Canyon Fires
Book 4 of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 20

May 3, 2001

Getting across the river between the two camps was no great trick for anyone who knew enough about rivers to be a boatman for Canyon Tours. True, the main river flowed fairly fast through the center of the rapids just above the beach for Baseball Man, but there were strong upstream eddies on either side. The idea was to ride the upstream eddy on either side as far up as the boatman could get, pull across the eddy line, and ferry across the fast downstream water, pointing upstream and a little toward the far shore, rowing hard. The force of the current would carry the raft down below the camp on the opposite shore, but once they were into the eddy on the far side, it was just a case of riding the eddy back up to camp. A complete round trip if looking down from above would resemble a giant figure "8" laying across the river. Along with the other Team 1 boatmen, Carl had made the trip late the night before, under the light of a more than half-full moon, and with a few beers in him, so it was no great trick in the full light of a new day in the Grand Canyon.

Breakfast was well under way by the time Carl arrived, which was just fine with him. It was just getting started over at the Team 1 camp, and when Mary told him to take his partly-loaded raft across the river to help ferry people down to the Bass Trailhead, he didn’t wait around for her to change her mind.

He hopped out of the raft with the bow line in hand, and tied it off to a rock along the shore, then wandered up toward the kitchen, coffee cup in hand, hoping that there’d still be enough to eat.

"Hi, Carl," Crystal grinned. "So how are things over on the Team 1 side of the river this morning?"

"Just a little pissy," Carl grinned, glad to be over on the happy side of the river.

"What happened?" Crystal laughed. "The Laughlin bunch feeling a little left out?"

"You could say so," Carl nodded. "Mary was nice and left them a drag bag when she came back over last night. Turns out there was only a dozen or so beers in it, and the rest was all sodas."

Crystal shook her head and laughed. "Now, just what do you think the odds are that Mary planned it that way?"

"Wouldn’t take a bet against it," Carl nodded. "Not with a bookie in Vegas, and especially not with one in Laughlin. How you fixed for breakfast?"

"Go ahead and have some," Crystal told him. "We’re about done, have what you want."

"Thanks, Crystal," the young boatman said, spooning up some scrambled eggs, sausages, and hash browns. "I’ll tell you what, I’m sure not looking forward to the next week."

"Maybe they’ll get over it a little by the time we get down to Bass," she offered. "If not, just ride it out. That’s one nice thing about a crappy customer. They’re gonna be gone soon enough, and hopefully you’ll get luckier with the next load."

"I suppose," Carl agreed. "Doesn’t keep me from wishing that I was going to be running with you the rest of the trip, but I’ll survive, I guess."

"That’s the spirit," Crystal grinned. "Who knows, maybe the next trip you’ll have some good-looking, horny young broad who thinks some one-on-one time with a boatman is just the cure for whatever ails her."

"Yeah," Carl laughed. "But who knows where that could end up? I mean, considering why we’re here in the first place."

"That’s the risk you take," Crystal agreed with a laugh of her own. "But I’d have to say it worked out pretty good for them. They both survived the night, anyway. They’re around somewhere, and Michelle, Hannah, and Wade hiked up to get their gear." She looked around; there didn’t seem to be anyone in a hurry for more to eat. "Last call for breakfast," she called.

A couple of people headed over to the kitchen apparently looking for seconds, but soon, Carl had finished his breakfast and was helping clean up and pack up. Still, with all the extra people, it was a little more confusing than normal, but soon they were loading the rafts. "If you’re hiking out, put the stuff you’re taking up the hill on the end raft, that’s Carl’s raft," Crystal ordered. "That’ll keep us from having to strip the tarps on all of the rafts when we get down to Bass. Leave your overnight bags with the sleeping bags and stuff to go on with us in the next-to-the-last raft. Boatmen, we’ve got some empty coolers and full groovers, let’s get those on that next-to-last raft, too."

Finally, in an hour or so, people were climbing aboard the rafts, in no particular order. The rafts were going to be carrying a load, with forty-four people spread around the seven rafts, but made a little more crowded by the fact that Al and Karin were running by themselves in what had been Andy’s raft. As they pulled out and got on the river, Carl noticed that Team 1 was just serving breakfast, so it would be a while before they got on the river.

It was a good group, running together, with lots of laughs and grins on this fine, clear morning. It wasn’t a long day, but one of the better ones, with several good if not especially difficult rapids spread out along the way – just enough to make the boatmen work a little bit, and some spray to splash aboard the boats.

Shortly after they got under way, they went through an unnamed rapids the boatmen called "Nixon Rock" – the standing joke was that the rock was a little to the right of center, and no amount of water seemed to cover it up – but it wasn’t at all difficult. The remainder of the morning’s route ran through the last part of Upper Granite Gorge. The Vishnu Schist had disappeared the day before, and now they were running through piles of broken granite, often tumbling down to the river in loose talus slopes. Frequently, there would be small side canyons, some aching for exploration.

But, this morning, the focus was more on friendship than it was on the Canyon. Perhaps it was made a little more significant by the fact that Scooter was riding along in Crystal’s raft – it was pretty rare that they rode together in the same boat – but now, there wasn’t much for the two of them to say.

It was still well before noon when they pulled into the small beach at the foot of the Bass Trail. The trail, such as it was, had been constructed a century before by an old prospector who had turned to bringing people down into the Canyon for a living. It wasn’t a very good trail, and was usually only used by backpackers exploring the Canyon. Back before the season had opened, Crystal and Scooter had made an overnight backpack down to the river, just to make sure the trail would be usable for this party. They’d found it rough going in spots but passable, if a bit on the long side. It was seven miles up to the rim, and there were four more miles of rough dirt road up there where it seemed unlikely that the bus could travel off the good road, so they weren’t starting any too soon. Those who couldn’t or didn’t want to do the hike out, or had the time to run the full trip, would continue on the river on one of the two trips.

With the seven rafts nosed into the beach, people began to pile out and get organized for the long hike up to where Ray would be waiting in the late afternoon with the Canyon Tours bus far above. While some of the passengers who would be continuing the trip took a few minutes to walk up to the Ross Wheeler – an old metal rowboat that had been used for an attempted Canyon trip and filming expedition back in 1917 – everyone in the hiking party pulled on boots and daypacks, filled water bottles, and got set to go as Al and Karin talked with those leaving, shaking hands and sharing hugs.

One of the last to leave was Scooter, now carrying hiking poles, and with knees already wrapped in knee braces. "Take it easy," Crystal warned her. "Don’t push it."

"I know," Scooter said, visibly sorrowful at having to leave the river and leave Crystal. "I can do this, you know. We did it before. You just take care of yourself."

"You take care of yourself, too," Crystal said, sorry to see her friend leaving. "Good luck with Jim. See ya in the fall."

"Jim?" Scooter grinned.

"Come on, Scoot, you don’t think you can fool me, do you?" Crystal laughed. "Enjoy yourself. We’ll get together in the fall and figure out next winter."

"Looking forward to it," Scooter said. "Guess I’d better get going. See ya on the river."

"See ya," Crystal sighed in a small voice, as she watched her friend turn her back and start for the trail out.

Not far away, Josh and Tiffany were saying goodbye to Duane. They’d come to like the kid, and thought he had the potential to make a good dog handler. "Give us a call when you get off your next trip," Tiffany told him.

"Sure will," Duane agreed. "I’m looking forward to working with you this winter."

"Looking forward to it," Josh agreed. "See you in the fall."

"Guess I’d better get going," Duane said. "Look, it was good running with you two."

"Good running with you," Tiffany agreed. "We’ll be looking forward to hearing some of your stories from the rest of the summer."

"Looking forward to telling them," he said. "You take care, and have a safe trip."

"You too," Josh said, turning to walk with him a few feet as he headed for the trail up the side canyon to the rim above. In a minute, he went around a little bend and was gone, the last of those hiking out to leave.

Josh walked back to Tiffany, and together they walked back down to the raft. "Going to seem different the rest of the way," Tiffany sighed.

"It will," Josh agreed. "But, you know, there’s still a lot of river left to run."

In a few minutes, most of the rest of the party drifted back to the beach and gathered around the rafts. "We better get going," Crystal said. "We’re just going to run this little patch of fast water here, then land on river right down at that bend. Some of the motor rigs run clear down here from Cardenas or Tanner or like that, so we want to be sure we get there first. We’ll have lunch there and a little re-orientation. Noah, why don’t you take what was Barbie’s raft, so Dad and Mom can run together?"

It didn’t take long to make the brief run; it was only a few hundred yards. This campsite, on the other side of the river from the trailhead, was a lot larger and more open, mostly hard-packed sand with a few rock outcroppings here and there. A large grove of tamarisks stood a few feet above the river to one side of the camp, and a steep hill rose behind it. From the shore, where the seven rafts pulled in, it was possible to see a good distance up and down the river, and there was the whisper of rapids in both directions.

"Let’s go ahead, get the tarps off and get unloaded," Crystal told them as they began to cluster around on the beach. "We’re gonna stay here tonight. There’s plenty of room here, so those who want to be off by themselves should be able to find some spots, but let’s break out some lunch before we get to finding sites. We’ll put the kitchen up by that little grove of tammies, and I know there’s a shady spot where we can sit and talk."

Lunch was cold cuts on pita, with chips and cookies and lemonade – a good river lunch, one that they had about every other day; it was quickly served, and soon everyone was clustered in the shade of the tamarisks with sandwiches in hand.

"OK," Crystal started. "Like I said, we’ve got to do a little reorientation. We’ve still got eight more days on the river, but you’ll notice that this group is a little different than the one we had above Phantom, and we’re going to do things a little differently. First off, most of you probably know that Dad and Mom are gonna run a little separately from the rest of us for the rest of the trip. We’re gonna make contact with them every day; they may run with us part of the time but not all of the time. We worked out a long time ago that they’re going to be with us when we run the biggest rapids still ahead on the trip. Depending on where we’re at, they may have meals with us, and may not, and may camp with us, and may not, although they’re going to let us know what they’re doing. Hey, they’re my folks; I got to worry about them a little, don’t I?"

"Got to make sure they’re not up to something, huh?" Buddha grinned.

"Yeah," Crystal grinned. "Dad, Mom, are you going to stay here tonight?"

"Don’t know yet," Al said. "There’s a couple good camps in the next mile or so, we may just drop down river, maybe after dinner. We’ll keep it kind of loose and see if anyone else camps there."

"Sounds fair to me," Crystal said. "Your call. OK, next item. You already know that the plan is for Team 1 to get ahead of us and get to where they’re running a day or so ahead and stay that far ahead. They’re already behind us, so we’re just going to sit out the afternoon here and hope they get a good run in today. I talked to Mary last night. If they get a good start, she wants to run down to around Blacktail, around Mile 120, tonight, even if they have to run a little late to do it, then run down to maybe around Deer Creek the next day, that’s around Mile 135. So if we sit tight today and maybe run to around Mile 125 tomorrow, we should be a ways behind them. We’re planning on running a little slower, anyway. Beyond that, I’m not going to worry, so long as we stay out of earshot of that crowd from Laughlin."

"Yeah," Carl snorted. "I’m going to have to be right in the middle of them, you lucky people."

"You were the one who got the schist," Crystal laughed.

"You’re saying we’re going to kill the afternoon here, then," Nicole said. "Any good hikes here?"

"A couple," Crystal replied. "What I thought we might do is take a couple of rafts light – no gear – and drift downstream about half a mile. There’s a neat little side canyon with a live stream, and a waterfall back up it a ways. It means that we’re going to have to row a bit to get back, but we ought to be able to eddy hop, and the current isn’t that fast, anyway. Larry, you’ve been up there, haven’t you?"

"Three times last summer, and some the summer before that," one of the new boatmen piped up.

"Good," she said. "If the other trip hasn’t come by when we’re ready to take the hike, I’ll let you lead it. You can take one or two rafts, depending on how many you need, and I don’t think everybody will go, anyway. Questions?"

"Yeah," Noah said. "I’ve been sort of counting noses here. If Karin is going to run with Al, doesn’t that leave one raft without a boatman?"

"Strange it took you this long to figure it out," Crystal grinned. "When we loaded this morning, I had all the overnight gear from the people who hiked out put on Barbie’s raft, plus some empty food lockers and stuff."

"I noticed it was loaded kind of full," Noah said, starting to get the message. He looked over at Randy, who had a huge grin – he obviously knew what was going on – and all of a sudden, Noah did, too.

"It is," Crystal said. "Not much room for passengers, which is fine because when you and Randy trade off running it, you’re not going to be carrying any."

"The gear boat rides again," Randy grinned.

"You got it," Crystal grinned. "Look, if Dad will cover his ears for a moment, I’ll just say that I might look the other way if I should happen to catch Nicole riding with you once in a while, but Nicole, you ride with me normally. When we do heavy stuff, I’ll let Randy run the sticks of my raft. That should keep you and Noah from fighting over who gets to run Lava."

"That sounds like a fair deal," Noah grinned.

"Good," Crystal laughed. "Otherwise, it’d be you saying, Randy, you run it, and him saying, no, you do it, and we’d never get the damn thing run."

They all laughed at the joke. Lava was still considered by many to be the toughest rapids on the river, although it still lay several days ahead.

"OK, finally," Crystal said. "Those of you who have been with us from Lee’s realize we’ve got some new faces with us. One of the bad things about joining a trip in the middle is that the people already on the trip have sort of gotten to know each other, and it kind of makes the new people the outsiders. Now, I know everybody on the trip who came from Lee’s pretty well, and I just want to ask you people to go out of your way to make our new people welcome. So, what I’m going to do is go around and sort of make introductions all over again."

"Sounds reasonable," Jeff said. "There’s lots of people here I don’t know."

Crystal skimmed through the introductions of the guests who had started from Lee’s Ferry, saying much the same thing as she’d said up there, just to bring the new boatmen, Jeff, Ben, and Joy up to speed, then got onto the new arrivals. "The old coot next to Buddha is our Canyon Tours bus driver, Jeff Pleva." Jeff raised his hand and gave a wave. "He’s a retired school bus driver," Crystal continued, "so it makes him almost capable of putting up with all the horseshit a bunch of raft guides coming off break with bad hangovers can give him. Dad tells me he’s been trying to get Jeff to take a river trip for ten years or more; he never came close to succeeding until now, so maybe that proves that up till now, he’s been the only sensible one of the bunch."

"Next to Jeff," Crystal continued, "sitting on those rocks over by the path to the groover is the other set of honeymooners on this trip, Ben and Joy Russell. They moved over from the other trip yesterday to balance things out a little better, and I haven’t had much of a chance to say much more than hi. I do know that they’re from Phoenix, but that’s about all. Ben or Joy, why don’t you tell us something about yourselves?"

"Like Crystal said, we’re on our honeymoon," Ben said. "We got married in Las Vegas just before the trip. I work at a place in Scottsdale, Valley Engineering."

"What kind of engineering?" Jon asked.

"Civil engineering," Ben replied. "The company works on street, sewer, and water system design, mostly on municipal projects. Actually, I’m involved in computer imaging and GIS applications, but I spend a fair chunk of time on AutoCAD."

"Used to do some AutoCAD, mostly on mechanical projects, machining applications, mostly," Jon said. "I got fairly good at it, but haven’t had to do much recently."

"Before they lose us completely in shop talk," Crystal grinned. "What do you do, Joy?"

"Oh, nothing special. I’m a bookkeeper for Southwest Municipal Insurance," she said.

"Nothing wrong with being a bookkeeper," Crystal grinned. "Mom did that for most of thirty years before she saw the light. You two got any interesting hobbies, or anything?"

"Not particularly," Ben said. "We both kind of like concerts, and Myleigh, you put on a great one last night. Beyond that, we’re not much on outdoor stuff. We’re both pretty much computer geeks, and play some online games. In fact, we actually met online."

"Hey, that’s way cool," Crystal said, not wanting to dig much deeper right now. "We’re going to want to learn more about that sometime. Sitting under the tree over there are the rest of the boatmen for this trip, Kevin Haynes, Mike Borchardt, and Larry Newman. Kevin is the blond-haired guy. He’s pretty strange, he’s one of the few boatmen we have down here who actually shaves every day, and gets a haircut after every trip. He’s a good kid, even though he’s always late for loading on Sundays, since he has to sneak off to church. This will be his third year on the river, and his first with a raft of his own. I didn’t run with him last summer, but Kevin, didn’t you have a boat part of last year?"

"I took off school so I could have one in the fall with Dave and Mary," he said. "Although I rowed most of the summer. That was in Bill’s crew."

"Like I said, he’s a good kid, as good as the ones we sent up the hill or down the river," Crystal said. "I did get to know him a little the year before last when he was a swamper, and I’m sure we’ll all get to know him better. You go to Northern Arizona, right?"

"Right," Kevin said. "I’m looking to be a history teacher. I’ll be a senior this year."

"You planning on working summers in the future?" Crystal asked.

"I hope to," he said. "I switched over from business administration to be able to do it."

"I can speak for Dad, you’re cool," Crystal grinned. "OK, Mike goes to the University of Northern Colorado, up there in what he calls ‘Cowtown.’ I know he’s done some rodeo riding, so if you want a thrill ride, get on his raft, he likes it rough. I ran with him last summer, he’s good. What is it you’re studying, Mike?"

"Criminal Justice and Forensic Science," he said.

"Oh, yeah," Crystal laughed. "You’re the one who wants to be Gary Cooper, facing down the bad guys with your six guns, High Noon style, huh?"

"Those days are gone," he said. "Although I did watch a lot of westerns when I was a kid in New Jersey, and they did affect my thinking a little, I guess."

"Or warp it," Crystal laughed. "Let’s see, the other boatman is Larry. Again, I ran with him when he was a swamper, but not last year. This is your first summer with a raft of your own, right Larry?"

"Yeah," he said. "I ran a gear boat a couple trips with Mary and Dave, and they had me on the oars a lot all summer."

"Mary said you were pretty good," Crystal said. "Which, from her, means you’re pretty darn good. You’re going to Northern Arizona, too, if I remember."

"No, Arizona State," the short, heavy-set dark-haired guy said. "Architecture and building engineering," he said. "I’ll be a senior, looking to get into building inspection."

Crystal laughed. "I better warn you," he said. "Randy studied construction management, and more than once I’ve heard him spout off about building inspectors. That could get dangerous."

"We’ll get along," Randy laughed. "So long as he’s learned where to sign his name when the construction superintendent says to."

"I can see this is going to get interesting," Crystal smiled. "OK, just to make this complete, the guy over at the table, making a sneak attack on the cookies is Carl. He’s with Team 1, and will be joining them when they come by. He was with us the first half of the trip, he’s pretty cool, and I’m sorry he’s not going to be running with us this trip. That leaves me. I’m Crystal Chladek, your trip leader. I was a phys. ed major at Northern Michigan University with Myleigh, I’m a skier and a surfer, went through OLTA, hiked the Appalachian Trail, did a few other things, like sail to Hawaii, and worked a fishing boat in Alaska. I’ve been a trip leader here for three years, and I’m planning to do it for the next thirty or forty years or so. Now that we’re all friends, who’s going to go on the hike, and who wants to hang around?"

*   *   *

Larry promised that the hike was an easy one, and a lot of people went on it. Al and Karin went off by themselves to explore another hike, up a hill to a good view of the river; Jon and Tanisha decided this was a good time to take a nap, and Myleigh, Trey and Nanci said they’d stay back, too. By now, a couple of hours had passed, and Crystal had started to wonder about Team 1, so she decided to stay back in camp with Carl until they passed. Those going on the hike piled into a couple of nearly empty rafts and headed down river, still in sight of the camp when they pulled in to shore for the beginning of their hike.

She and Carl found a shady spot under the tamarisks, where the wind could blow on them, and sat lazily talking about one thing and another for an hour or more until the light blue rafts could be seen coming down the river. "Took them long enough," Carl snorted. "I hope this isn’t how it’s going to be the rest of the trip."

"That getting around in the morning spoils that old sleeping-in stuff, for sure," Crystal laughed, getting up with him to stroll down to his raft. "Hey, Carl, you have a good summer. Don’t know if I’ll see you over the fall, but we’re still planning on having the season-wrap party in November, so maybe we can say hi. You take care."

"Gonna be a long time," he agreed, getting aboard the raft while Crystal went to the bow line, untied it, coiled it up, and stood waiting while the rafts got closer.

She was all set to shove him off when she noticed Mary turn her raft toward the shore and pull in, so she went over and pulled her up a bit. "Crystal, is Al around?" she asked.

"Somewhere," Crystal told her. "He and Mom went off on a hike somewhere."

"Oh, hell," Mary said, hopping out of her raft and picking up the bow line. "I hoped I could talk to him a minute."

"Trouble?" Crystal frowned. She’d seen enough of the Laughlin bunch in the past two days to figure it might happen.

"Yeah," Mary said. "I hate to say it, but I’m not a virgin with the satellite phone anymore. Uh, can we talk?"

"Sure," Crystal said, motioning to Carl to come and take care of the bow lines. "What happened?" she asked.

"Long story," Mary said, motioning to her to follow; they headed up to the kitchen. "JeanAnn was really pissy this morning, about how we’d left them in the cold on the far side of the river last night."

"Carl said something about that," Crystal nodded.

"She was yelling pretty good," Mary sighed. "She wasn’t watching where she was going, and she fell off a rock."


"Broken arm, hit her head, maybe a minor concussion, not that I’m an expert," Mary said. "I figured the broken arm by itself was enough to call for a helicopter. We put an air splint on it, and strapped her to one of the tables. We had to load up and run about a mile downriver to get someplace where there was room for a chopper to put down. So, she’s gone, and Vance flew out with her."

"Solved that problem," Crystal grinned. "I thought I heard a chopper upstream back when we were at the trailhead."

"Yeah, but she was talking seventeen kinds of lawsuits," Mary said. "I know we’ve got the hold harmless waiver, but I thought Al ought to know."

"I’ll tell him," Crystal promised. "There’s not a damn thing he can do till we get off the river, probably. How’d the rest of the Laughlin gang take it?"

"Hard to say," Mary said. "They’ve been pretty quiet. That might hold. She and Vance were pretty much the spark plugs of all the damn trouble, anyway. We might get out of this trip all right, now. How are Ben and Joy doing?"

"OK so far," Crystal said. "They went off on a hike up Shinumo Creek with the group."

Mary nodded. "I was going to offer them the chance to come back with us, but if they’re out on a hike, guess there’s no chance."

"Maybe it’s better this way," Crystal said. "Like I say, I haven’t got the chance to get to know them very well yet, but they seem all right. You still planning on running to Blacktail?"

"Probably," Mary said. "There really aren’t a lot of places to stop short of there, anyway, once we get past here. Besides, we’ve been going so slow, it’ll be good to run hard. We’re going to have to really pick it up for the rest of the trip."

"Maybe that’ll help you think you’re getting it over with quicker," Crystal told her as they started back down toward the rafts.

"Could be," she said. "I better get moving, I guess, or Carl and I are going to be way behind."

"Best of luck," Crystal said. "Al will probably want to talk with you after we get off the river. Maybe we can hoist a couple while we’re back in Flag."

"I’d like that," Mary grinned. "God, I hope the rest of this trip goes better than the first part."

"Good chance of it," Crystal counseled. "Hang in there, and say hi to Dave for me."

"Sure will," she grinned. "And remind me never to play the slots in Laughlin. Not that I do, anyway."

In another minute or two, the two rafts were moving off down river. Crystal didn’t know Dave and Mary very well. They were good people and could be a lot of fun, but she could see that this trip had taken a lot out of her. Maybe things would get better, she hoped.

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