Wes Boyd's
Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online

River Rat
Book 5 of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
2005, 2010

Chapter 7

May 6-14, 1999

Grand Canyon Trip 2, 1999

It was getting well along in the afternoon when the crew bus got them back to Flagstaff, but there was still work to do. Scooter found out that no one had been joking about dumping the groovers -- they'd taken several and used each one till it was getting close to full. They all stunk like hell, and there was nothing to be done about it but try to survive and hope to hell there'd be a swamper junior to her on the next trip. They stunk just about as bad while they were being hosed out and then disinfected to get them ready for the next trip.

But the rest of the crew was working hard, too, just on less stinky jobs. There was equipment to repair; the coolers had to be cleaned out, disinfected, and set to dry, and half a hundred other little chores needed to be done. It was after dark when Scooter got into Crystal's beat-up old Dodge Diplomat with her and headed out to one of the motels near the Interstate where they got a double for the next three nights. Scooter offered Crystal the first shot at the shower on the basis of seniority, but Crystal said that Scooter stunk like hell after emptying the groovers and needed the first shot at the shower, or she was going to gag to death. Scooter was not about to turn her down. It was good that the motel had a big water heater, and lots and lots of water pressure, because a shower had never felt so good in her life. It was a long time before she could bear to get out and let Crystal have her turn. They debated about getting back in the Dodge and heading into a bar in town, but they decided against it -- those two queen-sized beds were just too appealing.

Scooter had a slightly hard time falling asleep -- it was the first time she'd slept inside in almost three weeks, and it seemed strange and improper, but once shefell asleep she slept until well into the morning. They got up and took another shower -- no point in letting the hot water go to waste, after all -- then walked over to a nearby restaurant for a breakfast that they didn't have to cook themselves. With that done, they drove back over to Canyon Tours, picked up their paychecks from Louise and shot the bull with her for a few minutes, then went up the street to a nearby bank, where Crystal deposited hers. Scooter opened an account and deposited her check as well, figuring that the cash from the tips would more than cover the few things she needed to buy topside.

There were a few things. One of the places she'd goofed up, for whatever reason, was only bringing one swimsuit; despite attempts to wash it along the river, it had gotten pretty grubby, especially with her period coming right in the middle of the trip. What really made her mad was that she pretty well lived in a swimsuit on the Nanty in the summer, where it got hot and humid most of the time, but for whatever reason she hadn't been thinking and several perfectly good swimsuits had hit the dumpster back at NOC. But it proved that wearing a swimsuit under shorts and a T-shirt made good river gear here, too. It was clear they would be even more practical once the real hot period got there -- and it was clearly not far off.

There were a few other things on their lists, but the shopping didn't take long. Really, there was only one thing left that needed to be done; they headed downtown to the Burro, a small bar considered to be the rafters' bar, mostly because there was a coin laundromat located next door. They started out with beer and great big bar burgers while the washing machines next door were chewing away at their laundry; there wasn't a lot of it, even after two weeks. While they were waiting Dan and Jerry came in on the same mission. Of course, they had to sit and have a beer, and another, telling stories about the last trip and other trips as if they hadn't gotten totally tired of telling them the last two and a half weeks. There were some rafters from other companies there, some of who Crystal and the guys knew, and some they didn't.

Scooter found herself having a long discussion and storytelling session with a guy by the name of Jim. Jim was a couple inches taller than Scooter, dark-haired, and fairly solidly built. Like her, he seemed a little old to be a swamper, and he was; he'd done four years in the Navy, getting out a year ago and pulling some strings to get on with GCR. He had just come off his first run of the season as a swamper on a GCR motor rig. From talking it around, a lot of things seemed to be pretty much the same on the motor rigs, and Jim said that GCR ran some oar trips along in the summer and he thought he might be on one.

The laundry got done along in there somewhere, and was carried out to the Dodge, but rather than heading back to the motel they headed back into the bar to shoot the shit with some of the other rafters some more. It was late when they got back to the motel, and each took a long shower in spite of having a pretty good buzz on -- no point in letting the hot water go to waste, after all -- then used the beds.

They got up fairly early Saturday morning -- a wakeup call from the front desk was involved, because there was work to do today. Although in theory it was their day off, in practice they had to get groceries today, in this case, go with Louise to help handle things. Dan and Jerry were there too, still showing signs of having stayed at the bar even later, but they soon were helping with stocking up for three weeks on the river, this time for a full load of thirty-two people. It took a while to get everything, which they hauled back over to Canyon Tours in the pickup truck. Al and Jimmie and Jeff were there helping, along with a couple of older women, who proved to be Jimmie's and Jeff's wives, and soon everyone was busy back in the shed packing things into dryboxes and coolers for another river trip. Jeff had used the shear-leg crane to set three of the rafts off of the trailer to work on some small things that needed to be fixed, and that gave them a chance to do some loading and organizing ahead of time. After Jeff finished with the repairs and they finished with the loading, they helped him reload the rafts on the trailer.

"Looks like that's about it for today," Louise said. "Try to not stay too late at the bar tonight."

"Tell you what," Crystal told Scooter. "Rather than just go over to the bar, let's go back out to the motel, use the pool and the hot tub maybe, and get our stuff pretty well packed for the next trip before we head over to the bar."

"Right, might as well do it now rather than trying to do it with a hangover tomorrow morning," Scooter agreed with an eye toward practicality.

When she'd been buying swimsuits the day before, she'd bought a couple one-pieces and a couple two-pieces, but had decided, just for fun, to get a pretty skimpy string bikini to go along with it, just in case there happened to be an interesting guy on the trip. Now, she decided she'd try it out, and the red and white thing looked even skimpier wearing it. Scooter was not a slender slip of a girl, but was what anyone would have to call solid, normally pretty muscular but even more so after three weeks and 225 miles of rowing a raft. She was not what anyone would call shapely, and didn't have a particularly noticeable chest. Her tan was limited to a few places, and she figured there would be a lot prettier girls in the pool. And, there were -- but none of them, except Crystal, who similarly wasn't particularly shapely but obviously seriously muscular, was going to be rowing a raft on the Colorado in a couple days. Crystal dove into the pool and immediately started swimming laps, fast ones; she was a hell of a swimmer. Her old boyfriend Randy had told Scooter once long ago that she still held the school record for the mile swim at Northern Michigan University. Scooter was a pretty good swimmer, nothing like Crystal -- but interestingly, better than most of the watermen she'd known in the summers she was growing up; in fact, few could swim at all.

But even Scooter was a better swimmer than a couple of other girls in the pool -- tall, sexy blonde types about their age wearing minuscule bikinis, obviously trying to work on a lack of a tan and hoping to corner some male attention -- and they were, but apparently none of it interested them all that much. But, Crystal and Scooter didn't worry about the competition too much, and after an hour or so, headed back up to their room, to do what little packing they'd need to do for three weeks on the river again. By the time it was getting dark again, they were back at the rafter's bar, scarfing bar burgers and beer and shooting the bull with fellow boatmen on break.

The next morning, with noticeable hangovers, they checked out of the motel, drove the Dodge back over to Canyon Tours, and parked on the back of the lot. They threw their river gear on the crew bus, and turned to the task of loading the bus and the truck. Al and Jimmie and Jerry were already there; they'd be going out to help rig. They were still a little early, but Dan and Jerry soon showed up, and another guy they didn't know who seemed like he was about college age, but extremely handsome. Surprisingly, four women showed up; two of them acted like they wanted to help, but the other two were the pair from the motel the day before, who just stood around watching.

Along in the middle of things, Louise called a break and gathered everyone around. There were some introductions to make; the new guy , named Glenn, was going to be a senior at Brigham Young. One of the working girls was Indian, Navajo, as it turned out, named Norma; the other one, a blonde about Scooter's size and build, was named Barbie. They were both local girls who had just graduated from high school the day before, and were going on their first trip as full swampers, although it proved that they'd each taken a free trip the summer before on sort of a field tryout. The two girls who were looking on, to their surprise, were customers who were going to ride out on the crew bus, rather than come out of Las Vegas; after a little introduction it proved they were both waitresses from Phoenix, named Andrea and Debby.

Scooter figured that the two waitresses were mostly along for the ride, which was fine with her. More importantly, there were two swampers on the trip who were junior to her, and most likely would be the ones to be dealing with the rocket boxes.

Before too long, they were finished loading. It was time for a final nose count, and then they were off again. "Not really a hell of a big break," Scooter sighed. Of their theoretical three-day break, half of one of the days was shot on doing groceries, and they were losing most of another to loading and rigging.

"Long enough," Crystal grinned. "Shit, I almost think I've forgotten what the river looks like. We take our break in the winter."

"I suppose," Scooter smiled. "I feel like I've been gone long enough myself."

"Actually, it could be worse," Crystal said. "Some of the motor rig outfits have goofy schedules, and sometimes someone will have to come in late at night and be loaded out at ten the next morning. They call that a 'burnaround,' and I'm just glad as hell we don't have to do it very often. Louise told me last year that sometimes they have to do it when they're switching people around between crews, and it involves hiking down to Phantom."

"A couple hours to do laundry, a couple beers, a bar burger, and maybe a stop at K-Mart are all I really need," Scooter sighed. "Cripe, you remember what it was like to hike all summer; we didn't take a lot of down time."

The ride out to Lee's was familiar; she'd done it the last time three weeks ago. Or a lifetime -- one or the other -- for this was a different life than she'd led before the trip they'd just come off of. No one had come right out and said it, but from talking with both Al and Louise it looked like she had a job as long as she wanted it. Less than four weeks before she'd been sitting at NOC and wondering what she was going to do with her life, pondering giving up trying to work in the outdoors, get a square job and a square life. The danger of that seemed pretty far away at the moment.

Rigging and loading went a little more smoothly this trip, at least partly because the core of the crew had done it once before this season. Having a couple extra swampers didn't hurt, and even Andrea and Debby helped a little, not quite as stuck up as they'd seemed at the loading.

As the day wound down, once again Jimmie stayed behind to keep an eye on the rafts -- that was apparently the normal thing -- and everyone else headed up to Marble Canyon for dinner and a couple beers. It didn't seem quite as strange this time.

Dinner at Marble Canyon proved to be something of a crew meeting, as well. There really wasn't a lot that had to be gone over, but there were a couple things. "Scooter, Al tells me you rowed most of the last trip," Louise said.

"Pretty much," she admitted. "A customer would spell me on a long stretch on the flats once in a while, and I think Al might have gotten in as many as three or four oar strokes."

"That's what he told me, and he told me you're pretty good, so that's pretty much what we're going to do this time, except that I'm going to move you around among the rafts a little. The heavy stuff, House Rock, Roaring Twenties, Upper Granite, Adrenaline Alley, I'll want you at the sticks of my raft, but Crystal and I are going to try to break in both Norma and Barbie, and that'll probably include them running some easier stuff. We got enough hands this trip to be able to give everyone a break from the sticks once in a while. The only thing is, I don't expect it to be a problem with Norma and Barbie, but our insurance says we can't have Scooter running a raft yet without a regular boatman on board, you all know how that works."

"What you're saying is that the boatman doesn't have to be awake," Jerry grinned.

"Right, but remember Randy's Rock," Louise grinned back. "Usually, if a rapids gets named after you when you're still alive, it's because of something that you'd really rather not remember. In this case, several years ago the boatman, Randy, decided to take a nap while he let the swamper run the boat through an otherwise easy stretch down about mile 126 below Fossil. The swamper was pretty new to the river and decided to head down through a narrow but inviting passage behind a rock on river left, just to see what was there," she continued. "Unfortunately, the passage is a lot narrower at the exit than at the entrance; it's pretty fast through there, and the swamper hit the passage hard enough that the raft was torn up and the frame got stuck in the rocks."

"Not a good afternoon," Al remembered with a grin. "Fortunately, it wasn't one of ours."

"The thing you have to remember," Louise said, "It wasn't the swamper who got his name on the rock, it was the boatman."

Late the next morning, Scooter was leaning back on a raft, smoking a cigar and reflecting that she was just about as excited to get going on this trip as she had been the last one, even though she'd been down the river just a few days ago and had some idea of what was there, now. There was still a lot to see, she knew.

Louise came over and sat down on the raft tube beside her. "Got used to it yet?" she asked.

"Not hardly," Scooter grinned. "The last trip I told Crystal not to pinch me since I didn't want to wake up back at NOC. Don't you dare do it, either."

"I'm not used to it yet, either," Louise shook her head. "And I've done it over thirty years, longer than Al, even. Scooter, all the trips I've made, I always see something new. I figure when that quits I better quit, too."

"I think I'd pretty well got to that point on the Nanty," Scooter nodded. "But there's a lot more here to see."

"Glad you think so," Louise grinned. "Look, Scooter, I've been wanting to talk to you by myself for a bit and I haven't had the chance. I was pretty damn impressed with Crystal when I ran with her for the first time last fall, and Al says you're just as good. A little different, but at least as good, better in some ways. You have a lot more experience and seem a lot more mature than Crystal, even. I'm hoping you're going to work out for us. The boatman situation is always a little goofy for us, but right now we've got greener crews than I like, and this one is greener than most. On this team we got three young guys full of shit with a total of two trips as boatmen among them, plus swampers who just graduated from high school the day before yesterday, so even though you're only the senior swamper I'm going to need you and Crystal to help me ride herd on them."

"Well, I'll try to set a good example," Scooter told her. "I'll do what I can to help."

"Good, I figured you would. I'm glad you're along, since I really don't want to row that much if I can manage it, and I'm planning on letting you and the new kids do most of it."

"All you have to do is say the word, Louise. Is something the matter?"

"No," she said, "But I've just been feeling a little weak and peaked the last few days. I don't see any reason I shouldn't take the trip, it's not like I feel bad or anything, but I just want to take it easy, kick back and enjoy myself. I'm going to dump some of the trip leader work on Crystal, too; she needs to get exposed to it."

A little to Scooter's surprise, this trip was different in many ways from the last one. They made a few stops in the same places as the last trip -- Redwall Cavern, the Little Colorado, Phantom Ranch, Havasu Creek and a couple others -- but not one night did they stay at the same campsite as the last trip, although some nights they were close.

Scooter rowed much of the trip, although not virtually all of it like she had the trip before. The really heavy rapids were at the sticks of Louise's raft, but much of the rest of the time she was in other rafts, often Crystal's, occasionally one of the guys to give them a break. Although she'd worked with every one of the boatmen except Glenn the last trip, she got to know them a lot better on this one.

They had a full load this trip -- 24 customers, five boatmen and three swampers, and having seven more people along may have had something to do with the trip not feeling quite as intimate as the last one had been. As before, the customers were a mixed group ranging from a couple families with young teenagers to a couple in their mid-seventies. Except for the boatmen, there were no single young guys about the age of Andrea and Debby, but although Dan and Jerry's tongues were hanging out -- even straitlaced Mormon Glenn took notice -- the boatmen were either too young or not rich enough to get the girl's attention.

A little to Scooter's surprise, both Andrea and Debby proved to be pretty serious photographers, carrying Nikons with various accessories and a lot of film. It was several days before Scooter really took notice of the fact that neither of the girls took many scenery shots along the river. When on the water during the day, that could be understandable because they might not want to risk the expensive equipment getting wet.

Nankoweap was one of the places that they were close to the same campsite as the last trip. By now, several days on the river, it had become apparent to Louise, Crystal, and Scooter, that Andrea and Debby tended to go off alone a lot, especially towards the tail end of the day. That was understandable; the low light of evening sometimes created pure photographic magic, and if they were into artsy photos, the girls probably wanted to take advantage of it.

But on this evening, Louise noticed that the two had even missed supper, and the day was getting late when she happened to notice the two far up the slope toward the Anasazi Granaries. "Good God," she snorted, "They better get their asses down here before the light goes or they're gonna break their necks." Scooter knew what she was talking about; you had to watch your step closely on that slope because a misstep could mean a long, rough slide downhill before coming to a stop. Louise stood there for a couple minutes, just watching, then said, "Crystal, Scooter, you're the power hikers. Grab some flashlights and go get their asses down before it gets dark."

The two were on the trail within a minute or two, and hustled across the rocky flat at the bottom of the hill, and then started to race up it. As they reached the top, they found Debby naked, posing for Andrea, who was also naked but had a couple cameras slung around her neck. "Come on you two," Crystal yelled without preamble. "You gotta get down before the light goes; you'll never make it down in the dark."

"Do we have to go?" Andrea pleaded. "The light here is just fantastic!"

"Yeah, if you don't want to bust your neck or have me bust it for you," Crystal said a bit firmly.

"Well, all right," Debby sighed. "Give us a couple minutes to get dressed."

"I don't know that we got a couple minutes; let's get out of here while we've still got some light to see to get down!"

It took a little more rushing, but soon Scooter was picking her way downhill in the gathering darkness, the two nude women behind her, and Crystal bringing up the rear. It got dark enough that they had to break out the flashlights partway down the hill, and the last third of it they had to take slowly and carefully. Finally, as the shadows were very deep and there was only a hint of sunset in the west, they reached the bottom. The two customer girls were tired and out of breath; Crystal and Scooter weren't a whole lot better.

"You were right," Andrea admitted, "We'd have been in shit to try to make it down after dark."

"What the hell were you two doing, anyway?" Crystal asked, about half mad at such stupidity.

"Taking photos, what do you think?" Debby snorted. "That's how we're paying for this trip."

"What do you mean?" Scooter asked in the low light.

"We've already got a couple nude spreads sold just on our reputations," Andrea explained. "We should be able to sell some more if we can get into different markets with the right photos."

"You've done this before?" Crystal asked.

"Well, not in the Grand Canyon," Debby admitted. "But beach shots, jungle shots and like that, yes. We've had some neat vacations out of it."

"Well, I guess," Crystal sighed. "It's not something I would do, but people would pay to not see nude pictures of me."

"Me, either," Scooter shook her head.

"Look, after this, let Louise or Scooter or me know when you want to get out of camp, so we can warn you about stuff like that," Crystal told them. "Get some clothes on, and then we'll get back to camp. Louise will probably want to have a word with you, but I don't think she'll get too far off the handle."

Half an hour later, and in full darkness, they were back in camp. The four found Louise and got her off to the side, explaining what had happened.

"It's not the first time I've seen this on a trip," Louise smiled. "Look, I don't care if you take nude photos of each other or porn photos or what, but I want to get down the river without you breaking your necks. Let one of us know when you want to get out near dark like that again. There might be a good spot close to camp, and we could have Crystal or one of the swampers be lookouts for you."

"Thanks, Louise," Andrea said, "We were afraid you were going to be real pissed with us."

"Don't think I'm not," Louise grinned. "Scooter, Crystal, let this be a lesson to you. Customers will do the goddamnedest things, and you have to be ready for it. One of the things we have to do is help them have their fun but do it safely. Andrea, Debby, it'll go a lot better if we're working together, OK?"

"Sure," Debby said in obvious relief to not get the ass chewing she expected, "We'll try to work with you, Louise."

"Good enough," the older woman smiled. "Now, I got a question. You like the light when the sun is low, right?"

"Oh, God, yes," Andrea nodded. "It can be so warm and mellow down here it's unbelievable."

"Is the light as good at dawn?"

"Better sometimes," Debby nodded. "The air is often cleaner."

"Good enough," Louise smiled. "The deal the crew has is that the first person to get up gets the rest of the crew up, and that's usually at first light, well before dawn. If you want to unroll your bags near the kitchen with the swampers, we can get you up at the same time. That way most of the customers will still be asleep and I can tell the guys in the crew to leave you the hell alone. I might be able to point out a spot or two for you, too. We might be able once or twice to set up an all-girl raft to lag behind everyone else a little, too."

"Louise, that would be wonderful," Andrea grinned. "I know you're not real happy with us, but we'd really appreciate all that."

"Girls, you're paying to have your idea of a good time. Our job is to help you. Like I said, it works best if we're all pulling in the same direction."

At lunch the next day, Scooter and Crystal had found a place a little ways away from the rest of the group, down next to the river, and were taking the advantage of a moment's peace and quiet to unwind, when Andrea and Debby came up to them, also carrying sandwiches and cans of soda.

"Hey, look, you two," Andrea said. "We just want to thank you again for what you did last night, and not being too pissed off with us."

"Like Louise said, it's part of the job," Crystal shrugged.

"Look, we talked about it last night, and then again this morning before we got on the river. Were you just wisecracking when you said that people would pay to not see nude photos of you?"

"Huh?" Crystal frowned.

"I don't know how to say this," Andrea said. "But if you meant it, you're wrong."

Crystal shook her head. "I realize you two are trying to be nice, but I'm hardly the sexiest woman on the face of the planet. I know it, and I've always known it."

"I have to admit that you aren't the conventional idea of pretty," Debby conceded, "Or you either, Scooter. But the shape you're in, your muscle tone and definition, well, it's a beauty all its own. There's a reality and a power to it that's really special."

"What we're saying is that we talked it over and we'd like to try to capture some of that beauty on film, if you're willing," Andrea said. "It doesn't have to be nude stuff if you don't want. I've watched the both of you rowing. When you put your backs, your arms, your concentration into what you're doing, it's a whole different view of the beauty that a woman can be."

"I appreciate the thought," Scooter smiled. "But I have to think you're bullshitting us."

"I hope we aren't," Debby said. "Look, we both know we're conventionally pretty and conventionally sexy; we've worked hard to look that way, and it's important to us in many ways, money being one of them. But, what is that beauty all about? The bottom line, it's to attract men, to be one of their toys. We realize that; we try to take advantage of it. Maybe that's a little cynical, but that's the way it is. The two of you are not playing that game. You're making your way on your own muscle, your own skills, your own courage, and God, you have no idea how much I envy you for that, and the special beauty that it gives you."

"You can do it on your own," Andrea added. "We have to be boy toys, but maybe if we're lucky someday we may be able to work past it."

"Let me think about it," Crystal nodded. "I'm not saying no, and if I do say yes it's with the stipulation of no full frontals, OK?"

"Like we said, we can do swimsuits, if that's what you want," Andrea nodded. "How about you, Scooter?"

"I'm with Crystal, let me think about it," she said, although knowing deep down inside she'd just been sold on the idea, at least if Crystal did it too. "I know I'm not pretty, I'm just a rough and tough and scruffy rafter, and that's pretty much how I like it."

"That's the beauty that I'd like to try to capture," Debby grinned. "Think about it. We've got most of a couple weeks yet and we brought lots of film."

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To be continued . . .

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