Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
June 29 - August 10, 2000
Grand Canyon, 2000: Summer 2
After the usual brief break, they were off and running on the fifth trip of the season, Crystal again in charge. Except for losing Karin and Melissa and picking up Norma, the crew was the same, and they were getting to be a well-tuned group.
This trip and the next trip were usually the ones that drew the peak of the summer heat, and this was no exception. Now, except for the first brief stop or two in the morning, people were swimming at every break -- at least getting out of the raft to get wet. It helped a little; when they ran rapids of any size the boatmen tried for as wet as possible. Well, short of a flip, anyway.
It was on this trip that Duane got Scooter and Crystal off to the side as things were dying down one evening. There was a bond between the three that was a little special -- they'd come up as eastern boatmen, all three had done the AT, and Scooter had been the person who picked him out to come to the Canyon. Now, he said that he was thinking of picking up another similarity -- the Outdoor Leadership Training Academy, OLTA, where both Crystal and Scooter had graduated years before. Both had told him that OLTA had been a valuable experience for them, one that had shown its worth many times, but as a hiker and a rafter he was already past some of the things that they could teach him.
"Right," he said, "But there's some things that they can teach me. The Wilderness First Responder course for example."
"You're right on that one," Crystal told him. "In my opinion, they teach it better than anyone else, too. If I were Al, I wouldn't let any trip go out without at least one WFR on it, and I plan on griping to him about it some time. Scooter and I are both WFRs, Dave is a WFR on Team 2, but if there's one on Team 1 I don't know about it. Well, Mike is a Medical First Responder I think; it's not the same thing, but it's better than nothing. The one serious injury we've had in years, according to Al, was when Jerry fell last summer, you've heard the story. Talk about getting lucky! We had an EMT, a retired emergency room nurse, and not one but two WFRs."
"I never laid a hand on him," Scooter smiled. "I was too busy loading the boats. But yeah, a WFR card wouldn't be a bad thing to pick up, and there's some OLTA courses that are oriented a little more toward actual leadership skills than they are at picking up outdoor skills."
"Well, all of them teach leadership skills," Crystal expanded. "Some more than others. Yeah, from that viewpoint there might be something that's worth your while, and if you do it over the winter, it's not impossible that Al might be willing to pick up a piece of it, assuming you're coming back next year."
"I'm coming back as long as they'll have me," Duane nodded. "I mean, shit, this is only my fifth trip, but I'm hooked. I like the Canyon and I like the life." He took a deep breath and continued. "I guess what I'm saying is that I wouldn't mind picking up some stuff that might lead to my being a trip leader someday."
"Ahh, you are hooked," Crystal grinned. "Look, you realize that in the short term there's probably not going to be any trip-leader spots open at Canyon Tours, don't you? Bill is leaving this season, and Scooter is already earmarked to take over his team. Dave and Mary aren't leaving soon, and I'm not planning on leaving soon. That means that even Scooter is going to have to fall back to assistant in the spring and fall. The assistant picture is a little better. Michelle doesn't want to be an assistant; she just wants to be a boatman. When Scoot takes over a team, that means there's going to be two assistant spots open, and it wouldn't surprise me if Michelle isn't in one of them."
"Wouldn't surprise me either way," Scooter agreed. "Michelle takes special handling, and I have mixed emotions about whether I'd want her as an assistant or not. Some of the stuff she'd be impossible to beat. Other stuff she would drive you up the wall. So there could be some at least partial-season assistant openings coming up as early as next year, but at this range it's hard to say."
"That's not saying that there may not be a trip-leader spot open up sometime," Crystal added. "Al has on occasion commented that if he had enough people available he'd go to a four-team setup, at least for trip leaders, and let them have an extra week off between trips. I don't know if I like that or not. In fact, it seems loose to me. Now, if I was married to someone topside, I might think the four-team setup had points, but I don't expect to be married any time soon."
"Same here," Scooter added. "Now, given a little more Canyon experience, I think you'd make a great assistant, and probably a good trip leader some day. I was an assistant on my fourth trip, but that was special circumstances, I was OLTA and had about four times the experience in the east you did. So, it's not the same thing."
"Right, but there's OLTA again," he smiled. "I'm thinking that if it comes down to me versus someone else, that might throw the balance a little my way. But, I'll be honest, the other angle I'm thinking about is taking off early this fall and going to school at Northern Arizona to take their EMT course, or maybe next spring. EMTs can always find work off season, and it's better pay than shoving burgers; ask me, I know."
"Yeah," Crystal nodded. "That has potential. There's some stuff that a WFR knows that an EMT doesn't, mostly because they're coming at it from different directions. But there's so much that an EMT knows that a WFR doesn't that the balance falls way the other way. No promises, but there's a good chance that Al might be willing to pay a little extra to have an EMT on the crew as a full-season boatman."
"You think I should run it by him, then?"
"Can't hurt. Just looking at who I know about, there's a good chance we'll be pretty close to having enough boatmen to go around this fall without having to go for pickups outside the company. So, he might not scream too loud if you tell him you want to not run in the fall so you can bring an EMT certificate back in the spring."
"It needs some more thinking about," Duane admitted. "But I may just run it by him if he's in the office when we get in the next time."
As it turned out, and a little to their surprise, Al wasn't in the office when they got off the trip: Michelle was -- and Karin was out with him on Team 1! "If they're going to run together this summer, they about have to do it on Team 1 because I'm the only one he can switch with," she told them. "I almost don't mind being in the office when it's as hot down between the walls as it's going to be for them this trip."
"There were some days down there that I had some pretty favorable thoughts about central air conditioning," Scooter admitted. "Thoughts of ski slopes covered with nice, frozen snow were rather appealing too."
"That's not that far off, is it?" she asked. "You know, that's something we should do on this break, the three of us get together and nail down a couple things about winter. The sailboat charter is at the head of that list, of course."
"Let's try to not get things tacked down too damn tight just yet," Crystal suggested. "Mom's divorce becomes final just about the time the tripping season ends, so I'll bet there's a wedding and a honeymoon in there somewhere."
"We're probably OK on tacking down the sailboat charter," Michelle said. "I wouldn't want to guess too far beyond that at this point, though. Next question, Bahamas? Specifically, Abaco and the Phoebe Lee? I called up and asked. We still get the price break during January and early February, but there's someone got it scheduled the first week of that period, so only three weeks are available. On the other hand, they have a thirty-two-footer, the Felicity Ann, that we could have for four weeks."
"Oh, hell, I don't know," Scooter said. "I'm not as tight for money as I was last year; I suppose I could go either way, especially if they give us a decent price break on the bigger boat if we take it for an extra week."
"I do know there were times that the Phoebe Lee seemed a little on the cramped side," Crystal said thoughtfully. "There might be someone who would be willing to share the expenses for part of that time, too."
"It's possible," Michelle nodded. "I can't think of anyone right off, but there's probably someone from the company if it's one of the guys. Or do we want to keep this all-girl?"
"Again, hell, I don't care," Scooter said. "We're grownups, after all. If we can't look the other way at someone else doing a little sportfucking we shouldn't be doing this trip at all. As far as the Bahamas go, I don't care about that either. All I'm asking is warm and good places to party. Abaco is fine, we never got to see all the island in a month, let alone Exuma or Grand Bahama, and there were other places we could have gone."
"I'm pretty much with Scooter," Crystal said. "I'd say that if we can get the bigger boat for about the price we paid for the Phoebe Lee for four weeks last year, or maybe ten or fifteen percent more, go for it. Whatever Al and Mom do, they'll know we have those dates tacked down. Other stuff, like Buddha and Giselle's again, we can build around that. I would not be surprised if they want to go down there again with us, but we can work that out later."
"You'll be seeing them in a few days," Scooter noted. "You might wait on them to get in before you tack it down, and you could work Buddha and Giselle into the deal."
"A thirty-two footer is enough bigger that I wouldn't be opposed to having them along for a week or so," Crystal noted. "That might mean you'd have to stay here, though. But if the dates are tacked down, that's something we can work around later. We've got all fall; we can work out the details around a campfire or something."
"That's if I wind up running with you," she said. "I don't know how Al is going to play that. If I run with you, that makes Team 3 pretty girl-heavy, not that we weren't last spring. The balance is closer if I run with Team 2. On the other hand, if I'm with Team 3, it makes switching off with Al simpler, so Karin can run with you. We'll just have to see how it works."
"Are you going to be back on the river the next Team 1 trip?"
"As far as I know," she replied. "We'll be starting in on the fall changeover, and I think Al will want to be around to talk to people heading off for school, and to handle the shuffle. I've got a different way to do it than we've done before; I worked it all out, we'll have to see what he thinks of it. If he buys it the way I have it written up now, I'll be with you two."
"You gonna have the braces back?" Scooter giggled.
"I don't know yet," she shrugged. "I'm starting to get used to not having the damn things in my mouth."
For the first time all summer, Team 3 had no major crew changes when they started the next trip, other than to switch leaders again, with Scooter in charge this time, and to take a different high school kid tryout, a guy named Justin. Right from the beginning he seemed a heck of a lot more sensible and businesslike than the rather giddy Melissa had been two trips before, and before the trip was very far along Scooter and Crystal had agreed they'd tell Al this one was a keeper.
They'd been hit by thunderstorms two or three times a trip since June, and had several other near misses. In the heat, they were almost always refreshing, but thunderstorms in the Canyon could be dangerous, since a thunderstorm even beyond sight or hearing could set off a dangerous flash flood if they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.
About halfway through the trip they were camped at the Bass Trailhead. There's a particularly nice hike to a waterfall just downstream on the other side of the river, going up Shinumo Creek; even though it was downstream, there was a nice eddy to ride back up to the campsite. Scooter was just getting the hike organized when Norma came to her and told her flatly: don't do it. The sky at the time was clear, and there was no sign of a thunderstorm, but both Scooter and Crystal had seen this kid hit it between the eyeballs too many times to brush her off. At the last minute they changed the hike to one up the Bass Trail itself, which Norma said would be all right. Two hours later, with little warning, the comfortable little trickle of a creek became a four- to six-foot-deep torrent as the result of a thunderstorm miles off that they could see from their vantage point a ways up the trail. The creek was still running heavily when they passed it in the morning. That was scary in a number of ways; had the hike come off, there was plenty of potential for danger, with very little warning that anyone had noticed. But in this case, the danger was averted because of an uncanny weather sense on the part of this unassuming but bright Navajo girl. How did she do it? She said she didn't know, she just knew.
Norma was coming along as a boatman, too; last year she'd been a little tentative at the oars, but she'd gotten past that, and by now had several runs of all the major rapids. Before the trip was over with, Scooter and Crystal told her that they intended to recommend to Al that she have a raft of her own next year. Privately, they thought she ultimately had the potential to be an absolutely great boatman. She still had the intent of being a doctor, so it was anyone's guess how long she would stay working summers. But if she was half as good at diagnosing patients as she was reading the weather, she was going to make a great doctor, too.
The heat broke a little in the last few days of the trip -- it was still oppressively hot as hell, but a little less hot than it had been before. That helped everyone mellow out toward the end of the trip, since there had been a few hot tempers as a result of the heat. As things mellowed out, Scooter was taking looks at one particular guy who was giving her second thoughts about not messing with customers while she was the trip leader, but she decided to stick to her policy. It wasn't that big a deal.
As always, the last night near Granite Springs was special: sad farewells, pledges of friendship, mellow at the end of a trip. Since there was only a short distance to run, people usually lazed around in the morning -- but this morning, Norma came to Scooter, looking very unhappy. "We'd better get down to Diamond Creek as quick as we can," she told her. "We need to have things packed up and ready to go when Jeff and Jimmie get here. And we better hope they get here early."
After the Shinumo Creek incident, there wasn't anyone on the trip who wasn't going to take Norma at her word. When Jeff and Jimmie arrived at the takeout, the rafts were already out of the water and de-rigged, and everything was packed and ready to go. Stuff was being loaded almost before the motors were shut off; four of the five rafts were manhandled onto the flatbed by a frantically working group of customers and crew who didn't even bother with the shear leg crane. Jeff didn't quite take everything seriously, but he hadn't seen Norma at work, either. In only a few minutes all the gear was loaded, both passenger's luggage and everything else; the bus was crammed tight with both passengers and crew, and more were riding on the trailer stacked with rafts, some in the back of the pickup. As they went up the valley, they could see a thunderstorm in the near distance, and Jeff began to take Norma's prediction a bit more seriously. Ten minutes after they made it up to the point where they were to meet the customer bus which hadn't arrived yet, they could look back down the road and see the creek flash flooding.
The customers had already handed out tips the night before -- but Norma got just about every spare bill in the group, and the boatmen contributed too. So did Al when they got back to Flagstaff and he'd been told the story. Twice on the trip, her eerie but accurate weather sense had been a literal lifesaver.