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 42

September 22 - November 17, 2000

Grand Canyon, 2000: Late Fall Trips

Crystal led the ninth trip of the season, which started in late September. Michelle was with them again, and Al back at the office. By now, the weather was cooler still, almost crisp much of the time; swimsuits didn't often make an appearance, now, except at places like the Little Colorado where the water was significantly warmer. Some days it was overcast and pushing on toward cold, but nothing like the misery of the next to the last trip of the year before.

Scooter was just a little disappointed that she didn't have any drama on the last part of the trip like she had on the last two trips Crystal had led, but no great loss, she figured. By now, the Felicity Ann was drawing a little closer into view and presumably there would be some action there; Michelle had tacked down a reservation back toward the end of August. It was going to be a little more than they'd paid for the Phoebe Lee the previous year, but not a lot more, thanks to the combination of off-season rates and longer charters.

All in all, there wasn't much to comment on about this run; it would be hard to say dull, because they had a particularly good group of passengers, a couple of whom were pretty good on the guitar. They were loose enough that Michelle got into some of her rowdier music before the end of the trip. She still hadn't taken the time to have her braces put back on, and thought she might not; what with everything, objectively she now appeared to be in her late teens. That simplified things more than a little. This was her seventh trip of the season, and would be her last of the year, or so they thought.

 

The season was definitely winding down when Team 3 started its last trip of the year, with Scooter in charge and Al back with them. By now, it was late in October and it would be November before they got off the water. For the first part of the trip, it was significantly cooler yet, and some days downright cold; most days it was windy, which didn't make things any more comfortable. There were a few nice afternoons, not many, but enough to take the sting out.

There was little comment about it in front of the customers, but toward the end of the trip the crew all knew the day when Karin's divorce had to go to court to be finalized. She didn't have to be present, only her lawyer; it was pretty much a rubber-stamp thing. Still, it was a landmark day, to be celebrated, and the most appropriate way to celebrate was on the river. As luck would have it, that big day came when they ran Crystal Rapids, and Scooter remembered that the stop on river left a few miles below the rapids had been a landmark for the two of them -- and for Crystal, as well. So, she pulled in very early and told people they were going to make a night of it there. Crystal, Al and Karin disappeared for much of the afternoon, up to the ledge and water pocket where so much had changed for them fifteen months before. Crystal didn't tell Scooter what went on there, and it was clear it was a family matter.

As if symbolically, the weather did improve a little after that stop -- not spectacularly, but it was a little warmer, a little less windy, a little less overcast; some afternoons approached being glorious fall days. The season was long, and by now they were a little ready to get it over with and take some down time, but still, riding the crew bus up Diamond Creek Wash was the hardest trip of the year, to have to turn their backs on the river and ride away.

 

The season wasn't quite over with. Canyon Tours had launched their last trip of the season the weekend before Team 3 came off the river. Jim had to head off to his winter job at the ski resort in Colorado, so Team 2 was going to be short a swamper. The load for this trip would be the lightest of the season, and they'd often gotten along without in the past. However, when they were doing their turnaround, Michelle got Jim off to the side and he admitted that he could dawdle another week and run as the swamper down to Phantom Ranch. By then, Michelle told Dave and Mary, Team 3 would be off the river and someone would probably be willing to ride the rest of the way.

Someone was. In fact, both Duane and Mike offered to do it; Karin would probably have done so as well, but now that the divorce was presumably final -- the paperwork hadn't arrived yet -- there were other arrangements that had to be made. When it came down to push and shove, Michelle exercised her right of seniority and hiked down the Bright Angel to replace Jim as the swamper. It was a little patchwork, but in the end she hadn't missed all that much of the season, and even she admitted that the occasional break was welcome, and would be willing to take her turn in the office in future years.

There was still work to do in that couple weeks before Team 2 was off the river to wind up the season. There was the annual de-rigging and inspection of the rafts, and much of Team 1's work remained to be done. The team had been broken up pretty thoroughly, with three of its members moving to other teams; Bill had taken off pretty quickly, probably at least partly due to the fact that he knew he wasn't going to be back. Stan had hung around for a couple days to get a start on the gear repair, but all he'd done was get a start, and there was a limit to what he could do by himself in that time, anyway. Jeff and Jimmie had been piddling with the de-rigging and inspection for weeks, and were getting a lot of it done, but there was still work left to do. At this point it looked like Dan and Jerry would stay over to do the winter maintenance, with Kevin, Duane, and Mike sticking around until about Christmas; they had to start back to school at the first of the year.

There was still a lot to do, but stuff was starting to get done when Al and Karin went with Jeff and Jimmie out to Diamond Wash to pick up Team 2 from their last trip of the year. When they got back, they reported having a rather cold and nasty trip, although there had been some good days.

Like the year before, the day after the last trip was completed, everyone still around met over coffee and donuts in the barn to sum up the season. "First thing first," Al said. "The season closer party will be tomorrow night, my place, be there or be square. We'll have a lot of summer help there, and some other friends, too. Is everybody here planning on coming?"

He looked around the room, and everyone said they were planning on it. "OK, good," he smiled, "Let's get down to business. We had a very good season. You all did well and I thank you for your efforts. The one real disappointment is that despite everything, we didn't gain as much ground as I'd hoped on the full-season-boatman problem. Looking forward to next spring, it looks like we'll have Dave, Mary, Crystal, Scooter, Jerry, Dan, and Michelle and maybe Ben for the first trip, since Duane and Mike will be finishing up their EMT course, and I think that's important. But by the time we get into the second trip things start to look a lot better, since with them we'll have seven, count 'em, seven summer rafters coming on board, maybe eight. Assuming we don't get a lot in the way of surprises, that ought to be pretty close to doing it. We'll also have at least four summer swampers in their second year. Duane and Mike will only be gone one trip and should be solid in the future, and Kevin tells me he's going to try to finish up his last three semesters all in spring terms. That means we're at ten full-timers, and that means for practical terms eleven in a pinch. Now, I still haven't set the schedule for 2002 yet, but will have to before the end of the year. I don't think we're to the point yet where we can move to the short schedule, but it's getting closer."

"I sure would like to lose the November trips," Mary submitted. "This last one was cold, wet, and not a lot of fun. On top of that, we were well short of a full load. I don't know from your side of the books, but I have to wonder if you took a loss on it."

"I won't be able to tell until we close the books for the year," Karin commented. "But I wouldn't be surprised."

"The problem is the use-it-or-lose-it one," Al said. "It's become much more serious since the Park Service started giving unused commercial launch dates to private groups. I've told you before that I don't want to give up any since we might not get them back. One of the options open is to cut the November trips way back, to three rafts or even two, but again, Karin and I will have to look at the books to see if that'd be even worse. But we will launch all the trips we're allowed even if one or two of them are one-raft trips with two customers."

"Just throwing it around," Scooter offered, "Since we're going to have to depend on summer boatmen, what's the chance of cutting the off-season trips down to four rafts? That'd mean that you'd only have to have twelve full-season rowers, and you're within reaching distance of that."

"Good question and I don't have an answer," Al replied. "And that brings with it the question of whether we can fill all the spaces we'll have on the rafts if we're running three teams off season, whether it's four rafts or five. But it might be a possible solution."

"Al, would it help if you were to offer a bonus for a boatman who works a full season?" Michelle suggested. "Or maybe a trip or two less?"

"Don't know again," he replied. "But you take a look at the people that went back to school this year, it wouldn't have helped with any of them. Of this year's senior swampers that we're promoting to boatmen, I don't know. You can't count Kevin; he was staying, anyway. The rest of them range from 'might do it' to 'no way.' But again, it's a suggestion worth thinking about since it might help in the long run. I still want to work toward having a dozen full-season people that I'm pretty sure are going to be regulars, and we're going to have to work toward it. Duane worked out damn good this year, and I'm not so sure Carl won't in the long run, so I might be willing to look at some outsiders again for next year, too. But this is all talking around the same stuff we always talk about, and we won't know until we count noses in the spring who we've really got, who we haven't, and how many motor-rig guys I'm going to have to find to fill out the spring trips."

"You might want to take another look at bringing someone on as a full-time swamper with the idea of working them up to boatman," Mary suggested, "Rather than depend on college kids."

"Good point, but you have to be a little picky. I'm going to try to work a little more in that direction next year. We could talk this personnel stuff around all day, but there's one more thing I want to get into before we get into equipment. You know the Park Service and the boatman's association jointly run a trip in March to do interpretive training. They take along four or five real experts on geology and other stuff, and everyone I've ever sent to it comes back and says it's worth the trouble. I'd have sent Crystal and Scooter on it last year but it was filled up by the time I thought of it. I've got three spots tacked down, but I have to confirm them pretty quick. You know that we're starting earlier than normal next year as an experiment to see if we can get out of November a little."

"I saw that it was early," Mary commented. "I sort of wondered why. Good move, I think."

"I think so, too," Al said. "At least we're going to find out. Anyway, the trip gets off the water like April third, and that's after what's now going to be Dave and Mary's Team 1 gets on the river. Team 2, that's Crystal and Scooter until Scooter moves to Team 3, gets started the eighth. That means you'd have only five days to do final rigging, unless you get started a little early, and we're all going to have to work together to get Team 3 rigged since the switch to three teams will be on the fly, as usual. Anyway, what I'm asking, Crystal and Scooter, is if you'd be willing to do the trip with that schedule problem hanging over you."

"I did it a couple years ago," Jerry commented. "It's worth it."

"Sure, as far as I'm concerned," Crystal said. "That's the one area I still feel weak in."

"Me, too," Scooter agreed.

"I figured that," Al said. "The problem is the third spot. There are several people I wouldn't mind sending, but I have to bear in mind we're going to be launching Team 1 while the Park Service trip is on the river, so I have to make sure they have enough people to take with them. I'd like to send Dan, but counting noses we could be scratching to fill out Team 2, so that probably lets him out. Duane, Mike, I'd like to send you, but you'll be in class, so another year. Anyone got any idea on maybe one of the summer kids?"

"What I'd like to do is send Norma," Crystal smiled. "The only thing is that she should go as one of the experts, rather than one of the students. The stuff she knows about the Native American history of the Canyon is incredible."

"I agree," Al said. "I've learned stuff from her that I hadn't heard in thirty years. But she's pre-med; she's not going to cut classes. Now, if it was a little earlier so she could work it over spring break, that'd be another story. Any other suggestions?"

"I don't want to sound nepotistic," Scooter spoke up, "But how about Karin?"

"Uh, maybe," Al said with a frown. "She'd be available, anyway, and I expect she'll be out on the river enough to use some of what she'd learn. Let me think about it. Dan, you think about it, too. We could maybe pull a Phantom Ranch switcheroo or something. But I really need to tack this down first of the week at the latest."

"Whatever you want, Al," Dan said. "I don't mind. I suspect Karin might get more out of it than I would, anyway."

"Let's leave it at that," Al said. "Let's get onto equipment. Dave and Mary, I don't know if you know it but Team 3 ran paddle rafts most days, sometimes one, sometimes two, and I thought it went over with the passengers real well. You two have never done paddle rafts, right?"

"Never have," Dave nodded. "Thought it might be fun to try some time."

"After how well that worked, we're gonna get some more paddles. We'll have to work out some way to get you some paddle-raft experience, and it could be that you get Duane on your team next year to teach you. Problem is that it involves having an extra boatman to do it legally, so Karin or I might fill that hole. Again, it's a 'we'll have to see.'"

"They used to have a good paddle raft course at OLTA," Scooter suggested. "You could maybe send them through it while we're still split up into two teams in the spring."

"Might be, we'll have to take a look at it," Al nodded. "But there's other factors, too. In any case, I'm thinking that when we redo the brochures and the web site, we'll be able to say that the paddle-raft option is open on most trips, and go from there. Scooter, you're not going to let me get away with those cheap paddles, right?"

 

The meeting went on from there and dragged out for a couple of hours, mostly equipment problems and gripes before they got back to work. That evening, many of them headed over to the Burro for bar burgers and beer. "You know," Michelle said at one point. "I almost hate to say it, but I think I'm about ready to not think Canyon for a while. I'm about ready to dust off the snowboard and hit the road."

"To tell you the truth," Crystal said. "I am, too. But there's still several days of de-rigging we ought to be around for, and Thanksgiving next week. And I want to spend a few days just chilling. I don't think I'd be up to a trip before the first of the month."

"Same here," Scooter agreed. "And then we'll have to keep it on the short side if we're going to be back here for Christmas and then pack for Florida and the Bahamas. I suppose the plan is sort of like last year about the holidays."

"Pretty much," Crystal nodded. "Mom was telling me that we'll be down at Jon and Tanisha's for Thanksgiving, like last year. She was thinking Jennlynn would be there again."

"It'd be nice to see her again," Scooter smiled. "We haven't seen her since the first of the year. Then Christmas at Al's again?"

"Right," Crystal replied. "Myleigh won't be there, though. I talked with her last week. She's going to have Christmas with the Clarks in Spearfish Lake, mostly because Jennifer wants to talk to her about some upcoming projects. She's willing to fly down to meet us in Florida around the first of the year if we want to do the surfing trip about that time. I ran it by Mom, and she and Al are up for it."

"Well, I guess that settles when the surfing trip to Florida is going to be," Michelle nodded. "There may be a problem brewing on my end, I might have to miss a few days of the surfing. I think we'd better figure on flying, not driving, unless you two want to drive by yourselves."

"Something big?"

"Just family stuff at New Year's, it may be the second or third before I could get there, but we'd still have a few days before we have to head off to the Bahamas. It shouldn't really matter if we're still planning on going to Hawaii."

"Are we still planning on it?" Scooter asked. "I mean, I'd love to, but if we're snowboarding the first of next month, that means we have to go roughly mid-February through the first part of March, since we'll be rigging and having that Park Service trip. I'd just as soon not get right back from Florida and have to head to Hawaii. The alternative is before Christmas, and that's what we were talking about for the ski trip."

"We can probably work it in," Crystal said. "I mean, we really weren't planning on being much more than a week, two at the most. Say, shoot for about the tail end of February, that'd give us a couple weeks break between the two trips to get some snowboarding in."

"It's hard to believe that we can blow up five months that easily," Scooter commented. "But there it is. We'll just have to stay loose, and if it means Hawaii another year, that's what it means. But I think the Park Service trip will be worth the trouble."

"It is," Michelle nodded. "I did it four years ago and I learned a ton, and that's with pretty well being brought up with the Canyon."

"Seems like a mighty fast trip, though," Crystal said. "Ten days is pushing it."

"Actually, it's a slow trip," Michelle grinned. "But you get to learn what it's like to ride a motor rig."

"Motor rig?" Crystal shook her head. "Al didn't say anything about that."

"Why do you think Dan ducked it?" Michelle grinned. "He knew. He's a fool to skip it; it's really worth the effort and a lot of fun."


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