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 20

August 30 - September 5, 1999

Grand Canyon Trip 7

A while later they made it back to the sand bar, to find dinner well under way -- but Dan was doing it, with help from Randy and some of the customers, especially Sam, the seventyish guy who was diabetic but sure didn't let it slow him down. "Sorry to take so long," she told Dan, "But it's good that you got started. Where's Crystal, and Al, for that matter?"

"They went off on a little hike with Karin," Sam told her. "They left not long after you did."

"We didn't see them," Scooter frowned.

"They didn't go the way you did," he replied. "They headed, well, up that cliff over there," he said, pointing. "Apparently there's a way up to that other little canyon."

That made a little bit of sense. Al probably knew the route, she thought, and there wasn't much privacy on this beach. Maybe Al had gotten pressed into service to mediate the hassles between Crystal and her mother. Maybe it would even work; Scooter knew that Crystal had been stressed about that from the beginning of the trip, and the business with Jerry yesterday had just added to the strain.

Scooter figured that between them Al and Crystal could pretty well take care of themselves, so didn't worry about it; she had other things on her mind, since the talk with Dallas, although she gave no hint of them. Crystal, Karin, and Al didn't reappear until after the call to dinner, when the shadows were getting long. Nothing much was said, but Scooter knew her friend well enough to see that she was a lot less tense than she had been earlier. Good, maybe something had been solved.

Dinner was pork chops and mashies, another good Canyon Tours dinner -- the company had always prided itself on feeding the customers well and there was no exception this night. As the light grew low after dinner had been cleaned up and the dishes washed and put away, another campfire was under way. Randy played some of the old songs on the guitar, and Al told some Georgie White stories. And then, to Scooter's surprise, for the first time since her death he told some Louise Buck stories, although still not revealing how recently she'd died. Most of that time Crystal and Karin sat next to each other, occasionally with arms around each other. Nothing was said, but the body language told Scooter about what she wanted to know.

As the fire burned low, people started drifting away, and Scooter was among them. She headed down to her raft, intent on getting some sleep, but when she got there she realized that she wasn't sleepy and needed the quiet time. She dug her drybag out of the boatman's box, and pulled out a cigar, then hiked back up onto the beach, found a spot where there was sand to sit on, and a comfortable rock to lean against. She lit the cigar, took a deep puff, and let the smoke drift away slowly as she turned her question over in her mind.

Should she?

On one level, it was close to a no brainer. It had been a long time, Al had given her a general clearance back up the river, and it could well be fun. And Dallas was a nice guy who maybe deserved a break. But the danger was that doing a little sportfucking could go into places where she didn't want to go, and real quickly. He was still hurting and looking to recover. Maybe she could help . . . but whatever, she had to keep it casual. Realistically, Dallas was a pretty reasonable guy, and from other discussions she knew that he had a good job -- but if she came on to him too hard, he might take it more seriously than she intended, and hell, she might too. She didn't know him well, but instinctively knew that he wasn't the type of guy to risk her having to choose between him and the Canyon. She'd come to enjoy her life in the Canyon, homeless though she technically was. Back in the spring she'd given some thought to giving up the outdoor life, getting a straight job, getting married, and all that shit. She'd rejected it even before Crystal had called and sung her the siren song that brought her here. Maybe she'd want to leave sometime, but not soon. The hardest day of any trip cycle was the day off in Flagstaff with nothing much to do but shop for necessities, spend some time in the hot tub at the motel, and have a few beers at the Burro. When she got right down to it, she wasn't sure how she was going to make it through the winter while not being in the Canyon.

Pros and cons. She sat there rolling them over for a while, without reaching a resolution. Maybe it would be more clear down river. She remembered Louise advising to keep Canyon romances toward the tail end of the trip so it would be easier to leave them in the Canyon, and that seemed to be good advice.

As she sat thinking about it, she slowly became aware that Al, Crystal and Karin were down by the rafts, talking very softly; people were sleeping now. She could hear the voices but couldn't make out more than the odd word, but from the tone things were pretty mellow. Finally, she heard Al, a little more clearly. "Hey, you two. It's late, and we got a big day tomorrow. I think I'll turn in. We can talk some more tomorrow."

"See you in the morning, Al," Karin said. "Sleep tight."

Scooter took another drag on her cigar and decided to just stay where she was for a while, to let Crystal and Karin have some alone time. Again the two talked in whispers; Scooter could occasionally hear their voices but couldn't make out the words. Eventually, she saw Karin get up and head back for her sleeping bag up in the tamarisks. She sat there for several more minutes since she didn't want anyone to think she'd been snooping -- after all, she hadn't been -- but finally stood up and walked down to her raft, which was parked next to Crystal's. Her friend was still getting around, unrolling her Paco Pad and sleeping bag. "So, how's it going?" she asked innocently. "The way you looked around the fire it looks like you patched it up with your mom some."

"Oh, yes," Crystal replied in a mellow tone. "I still can't believe it's really true, but it has to be, unless this is a dream or something."

"Sounds pretty good," Scooter said noncommittally as she unrolled her own Paco Pad.

"Scooter, it's fucking unbelievable," she replied.

"What's unbelievable?"

"Oh, God," Crystal sighed. "I want to tell you but I can't right now, there's still a lot of stuff to iron out. But like I said, I want to make sure this whole thing isn't a dream." She was silent for a moment, then added. "Scooter, you deserve to know, but I just can't tell you right now. Down the river, maybe back in Flag, OK?"

"Sounds like it's pretty close to none of my business, anyway," she replied as she pulled off her T-shirt.

"I can't tell yet. Maybe, maybe not. Look, can I bum a cigar? I'd like to sit and think about this for a while, maybe straighten things out in my own head a little."

"If you haven't been smoking cigars, the answer is no," Scooter told her as she took off her shorts, getting down to the bikini she'd worn all day, but was long dry after the long soak in the pool up the side canyon. "It'd make you barf. Maybe you ought to drag out that little alcohol stove you carry and have a cup of tea or something. If you want to sit there and brew yourself one, I'm not going to mind since I intend to be asleep in about five minutes."

"Thanks, Scooter," Crystal sighed. "Look, I'm sorry I can't come clean right now, but I will."

"Whenever you're ready, Crystal," Scooter said as she put the plug in the Paco Pad and unrolled her sleeping bag. "I got one to run by you too, but I don't think this is the time either."

 

The next days went easily, especially after the tension of the two days in Upper Granite Gorge. The uncomfortable but not excessive heat of the early part of the trip had evaporated, and for the first time on the trip Scooter made it through a full day on the river in shorts and T-shirt without feeling overheated.

And, following the stresses of Upper Granite Gorge, the group came together into an extended team, which usually happened about this point in the trip, if not before. People knew what to do and when to do it, and when there was work to be done it was rarely necessary to ask someone to do it; it just got done. If anything, it went even better than normal, since people realized that the crew was short a real boatman and stepped up to compensate. A couple customers even volunteered without having to be asked to deal with the rocket box daily. People were more friendly; above Upper Granite Gorge, the customers had pretty much stayed with each raft and boatman, but now they switched around a lot, often changing at every stop, occasionally in midstream.

Randy continued alone in the gear boat without problems. Though there were rapids every day, some of them fairly big and challenging, Crystal didn't bother to have one of the other boatmen ride with him when they came to one. After Crystal Rapids, she figured he could handle it, and he did. A couple times a day on quiet stretches one or another of the customers spelled him for a while, which gave him an occasional breather. But most of the time he was at the oars of the gear boat, a little separate from the rest of the party.

As far as that went, while Dallas moved around among the boats, too, he was in the raft with Scooter more than he was in the others combined, and she let him at the sticks quite a bit, even in some of the milder rapids. Absolutely nothing had been said beyond the routine boatman-to-customer conversations, but Scooter figured that he was thinking pretty much the same thing she was thinking.

She also noticed that Karin moved between Al's raft and Crystal's, but she never rode with Dan or her -- and she was on the sticks a fair amount, especially when she was on Al's raft. Crystal hadn't yet expanded on her mysterious comments on the raft that evening, but Scooter was in no rush since things were obviously going better, and maybe they were working it out. She noticed in the late afternoons, when the rafts were pulled up on the bank for the day, that Crystal and Karin would sometimes go off on long walks with each other. Not that often, though; as the trip progressed, it was as often Al and Karin off exploring some side canyon by themselves, occasionally Al and Crystal, and sometimes the three would go together. That pretty well told her what she wanted to know; it looked like they'd asked Al to referee, and it was working.

 

Day followed day as they floated down the river for a week. There were stops every day, sometimes several; long, lazy riverside lunches, short hikes, often up to a waterfall or overlook, places like Elves Chasm or Havasu Creek. Really, there was only one big challenge left: Lava Falls, which they reached soon after getting going on the morning of the third day from the end.

Unlike Crystal Rapids, Lava was just one big drop, easy to walk around, although it would have to be run. Lava being Lava, after all, Scooter and everyone else in the party figured that Crystal would ride with Randy in the gear boat through Lava. Along with the other boatmen -- and they considered him one of them now, although a strange sort of junior one -- Randy stood up there studying the left route, bracing up his courage.

Scooter had often thought about going right at Lava, the Bubble Line Run, the more challenging of the two possible routes. Most boatmen tried it sooner or later, she knew, and for no good reason she thought she was a little more confident about it than she had been in the past. She stood on the right bank with the other boatmen, looking it over, getting her marks, in fact, getting them for both routes -- if she got on the water and chickened out, she would still have to run the alternate route.

Finally she got back down to her raft, where Dallas was waiting along with the other three customers. "OK, folks, you get a choice on this one," she told them. "There are two ways to run this thing. One of them is tough and wet. The other one is tougher and wetter. That's the one I'm planning on doing, and it'll give us a little something to brag about. If you want to walk, fine, it's no big deal and I won't get down on you about it."

"I don't know about anyone else," Dallas said. "But Scooter, what you want to do, I want to do."

Boy, she thought, if you knew what I want to do . . . and we're getting down to the decision time on that, too. Let's just see how I feel in ten minutes.

"Whither thou goest, there I shall go also," Sam, the elderly diabetic smiled. "After all, that's kind of the idea of this trip, isn't it?" With that, the other two agreed, and Scooter realized that now she was committed to the Bubble Line -- even though she said nothing to Crystal or the other boatmen.

The normal procedure at Lava was to send the raft with the best rescue skills down first, which meant Crystal, who was still a powerful swimmer, and had a mean arm with throwing a rescue line. It proved to be a rough, wet run down the left for Crystal's boat, but it was nothing that she hadn't done before. Once out of the worst of things, she pulled out into the eddy on river left to wait for the next raft, which was Scooter. "You ready?" Randy asked from the front of the raft, where he stood poised to give them a shove off.

"Just a second," she said. "OK, folks, check one last time for loose lines that you might get a foot caught in." She'd already checked, half a dozen times or more, but it was still worth checking again. In a moment, no one said they found anything, so she said, "OK, snub down the life jackets one last time. Let's be about it, people. Randy, go ahead."

Randy bent over, gave the raft a huge shove, and in a moment they were backing out into the current. Scooter spun the raft with the oars, picked out the aerated water that marked the beginning of the run and gave it the name, and pulled hard to make it. Someone yelled something from shore, but she couldn't make it out and didn't want to give it any attention, anyway. It was mild, but fast, running down to the first part of the drop, then the nose of the raft dropped as they began to run down the tongue. "Hang on tight!" she yelled one last time to her passengers.

Somehow, the tongue seemed longer than she expected, but all she could see now was the curl of the hole at the bottom, reaching out to eat them. She pivoted hard, pulled to the left, got a little momentum, and plunged down into the churning white chaos. Then, the raft reared up and all she could see was the tumultuous white mountainside, but somehow, she managed to keep going straight. The raft reared up, plunged down again, into a monster wave -- there was no avoiding it, they'd have to take it head on. The bow of the raft piled into the wave, and green water came over the bow in a huge splash, soaking them all down, burying Dallas, who was sitting toward the front. Sluggishly it began to rise as some of the water drained out the open slats on the bottom of the floor, and somehow they were through it, coming out the other side, rising to meet the next wave, not as bad, as she yelled "Yeeeeeee-haaaaaaa!" at the top of her lungs. Then, they were bouncing along, in smaller waves, more or less under control, and they became just white swirls.

"Scooter, you little brat!" she heard Crystal yell, glee in her voice. "You just had to one up me and run the Bubble Line, didn't you? Cool run, dudette!"

"Just a simple matter of age and experience over youth and impetuosity," she yelled back, feeling her oats. She pulled into the eddy while Crystal pulled her raft up on shore and headed up for the top of the run. She knew Crystal had never run the Bubble Line, and she would not have been surprised in the slightest to see the gear boat come down it with her at the sticks.

By the time Crystal was getting to where Randy waited with the gear boat, the other two rafts had come down. "Told you most boatmen try it some time or another," Al grinned. "Good run, Scoot!"

They all sat back to watch the run of the gear boat. From a distance, they could see Crystal talk with Randy for a moment, then give a hard shove to the front of his raft -- and then, rather than scrambling aboard, she stepped back and hustled up to the overlook for a better view. She'd just set Randy up to run solo what some considered the toughest drop on the river! They saw Randy pivot the raft, strain at the oars to get over to the left run, then pointed the gear boat down it. The raft seemed to race down the drop, then plunge into the chaos to the left of the big back roller, just about like he was supposed to. All the boatmen knew that from that point on it was pretty much a case of trying to keep the raft straight in the thundering white chaos and hope for the best. Once, twice, the gear boat was all but submerged, and all they could see was Randy's upper body, working the oars. Then he was bouncing along in waves that were merely large, routine, before he pulled toward the eddy, and then worked back up to the cluster of rafts waiting for him. As it turned out, everyone but Crystal could hear his triumphant cry: "The hell with construction, I'd rather be a boatman!"


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