Canyon Fires
Book 4 of the Dawnwalker Cycle

a novel by
Wes Boyd
©2004, ©2009

Chapter 27

May 9, 2001

Once again, the roar of the propane burners woke everyone early. The habit of getting going early was with them now, and it was just as well, since they had a longish distance to run today, and the river was slower than it had been in places above. Even though all of them felt the trip starting to come to an end at the campfire the night before, Crystal had warned that this would be an interesting day since they were well into lava country now and things would look a bit different. In addition, the Canyon would be more open much of the time with the opportunity for longer views.

"While weíre at it," she said, "weíre starting to get a little stuck again with whoís riding with who. Mom and Alís raft and the gear boat we canít switch around much, and I promised Randy he could row mine again today. That ought to be OK, since there ainít no bubble line run for him to show everybody else up with. Everybody else, switch around a little, will you?"

Thus it was that Jon and Tanisha found themselves loading on board Mikeís raft, where Ben and Joy were already sitting. "Hi, neighbors," Ben grinned. "Fancy meeting you here."

"Darn it," Jon said. "Tani and I have been meaning to ride with you at least once, but, well, other things got in the way."

"We noticed," Joy grinned. "It hit her pretty hard, didnít it?"

"Yeah," Jon nodded. "Youíd have to understand how far sheís come to realize how hard sheís been hit. It was pretty heavy the last couple days."

"There were questions she needed answered," Tanisha said. "And I could help. But what do you say we take a moratorium on religion today? I missed half the Canyon yesterday because I was concentrating on something else."

"Fine with me," Ben nodded. "Weíre starting to run out of Canyon, now. I think I can say weíve enjoyed the second half of the trip a lot more than the first half. Iím really going to hate getting back to work."

"Yeah," Jon agreed as he noticed the other boats starting to pull away from shore. He started to get up to help give the raft a shove, but Trey and Nanci came along and did it for them, so as Mike took the oars and began to row, he continued. "Itís been a nice break, the first real one weíve had in a couple years, and those were pretty short."

"We went to Disney World down in Florida, two years ago March," Tanisha added. "Since then, itís just been work, work, work."

"Hey, I know you guys donít want to get near to talking about what you actually do," Ben smiled. "But it sounds pretty important."

"Itís actually a little scary," Tanisha said. "But yeah, we really canít talk about it. So, how did you get involved in civil engineering, anyway?"

"Through the back door," Ben replied. "It was a minor, but a jobís a job. Actually, what I concentrated on in college was lasers, especially high-energy lasers, but I havenít been able to find work in the field. GIS is pretty interesting in its way, but itís pretty much old hat, although there are a few new interesting applications every now and then."

"Yeah," Jon replied, his ears perking up a little. Although they couldnít talk about it, much of what he and Tanisha did was involved with high-energy lasers. "Tani and I had a couple courses and an independent study on lasers down at Tech. I sort of grew up with laser applications. Back before I was born, my Dad came up with an application using computers to control lasers and machine tools. It was groundbreaking work at the time, but what he came up with is pretty primitive by todayís standards. In fact, itís downright obsolete now. A controller unit the size of a bedroom dresser has been reduced to a little chip controller about the size of a PDA. All a pretty low-power laser diffraction, but pretty exact."

"Sounds interesting," Ben smiled. "Back when I got out of college, they were trying to recruit me to work on an application like that. But it was up in Chicago where they have ragweed, so no way. An outfit called Hadley-Monroe. Theyíd just come up with a new controller like that, and were trying to expand the applications. Besides, while it sounded like interesting work, it was just mopping up other peopleís work."

"Yeah, thatís a slick little unit," Tanisha smiled. "That was the last project Jon and I did before we got pulled into the classified end of things."

Benís eyes grew wide. "You two? Thatís pretty darn good."

"Not really," Jon shrugged. "We were still summer interns then; it was mostly cookbook stuff, right off the shelf. Not really groundbreaking, we wanted to use proven tech. But hey, if you worked on high energy lasers, you must have worked on gas lasers some . . . "

Ten minutes later, Mike turned to Joy. "Do you have any idea what theyíre talking about?" he asked.

"Not a clue," Joy smiled. "They lost me a long time ago. Iím just a bookkeeper, remember."

"Me, either," Mike shook his head. "All I know about lasers is that theyíre starting to replace radar in checking traffic speed."

"Sorry," Ben smiled. "Itís just nice to talk to someone who knows what Iím talking about."

"You do seem to have a pretty good knowledge of high-end lasers," Tanisha said. "Kind of a shame you have to mess around designing culverts. But yeah, maybe weíd better change topics a little. I mean, something simple, like a criminal justice major can understand," she ended with a tease.

"How about the Canyon?" Mike grinned. "I can bore people with that pretty good."

"I donít think this place could ever be boring," Joy smiled.

"Well, we do have some things here that are pretty different than elsewhere," Mike said. "Take a look over on the right, you can see how the lava flowed down over the rock layers that were already there. Now, geologically speaking, the lava is pretty new, only a million years or so. I always think itís kinda interesting that there really hasnít been that much change in all that time. So when you think that water did a lot of the cutting you see in the Canyon, and still see that little change in a million years, well, it took a long time to make this place.

"Thatís true," Joy nodded. "It really does put you in your place, doesnít it?"

"Yeah, it does," Tanisha nodded.

"Hey, wasnít it you who Crystal said ran a marathon?" Joy asked. "I donít know how I could ever do that."

"I donít know how we ever did it, either," Jon smiled with a knowing glance at Tanisha. "I know when we met, Iíd have taken long odds against the thought that Iíd ever even think about doing something like it. I was your typical computer nerd; my idea of exercise was climbing the stairs up from the basement in Glen Ellyn for supper."

"Yeah," Ben shook his head. "I always wanted to be able to do something like that. I mean, it was just so damn dull watching the other kids go out and play and know that I couldnít. I guess it pretty well made me a stay-at-home computer nerd."

"Been there, done that," Tanisha said. "You do breathe OK as long as youíre out here, donít you?"

"Pretty much," Ben said. "Once in a while Iíll have some problems, but an antihistamine clears it up pretty good."

"Not too late to start," Jon said. "When we started running, we kept it way down for a long time. We canít always run as much as we like, but we still try to get in a mile or two even on the killer days. Since youíre right across the street, maybe we ought to get together some time and get you going."

"Itíd be nice," Ben said. "I really feel like I ought to exercise more."

"I remember our company CEO saying one time that the main problem engineers have is they sit on their butts and stare at computer screens too much," Tanisha said. "Heís right. I can tell you from my own experience that a lot of things are better if youíre in shape."

"I suppose I should do it, too," Joy shook her head. "But it seems kind of boring."

"Well, it is," Jon smiled. "But the results are worth it. I mean, it pays off in other ways." He and Tanisha sent a knowing smile at each other Ė one that Joy could hardly fail to miss.

"The running is worth it," Tanisha added. "I mean, it pays off when we go skiing, too. Weíre not much good at it, but Crystal and Scooter literally dragged us out on the slopes a few times, and weíve been picking it up little by little."

"Damn," Ben said. "Thereís something else I always wanted to do."

"No reason you canít," Jon said. "Itís the wrong time of year, right now, but maybe next winter we could go hit a slope some place."

"Might be fun," Joy said. "Weíll have to think about it."

They continued to chat, just becoming friends, as the Canyon continued to flow by in an unending tapestry of considerable beauty. In the clear air, and given the fact that there was little to base distance on, Ben commented that his ability to estimate distance was off. The miles seemed very short to his eyes, compared to the figures Mike gave them. Often, there was the perspective problem, rock layers sloping up or down, making it almost appear as if they were going steeply down a slope, or that the river trended upward. Jon noted that he was just about totally unable to estimate height, too Ė a wall on the far side of the now-wider Canyon might be a thousand feet high, or three thousand.

After running a few miles to Whitmore Wash, at Mile 188, they pulled in at a wide sandbar to have lunch and to take a short hike up to some old Anasazi pictographs. Here, they met an irritating noise Ė the comings and goings of a couple of helicopters to and from a landing pad up in the rocks above a beach just upriver. There was a motor rig party there, rolling up side tubes of two of their rafts, getting set to make the long trek to Pearce Ferry without passengers. Getting organized, they got back on the river.

*   *   *

"Now thereís something you donít see every day," Randy grinned as he caught the current in front of Whitmore and pivoted the raft to catch it.

"Whatís that?" Crystal said.

"Your mom rowing by herself, and Al riding with Preach in the gear boat."

Crystal shrugged. "Guess Dad wanted to see how heís doing, even though this is pretty flat water," she opined.

"I suppose," Randy agreed. "Well, maybe Preach will get the chance to run again sometime."

Crystal frowned. "I thought you were planning on getting a third trip in late next fall, maybe," she said.

"Iíd like to, Crystal," he said. "You have no idea how much Iíd like to. But Nicole and I were talking last night. Four out of the last five years, Iíve had project closeouts that have eaten up the month of November, and I just wonít know until the last minute. April, well, it depends on the weather and the projects coming up. Iíd like to hope I can do it, and Iíll make it if I possibly can, but donít be putting me on the schedule. Maybe that January trip, if it comes off, I can probably make that."

"It wonít be this winter," Crystal shook her head. "I talked to Dad about it, back up the river. The Park Service probably wonít let us change dates, so that means weíd have to put it on the schedule. We have to publish that a season in advance, and next yearís dates are already fixed. So, that means a year from next January, at the earliest, and then if we think we wonít need the launch date for the company. Sorry, Randy."

"Well, shit," he replied disgustedly. "I knew it was too much to hope for. Guess that means more bass guitar this winter." He snorted. "Maybe Iíll have to take after Joshís brother, build a big model train layout or something. I canít even volunteer to go over and work on his, heís an accountant, but he disappears into his office on January second to do taxes, and his wife brings him meals until April fifteenth."

"Maybe not," Nicole laughed. "He may have to live on delivered pizzas. It isnít exactly public knowledge, and donít you dare say anything to him when we get home, but she qualified for the Iditarod when she ran the Beargrease last winter. Tiffany says sheís thinking about it real, real hard; sheís just trying to get up the guts to tell him."

"Heíll just about shit," Randy said heatedly. "And I know just how he feels. The only difference is that he doesnít want to get out and do something like that himself."

"All right, Randy," Nicole said, understanding him perfectly. "I wonít do the trip in August. I canít hurt you like that again."

"No, Nicole," he told her. "Weíve had this discussion before. Crystal, you were there when she offered to not do the AT. Nicole, Iíll tell you exactly what my thinking is. You had a lot of fear of white water before this trip. Youíve managed to overcome it. Iím hoping the trip in August will reinforce it, because if it does, I intend to try to get you in a whitewater kayak again next spring. If that doesnít work, maybe Iíll get a small raft we can use on some of the bigger rivers. Maybe weíll at least have that we can do together some weekends, even in the summer. If it werenít for that, yeah, Iíd get out the handcuffs and chain you down to keep you from doing it, just like I once threatened."

Crystal shook her head. "The same old summer-winter thing again, huh?"

"Yeah, and the winters get damn boring, except for having Nicole around," Randy said. "The local ski lodge is up for sale again. It needs to have some decent investment and management. I thought for a while about taking a shot at that, until I realized it would just piss up the evenings and weekends with Nicole in the winter, so the hell with that idea."

"Randy," Nicole said. "I told you last night that I wouldnít mind if you took off sailing with Crystal and Scooter next winter, or whatever."

"Yeah," he said glumly. "And I told you that it wouldnít be with you, and it would look like hell around town if I left you behind and spent a couple weeks in the Bahamas or something with a couple of single women, one of which happens to be a real, real close old friend. You may say you donít mind, but if I was you, Iíd damn sure mind."

Crystal shook her head. "Randy, just talking, but would it be any different if there was another guy along, maybe two? That might keep it from being quite so, well, overt."

"It wouldnít look quite as bad," he conceded. "You got something in mind?"

"Absolutely nothing is set in stone," she replied. "Scoot and I decided we wouldnít firm up anything till weíre running together next fall. There are maybe a couple of guides from other companies who could be talked into a week or two like that. Maybe Preach, thereís a possibility he may be free, maybe not. Maybe even Jim. Hell, even Buddha said heíd like to get out like that some time. I donít know. I just know that you got the short end of that stick from me a lot, and got even more of it from Nicole. I realize you want to do the right thing, but Iíd sort of like to help do my part to even things out a little, if I could."

"Randy, you could consider doing something by yourself," Nicole offered. "You mentioned that winter mountaineering course at OLTA last night."

"It was just a line to throw out," he said. "It really doesnít interest me. Besides, Iím not a loner like some people I know. I like to have someone to share things with, both on the trip and after itís over with. Believe me, Nicole, Iíve thought about it for years. Like, a year or two ago I thought about doing a sea kayak tour down in Baja. It costs a ton, youíve got newbies whoíve never been in a sea kayak before, and itís just a bunch of strangers. Crystal, you met Rod, one of our construction superintendents? Does martial arts with me? We talked about doing it, just the two of us, but now heís taking college classes and he canít go either. If Josh ever gets to the point where heís not chasing off to Alaska to support Phil in the Iditarod, well, maybe, but heís going to have a kid by next winter, and I donít think heís going to want to get away."

"Randy, youíre just making up excuses," Crystal said.

"I know," he sighed. "Iím sounding bitter. Itís just that I do like to get out and go once in a while, and Iím having trouble coming to grips with the fact that I canít."

"Thereís no reason you canít," she protested. "Iíll tell you what. Iíll go talk to Josh and Tiffany. Under their new schedule, what with flying the dogs up to Alaska, theyíre not going to be leaving until like early February. Iíll bet even Tiffany will tell him that heíll be sick enough of dirty diapers by then that he can stand a weekís break sailing in the Bahamas, even if I have to pay for it. Hell, she might even be ready to leave the kid with her mother and come along."

"No, not this winter," he said. "Itíll still be too new. It is an idea for another winter, maybe. But hell, who knows? I may get lucky on construction schedules and get to run a half trip down here, anyway."

"You know," Nicole said. "There is an inkling of an idea. Phil and Josh and Duane, probably, will be going to Alaska in February. You could go up and help with the dogs."

"I thought about that, too," he said. "The hell of it is that Iím not quite like Josh. By February, Iím looking for something thatís a little warmer, not a little colder."

"Randy, will you quit making excuses?" Nicole said heatedly. "Iím getting so tired of hearing you make excuses that Iím about half ready to have Blake and Gil and Rod put you in handcuffs, put you on the plane, and send Crystal the key. I want you to get out and do something, I donít care if itís with me or not. Itís got to be better than having you drag your ass around all winter wishing you could get out and do something."

"Well, all right," he sighed. "I assume weíre going surfing down at Buddha and Giselleís over Christmas, right? Maybe I could stay over a few days, and I could go sailing. Thatís about your schedule, right Crystal?"

"Like I said, nothingís set in stone," she replied. "I wonít be talking to Scooter until September, now, but we can at least pass notes back and forth slowly. Iím sure we can work out a week or two right after the first of the year. Nicole, you see what you can do about getting some guy from up in your neck of the woods to go along, Iíll work on it from this end, just to keep Randy from thinking weíre going to have an orgy or something."

The Canyon continued wide, with many distant views, and only gentle rapids which they rode through without much comment. Crystal and Nicole and Randy talked about it quite a little more, and Randy finally found himself warming to the idea of going out sailing in January if he couldnít run the Canyon in November. He still wasnít real comfortable with the idea Ė but at least it was something to look forward to. "Look on the bright side," Crystal grinned at one point. "You might just get lucky enough to run in November, go surfing in December, and go sailing in January."

"Now that," he said, in a somewhat better mood, "really is too much to hope for."

*   *   *

Along in the afternoon they were passed by the three motor rigs, now with side tubes rolled up and stacked on the decks, running hard for Lake Mead. They waved at each other, but the motor-rig guys had a long way to go and didnít stop to talk, although Crystal commented that if it had been Jim in one of the GCR rafts, at least heíd have stopped to gossip for a minute.

Not long after that they were passed by a private trip of nine oar rafts, all rafted up in a huge cluster around one boat with a motor. As they only had the one motor, they were running very slowly, and there was the chance to talk for a bit. It turned out theyíd been out for seventeen days and hoped to push to Fall Canyon at about Mile 211 that night, as they were limited to eighteen days and were behind schedule. In the process of talking, though, they found out that there was trouble on the trip: someone mentioned that the guy running the outboard had been out of cigarettes for two days, and was getting pretty cranky. "No problem," Jeff smiled, "been there and done that!" He dug around in his day bag, and pulled out a pack, then as Kevin pulled his raft alongside, passed it over, to a cheer from the whole private trip Ė there would be peace in camp that night Ė and a heartfelt thanks from the guy at the motor. Late that afternoon they pulled into camp at Parashant Wash. This was another side canyon, but this one wide and open compared to the ones that had gone before. There was a bigger view of the sky at this camp than at any theyíd had for days.

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