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 39

May 21 - June 29, 2000

Grand Canyon, 2000: Summer Trips 3 & 4

Scooter was just a little skeptical at the loading Sunday morning when she met the two new swampers, both kids just out of high school, Hannah McCluskey and Wade Parker. Both were tall and thin, both rather quiet and serious; Scooter suspected these were the two kids she'd heard about before, who were pretty serious boyfriend and girlfriend, and wanted to run together.

"I don't know," she whispered to Crystal. "It looks like a strong wind would break them in half and blow them away."

"Dad says they're pretty good," Crystal whispered back. "Apparently they did a tryout trip with Bill last year, and he wanted to keep them for the rest of the summer."

"Let's hope he's right," Scooter shrugged, as she watched Hannah head for a loaded ice chest. It was one of the bigger ones, and Scooter knew it was pretty heavy. Hannah bent over, grabbed it, and threw it on her shoulder like she was a stevedore unloading sacks of spuds. Wade grabbed another one that was sitting next to it, and did much the same thing. "Shit," Scooter said in surprise, "Maybe we better check those coolers and make sure they're loaded."

"They were five minutes ago," Crystal said with just a touch of awe in her voice.

"Then holy shit!"

"Right!"

"Crystal," Hannah called once they'd set the ice chests in the bed of the pickup. "What do you want us to do next?"

"How about those food dryboxes over by the ice-room door?"

"Sure, no problem."

Scooter knew they weren't light either. If she hadn't seen what had just happened she would have bet that the tall, slender Wade and the downright spindly Hannah couldn't have handled one of them together. Scooter knew she could, but it was a damn struggle. But no, they each grabbed one, threw it on their shoulder and headed for the truck. Scooter had only seen one woman do that before. "Hannah," she called. "By any chance do you know Michelle Rawson?"

"She's my cousin," Hannah smiled as she turned to look at Scooter with the food drybox on her shoulder like it was nothing much.

"My God," Scooter shook her head. "You mean there's another one?"

"One what?"

"Do you chew bubble gum?"

"No, I don't like it. I never really learned how to blow bubbles like Michelle."

"Say no more," Scooter sighed. "I think you and Wade are going to work out just fine."

 

They were out on the river again on Monday with a full load of thirty-two. Though they were just about total beginners on the oars, both Wade and Hannah seemed to pick it up fairly well, and proved to be good workers. They didn't get all that much time at the sticks, because Crystal and Scooter were trying to bring Andy along. In a quiet discussion, the two of them decided that between them they'd give Andy the option to run all the big ones. He did all right, except for getting caught in a rogue eddy line in Sockdolager; the raft got spun around and bounced off one wall. While he was trying to get it straightened out again, it got caught by another eddy and bounded off a rock, finally getting flushed out the bottom backwards.

"Jeez," he said to Crystal, whose raft he was rowing. "Sorry I messed that up."

"Oh hell, it happens to all of us once in a while," Crystal told him. "I'm glad you didn't try to spin the thing in the middle of those back rollers. This thing is more stable endwise than it is sideways, after all. You kept your cool, Andy, that's the important part. It ain't how you handle things when they go right that counts, it's how you do when they go wrong. Let's see how you do in Grapevine."

Duane was running the trip competently in the gear boat, and there really wasn't much reason for comment on how well he did; just about from the beginning, it was understood he'd be carrying passengers the next trip. Although he was carrying a load of gear, it meant that the other rafts were more crowded with people than they'd been the last trip -- every raft carrying passengers except one had eight people on it, which wasn't undoable considering the slightly increased space but it seemed worse.

It was warmer yet that trip; several days were downright hot, and most days Scooter found herself rowing in her swimsuit part of the time, and there was one guy who seemed to take special interest in the way it looked on her. The next to the last day of the trip, at Parashant Wash again, although a little farther up in the bushes, she found out that he liked having the bikini off of her even more. That was fun, and it was just as well it had worked out on this trip, because she'd made up her mind she wasn't going to mess around with a customer on the trips she was leading.

The hot days also set off the most notable campfire story of the summer: it proved that a couple of the passengers, a man and his girlfriend, were seriously addicted to nude sunbathing. There was usually an outbreak of that on most trips, but most people who did it kept it on the discreet side, but these two didn't. That set off the righteous wrath of another couple on the trip, who were seriously offended by such a public display of immorality. It finally blew up one afternoon when both Scooter and Crystal had groups out on different hikes. But, if it had to happen it's just as well that it happened in camp when Glenn was keeping his eye on things. Both the couples were twice his age, but he took his religion even more seriously than the offended couple and they knew it. With that to work from, he mediated a deal: the nudists would at least try to stay out of sight, while the religious couple wouldn't go looking for them. He handled it with such aplomb that Crystal didn't even hear about it for a couple days. It would be unfair to say that the two couples were friends at the end of the trip, but they were on speaking terms, which under the circumstances Crystal thought was pretty good.

"Glenn," she happened to say to him one day towards the end of the trip, and not entirely teasing, "Are you sure you want to go back to college? You're making a great boatman of yourself."

"Yes, I need to go back to college," he said. "And while I've enjoyed being a boatman, this will almost certainly be my last summer, for two years at a minimum if not permanently."

"Why's that?"

"After I graduate, I'll be going off on a mission for two years. It's one of the tenets of the faith, and something I need to do, like Moslems are supposed to visit Mecca."

"We are going to miss you," she said honestly. "Glenn, I will make a point of telling Al that if you ever want to come back to make darn sure that he says yes."

"I appreciate the show of confidence, and your display of faith in me," he said. "But most likely, it's not going to happen."

 

Crystal and Scooter had pretty well figured that their team was going to be fairly stable through the rest of the summer. As it turned out, it was only fairly stable. When they got in, they discovered that there had been one of those things happen that shook everything up. The moves involved were complicated, and made more complicated by the fact that it was difficult to move between teams when the season was under way.

What happened was that a few days after Team 1 was under way, Karin got a call that Emily's mother was very ill and the opinion was that she needed to be home, and the sooner the better. Fortunately, they were still above Phantom and everyone still stopped to check the mail. Pretty quickly Emily was hiking up the Bright Angel; Karin met her at the top and she was off to Los Angeles. She'd called a few days before, and said that it didn't look likely that she'd be back for a month or more.

Fortunately, it happened at the right place at the right time: Al was with Team 1, partly as a ride-along, but partly to check out Kevin Haynes, the senior swamper on the crew, to see if he was ready to be a boatman. Al said in the phone call that he probably was going to go ahead with the promotion unless the kid screwed up big time, and that didn't seem likely. But that meant that Team 1 would be short a second-year swamper -- not a huge deal right then since Al was along, but they'd need one next trip. "So," Karin said, "Al told me to use my best judgement and wing it the best I could. What I'm thinking is that you'll leave Andy behind to transfer to Team 1. Then, when Team 2 comes through, either Barbie or Norma will stay back to work with you."

"Sounds workable," Crystal agreed. "It means that we're going to be short a second year swamper for a trip, but we can get along with two, so long as they're Wade and Hannah."

"As it turns out, you're not going to have to," Karin smiled. "Unless we get a single person signing up for a trip in the next two days, you're going to be one customer short, so I've already got a kid off the high school tryout list. And you'll have me."

"You? Mom, who's going to watch the office?"

"Jeff and Marjorie can make do for four days so long as it's only four days. If it turns out that Kevin doesn't get a raft, there's still time to send Norma or Barbie down to Phantom to exchange with me. On the other hand, if I don't do something, Al is going to have me stuck in the office all summer. At one point the plan was for him to switch out with Michelle and I'd go with him, but he decided he wanted to see Michelle in action as an assistant trip leader, so I had to stay here. I want to make at least one trip when it's near the peak heat."

"You know, Mom," Crystal grinned. "Scooter and I have talked about it, and we've seen several fast ones Al has pulled with the crew scheduling this summer. It'll be good to have one pulled on him. It's not the best excuse I've ever heard, but it's the best one that you're likely to get."

 

Thus it was that Scooter started her second trip as leader and her fourth trip of the year with the same boatmen as the year before, two of the same swampers, but the other two being Melissa, the high school tryout, and Karin.

The trip went well; it was hot, but people were prepared for hot. There was a lot of swimsuit time, and Karin was one of those in swimsuits a lot. It was surprising to see a woman the age of Crystal's mother wearing a string bikini, but Scooter thought she looked pretty decent in it. There were a couple mild cases of heat exhaustion, a couple people who got rather more sunburn than they bargained for, and a guy who managed to tangle with one of only two known patches of poison ivy in the Grand Canyon, at Deer Creek Falls. They didn't have any calamine lotion on the trip -- something Scooter and Crystal made a mental note to rectify in the future. It had gotten to the point of getting out the satphone and calling for a helicopter when a couple motor rigs happened by; one of them driven by Jim, who had some in his first aid box.

They hadn't seen Jim since he'd been with them on the second trip of the season, but he reported that he'd done an oar trip and two motor trips since they'd last seen him; it was anybody's guess how they'd missed him when he'd passed them the last motor trip. He still expected another oar trip and three more motor trips. They didn't get to talk long; the trip leader was a guy with a reputation for twisting the throttle rather hard, and Jim was falling behind with every second. There was offer of beer to thank him for the calamine lotion sometime when they could get together, and he was off.

"You know," Crystal said as the S-rig drew out of sight, "He might make a boatman if you could get the gas smell off of him."

Both Crystal and Scooter figured it was even-money odds to find either Barbie or Norma waiting for them on the landing at Phantom Ranch, but there was no note in the message box, and no sign of either of them around the landing. Scooter decided to not wait around and give them a chance to show up if they were running late.

Although it was Karin's first trip of the season, she spent a lot of time at the oars -- there had been some serious gym time over the winter, and it was showing. She was still a finesse rafter, but she was getting some power to go along with it. Crystal had rowed Hance and Sockdolager, but to celebrate her mother's getting to run a full trip, she decided to let Karin row Horn Creek, and if she proved to be on a roll, Granite, then Hermit. She did all three, and they camped below Hermit that night as they often did. The next morning, they drifted on down to Crystal, and with virtually everyone else in the party, they stood on the rubble pile and tried to scope it out. As they stood there, Crystal said to her mother, "OK, Mom, how would you run it?" Karin picked out a line that seemed pretty good to Crystal, so she said, "Looks good to me. Give it a try."

Crystal said afterward that she didn't know if she was brave or crazy or what to let her mother run Crystal at the sticks on only her fifth trip down the river, but Karin brought it off nicely. It was a wet run, but runs at Crystal were usually wet, and it was no wetter than the others. Karin admitted afterwards to being calm through the run, but thought she was going to pass out from excitement when it was completed. "Running this thing the first time is like losing your virginity," she giggled. "You don't get to do it for the first time a second time. With that under her bikini string -- Karin wasn't wearing a belt -- there was no doubt that she was going to run Lava, too. And, several days later she did, running left, of course, but as clean a run as anyone ever got in the place. By then Crystal was sorry that she hadn't let her mother run Hance and Sockdolager to make it a clean sweep, but there'd be another trip -- that was a for sure, now.

Really, the only disappointment about the trip, other than its ending, of course, was that the high school tryout didn't exactly strike Crystal or Scooter as an overwhelmingly good prospect. They were prepared to tell Al that she might do in a pinch, but there were probably better prospects out there.

Crystal, Scooter, and Karin were all a little surprised to get to Diamond Creek and not find Al there. However, they were pleased to see Norma, the Navajo girl who'd been a main swamper for them last year; they were getting into the worst of the thunderstorm season, and her weather sense would be welcome.

If Al ever said anything to Karin about her sneaking out to get in a river trip, it never made it back to Scooter, or Crystal that she knew of. Crystal admitted to no little surprise that she wasn't out there for the next trip, but then she hadn't been seeing that much of Al since the first part of the season, either.


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To be continued . . .

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