Canyon Fires
Book 4 of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 17

May 2, 2001

It was a jewel of a morning. The sky was bright and clear, and the air was positively sparkling. Here and there, glints of sunshine could be seen on the riffles as the two rafts floated down the river side by side close enough that people could talk back and forth.

"Anybody want to make any bets on how long it’s going to be before they get out of there? Scooter grinned from the oars of one raft.

"An hour, anyway," Crystal said, from the oars of the other. "With that mob, maybe longer. Hell, some of that Laughlin bunch hasn’t dragged their asses out of the sack yet. But they can take their time, they got all day, now."

"Don’t want to wish Dave and Mary ill," Scooter laughed, "but I’m just as glad it’s them and not me who has to deal with those clowns."

"You get people like that very often?" Buddha asked from Crystal’s raft.

"Not often," Crystal said. "Oh, it’s not unusual to have someone a little obnoxious, but when you get a bunch of them like that, it does sort of drag things down."

"We don’t often get it like that on oar trips," Scooter agreed. "Hard to carry that much beer. Jim says it’s a lot more common on the motor rigs."

"Is that going to louse up the wedding?" Nicole wondered from the gear pile in Scooter’s raft.

"Shouldn’t, I hope," Crystal sighed. "I doubt that loudmouthed fat broad can drag her ass up that rock face that you have to climb out of camp to get to the water pocket. If she stays back, probably most of the rest will, too. Everybody in that group seems to take their cue from her, anyway."

"Let’s face it, some people are really yahoos," Buddha agreed. "I mean, come on, surfers like to party, but they like to surf, too. Fortunately, we don’t usually have to deal with the kind who would rather party than surf very often."

Scooter swiveled her neck. "OK," she said. "We’re out of sight of camp. Get up here on the sticks, Randy."

"You too, Noah," Crystal said, standing up.

"Hey," Randy said. "Al said he didn’t want us rowing between Phantom and Bass."

"Come on, you two," Scooter grinned. "He said he didn’t want any of the old-timers catching you two rowing this stretch. Look who we got with us."

Randy looked around. Along with him and Nicole on Scooter’s raft rode Myleigh, Trey and Nanci. Crystal had Noah, Buddha, Giselle, Jon and Tanisha. It was all people who had come down from Lee’s Ferry on the Team 2 trip, no hike-ins, nobody from Team 1. "Jeez," he laughed. "How did we miss Josh and Tiffany?"

"I think they were waiting in line for the groover when Dad started grabbing people and having us throw stuff on board," Crystal laughed. "If they’d been hanging around, they’d have been along, too."

"You sure this is all right?" Noah asked.

"Sure, Preach," Scooter grinned as she got up so Randy could take the seat on the boatman’s box. "Al told me that was why he set it up this way. But everybody, don’t nobody say nothing about it till after we get to Bass, all right?"

"Well, all right," Noah grinned as he took the oars from Crystal. "You know, Scooter, we didn’t get a thought for the day from you."

"Didn’t want to deal with it," she laughed. "Not while we were trying to haul ass out of there. I figure you get the thought for the day this afternoon, anyway. You want a thought for the morning, though, try ‘Granite, Hermit, Crystal – hang on!’"

"Preach has a better one than that," Nicole laughed. "Try, ‘Our father, who art in Heaven . . .’" Randy glanced down at Nicole, and somehow felt relieved. She didn’t seem as nervous as they had been upstream, and she didn’t seem in a haze like yesterday. As far as he knew, she hadn’t taken any tranquilizers, and they had pretty well worn off when they’d run Horn Creek at the end of the day before. He didn’t want to ask, but maybe she was getting over her fears of the big water. In any case, they would scout all three of the big ones, like they did yesterday and on the last trip they’d been on, giving her the chance to walk the rapids. But with a wisecrack like that – and it sounded like a Nicole-type wisecrack, not a worry – maybe she planned on riding them out.

"Works for me," Noah laughed.

"This is neat," Crystal grinned. "I’ve always wanted to do a whole trip like this. A small group of good friends who all have their acts together. We did a small November trip sorta like that a couple years ago, and it was a lot of fun."

"Yeah," Scooter grinned. "When we were on that Park Service trip, it was sort of like that. One night, we got to talking about a small bunch of river rats getting together off season and taking a couple rafts on a trip like that."

"It’d have to be on a commercial permit," Crystal agreed. "But it could be fudged. I’d like to run one in January, maybe. There’s hardly anyone down here then. It’d be cold, wetsuits, maybe even drysuits on the river, winter camping and like that."

"Sounds like a great idea," Randy said. "It wouldn’t be that cold, not Spearfish Lake or Northern Michigan University winter cold. I’ll bet it’s different down here then." And, he thought, that was the time of year that it was dead around Clark Construction. He’d have to talk it over with Nicole, but if he was going to get four qualifiers in, well, that could count for one of them. Something to think about . . . and to quietly tell Crystal to remember him if something like that came up.

"The days would be short," Scooter said. "We’d have to get up in the morning and run pretty hard without a lot of side trips, but hey, the idea is to run the river, right?"

"I don’t know," Buddha grinned. "My blood is kinda thin for that. It gets cold for me even down there in Florida in January. You Yankees are all crazy."

"Watch who ya’ll are callin’ a Yankee, heah?" Noah said in a thick southern accent. "I’m originally from Michigan, remember! Crystal, you put something like that together, you keep me in mind."

"Sho’ ’nuff, ya’ll," Crystal laughed. She turned thoughtful for a moment. "Wouldn’t want to do it over Christmas break, I’d think," she said after a moment. "If we did it in January, though, I’ll bet we wouldn’t have much trouble getting together ten or twelve people, and we wouldn’t want more than that, anyway. I’ll bet we could get several right from Canyon Tours, some from GCR, maybe others."

"Yeah, I can think of a few," Scooter agreed.

"Tell you what," Crystal said. "Sometime over the summer I’ll talk with Dad and see what I can do about using one of our launch dates. We can’t do much more than that till fall, anyway."

"Sure can’t," Scooter agreed. "Not with you and me splitting up for the summer tomorrow."

"You guys got any more plans about the winter?" Buddha asked.

"Still more or less thinking about coming down to your place and surfing right after Christmas again," Crystal said. "It’s not set in stone yet, and probably won’t be until the season winds down."

"We’d be glad to have you, as always," Giselle said. "You people always are something to look forward to."

"Yeah," Crystal sighed. "Sure seems like a while before then. Most of a season. Scooter, as far as I know, you and I will be together again when we break back down to two teams. We’ll get plenty of time to talk about it then."

"Yeah," she agreed. "But, a lot can happen. We’ll just have to play it like it lays."

The river swept them onward. It was high water for the day and running fast. Randy remembered the last time he’d run this trip. The conditions were little different, other than the fact it had been pretty cloudy, but it had been the day after Jerry’s accident and the race down to Phantom to deliver him to the helicopter, the shaking agony of trying to get over it afterwards, and then having to take over the gear boat for the first time the next morning to face Adrenaline Alley – Horn Creek, Granite, Hermit and Crystal. They’d stopped and scouted each rapid, and one of the other boatmen had run with Randy in each rapid, and it seemed like it took forever. Although it had been a short day, Randy and everyone else had been physically and mentally tired when they pulled into the beach below the Baseball Man Water pocket.

It didn’t feel like that this time. Even though he was rowing again, he knew he could handle the big ones; after all, he’d done it before. Plus, he was there with a good group of friends, having a good time, shooting the bull back and forth as they drifted down the river, and the whole atmosphere was different. Today the river was big, impressive, humbling, a joy and a relaxation to be out on, but without the sense of foreboding that there had been a year and a half before.

They were less than an hour out when the two rafts nosed into the shore above Granite, and everyone in the group climbed up to look at the rapids. Here, the river swept around a broad curve to the left. It was about like Randy remembered. The biggest waves were toward river right, following a moderately steep first drop. He could se that they had to at least run the edge of the big stuff, and couldn’t get too far to the left, or they’d get swept over a big eddy line that could spin you like a top, and even worse.

"Looks pretty straightforward," Noah said. "Just try to keep pulling to the left, and do the big stuff if you have to."

"That’s about the size of it," Scooter agreed. "A little maneuvering, but not as bad as Hance. But we’re gonna get wet."

"We are all surfers," Myleigh grinned. "Well, most of us. We should be used to getting wet. I dare say I’ve surfed bigger waves."

"Well, crap, I needed a bath before the wedding, anyway," Crystal snorted. "Looks like this is a good place to get it."

"Now that you mention it," Nicole grinned. "Sounds like a good idea."

Randy could scarcely believe his ears. He’d have bet good money that Nicole would already have been heading down to the eddy below the rapids to be picked up after walking it – in fact, where they were scouting, it wasn’t as far!

"Which one of you wants to go first?" Scooter asked as they walked back down toward the rafts.

"Doesn’t matter," Randy said.

Crystal stuck a hand behind her back. "Pick a number between one and five," she said.

"OK," Noah grinned. "Two."

"Four," Randy said.

Crystal held up a single finger. "Have fun, guys," she said. "We’ll get picture of you coming through."

"Good enough," Randy said.

They took a few minutes getting ready – in this case, mostly stripping down to swimsuits, even though it was still on the cool side, and stuffing their dry clothes in their day bags. Randy, Scooter, and the other four from their raft stood on shore as Noah backed Crystal’s raft out into the river, pulled hard, and then, right at the lip of the rapids, pivoted. The raft plunged down the drop, reared up over the first back roller, and plunged down it, burying the nose in the water. The cold river splashed over the passengers, and they could hear them yell, but the raft bobbed right back up again, splashing through the smaller waves that followed.

"Didn’t get any too far to the left," Scooter snorted.

"Oh, my, that must have been exciting," Myleigh bubbled.

"Looks like they went right down the center," Randy agreed. "Well, Scooter, do you want to say it, or do you want me to?"

"What?" she grinned. "All right, people, let’s be about it?"

"That’s it." Randy grabbed hold of the oars, starting to row as Scooter pushed them off the rocky shore and scrambled aboard. Like Noah, he pulled hard, ferrying upstream, before he picked out his marks and pivoted to set his line. Being tentative about getting too close to the eddy line, he ran a little to the right of where he’d originally intended. There were waves rearing up and down, not a steady flow, and timing was important if they wanted a relatively dry ride. "Hang on!" he yelled as he could feel the boat accelerate as it went down the tongue, rear up over the first wave – and then the second wave pulsed up. A huge wall of green water loomed over them as they crashed into it, and he was a little surprised to feel the boat pull up from its buoyancy, and less water came aboard than he’d expected for an instant, although it was still enough to soak everyone down thoroughly. The raft reared high, crashed through another wave, not as bad, and he began to pull to the left, toward the smoother water close to the eddy.

"Hey, Randy!" he heard Nanci yell. "That was cool!"

Now that things were dying down a little, Randy took his eyes from the river for a moment, to look at Nicole. She was hanging on tight – but from the side view he had of her, he thought he could detect just a touch of a grin. "Everybody all right?" he asked.

"Yeah, sure," he heard, and from a look around it looked like everybody had survived in good spirits. Trey had a big grin, and Myleigh . . . well, she had one, too, but he could see that she was thinking about something. That wasn’t unlike Myleigh, he knew; she often saw things a little differently than anyone else. "That was most interesting," she grinned, with a faraway look in her eyes.

He eased the raft over toward the other one. "Cool run, Randy," Crystal said. "We got some good snapshots of you. I think you got wetter than we did. "

"Could be," he said. "I got soaked, and if I did, everyone else did, too."

"Unless anyone’s real cold, we might as well stay in swimsuits," Scooter suggested from her position in the bow of the raft. Up there, she’d gotten soaked worse than anyone. "It’s only a mile, mile and a half to Hermit, and the way we’re running, we’ll be there in no time."

They were down to Hermit quickly, and Scooter was right; they were drying off quickly in the dry, warm air, and had just about completed the process when they got there. Again they got out to scout, and all of them walked up to look at it. The waves were about as big as they’d been in Granite, maybe a little bigger, but the route was straightforward. Randy, Noah, Scooter and Crystal only conferred for a moment, mostly pointing out the obvious before they headed back down to the boats. "Your turn to take point," Crystal grinned.

The run went pretty well for Randy. They got splashed pretty hard in the first wave set, but he was able to pull to the side a little for the rest of them, taking the waves a little cornerwise, and although it felt a little funny, it was a relatively dry ride. He pulled out in the eddy below, and there was a scramble in a couple of day bags for cameras, to catch the action as Noah came through with the other raft. This time, they were the ones who got wetter, and there was some joshing back and forth.

"OK, a little longer haul to Crystal," Crystal said. "Most of you know that Mom named me for that rapids. I sometimes wonder how much of a favor that was."

The river ran fairly fast down to the next rapid, Boucher, a small one that they didn’t even slow down to scout. It flattened out considerably after that – the water was dammed by the debris flow that created the next rapids, so Randy and Noah had to actually row to keep progress reasonable. But, it was fun to do it, rowing along side by side, all dressed in swimsuits in the warming morning and the bright Arizona sun, talking back and forth.

"Boy, Dad has the stories about this place," Crystal related. "He likes to tell about running it back in ’83, when the flow was five times what it is today. They ran it one day when three motor rigs flipped, and they had swimmers all over the place. One of the motor rigs was Georgie White’s G-rig, which was a heck of a bunch bigger than anything you see out here today. Think of three motor rig center sections lashed side to side, running sideways."

"That’d be big all right," Randy said. "I wonder how she got it through some of the tight spots."

"Dunno," Scooter said. "She died years ago, but I guess Al and Louise knew her pretty well. Something of a character."

"Gotta ask," Noah said. "Did Al run it clean when he ran it that high?"

"Fairly clean," Crystal reported. "He didn’t flip, anyway. That was back before they had self-bailing rafts, and he got a raft full of water, spun around a couple times, lost an oar, and didn’t get it to shore for half a mile, darn near down to Tuna Creek, which was washed out, pretty much."

"I’ll bet the passengers had a thrill," Nanci grinned.

"No passengers," Crystal said. "There were some who were willing to try, he says, but the Park Service said to have all the passengers walk. It’s gotta be a pussycat now compared to what it was then."

"Yeah, especially since the sneak route opened up to the right," Scooter agreed.

Half an hour or so later, they were gathered on a little mound of debris, looking down at the fury of Crystal Rapids. It didn’t look as steep as, say, Hance the day before, but here they were in granite, not the slanting layers of shale and sandstone that made Hance look so steep. But the rapids went on for a long, long ways, down around the left-hand bend and out of sight, and there were some big waves out there.

"Your sneak route doesn’t look all that sneaky," Noah commented. "It’d take some real maneuvering at speed to run that clean."

"Yeah," Randy agreed. "The last time I ran this, it wasn’t this open, and I didn’t even think about it. It was just a case of run the main current down left, and take those big stoppers as they come and hope you get through them, then just take the stuff in the lower section as you come to them."

"You can make the sneak route," Crystal told him. "It’s just kind of a case of trying to stay out of the rocks to river right, so you got to get out in the bigger stuff a little. But we usually run the bigger stuff for the sake of the thrill ride. Your choice."

"Looks like you could do it and stay out of the way of those big stoppers," Noah commented. "You’d want to be sure you had some momentum before you hit them."

"We can stand here all day and talk about it," Crystal said. "Let’s do it."

They headed back down to the rafts. Even though Randy had run this before, he still felt a little intimidated by it. There were so many stories about Crystal Rapids; he’d heard them, read about them, and now, here he was, again. And, this time, Nicole was with him – and she was heading back down to the raft in her purple and white striped bikini, looking like she was getting set to ride this monster! Heart in his mouth, he stood watching, trying to get his mind organized, calmed, ready. He stood by the raft, watching everybody in the other raft climb in and get set, Noah take the sticks. There was a little point not far away where they could see part way down the rapids, and Randy remembered standing on it before, watching the other rafts of the party get out and run it, wild, bucking runs, rafts flying over the crests of the stoppers. He watched as Noah pulled out into the current, took a few strokes, pivoted the raft and headed for the lip of the current.

All of a sudden, he realized that Nicole was standing next to him on the rock, watching the action, and the others from his raft weren’t far away. The raft nosed down, rode the tongue, plunged into the first wave – headed right for the two big stoppers toward the left of center, Noah rowing like mad to try and build up speed enough to punch over and through them. The raft rose, seemed to balance for a moment on the first one, plunged down, over and through the second one, and was still riding up and down when it went out of sight. "Took the thrill ride," he heard Scooter say.

Randy just stood there looking, knowing that he’d about have to follow Noah’s example. Well, he’d done it before, but Nicole . . . "I don’t know," he whispered.

"Come on, Randy," he heard her say. "You can do it."

"You sure?" he asked quietly.

"Let’s do it before I change my mind."

In what seemed like seconds – or hours – they were out in the raft, with Randy pulling hard to set up his approach. It was fast, but a routine whitewater tongue, he knew he could handle that, but then came the heart stopping drop, and heavy water, boiling cold, and there wasn’t much he could do but try to keep the raft heading downstream through the gaping white cauldron of the hole. In an instant they were riding big white water, water that grew even whiter, even angrier as the waves mounted higher. At first the flow held straight, then the flow swung right and carried the raft with it. The waves were huge and hostile now, encompassing them as they never had before, and there seemed no clear distinction between the raging whiteness outside the raft and inside it . . . then they were dropping as the white chaos still rampaged around. They splashed through it on sheer momentum, the boat full of water, but most of it draining right out again as they went up and up and over the back roller, down into the next one, out again . . . all of a sudden, it began to ease. That hadn’t been as bad as he thought . . . maybe he’d worried too much, but his heart was still pounding and the blood rushing through him as he felt the tension come off.

In an instant, a wave caught them, swung them sideways a bit, and he felt them being pushed to the side. An eddy came out of nowhere, spun them around. He reached out hard to pivot, but glanced over his shoulder at the oncoming wave, and realized in an instant that he didn’t want to take that one sideways. He reversed the action of the oars, straightening the boat out, and the stern crashed through a moderate-sized wave, then another one, and then things died down to the point where he felt like he could dare move sideways toward the eddy line. Then it was over with, they were though the white water, into the calm below that was like the stillness following a tornado. He pivoted the boat, to pull into the easy water, and fetched up in an eddy where the other raft sat waiting.

"Just had to one-up me, didn’t you?" Noah grinned. "Run that thing backwards."

"I didn’t think it was as bad as last time," Randy said diffidently, lying through his teeth, kicking himself for the brain fade that had let him get the raft spun around at all. At least when it got out of shape he’d recovered pretty decently.

"ABC," Scooter grinned, sopping wet from repeated drenchings. Well, they were all wet. "That’s all that counts."

"ABC?" Nanci asked.

"Alive Below Crystal," Scooter laughed. "It can be a sonofagun at times."

Randy glanced at Nicole, again soaked to the skin in her bikini, the river water dripping off of her, and the smile he saw on her face was all the reward he needed. "Told ya that you could do it," she grinned.

"Like I told you last time," Crystal laughed. "Randy, I think I could make a boatman out of you if I tried."

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