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 8

May 14-27, 1999

Grand Canyon Trip 2, 1999

As the days passed, it became clear to Scooter that the style, the temper of the trip was a little different than the previous trip, too; they didn't do as much heavy hiking. Louise talked about the Canyon a lot, like Al did. Scooter had heard some of those speeches before, and realized that some were close to standard, but there seemed to be a lot more sitting around reminiscing, telling stories of the old days, and after thirty years Louise had a lot of them.

Even though she was still not over whatever bug she'd come down with, she enjoyed passing along some of the information about the Canyon and tales of the good old days. What made it even more special was that she seemed to have a story about every place they stopped. Often they were funny, or tales of some of the memorable characters she'd gotten to know over the years, sometimes well-known politicians or actors and the like.

About a week down the river from Nankoweap, they camped one night at a place called Backeddy, near Deer Creek Falls. Both Scooter and Crystal had gone along with Andrea and Debby on at least part of the falls hike, doing some artistic poses that were clearly intended to show feminine strength, not feminine sexuality. There were several sessions, usually brief, to take advantage of natural backdrops. It was kind of fun, and in time they began to understand that Andrea and Debby meant what they said. Crystal consented one time to a topless shot, once she understood what Debby was trying to do. Scooter did a few other topless shots and up at the falls earlier that day had even done a nude, although only from the backside; if she understood correctly what Andrea was trying to accomplish with it, it might be pretty good.

By this point it was pretty well known among the party that Andrea and Debby were being each other's nude models, and they knew that Crystal and Scooter were also doing a little modeling, although at least putatively non-nude. It seemed clear that these two photographer/models were going to be part of the stock of stories that would be told around Canyon Tours trips for years to come.

The camp at Backeddy was a particularly nice one, fairly open with a nice view. As on most nice nights, a small bundle of wood was taken from one of the rafts and used for a small fire in a metal fire pan. The fire often burned down quickly, but it set a nice tone, and the stories often went on well after the last ember had winked out.

"I suppose you have some special story about something that happened here," one of the customers said to Louise as they were settling in.

"Oh, yes," Louise grinned. "It was here that I found out why one of the more memorable characters I've met on this river was one of the more memorable ones."

"Sounds like a good one," the customer laughed.

"Oh, yes, it was something I really wasn't expecting," Louise laughed with him. "It was only a couple years ago, the first trip of the season. Like happens on a lot of trips, we had a couple customers ride out from Flagstaff on the crew bus with us, like Andrea and Debby did this trip. This one was a little different in that Al and I had to drive out to the Flagstaff airport and pick up the people who had flown in on a twin-engine plane, a Cessna 310 I found out later. The customers proved to be a really gorgeous gal in her late twenties, really striking. I mean, you looked at her and she looked like pure money on the hoof. She had with her a guy who looked like he'd just stepped out of an old Marlboro commercial, all rough-cut and handsome. The guy called the older guy flying the plane 'General,' and I thought that was interesting. Anyway it turned out that this gal owned the Cessna, although she usually chartered it out, and this retired general was her chief pilot. We found out a little later that her little air charter business was only a sideline, she was actually a project manager for some R&D firm down in Phoenix, and had a couple other things going. The guy, Will, was several years younger than her, and is a sergeant in the Air Force, although he grew up on a cattle ranch in Nevada. We soon got to calling him 'Cowboy,' and he sounded just like one.

"Anyway, we got up to Lee's, and this gal -- her name was Jennlynn -- told us that Cowboy was just a friend, but I happened to notice that they were 'just friends' to the point they zipped their sleeping bags together every night, if you know what I mean. But, they were both real nice people, friendly, not making any kind of a fuss, and always ready to pitch in when there was something to be done.

"Although Jennlynn and Cowboy were awful cool, it wasn't the best group I'd ever had on the river. There were a couple guys who were on vacation from their wives and liked to talk a lot of trash, and there was a husband and a wife who had to try to pick a fight with everyone else when they weren't fighting with each other. So, we get down here and we're sitting around the fire like we are now, and one of the mouthy guys made some tough-guy-sounding remark about the legal cathouses over in Nevada, and asked Cowboy if he'd ever checked them out. He said that he had, and Audrey, the woman fighting with her husband, lit into him right now, about how immoral it was and how prostitutes had to be the scum of the earth. When she finally shut up for an instant Jennlynn told her that she was talking out her ass, and asked if she'd ever even talked to a prostitute. Audrey got all huffy that someone would talk back to her, and said she wouldn't stoop so low. Then Jennlynn said in a voice that I thought could have frozen the river, "Then let me correct you. You're talking to one now."

"This gal was a hooker?" one of the customers asked.

"Well, I didn't believe it, either," Louise shook her head. "I thought they were going to be drawing knives on each other any second. Audrey said she didn't believe it, she thought Jennlynn was like she said, a Ph.D., a design engineer, and a pilot who owned her charter outfit. Jennlynn said, 'I'm all of that, but I wouldn't have been any of it if I hadn't turned out at the Mustang Ranch years ago.' It turned out that was how she worked her way through college, and she stayed with it on a part-time basis after that. I mean, some people knit, some people play golf, what's the difference? Well, Audrey just about shit a brick, and she asked Cowboy what he thought about that. Cowboy said it was her decision and it wasn't his place to worry about it; she'd been working in houses long before he met her. And then he said that his grandmother managed the house where Jennlynn worked, the Redlite Ranch over the other side of Las Vegas. It turned out his mom had met his dad when she'd been working with his gramma at a house up north some place, and his sister was working at the Redlite right then. Just a family tradition, you know."

There was a circle of laughter around the fire, before Louise went on. "Well, that shut Audrey up, when I didn't think there was anything that could do that. The two guys who had been so obnoxious didn't say much the rest of the trip, either, since they'd been talking out their ass, and they couldn't face up to people who walked the walk, not just talked the talk. It turned out that Jennlynn was worth several million bucks, and she guessed she'd grossed half a million as a prostitute over the years. I still didn't know whether to believe it, but last winter Al was talking to a guy who goes over there once in a while, and he said that not only was it all true, but last summer Jennlynn paid cash for a million-dollar Learjet. She charters it out most of the time, but every couple weeks she flies it into the Redlite for a weekend of her hobby. She's now known as 'Learjet Jenn, the fastest woman in the state of Nevada', and I'm told that she may be the most expensive woman in the state, too."

"This hooker flies her own Learjet?" Scooter shook her head. "You're right, that's a pretty unique character, all right."

"One of the nicest people you'd ever want to meet, and one of the smartest," Louise smiled. "I'm sure that in over thirty years I must have taken some other Nevada hookers down this river, but Jennlynn is the only one who's ever admitted it."

There was an awkward silence for a second. "It's all true," Andrea said conversationally. "Jennlynn is one cool lady, although she says that she's a first class bitch on her day job, and the Redlite is where she goes to be nice."

"Will and his grandmother, Shirley, are pretty nice, too," Debby added.

"You know them?" Louise asked quizzically.

"Louise," Andrea smiled, "You're up to three now who have admitted it. We were both working at the Redlite the day Jennlynn flew her Learjet in there the first time."

There were some audible gasps around the campfire. "You two are . . ." Scooter said, jaw agape.

"Waitresses most of the time," Debby admitted, "But it's not cheap to try to break into making a living as freelance photographers, and, well, there's times the kitty has needed to be fed. It's actually kind of fun in a way, but I wouldn't want to make a life out of it."

"Me either," Andrea admitted. "In fact, that's what we're doing, trying to not make a life out of it. Jennlynn is different; she's not trying to make a living out of it anymore. Like you said, she's a multimillionaire and it's a hobby for her now, but she turned out in the business with maybe twenty bucks to her name and clawed her way up from there. She's been an inspiration to a lot of people along the way, including us."

"Crystal, Scooter," Debby sighed. "Do you remember when we said we envied you for being able to make it in the world on your strength, your skills and your courage, while we had to be boy toys?"

"Yeah," Scooter said softly, beginning to understand.

"That's what we were talking about," Andrea said. "I'd give a lot to have your independence. We're working on it, but we've still got a ways to go."

"Girls, if it's any help," Louise smiled, "You've made the first and biggest step. You've realized that you have to grab hold of your lives, rather than let them grab hold of you, and you've found the determination to give it a shot. It took me a lot of determination, and I had to put up with a lot of shit to get to a position where I could spend my life doing what I love. Hang in there, kids, I think you're gonna make it."

The last days of the trip floated by quickly. Though both Scooter and Crystal had a lot of other things to do, they spent what time they could with Andrea and Debby, occasionally being photographed themselves but more often assisting with setups of some shots that even with their non-artistic eye they could see were going to be pretty spectacular -- and found themselves becoming friends along the way. Andrea and Debby led lives that were about as different from Scooter's and Crystal's as they could be, but it was a chance to learn. As the trip wound down, they agreed that they'd have to get together sometime, maybe along in the summer, maybe in the winter, just to go over some of the photos and continue the friendship off the river.

All too soon, they were in a campsite near Granite Springs -- still not the one from the last trip, although neither Scooter nor Crystal thought that Louise had intended it that way, it was just how it worked out. Like the last trip, there was a definite sadness at the journey's coming to an end. The whole group, not just Andrea and Debby, had become pretty good friends of theirs, and most of them would probably never see each other again. And, once again, Scooter felt a little sorry herself at having to leave, even though in only a few days she'd be back at Lee's Ferry to do it again.

As evening was falling, Scooter found herself sitting on the nose of one of the rafts, having a quiet discussion with Louise, and admitting that it was going to be hard to leave it behind for even that short a period of time. "I think I can say I've gotten seriously hooked on this place," Scooter admitted.

"It's always hard to leave," Louise told her. "Even though I've felt pretty cruddy this trip, especially the last few days, it's even harder than ever to leave it behind."

"I've had the idea that you haven't been feeling as good as you've let on," Scooter nodded.

"I don't feel all that bad," Louise said slowly, "But I don't feel what I call good, either. Just crappy. I'm sure as hell glad that you were able to take the sticks for me virtually all the time; I don't think I could have handled it otherwise." She let out a sigh. "Guess I'm going to have to see the doctor sometime while I'm topside. I probably need some kind of shot or something to clear this up."

"I have to say that I've really enjoyed it," Scooter smiled. "I thought I learned a lot from Al last trip, and I think I learned even more from you this trip. There's a lot to learn but I have some great teachers."

"Glad you think so," Louise grinned. "Look, Scooter, I don't know if you're aware of it, but there's a couple things you should know. Like I told you, the boatman situation is a little goofy for us. We've got a lot of college kids; there's reasons to do it that way, but we've got more than I like. Al and I have been trying to develop a core of long-term professionals, but for one reason or another it hasn't been as successful as we'd like. I know you don't have much Canyon experience, but with OLTA and all the rafting you've done elsewhere, the AT and all, means you and Crystal are way ahead of most of the people we have working for us. Since you're starting so far ahead, I'm hoping you plan on staying with us for a while."

"Right at this moment, something pretty special would have to come out of the woodwork to get me out of here any time soon."

"Good, glad to hear that. Like I said, I don't know if you've figured this out, but you've seen me dump a little bit more of the trip leader work on Crystal this trip, and it's not been just because I've been feeling lousy, but because she needs to be exposed to it. I've tried to get you exposed to it a little, too. You know that we're real short on trip leaders this season, or else Al and I wouldn't be trading off. What with her experience back east and OLTA, Crystal is about the next person in line to be a trip leader."

"I guess I didn't know that. I figured that she was pretty green to even be an assistant."

"She is, but she's good, and we don't have a lot of choice," Louise sighed. "We really think she needs a full season at least before we turn her loose, but we may do it once or twice when we get into the fall; we'll have to see, it depends on a lot of things. You don't have to keep it a secret from her, she knows it, but it'd probably be best if it doesn't get floated around the crew too much. Anyway, if we wind up doing that, you'll probably move up into a boatman slot at that time, if not before, and most likely assistant trip leader, too." She let out a sigh, and continued. "Damn it, Scooter, I know we don't know you very well, but you're OLTA too, and have even more experience back east than Crystal. Al and I are impressed with your cool, your maturity, and your skills; so with the exception of a guy on Team 1 who I think is going to hang it up after this season, you're about the next person in line behind Crystal to be a trip leader."

"Jeez," Scooter shook her head. "That's a pretty heady thought after two trips down the Canyon."

"It is," Louise nodded. "And I wish we could get you a little more experience, but we're going to have to make do. It won't be this year, and maybe or maybe not next year, but try to look at stuff from the trip leader's perspective to get yourself prepared. Try to work real hard on the interpretive stuff, telling customers about the natural stuff, the history, and the stories. Stories are usually fun, but usually the thing that makes them fun turns them into a teaching tool."

"We picked up a couple on this trip," Scooter grinned.

"It's a bad trip when you don't get one or two," Louise laughed. "But to get serious again, I want you to understand that we're bringing you along quickly because we intend to do it. We don't need you as a swamper; we need you available as a trip leader just as soon as we can possibly justify it. I think Crystal is going to make a good one, but I think you'll do even better."

"I'll do my best to not disappoint you," Scooter nodded, a little surprised but very appreciative of the vote of confidence she'd just been given. "Louise, thank you, for what you just said, and what you've done. I was thinking about it on the last trip, and even more on this trip after we found out about Andrea and Debby. If you hadn't broken open the rafting world in general for Crystal and me, I have no idea what we'd be doing but it probably wouldn't be pretty. Working in a factory, being a housewife and a mommy, crap like that."

"I wanted to break it open for me for just that reason. God, I hated teaching little kids in a classroom. I love teaching people about the Canyon, and how to be boatmen and like that. But kids? Good grief!" She let out a sigh. "Scooter, I've blazed you a pretty good trail, now it's going to be up to you to follow it."

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To be continued . . .

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