Team 1 the next day, then reload Team 2. I donít want to have to switch rafts."

"Yeah, we knew that was going to happen," Al sighed.

"Al," Jeff called. "Weíre not going to have to do it that way."

"Whatís this?"

"Michelle and I didnít get the chance to tell you. Rayís brother has a flatbed. Theyíre going to pick up Team 1 with it. We already arranged for a U-Haul to pull it and carry the gear. That way Team 1 can stay loaded till they get down to Leeís. Weíll use our own flatbed and truck for Team 2, since itíll stay loaded for a few days."

Al looked at them for a moment with a mischievous stare on his face. "I got only one question," he said finally. "What the hell am I doing running this company when Iíve got the two of you?"

"Al, youíre not leaving me in the office full time," Michelle said flatly.

"I know," Al sighed. "Damn, I know. But still . . . " He shook his head. "OK, Mary, I guess that solves that problem. That sound better?"

"Yeah," she smiled. "Thanks, Jeff, Michelle. All that loading and unloading would have screwed up the break big time."

"Knew that," Jeff grinned. "Itís why we cooked it up."

"Good job," Al conceded. "OK, that pretty well sets Team 2. Crystal leading, of course. Mike, Kevin and Larry the rest of this trip, along with Karin and me. Like I said, weíll swap Dan for one of the kids after we get back. That leaves her open one spot for the rest of the summer, but Michelle and Karin and I will kind of rotate around to fill it. Thatíll leave Trey as a swamper for the rest of this trip. Iíll iron out the rest of the swamper issue when we get back, and there may be some swapping around. Now, does that work for everybody?"

Before long, the staff meeting degenerated into a bull session, and not too much later, people started drifting back from the hike. "One final thing," Al said. "Weíll run separately tomorrow, but itíd be nice if we can stay fairly close together. I doubt if anyone is going to be camping at Baseball Man, but Iíd just as soon someone gets an early start so we can be sure to get the site. I donít know how well weíre going to get around in the morning, but if we start lagging, weíll have a couple rafts go ahead to stake it out."

"Sounds like a plan," Mary said. "We havenít been real good at getting an early start on this trip."

"Thatís why I suggested it," Al agreed. He glanced up at the sun. "Well, I suppose we better get started on dinner."

"Weíre going to do this all as one big bunch, right?" Mary asked.

"Might as well," he said.

There began to be some activity in the kitchen, and people began to drift away. Al and Karin drifted away, too, and wound up sitting up in the shade of a tamarisk back above the beach. "Darn it, Al," she said. "I donít mind taking a raft the rest of the trip, but I thought we were going to be running together."

"Well," he shrugged. "We are."

"But Al," she frowned. "Weíve got six rafts, and only six boatmen, counting me."

"No, Karin," he said. "I didnít want to say anything because of all the old boatmen running around here, and Iím not going to say anything about it, except to you, until we get to Bass. But think about it. This is still a four-raft trip with six rafts. How did we handle the second half of the trip the last time Randy ran with us?"

"Oh, yes," she smiled, the light dawning. "Except this time, weíve got two guys who can run a gear boat."

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