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 36

February 25 - April 4, 2000

Back to Flagstaff

They decided to take it easy on their way back to Flagstaff and not kill themselves behind the wheel. It took them two night stops, the second in Albuquerque, only a few hours to the east of Flagstaff, but it was late enough in the evening that they didn't want to pull in after midnight and discover that Karin wasn't at the house. They made it into Flagstaff about noon the next day, getting back to the house after being gone for almost two months, Crystal couldn't tell from the condition whether Karin had been spending all her time there, or what. She wouldn't have bet either way; her mother hadn't been the kind of person to sneak around like that, but then she hadn't exactly seemed like a Canyon addict, a swamper on her way to maybe becoming a boatman, either. In any case, what she did was her business and Crystal still intended to go out of her way to avoid catching her doing something that wasn't "above board."

They unloaded the minivan, and Crystal followed in the Dodge as Scooter drove the minivan back out to Michelle's mom on the South Rim. At least they could stand on the rim and look out at the Canyon, and know that getting back down there was a little closer. From Rachel they learned that Michelle's grandmother looked like she was going to pull through, but it also was going to mean some family nursing that would go on for several months. Since Michelle wasn't going to be available for sitting with her over the summer, she was spending the last few days of the month at the chore. She planned on being back in Flagstaff to watch the office through the first half of March, and then get in another week or two with her grandmother later in the month before the season opened. They gave Rachel a thumbnail sketch of what they'd done -- leaving out some of the wildest stuff, of course -- and Rachel said that it sounded as if they'd had a good time.

They got back to Flagstaff just as Karin arrived from the office. She was happy to see them, of course; it had been a month and a half but she'd clearly been happy and having a good winter, no matter what was really going on. She also told them that Al would like to see them sometime to go over a few things about the next few weeks. The next morning, they went out to the office, had some coffee and donuts, and told Al about their trip, again leaving out most of the wildest stuff -- not that they thought they were fooling him, of course, but there were activities involved that would have been difficult to admit.

Finally, the topic turned to what Al really wanted to talk about. "These two kids, Duane and Carl. Are they really going to be any good?"

"I ran with Duane the year before last," Scooter replied. "He was a good boatman, mature and responsible in spite of being on the young side. The fact that he made the AT shows that he's serious about what he sets out to do. If he ran last year he didn't run much, so he's probably on the rusty side. I think he'll work out as a boatman in the long run, though."

"I told him I was looking for someone to run a full season," Al said. "You think he's up for it?"

"All I can say is 'Appalachian Trail,'" Scooter shrugged. "We didn't talk to him long; he was working the counter at a McDonald's when we talked to him."

"How about this Carl kid?"

"That's a little trickier. I never ran with him, I was well before him," Crystal said. "We talked with him quite a bit; he seems like a good kid. He's going to college, but he's tired of it and wants to take some time off. Since he's on the quarter system, he can wrap up in a couple weeks. Tom said he made him a senior guide toward the end of last summer, so he has to be fairly decent."

"But did he light up when we said 'Grand Canyon'!" Scooter giggled. "Turns out he's not a newbie to the Canyon. He ran a trip with his parents, five years ago, I think he said. One of those quickie oar trips, and they flew out at Whitmore. But he sounds like he knows the drill; I get the impression he was an unofficial junior swamper, even got a little flat water time on the sticks."

"Interesting," Al said. "I pretty well had my mind made up to invite them out here, but I wanted to talk to you directly. That puts a couple pieces in the puzzle, it gives us some spring swampers, and maybe some we can turn into boatmen yet this year, we'll just have to see. Just looking at the schedule of who's available, spring isn't too bad, there's a couple holes left for summer, and we may need them as boatmen by fall. But if they work out, that pulls us a little closer for next year. I haven't really tried to figure that out yet, except we could lose somewhere between four and seven boatmen, depending, so there's going to be some holes to fill. Fortunately, we've got kids coming up that ought to be ready to fill them. There might be such a thing that when we set the schedule for 2002 this winter, some of the kids coming up might mean that we can go to the shorter seasons with three crews all season. You know about that."

"Seven boatmen leaving?" Crystal asked. "That seems like a lot."

"I'm not sure about all of them. I know four for sure: Bill and the three kids that ran summer crew with him last year, all graduating. The jury is still out on Tom, although I'm starting to bet he won't be back. Ben, well, wouldn't surprise me either way. And Jerry's not as healthy as he's trying to make me think he is. Bill is definitely going to be back to run Team 1 over the summer, but he said flat out it would be his last year."

"That's about what we were expecting," Scooter nodded.

"Scooter, I don't want to disappoint you," Al told her, "But that means you won't be getting Team 1 this year, unless something happens. But it's dead sure for next year."

"I told you last fall," she replied, "I really don't mind. I can stand another year as an assistant, there's still plenty I can learn. I saw from you and Louise and Crystal that leading trips can be a hassle and a lot of stress anyway."

"Depending on how things work out, I may swap some people around so you'll lead a trip or two, anyway," he told her. "You know how this stuff works, and like I said last fall, I want to spend some time riding with each crew, plus maybe give people a week off now and then, so I may be moving you around more than last year. Or maybe not, sometimes crew integrity is important."

"In other words, it sorta depends," she nodded. "Like I said, no skin off my tush, either way."

"Al," Crystal said. "Just throwing out an idea, what would you think of her and me switching off as trip leader this summer? It'd give her some practice in the hot seat and me a break."

"I'd have to pay you as an assistant, not a trip leader," Al shrugged. "Other than that, if you're up for it it's fine with me. What do you think, Scoot?"

"Yeah, I'd be willing to do it on that basis," she replied, "I mean, I'd just as soon get my feet wet with a team I know, rather than a team full of strangers."

"That's why I sort of want to switch you around," he nodded. "Probably what's going to happen when you get Bill's crew is that you'll get a load of summer kids. That'll give you a chance to know at least some of them."

 

The next several weeks went slowly. Both of them spent some time studying the books they'd bought about the Canyon last fall, so they would be able to talk about it to customers more intelligently. They slept in a lot, did some gear shopping, and went out to the local ski hill with their snowboards on occasion.

A few days after the girls' return, Karin and Al flew off to Florida, Phase II; Crystal knew they were going to be staying with Buddha and Giselle, but that still didn't tell her if something that didn't meet the eye was going on. If there was, it was fine with Crystal, up to the point where it might do something to screw up the divorce. There was a court date at the end of April that meant Karin would have to be in Chicago, but if that went all right it was mostly going to be a matter of waiting six months for the final decree.

While they were gone, Michelle was back in town to watch the office. Watching after her grandmother was tedious, she reported, but Grandma was getting better, and it was one of those family things that needed to be done. The three spent some evenings together, but they were very quiet compared to some they'd had in the Bahamas. Slowly the idea was kicked around of heading back another winter and picking up where they left off, although they talked about other possibilities of places to go with a sailboat, too. Another winter seemed a long way off.

By the middle of March, Al and Karin returned from Florida. They'd had some good surf, which Crystal knew often happened around that time period, since it was about the time she'd gone down there on spring break during her college years. Both reported that the water was a little warmer, and they didn't always surf in wet suits. Both Karin and Al were a long way from being hot dogs, but they'd had a good time.

Rather than hang around when the surf went flat for a few days, they hopped in their rental car and drove over to Disney World. They wound up spending several days there and having fun on one of those things that everyone wants to do once. Al reported that the "white water raft ride" was cheesy indeed, no surprise, but they'd had a good time. And still Crystal didn't get a hint that things were anything but "above board," although there'd been plenty of opportunity. But then they were grown-ups, so what at this distance?

Scooter and Crystal talked several times about going somewhere else, doing something else, but under the circumstances they didn't want to do a major trip without Michelle. Besides, Scooter's funds were getting a little lower than she'd hoped, so that pretty well took care of the run to southern California for surfing that they'd talked about, or the runs up to this ski area or that one that had also gotten talked about. The only trips they made were a couple of one-nighters with Jon and Tanisha, getting them out on ski hills a little more. It was a reach to say the two were going to be great skiers, but they were getting to be competent on the intermediate hills and seemed to enjoy it. That was a fact that still flabbergasted Crystal; she still had a vision of her half-brother as a computer nerd who never got out in the sunlight, was uncoordinated enough to trip on a curb, and absolutely loathed exercise.

 

As the month finally rolled down, tripping season was drawing closer. More for something to do than anything else, Scooter and Crystal spent part of each day helping Jeff and Jimmie and the three guys who had worked part time on rafts and such gear all winter. One by one, the rafts were taken down, inspected again, rigged and inflated, then allowed to sit for a few days to make sure there were no unseen slow leaks, a few of which were found and patched.

It had been known since November that Team 2 would be taking the first trip out, with Team 3 a week behind, so they concentrated on getting Team 2 rafts ready first. Who Dave and Mary were going to have with them had been open to question all winter. Al said he'd changed it around several times and expected to keep changing it until the trip was launched; that would go a long way toward setting Team 3. Team 1 wouldn't launch its first trip until May 1 -- the teams were numbered by the leader's seniority, not the order they ran. It didn't have to make sense; it was just the way it always had been done.

Several days before the first Team 2 trip was to launch, Dave and Mary showed up to get started with gear loading; again, it was a load-out from scratch, and they wanted to make sure they had everything they would need. One afternoon, Al called Dave, Mary, Crystal, and Scooter into the office. "Might as well go over where we're at on crews," he said. "As usual it's a mess, and I'm having to fill out crews, but we've got a couple things going in our favor that mean the whole season might not be the biggest mess we've ever had."

"It would be nice to keep a crew together all year," Mary said. "But I suppose it's not going to happen."

"No, there's going to be some mix and match," Al told them. "We've got a couple more pieces to mix and match with, so we'll have to see how it comes out. About all I can tell you is that somehow or another when you shove off from Lee's, the number of boatmen will at least equal the number of rafts. As the summer progresses, we may even have more boatmen than we have rafts, we've got a couple kids that will probably be ready for it by the time summer winds down."

"I'll believe it when I see it," Mary shook her head. "It hasn't happened very often in my experience."

"Well, mine either," Al grinned. "Anyway, that's a few calendar pages away if it happens at all, and we've got to get there. So, here's what happens. Team 2's first trip, leaders are a given, and you'll take Dan and Ben. You know I wanted to make at least one run with you last year but it didn't happen, so we're going to kick off with me as your fifth."

"It'll be good to run with you again," Dave said with a slight stutter. "It's been too long."

"Me too," Al said. "A lot has happened since the last time we ran together. The other reason I want to run with you is that you're going to have a new swamper, a kid named Carl Austin. He's like Scooter; he's had raft experience elsewhere and actually has been down the Canyon once as a passenger, years ago. I'm not too clear how good he is, but I plan on finding out. If he works out, he might have a raft before the summer is over with. If he works out all right, I'm more or less planning on leaving him with you for the summer, and we're going to have to discuss how fast we want to bring him along."

"It'll be strange to even have a swamper in the spring," Mary grinned. "I'm not complaining."

"Didn't think you would," Al said. "Now, Team 3. Again, the leaders are a given, except that Crystal and Scooter are going to change off leading so Scooter will have some experience in the saddle with an experienced assistant before we turn her loose with Team 3 next year. On this trip, you'll have Jerry and Michelle. Keep an eye on Jerry, you two; I still don't think he's all the way back. That's part of the reason I'm sending Duane along with you as a senior swamper, he might do for a backup if Jerry runs into trouble. Scooter, Crystal, I'm not going to go into the deal about him, you and Scooter recruited him, and it's pretty much the same deal as with Carl on Team 2."

"That's only four boatmen to start with," Crystal noted.

"Right, you remember Charlie, that motor rig guy that ran with us last spring?"

"Yeah, he was pretty good. Better than Bob who ran with us the last trip, although Bob had his good points."

"Right, you'll get him for one trip, maybe a second, it sort of depends on what happens with the summer kids. Which gets us to the second cycle. When Team 2 comes off the river, I'm off the crew, and either Ben or Dan will be, too; I'll figure out which during the trip. We'll be replaced with college kids, and we're cutting it close enough that just who may depend on who's done with finals. Same thing with swampers; you'll get one or two college kids to go along with Carl. If everybody shows up, we've got one more swamper than we need to put a second-season college kid with each crew. But, we're going to need them next year, so we may double up a little or swap 'em around between trips, and that's going to be one of those things we're going to have to see what happens."

"Are we going to get first-year swampers, too?" Mary asked.

"Got to, we've got to be bringing them along for the future. Who is still up in the air, I've got two kids that are highly recommended and did well on a tryout trip last summer, but they're boyfriend and girlfriend and want to run together if possible, so that's a we'll-have-to-see, too. A couple other possibilities, both newbies except for a tryout trip. You shouldn't lack for swampers through the summer, but don't get too used to it, you may be running without in the fall."

"So how about Team 3 for the second trip?" Crystal asked.

"You and Scoot, of course, and you'll get Dan or Ben from Team 2. Everything else is a little fuzzy and it depends on college kids, but most likely we'll send Jerry and Michelle on to Team 1 to give Bill some experience, and fill them out with college kids. Now, if you ain't been counting, that leaves you two short. I'll probably fill one of the seats. The other one may be Charlie, it may be a college kid, it may be someone else, and it may change around a bit until we can get one of the early-season swampers qualified, or maybe one of the second-year college kid swampers. If Duane works out well for you we might just put him in a gear boat; that's part of the reason I want to go with you second cycle."

"Gets a little iffy, doesn't it?" Crystal said.

"Yeah, if Tom had stayed with us it'd be a lot simpler," he nodded. "While I'm thinking about it, I don't want to use that gear-boat thing unless we get in a real pinch, and preferably with someone that's pretty well qualified except for the insurance runs, which is why I want to approve it, unless you hit an emergency like last fall."

"Just out of curiosity, what about Mom?" Crystal asked.

"About all I can say is that we're going to wing it. She's definitely going to stay in the office while I'm out on the first run with Team 2. Then I'll have to wait a week until I can go with you, and that's the week she has to be in Chicago. After that the office has to be staffed by Karin, Michelle, or me, and it could get crazy. So, we're just going to have to see."


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