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 41

August 10 - September 21, 2000

Grand Canyon, 2000: Early Fall Trips

Though Team 3 had been pretty stable the last two trips, Crystal and Scooter knew from the beginning that it wouldn't be next time; most of the summer help on all three teams would have to be back in school by the time the next trip would end.

Before they got started unloading and cleaning back in the Canyon Tours back lot, right after they'd got done telling Al and Karin about how Norma's weather sense had saved their butts, twice, they worked out a lot of it.

"I don't know if Michelle told you," Al said. "But she had a cute idea of how to handle the crew reassignments. Her basic idea was sound, but the people changed a little, so while we've got everybody here, let's get this ironed out. Glenn, you have to be heading back right away, right? Any chance you could hang around an extra week?"

"I'm afraid not," he replied. "When it was clear that I was going to be getting off this early I scheduled a mission retreat. In fact, I'm going to have to hustle out of here, since it starts Saturday."

"Well, nuts," Al said. "No big deal, then. What I was going to have you do was go on the next trip, and then have you exchange at Phantom with someone from Team 1 that'll walk down from the rim. I guess if you can't do it, I could go."

"Al," Crystal spoke up. "You don't need to go. I think Norma is up for being promoted to boatmen, and doing it now would put her a leg up on seniority. That might be important another year."

"You think she's ready?"

"No doubt," Scooter nodded. "She's going to make a great boatman, and I think we owe her more than a little."

"I do too," Al agreed. "Norma, are you going to be up for an extra week?"

"Sure thing, Al. I'll just need to make a couple phone calls to change some appointments."

"Well, congratulations, then. You're a Canyon Tours boatman," he smiled. "You can figure on having a raft when you come back next spring, too."

"Looking forward to it, Al," she smiled. "I won't be able to work anything but summers, but I should be available for the next few."

"Uh, Al?" Ben stuck his hand up. "I don't know how to say this, but I'll say that I'll work all fall if you need me to, or run down to Phantom next trip, or whatever. But given a choice I'd like to take off this fall. I've, uh, got something else I'd like to do if I can."

Al furrowed his brow for a moment. "I think we can make it work," he said after a moment. "But this is the first I've heard of it." Scooter glanced at Crystal; it was the first either of them had heard about it, too.

"I only seriously got to thinking about it the last break," he said. "I've been flipping it over in my mind all the last trip."

"How about if I put it this way? Whether I'm going to have boatmen enough depends on one guy on Team 1, and I won't know till this time next week. How about if we leave it that if someone hikes down to Phantom to relieve you, you can take off, and if I can't work it out, you finish the trip and I'll find someone to take over for you after that?"

"That works just fine for me, Al," he said softly. "I hate to put this to you like that, and I'd have liked to run it past you on the last break but you weren't here. If you get into a pinch this fall, I might be available for a half trip or a trip, too."

"It works for me," Al told him. "Mostly because we're in better shape for fall boatmen than we usually are. Unless something else happens, we shouldn't have to run any pickup boatmen at all." He turned to Scooter and Crystal. "I can't tell you yet who'll meet you down at Phantom. Given a choice, Michelle will be one of them, and the other will most likely be Mike or Jerry, but I won't know about that until they get off the river. Is that about it?"

"Al, while I have the chance," Duane said. "I'd like to talk to you, and it doesn't have to be right now. It doesn't have to affect this fall, but it might. I can leave the decision on it up to you."

"Sure, if you want we can head into the office and talk . The rest of you might as well get started unloading so you can get yourselves on over to the Burro."

 

It wasn't until Saturday morning before getting groceries that Crystal and Scooter got the chance to talk to Al. While they were waiting for others to show up, he asked them, "Did you two put that deal in Duane's head?"

"What deal, Al?" Crystal asked.

"The crazy kid wants to go to OLTA this fall, take a couple courses. Now who do we know around here that are OLTA graduates?"

"Oh, that deal," Crystal said. "Actually, he came to us about it, the trip before last. He was making sounds about wanting to take Wilderness First Responder, maybe a leadership course. We're going to have WFRs on each team next season, Dave, Scooter and me, but the more the better, in my opinion."

"I couldn't agree more," Al smiled. "In fact, I'll go one stepfurther. That's something Randy taught me after that deal with Jerry last fall, but it took a while to gel. We've been lucky as hell, but given a choice, I'd like to have an EMT on each trip. So, I told Duane that I'd go halvesies with him on the EMT course at Northern Arizona next spring. Mike from Team 1 was making sounds about it the last time I talked to him, too."

"That's great, Al!" Crystal said. "How about a third one?"

"That's still a little up in the air," he said, "And we may not be able to do it all at once. I want to run it past Kevin and Carl on Team 2, but I don't want to subsidize someone unless they're pretty well planning on being around a couple seasons. But hell, you don't know, you never do. Did you hear about that deal with Carl and Kevin?"

"No, what's that?" Crystal asked. She hadn't seen Carl since spring, but had kept up on how he was doing, mostly because she had been the one responsible for recruiting him. From all reports, he'd done well.

"Well, I thought I had Carl for a full-season boatman, but it turns out not. He's decided he wants to try college again, but at Northern Arizona, this time. I think Barbie may have had something to do with that, I don't know. So, we may have him turn into a summer boatman on us, but I think we'll have him around for a while. That was going to leave me short a boatman for the fall, but then Kevin came to me at the same time and told me he's sick of school; he wants to take a semester off and run this fall. He'll probably be going back in the spring, that's still up in the air. Like I said, you don't know; you never do. What's this deal with Ben, anyway?"

"He hadn't said a word to us," Crystal told him. "But earlier in the season we had a girl from Phoenix on the trip. They got friendly, although if they got out into the bushes I never got a whiff of it. But every break since he's blown out of here as soon as we're done with the unloading, and if we see him on Saturday at all, she's with him. So, I don't think it takes a lot of figuring out."

"Six will get you two he's looking for a straight job so he can be with her more," Al nodded. "Spouses have been the ruin of a lot more boatmen than booze ever was." He shrugged and went on, "And I was thinking about him as an assistant trip leader next season, too."

"Not that it will likely mean anything, but I'd be reluctant," Scooter said. "Ben is OK, he's a good boatman, but he's shy and tentative with people skills, not what I think of as a leader."

"Second the motion," Crystal said. "In fact, given a choice I'd put Duane at the head of the list. He's not hurting for skills, and he's looking for training that will make him more valuable to us. In fact, I'd go so far as to say that if he gets another year or two's experience, he's next in line for trip leader after Scooter."

"That's if he's still around when the time comes," Scooter added. "We explained to him that it may be a while before a trip leader spot opens up. But assistant? If you leave Michelle out of it, unless there's someone on another team I don't know about, I'd say he's at the head of that list, too."

"That's possible," Al nodded. "There might be a seniority problem there, though. Realistically, I've pretty well got to take a hard look at Dan or Jerry first."

"Jerry would probably do all right," Scooter said thoughtfully. "Dan is a nice enough guy even though we don't always get along, but I think he'd be weak as an assistant."

"True," Al said. "And there's also the possibility they may not be long for this river, either. I mean, nothing has been said but I get the impression Dan's getting a little tired of it. On top of that, Jerry has been sniffing around some gal here in Flag this summer; so again, you don't know until you shove off from Lee's. We're gonna be losing some people to graduation this year, but as far as I know all the second-year swampers will be back with boats next spring, so there's that much to the good, anyway. We might be a little tight in the spring, especially if we have a couple kids in that EMT course. Summer looks pretty reasonable, and it's too early to even guess about fall."

 

A couple days later they were again at Lee's, starting down the river for the seventh time of the year. Except for the absence of Glenn, Team 3 was little different, although it was a little strange to see Norma at the sticks without another boatman aboard. Even Wade and Hannah had agreed to ride along for a week and hike out at Phantom; they were heading to college and couldn't do the whole trip, but Crystal figured that swampers for a week beat no swampers at all.

It was still pretty warm, although not quite as blistering as it had been the last couple trips. A couple days out they were passed by a pair of motor rigs, Jim driving one of them. He didn't have much time to stop, but they learned that he'd done another oar trip, and his season would be winding down soon. There wasn't time for much more than the reminder that Crystal and Scooter still owed him a beer, but they'd pay him off in the fall sometime, maybe.

After a week on the river, they were getting close to Phantom Ranch. It was a little sad, since they knew they'd be losing several people they'd come to like: Norma, especially for her weather sense, but because of her detailed knowledge of many of the aspects of the history of the Canyon, especially the Indian history -- and the fact that she was a very nice person, personable and cheerful with the customers. They'd miss Ben, too, assuming he was leaving; although not a standout boatman, he'd done a quiet but competent job all summer. On the way down from Lee's, he'd admitted that his girlfriend in Phoenix had something to do with him taking the fall off and he was planning on looking for work, so it might well be that he wouldn't be back in the spring. On top of that, they'd miss Wade and Hannah; while quiet and unassuming, almost shy, they had done really super jobs as first-year swampers. Crystal and Scooter agreed privately that it wouldn't be a surprise if one or both of them was a boatman by the end of the next summer, if openings came up mid-season.

When they got to Phantom Ranch, there was a little surprise. There were two boatmen waiting for them -- Michelle, which they'd more or less expected, and Mike Borchardt, who they'd known was a possibility. The real surprise was the third person waiting for them: Karin! "I'm your swamper for the rest of the season," she announced as the crew broke out lunch.

"The whole season?" Crystal asked, a little surprised.

"Well, unless something unexpected comes up," Karin grinned. "Al and Michelle are going to switch off trips the rest of the season. But we talked it out, and we all agreed that things would be a little more flexible in the future if I was qualified as a boatman."

"Mom?" Crystal said, jaw agape. "I mean, well, I mean, I never . . ."

"You never thought of me as a boatman?" Karin grinned. "You thought of me as a mousy little bookkeeper in a skirt and high heels, working at Heller-Aller?"

"Well, yes," Crystal admitted, shaking her head.

"That was then. This is now," Karin grinned. "And as you know, it's how it should have been a long time ago. That much said, we're not planning on me being on a regular crew. I still don't think I have the strength for days of long pulls on the flats, although we're working on it. But I should be able to fill in, especially if there's someone to spell me on the flats, or if we have a situation like this spring where we had boatmen ready to go except for insurance qualifications. I could be the official boatman and let them do the work."

"All right, Mom," Crystal shook her head. "I should have seen this coming, but I never thought it would get here."

"I said the same thing about leaving Pete, if you'll recall," she grinned. "Now, you know he thought you were absolutely crazy for being such an outdoor nut. I can't imagine how he's going to feel when he finds out that both of us are Canyon Tours boatmen."

"Serve him right," Crystal grinned. "Are you up for running Adrenaline Alley on the sticks of my raft this afternoon?"

"I was hoping you'd ask," she smiled in reply.

"Darn it," Scooter sighed. "This is going to screw up the pool."

"What pool?" Karin asked.

"Several of us had a pool about how many trips you were going to get in this year. Crystal and a couple other people had six. I had five, along with a couple people. No one had five and a half."

 

Team 3 had run a paddle raft most days since the fourth trip of the season, usually rotating the duty between Scooter, Crystal, and Duane, all of whom were experienced paddle rafters. In the morning a couple days below Phantom, Scooter was getting things around for her turn with the paddle raft when an idea hit her. "Karin," she said. "You were talking the other day about needing some help on the long flats. How about if you ride with me today, so I can show you the basics of a paddle raft? That might be another angle on the problem. You might want to switch back to oars in the heavy stuff, but you'd get some customer help on the flats."

"Sounds like a good idea," she agreed.

Running a paddle raft is more than a little more complicated than running an oarboat, mostly because there's passenger input on the paddles and the amount can vary with every stroke, and the boatman in the stern may not have enough power to overcome them. It takes a little practice on the part of all involved and active participation by the passengers. To no one's surprise, Karin was getting the tricks down pretty well on flat water after a couple days, and by the end of the trip was running more moderate rapids. Scooter, Duane, and Crystal all agreed that while she was picking it up, she wasn't yet ready to captain something like Hance or Lava in a paddle raft, but it was a serious addition to her bag of tricks.

The trip continued hot, not the peak heat of the summer but uncomfortably warm, right down to the last few days, when it broke significantly into clear but relatively coolish days. That put an extra mellow twist to the last part of the trip, and for Scooter it was even more mellow. She and one of the guys on the trip had been nosing around each other much of the way; the night after Lava there was a particularly good spot to get away from the rest of the party and they made use of it. It was good, in fact, so good that she decided to suspend her one-session-to-a-customer rule the next two nights. Again, fun she thought, but not enough to leave the Canyon over.

The last morning of the trip they drifted up to Diamond Creek, and discovered just how lucky they'd been to have had Norma along the previous trip. The boatmen that had been on that trip knew that the stream had flashed, of course, but hadn't really understood how badly. It had been bad; the landing area was seriously eroded, and on the way up the hill there was evidence of several hastily repaired washouts. When they got to the top and stopped to settle the toll for the Hualapai Indian-owned road, a tribal policeman told them that the road had been closed for two days before it could be repaired enough to use for the three parties that had stacked up waiting. It would have probably been all right if they'd been running late, except for the fact that they'd have been stuck for a couple days. If the flash flood had hit while they were loading, they'd have had a hell of a mess, and there were places on the way out where it would not have been good to be caught, either.

 

Back in Flagstaff, Scooter and Crystal hoped to catch up with Jim to finally buy him that beer that they owed him, but he was nowhere to be found. It wasn't until they were out on the river that Al told them what had happened: although they usually operated without swampers in the fall, Dave and Mary had been a little bit jealous that Team 3 had one, even considering the special circumstances. Nothing had been said but Al knew Mary well enough to know that what was unsaid was more important. There weren't a lot of possibilities around just then, but the company that Jim ran a motor rig for mostly shut down in the fall, and after asking around Al discovered that he wasn't scheduled again. So, he became a paid swamper who would fill out all but the last one of Team 2's trips, with the understanding that he was now a qualified boatman and could fill in at the sticks a little more flexibly than was normally the case. "Realistically, it moves him to the head of the fill-in list," Al explained. "And with Mike and Duane at that EMT course spring semester, we will be needing fill-ins."

Scooter led that trip, as the rotation went. The weather was cooler, and there were still some thunderstorms about, but September was often the best month of the year, and it was the case this year. With Al along, that made for four paddle-qualified raft captains with Karin being a fifth. As it turned out, there were more customers than normal who got a charge out of paddling a raft, so Crystal dug around deep in her raft to the spare paddles she'd carried all season, and most days they were running two paddle rafts. Mike thought he'd like to learn the basics, so a few times Al turned a blind eye to the fact that from time to time he was leaving Karin alone in a raft while one or another of the other regular boatmen got some paddle time in with him.

By now, the motor rigs were shut down and the river was a lot quieter and Scooter took advantage of camp spots being a little easier to find. They spent a night in a rather marginal spot upstream of Havasu Creek in order to give time for a longer hike there than normal, over five miles to Mooney Falls, and most of the customers went. They got back mid-afternoon, and dropped down to the first available sand bar, still not the most appealing place to set up but worth it under the circumstances.

There hadn't been a major outbreak of bubble-lining at Lava all this year, at least on Team 3, but they hit it on a day that Scooter had one of the paddle rafts, and she had a particularly good group of paddlers. She explained that the choice was wet or wetter, and wild or wilder; the group voted for wetter and wilder. Just to make sure that no one else tried it this trip, she waited until the last run. The run went well, but she had two paddlers that were as close as damnit to getting washed out in the back rollers, which limited the maneuverability somewhat.


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To be continued . . .

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