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 37

April 4 - 29, 2000

Grand Canyon, 2000: Spring Season Trip 1

"How do you want to handle who leads what trip?" Scooter asked Crystal as they were driving back to the house in the Dodge.

"I'd say we flip for it," Crystal said, "Except that Dad is going to be on the second trip, so I imagine he'll want to see you in action. Unless you'd rather not start out with that kind of pressure."

"Oh, hell, I don't care. I've run with Al enough to not worry about it."

"All right then, I'll lead the first. I'm damn glad that he bought off on the changing-off-trip-leaders thing. It ought to keep us together this year. In the future, we'll probably only run with each other in the spring and fall."

"Yeah, that's true, isn't it?" Scooter nodded. "As long as I don't leave or screw up, I've got Team 3 at least in the summer next year."

"And probably for years to come," Crystal nodded. "Dave and Mary aren't leaving soon; I'm not leaving soon. Realistically, if the world were fair, considering experience and all, you ought to be trip leader instead of me, anyway. That's why I wanted to get this alternation thing established; otherwise, you're going to get it in the ass in the spring and fall. That way you'll at least have a claim on being a trip leader part time then."

"On the other hand, he may be able to get the short season worked up," Scooter observed.

"If he does, that means we don't run together at all," Crystal said. "So, that means that if we're hanging out, we're only going to do it in the off season."

"Yeah, that's true," Scooter nodded. "Could be worse, I suppose. At least with Bill coming back we've got this year. We'll just have to make the best of it we can."

 

Over the next couple days they finished the rigging and loading of the Team 2 rafts, and then turned to preparations for Team 3's, while they had the extra hands from Team 2 to help out. Scooter had a couple of special modifications she wanted to make to her raft, including a quick-storage arrangement for the new fiberglass shaft paddles from NRS paddles that Al had purchased while they'd been gone over the winter. Crystal decided to carry a set of the Chinese Carlisle knockoffs from last year, in case more than six customers really wanted to paddle sometime, but those could be packed a little deeper in her raft. There were a few other little modifications; every boatman seemed to like their raft set up a little bit differently, so usually once a boatman was assigned a raft they stayed with it as long as they were with the team that season.

Saturday rolled around, and they all helped with Team 2's grocery shopping and packing; again, with the first setup of the season, it took longer to get things organized. Sunday rolled around, the final loading was done, and even though it was a day off, Crystal and Scooter rode out on the crew bus to lend a hand with the first rig of the season. It was good to be down at Lee's again, to see and smell the river; in another week, it would be their turn. That evening, Karin had a long, long kiss with Al; there was no secret where she'd rather be, and it wasn't in the office. Then, she climbed onto the crew bus to join Crystal, Scooter, and Michelle for the ride back, all of them thinking of what had to be done in the next week.

The next week was busy, but with fewer hands, so it was good that they'd gotten a good start on the Team 3 setup. When the weekend rolled around, it was time for groceries and packing and loading; this time they had some extra hands, for Jon and Tanisha had driven up from Phoenix to help out, and Karin was going to ride up on the bus for the day as well. The last couple hours seemed to drag out forever -- they'd been waiting so long for this day. Finally, Crystal was the last one to board the bus, counted noses, and said, "Finally, Jeff, let's head 'em up and move 'em out."

Once again they rolled through the red rock desert, descended to cross Navajo Bridge high over the Colorado, and drove down to Lee's Ferry. This week, it was for real. The rigging probably went a little easier, since four of the five boatmen had been on Team 3 last fall, so everyone had an idea of what they were doing and where stuff had to go. Things were pretty well rigged as the sun began to sink low, and once again they drove up to the bar in Marble Canyon for a last pre-trip dinner. The next morning, to get things going right, Michelle was popping bubble gum and Scooter was smoking a cigar as the customer bus drove up.

Finally, after months that seemed like years, one by one the rafts were pushed away from the shore, oars bit into the water, and Lee's Ferry and civilization faded behind them. It was good to be back.

The trip really was pretty routine. The weather was a little cooler and breezier than they would have liked, and they had one windy, rainy night early on where everyone was in tents. Overall it wasn't too bad and warmed up pretty well for the last third of the trip, although it never got swimsuit warm for rowing.

The one really notable occurrence came a few nights out when Crystal got up around the campfire with a bottle of champagne and some paper cups. "We have a notable anniversary to celebrate tonight," she said. "Exactly one year ago today Scooter was standing behind the counter in the sales room of the Nantahala Outdoor Center in Wesser, North Carolina, and from the story she tells she was bored to tears. Then I called her, and a few days later she was up at Lee's rigging with us. Wild horses couldn't drag her out of the Canyon now, and she'll be leading a team next trip. Scooter, you've come a long way, baby!"

"Yeah, it has been," Scooter smiled. "If you want a story about life-changing experiences, it was the phone call that changed my life. Crystal, I've thanked you before for calling me, but I can't thank you enough. Thanks again."

Jerry still wasn't quite up to speed, but he said the pain was virtually gone unless he moved just exactly wrong. He'd still settled down quite a bit from last summer, and was showing signs of being a real good boatman -- and one who was probably going to be on the river full season for a while.

Al had made it clear right from the beginning that if Duane showed any signs of coming along rapidly they were to push him. Scooter volunteered to take him the first day, and he was on the sticks almost immediately. It took him a while longer to pick up the tricks of an oar boat than it had her as he didn't have her Chesapeake Bay experience in the skiff, but he could read water and understand it. By the time they ran Badger she knew that she'd made a good choice in asking him to come join them. He said it beat the hell out of the Waynesville McDonald's, any way you looked at it.

For the rest of the trip, he rotated between Scooter's raft, Crystal's, and Michelle's. All three of them had stuff to teach him, and Michelle and Jerry worked with him on the lore of the Canyon. They figured Al was going to be impressed when he saw him.

They felt they'd done a pretty good job of shaking the cobwebs out and were ready for the summer. As they rode back to Flagstaff, Crystal had a special reason to be nervous. She knew her mother's divorce hearing in Chicago was going on while they were riding back, and she'd wished that she could be there to support her, even though it might have meant a confrontation with Pete. But when they got back to Flagstaff, Al got her off to the side and quietly told her that Karin had called, everything was fine except for the fact that she still hadn't been able to turn up any sign of Nanci, and that she'd be back Saturday afternoon.

They'd already known they were going to lose Jerry and Michelle after this trip, but now it was here. They'd seen a lot of Michelle over the winter, but from now on it would only be spotty until fall. Crystal told both of them that she hoped they'd wind up on her fall crew, and told Michelle that she and Scooter would probably be seeing her over the summer sometime. Bill was already there with a couple college kids, Stan and Mike, working on setting up the Team 1 rafts, and Michelle and Jerry would have an extra few days to help out with getting them going -- experienced hands to help things get off to a good start. Al had been back for a week, having come off Team 2, and he told them that they were getting Ben from that team, but no college kids, except for Andy Roney, who would be their second swamper. There had been some negotiating over the past few days, but Charlie was going to run with them for a second trip, which was fine. He was definitely going to have to leave after this trip, and his replacement was still in doubt; it might be until the trip left, Al told her.

As always, there was the unpacking and cleaning of gear on Thursday night from the trip, and this time Team 1 helped them out with it. Finally, they called it a night and headed for the Burro for the first unwinding session of the season. Given the small water heater at the girls' house, Al offered Crystal and Scooter the opportunity to go over to his place and run the water heater cold, and they did before heading back over to the house. It was strange to walk into the house and not see a sign of Karin there, but getting the divorce all but settled more than made up for her absence.

"You know," Scooter giggled as she was getting undressed. "It's going to feel good to sleep in my own bed. Maybe I'm starting to get used to this house stuff."

"Yeah, maybe I am, too," Crystal grinned. "Maybe Carole was wrong; maybe we aren't as addicted as we thought."

"Could be," she said thoughtfully. "Oh, well, we've got a couple days to enjoy it. It's going to seem strange to be out on the river without Michelle, as much as we've been hanging around with her."

"Yeah, it is," Crystal giggled. "I wonder if she's figured it out yet, or if Dad is going to have to get up the guts to tell her."

"Tell her what?" Scooter said, cocking her head.

"Oh, sneaky Dad, sneaky," Crystal grinned. "It took some real juggling to set that up, and she's going to be pissed when she figures it out."

"Figures what out?" Scooter replied, even more confused now.

"Think about Team 1," Crystal laughed. "Who's on it? Bill, of course, Michelle, Jerry, and two college kids, both of whom will be taking customers for the first time, although Stan ran a gear boat a bunch last summer."

"Yeah, so?"

"So who's going to be assistant trip leader? Not Stan or Mike, obviously. Jerry's working at about the limit his health will allow, although once he gets back into shape and gets another year's experience, he ought to make a pretty reasonable assistant trip leader. Leader, maybe not for a while, he still needs to mature a little. To top it off, Bill doesn't put up with a lot of horseshit. There's no one else there who can be assistant trip leader!"

"It could just have worked out that way, I suppose," Scooter shook her head. "You're right; she's going to be seriously pissed."

"Yeah, but she can't say much," Crystal grinned. "Who else could Dad come up with to replace her? They'd have to come off Team 3, since Team 2 is on the river. We've got you and me, and we're doing that switch-off thing; she knows about it. She could swap with you, of course, but she still winds up assistant trip leader, because who else have we got? Dad and a motor rafter, both of whom are temps. Ben, who's a reasonable guy, but like Jerry, he's not ready to be a trip leader yet. And we have Duane, who wouldn't qualify yet, although I'll take bets that he's going to be running a gear boat the trip after next, and Dad will fudge the insurance for the next trip. Now you tell me Dad didn't set that up."

"She sure looks mousetrapped to me, now that you put it that way," Scooter grinned.

"Now, to top that off, all that is just the stick. There's still the carrot. If she's assistant on Team 1, she's not going to be sitting in the office. It's going to mean that Dad and Mom aren't going to be running together over the summer, but they probably will some in the fall. You remember Dad last November, telling Michelle she was going to have to grow up a little and exhibit some responsibility commensurate with her experience?"

"I remember, but I didn't hear him use those words."

"The meaning was the same, even though he weasel-worded it. And, he's right. Don't get me wrong, I think Michelle is cool, and she's a great friend, but that teenybopper act of hers pisses me off at times. You remember last summer? She got dumped into a situation where she had to perform like an adult, so she performed like an adult. I'll bet Dad is figuring the same thing will happen here, and I'll bet it right along with him."

"You're probably right," Scooter yawned. "It'll be interesting to see how that plays out. I'll bet we don't leave Sunday before they have some words about it, though."

Friday was slow, as always. After sleeping in, they had some shopping to do, and some laundry. It seemed boring, so they headed back over to the office. There was no sign of Michelle, who they knew was planning on running up to her parent's house at Grand Canyon Village for the day. Al was working with Bill, boatmen Stan and Mike, and swamper Kevin Haynes on getting the Team 1 rafts rigged for their trip beginning in a little over a week. Other than the season wrap party last year, Scooter had not met Bill before, but he seemed to be a personable guy who knew what he was doing. Like Michelle, he had started as a swamper young, but had stayed in college, so had never run anything but summer seasons.

"Since you two are here," Al said. "Let's head into the office for a minute."

Al's office once had been a tiny bedroom in the converted house the company used as its headquarters; it was cramped, but there was at least a place to sit. "Look, I'll keep this quick," Al said. "But this is one of those things I wanted to keep to the three of us. You two are still up for doing the leader swap next trip, right?"

"That's what we'd planned on," Scooter told him.

"Fine, and glad to hear it," he replied. "The only thing, Scooter, is that you're going to have both Crystal and me along, so you might get tempted to defer to us. That's not the point. You're the trip leader; you lead. Feel free to ask questions or for our opinions, but the decision has to be yours, and I won't interfere unless it's something I think is really stupid. If I think something is only moderately stupid I may not say anything, just so you can get bit and know better the next time."

"Honestly, Al, I couldn't ask for a much better attitude than that."

"Crystal, same thing for you," Al said. "My one big concern is that you two are such good buddies that you may find yourself carrying her when she needs to be standing on her own. I had to watch out for the same thing with you last summer. This trip, Scooter will be the leader; we're just going to have to let her lead."

"Works for me," Crystal said. "The only thing, Dad, is that if you see me trying to take over, hop on my ass, OK?"

"I think I can manage that. Scooter, do you have any concerns that we ought to address?"

"Nothing really," she replied. "Crew wise, I'd say we're in good shape for this trip. I'm not sure what happens the next trip, but it's not my worry. The ball gets passed back to Crystal for that one."

"I have to admit, I don't know, either," Al smiled. "There's still several things that could happen, but some of them will iron themselves out the next few days."

 

A couple hours later, they were sitting in the Burro having a couple beers while their laundry was under way next door, when a familiar face came up. "I take it you had a good winter," Jim smiled.

"Yeah, pretty good," Scooter told him. He'd been a good guy, they'd spent some time hanging around in the fall when Crystal was wrapped up with family stuff, and they'd had some fun skiing up where he worked over the winter. "After we saw you at Cooper Hill, we wound up in Florida and the Bahamas for a while."

"The Bahamas are fun," he said. "I went sailing down there when I was a kid."

"Cripe, you're a sailor too?" Scooter smiled. "I didn't know that."

"Well, some," he shrugged. "A kid I went with in high school, his uncle had a Cal 40; he raced it around the Great Lakes some. I used to go with them and got tagged for racing crew, but we'd go out and gunkhole around too. We made a winter trip to the Bahamas over Christmas one year. Do you sail?"

"Well, some, mostly when I was a kid, too," Scooter said. "My granduncle had a forty-five-footer, I used to crew for him in the summers. It had been close to ten years before we chartered a boat back in January. So, what are you doing?"

"Not much of anything right now," he frowned. "I got jerked around on the schedule; I'm not going to be running till the end of the month. Then, I'm scheduled to be a swamper a couple trips, and they may let me have a raft a couple times after that, depending. It's too bad I don't have a little more oarboat experience, they might give me an oarboat for a trip along in the summer."

"I guess they juggle around with the crews as much over at your place as they do at ours," Crystal nodded.

"I wonder," Scooter mused.

"Wonder what?" Crystal asked.

"Whether Al would be up for letting us take an unpaid swamper this trip," Scooter grinned. "We might just get this guy a little more oarboat experience."

"You're going to have to be the one to ask, you're the trip leader," Crystal smiled.

"Jim," she smiled. "Are you up for it? We rig Sunday, and we won't be off the water till the twenty-fifth. I wouldn't be surprised if we can give you some time at the sticks."

"Yeah, sure," he smiled. "I got nudged out of a couple trips by seniority, and it's a bummer to be sitting around not doing much of anything."

"Good enough," Scooter told him. "Crystal, if you'll keep an eye on our laundry and give me the keys to the Dodge, I'll take Jim and we'll go work it out with Al."

A few minutes later they were back out at Canyon Tours, where Scooter explained what she had in mind to Al. "What I'm thinking," she said, "Is that Jim is trying to pick up oar boats, maybe he could be an off-season fill-in sometime in the future."

"Fine with me," he replied. "Jim, you probably ought to know one thing. There's sort of an unwritten agreement among the companies that we don't poach each other's people, so this is a temporary freebie, and I'd still want to have your boss's approval. I don't doubt that he'll give it; it sort of scratches his back a little, but I need to ask before I say yes."

"I understand," Jim nodded. "I'm not asking for a job, I'm asking to pick up a little oarboat experience."

"Let me go in and make a call," Al said.

"Thanks, sir, I really appreciate it."

A few minutes later Al was back. "No problem," he reported. "In fact, it might prove to be a good move for you. Marty says that you're one of three guys he's considering to take an oarboat on a couple trips this summer, and a good recommendation from me will probably make up his mind."

"I'll do my best to make sure you have reason to give him a good one," Jim said.

 

There was the usual hassle of getting groceries and packing on Saturday. Normally Crystal would have gone with the gang to the Burro on Saturday evening, but in the middle of the packing, her mother had shown up on her way back from Chicago. "So, how'd it go?" she asked, after she'd gotten her off to the side.

"Remarkably well," Karin smiled. "The settlement proved to be exactly what we proposed and had agreed to. I had thought Pete and his lawyer might have decided to make difficulties, but it turned out that they didn't."

"You saw Pete, I suppose?"

"Of course. He was reasonably civil, if rather cold. The house is being sold. I'm letting him keep the furnishings; he can sell them or use them in the new condo he's buying. We agreed that there are a few other items that I'll keep, and they're being shipped out here. So, that's the end of that, except waiting out the final decree, and the cash settlement from the house, which the lawyers will handle."

"Mom, I'm glad this is over," Crystal sighed. "I thought you should have done it years ago."

"I realize now that I should have," Karin replied. "But, as I've said before, there were reasons not to, and inertia was involved; it was easier to carry on than it was to change things. But it looks like things are going to turn out fine."

"Look, I've tried to keep my nose out of it, but what happens with you and Dad?"

"You have to understand, this is still confidential, and we still can't announce our plans until the decree is final, for the sake of keeping Pete from trying to throw a final wrench in the works. But, we've already agreed that it's going to go where we want it to go. There are some details that need to be worked out, and we're hoping to work them out this summer, so I'd appreciate it if you can work it around to have boatmen enough to get him off the river for a while. And I'd like to take a trip, too."

"That's going to be up to him, Mom," Crystal replied. "I can see some juggling going on, though, so I wouldn't be surprised if he winds up staying back after we get off the river this time."

"That was his hope before he left," Karin nodded.

"Did you find out anything about Nanci?"

"Not really," she sighed. "She talked to Thelma last fall, and Thelma told her that we were here, well, at least that you were here and she thought I might be with you. There's been no word since. Pete said he knew nothing, but the impression I got from Thelma was that Nanci had told her that she wasn't welcome around the house. None of her old friends or their parents who I've contacted know anything, not that she has a lot of old friends left in the area for one reason or another. College, marriage, that sort of thing."

"Well, then I guess it's up to her," Crystal nodded, "But I'll bet we hear from her sooner or later."

"Yes, and when we do, she'll be carrying a package of trouble with her, I can guarantee you that."


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