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 47

February 4 - March 22, 2001


As it turned out, Scooter wore her Wild Wet bikini more than she expected -- she'd thought it would be only the once, to humor Michelle. It kept her covered to the point of possibly being legal if the definition -- and the suit -- were stretched a little. That was good for just lying in the sun for a little winter tanning if someone was around, for all three of them would lie out in the nude if they were alone. And yes, it did catch some attention. Over four weeks, they did more sailing than they had the year before, saw more sights, visited more islands. They also partied in bars a little less, but some of those parties were a little more intense. Both Scooter and Michelle did a little casual sportfucking too, but Crystal gave it a pass, as she had last year.

After the conversation on the beach at Grand Bahama, Scooter found herself reflecting on several things, and one of them was the fact that such fooling around was awful shallow and the rewards only momentary. She'd had only nine such incidents in the last two years, which was nine more than in the four years preceding, so maybe she'd caught up a little. In any case, toward the last part of the sailing trip she backed off and didn't push possible encounters like she had the first part.

Crystal had a point -- it would be nice to have a regular guy, maybe even marry him if things were to work out right. Whatever she did, though, would have to leave the option of staying in the Canyon open to her, that much was clear; and when she thought through Crystal's reasoning, the possibilities seemed bleak.

Scooter knew there was a possible exception: Jim Griffin. He was about Crystal's age, she didn't know for sure, a Navy veteran. He'd been in the Canyon a little longer than she had, but not a lot longer although she had vastly more rafting experience. He enjoyed skiing and snowboarding and hiking and surfing and sailing, a little climbing, being on the river, the same sort of things she liked. He wasn't what you would call good-looking, but not ugly either -- nor was she. They'd known each other casually for two summers, had a few beers the first summer, and he'd done a trip with them last summer, at her suggestion and to his benefit. Jim was no Randy, not that it was bad, and he had some nice qualities of his own. Worthy of investigation? Of course. Was Crystal thinking the same thing? Probably. Nothing much could be done until he got back to Flag from Colorado, and that probably wouldn't be until tripping season opened, so at best further investigation was on a mental to-do list.

All trip long they'd given consideration to a different cruising grounds for next winter, somewhere in Mexico, perhaps, or maybe even follow up on Randy's idea of New Zealand. But, when they got back to Abaco and got to talking with the agency owner, he offered them a nice discount on the Felicity Ann for the same period next year; what's more, he'd keep the reservation refundable until September 1. They really liked the boat; it was comfortable, easy riding, and could get up and move if they pushed it, so they put in the reservation. Both Scooter and Crystal made a mental note to ask Randy and Nicole to join them for a few days if she could possibly get off school.

If the truth be told, they'd had enough sailing to hold them for a while when they got on the small inter-island plane that took them to Nassau, and the somewhat bigger one to Orlando a couple hours later. They'd already known they weren't going to go back to Buddha's this trip and already had reservations, so a few hours later they were in Phoenix, where Jon and Tanisha picked them up at the airport.

On the way up to Flagstaff, they told some of the stories of the trip to Jon and Tanisha. The two agreed that going to the Bahamas another year was a possibility but would depend on how busy their job was; things were going well, whatever it was they were actually doing. After dark, a long way west from Marsh Town and in much colder weather, the two dropped them off at the house. Karin wasn't there, which was not unexpected; once again, they couldn't tell if she'd actually been staying there or not, not that it mattered. In any case, they knew where to call to report their return: Al's. "Why don't you come over here and tell us about your trip?" she suggested. "We've got a nice fire in the fireplace and it seems so very cozy."

Michelle allowed as how she thought she ought to be heading to Grand Canyon Village to check in with her folks. They dropped her off at her car at the office parking lot and headed on out to Al's, expecting to find the two of them curled up on the sofa cuddling and doing cute stuff like that. Instead they found the two of them on the floor in front of the fireplace, a pile of books and papers spread around haphazardly. "What's happening here? Crystal asked.

"Just trying to shuffle all the little arrangements around to pull off this wedding," Al snorted. "Last time I did this, Louise and I just snuck over to Vegas and spent a few hours playing the nickel slots and then getting married. This is damn sure going to make up for it."

"I thought you had it pretty well pinned down," Scooter observed.

"A few things, but stuff keeps changing," Al grumped. "The dates of the second party keep slipping around, and Crystal, it looks like you're going to have to run a faster than normal trip and then have to sit around for a few days. It has its good points, both Jon and Tanisha and Randy and Nicole have a limited amount of time they can get away, and so do some others. Randy and Nicole were making sounds about hiking out the Bass Trail because their time is so limited, but they're going to do the whole trip now, unless something else comes up."

"You remember him ranting at Buddha and Giselle's," Karin observed. "I think Nicole had to do some pretty serious arm twisting to manage that. Not Randy's arm -- his grandfather's."

"Which leads me to a thought," Al said. "I've only been a couple miles up the Bass from the river, and that was a hell of a long time ago. Is there any chance you two committed hikers could take an overnight down to the river and find out if it's going to be passable for not-so-committed hikers, what kind of preparations are going to be needed, and like that?"

"Don't see why not," Crystal replied. "We can do it right away or hold off until it's close, to make sure we have late information."

"With you, Scooter, and Karin leaving on the Park Service trip on March 24th, there's that deadline, too," Al told them. "And you've got your first trip starting April 8th, and the wedding trip currently the 27th, so you're going to have to have your ducks pretty seriously in a row before you go on the Park Service trip."

"We talked about it some on the sailing trip," Scooter said. "We still want to get out of here for a week or so in Hawaii in the next month or so, and maybe sneak off snowboarding locally on occasion, but there's no real reason we can't get going on preparations in the morning."

"Good, I can find stuff for you to do, and I'm sure you have your own lists," he said. "But there's some flex. Why not wait on the hike until we have good weather predicted for two or three days?"

"Yeah, we'll have to gather up our backpacking gear, too," Crystal said. "So, what else is cooking?"

"You'd think we could find a minister in this town that would be willing to do a Canyon trip," Karin snorted. "Even if it's a hike-in, hike-out. Since you've been gone, we've had three agree, then back out for some reason or another. I don't suppose you have any ideas."

Crystal looked over at the fire for a moment. "Well, I do have one," she smiled. "He might appreciate a raft trip more than some, too. He's kind of out of town, though."

"How far out of town?" Karin asked.

"Chattanooga, Tennessee," Crystal grinned. "You remember when I took you down the Ocoee that time?"

"Crystal, what happened at the end I could not forget to my dying day." She let out a sigh and continued, "Al, that's the time that those two kayakers attacked Crystal and Randy with knives."

Scooter had heard the story not long after it happened, and knew that Crystal didn't like to bring it up, even now, over five years later. "If you'll remember," Crystal said to change the subject slightly, "I wasn't the trip leader on that trip. Do you remember the trip leader?"

"I remember the face, but not the name," Karin said. "A tall young man, sandy brown hair. You said he was rather religious."

"He was and is," Crystal grinned. "He was just about my best friend down there, at least the one who worked at Ocoee Adventures; Scooter was at NOC, and I didn't see her as much. Anyway, his name's Noah Whittaker. He's youth pastor at a big church in Chattanooga."

"Oh, yeah," Al said. "He was one of those people you talked to when you got Scooter to come out here."

"Yeah, he said he was pretty wrapped up in his job. But when we were at Ocoee Adventures he was about the best raft handler we had. Maybe I can't get him to be a boatman for us, but it would be neat to show him some real water. At least he's not going to shy away from riding in a raft."

"Phone's in the kitchen," Al grinned. "Go call him. He'll have to get the plane ticket, but I'll pay for the boat ride."

"If he balks at the plane ticket, I might just be willing to pay for it," Crystal grinned. "Noah was always one of the good guys."

"I'd chip in," Scooter added as Crystal headed for the kitchen. "Some of my best memories of those days are sitting around talking with him about nothing in particular. I'd love to see him again, too." She stopped for a second and went on, "Al, I'm sure I told you how I first met Crystal and Noah, when I had that raft flip and the customer almost drowned. It wasn't until the next summer I got to know them. Ocoee Adventures had a bunkhouse for their rafters, and it was party central. Crystal and Noah and a couple other kids didn't like that too much, so they lived in their own tents up on the hillside all summer. The party crowd called them 'the hillbillies,' but I think they had more fun than the party crowd, mostly because they were all good friends. The last couple years Crystal and Noah were there I was sort of a fringe member of their group. Two or three times a week I'd be over there with them."

"I don't recall meeting you there," Karin replied. "But I was only there the one time. I was rather proud of Crystal and the other hill people for getting out of the bad situation in the bunkhouse and making the best of it."

"Oh, Crystal can party if she's in a mood to, and she could back then," Scooter smiled. "But she wasn't up for it every night like some of those Ocoee Adventures bozos. Maybe I shouldn't say it, at NOC we looked at ourselves as responsible professionals, and thought of the Ocoee companies, all of them, as being a bunch of thrill-ride operators. But Crystal and Noah were the best of the bunch over there."

"Considering what happened afterward, I don't remember a great deal about the river trip," Karin said. "It was the first time I was in a raft with Crystal, and I remember being quite impressed with her skills." She stopped and shook her head. "I remember thinking that if Al could see her on that raft, he'd be proud of the girl we made. How far we have come!" She shook her head again. "I remember being quite excited on the river, but now that I look back at it from the perspective of the Grand Canyon, it does seem more like a thrill ride than a river trip."

They talked Ocoee and Nantahala stories for a while before Crystal came back from the kitchen. "Got lucky," she said. "They had a big youth meeting on Sunday night cancelled because of the huge winter storm they're having. Mom, get this, the whole town is about shut down because they had maybe three inches of snow."

"Good grief!" she said. "When I was a girl growing up in Spearfish Lake they wouldn't even cancel outdoor recess for three inches of snow!"

"That part of the world doesn't exactly have world-class snow-removal equipment," Scooter grinned.

"Could be worse," Al snorted. "You could have grown up in LA like I did. I never saw snow except on a distant mountaintop until the end of my first year on the river when I was hanging around Flag wondering what to do."

"Anyway, Crystal," Karin said, "Can Noah do the wedding?"

"He says he'd like to do it, but he's going to have to check with his boss to see if he can take off that long at that time. There's a licensing issue he needs to find out about, too. It may be tomorrow and may not be with all that snow. He's excited about it; he's got his cross-country skis out and was waxing them up. He's a Michigan boy; he's pretty contemptuous of three inches of snow, too."


Crystal and Scooter worked on rafts and gear for the coming season fairly steadily for the rest of the month. This didn't keep them from taking off on snowboards if the weather was particularly nice, and occasionally it was. One day was so nice and warm with a kind sun beating down that they teased themselves into taking a run down the intermediate slope at one of the resorts wearing nothing but bikinis -- and not the Wild Wet bikinis, either.

Toward the end of the month, they packed up some warm-weather clothes, got in the Mustang and drove to Las Vegas, where there was a particularly favorable air fare for a direct flight to Honolulu. Both Crystal and Michelle had thought the north shore of Oahu was pretty crowded, so they skipped it right from the beginning and flew to a small resort on Maui, instead. The waves were better than they'd been in Florida, and the water was a lot warmer, so they didn't have to worry about thermal protection, not that the Wild Wets offered much, or of any other kind of protection either. They only wore them once, for a short while, mostly because they teased each other into it again. It did get them some of the male attention they'd been seeking; again Scooter and Michelle had fun if intimate evenings with male companions while Crystal sat in the bar telling rafting stories. Even trying to do the trip on the cheap was on the expensive side, so they hadn't planned on staying long, and didn't -- they were back in Flagstaff a week after they'd left, but it made for a good trip.

Their reports on their Hawaii trip were so nice that a week later, Al and Karin followed in their footsteps, and came back with some surfing stories of their own. There were no stories about what else may have gone on, but again, Crystal and Scooter figured it was their business.

While they were gone, Michelle watched the office for a couple days while Scooter and Crystal hiked the Bass Trail down to the river. They'd heard stories that the road into the trailhead was pretty bad, so they worked through Jeff to borrow a Jeep Cherokee from a friend of his, Ray Reynolds. The reports were right; there was no way that Jeff stood a chance of getting the crew bus within four miles of the trailhead, and Crystal figured he'd be more comfortable with even farther. They already knew that it was seven miles from the river up to the rim, with about a 4500-foot elevation change; this added another four to six miles, although considerably more level. It was no big deal for hikers like them, but it was more questionable for some of the others. The trail from the trailhead to the river was rough and unmaintained, but passable, and if anything, better than they had been expecting.

After some discussion back at the office, Jeff and Ray worked out a plan to take both the bus and the Cherokee to pick up the hikers; Jeff would get as close as was comfortable with the crew bus, and Ray would use the Jeep to ferry the hikers from the trailhead. Another of a myriad of problems solved.

With that chore done, it was mostly getting ready for the summer season -- and by now it was getting tight for time. All fifteen rafts and one extra one would have to be fully rigged and ready to go before the first trip launched, since there would be no time to do any preparation later like was usually done. Team 2 -- now Crystal's -- would have a few days after the Park Service trip to get groceries and do final packing, but they had a very brief, overnight turnaround. Unloading, cleaning up, getting groceries, packing and reloading seemed to mean that they wouldn't get much sleep, and for once the plan wasn't to get up to Lee's Ferry the day before, but try to slide in early on the launch day and rig as quickly as possible. They wouldn't even have as much time for that; early on, it had been decided to run the passenger pickup for the wedding trip out of Phoenix, rather than the usual Las Vegas. Partly it was because several people were coming out of there, and partly because they could use the crew bus for the pickup and save a little money. Since Team 2 was going to have to run fast, this would give them an early start. They had plans to get well beyond Badger the first day -- maybe, if everything went real well, down to North Canyon, in the area where they usually tried to stop the second night out.

With all of that added together, it meant that something was going to have to get cut short on the turnaround cycle. Some things had to be done, in any case, but again Jeff provided the solution: he, Jimmie, and Ray, with some help from Karin, would get the groceries and pack them up ready to go, except a few things where they'd be short on ice chests.

Having the crew change in the middle of things didn't help. Both Teams 2 and 3 were going to have to be filled out with college kids, more than they would like. Some of the kids wouldn't be done with finals until the day the trip left, so that pretty well decided who was going to hike down from the rim. Scooter would hike out the Bass Trail with her team, but they'd have an essentially normal turnaround with no unloading and cleaning. It was all a hell of a hassle and not worth doing except for something special like this.

A couple days before the Park Service trip was to begin, Al called Scooter and Crystal into his office. "I need to talk to you about assistant trip leaders," he said. "If we leave Michelle out of it, and we about have to because we need her in the office, we're weak there, you know that."

"Jerry would do fine, I think," Scooter commented. "Dan, doubtful. Given a choice, I'd rather have Duane."

"I know you would, Scoot," Al replied. "I'd just like him to have a little more Canyon experience, if possible. I know I made you an assistant without much experience, but we didn't have any choice then, and we don't have much more now. Unless things get balled up, I'm planning on giving you Jerry as the assistant on Team 3. Crystal, I'm going to make Dan the assistant on Team 2. I'm hoping he will grow into the job. If he doesn't you'll have Michelle at least part of the trips to back you up, and I'll be with you some of the time, probably with your mother, although I want to try to ride with the other crews at least once, too."

"I have to agree with Scooter," Crystal said. "I doubt if Dan can do it."

"I'm not sure myself," Al said. "But here's another angle to it. He is a full-season boatman, and we don't have an excess of those. In fact, we're going to be seriously hurting on the first cycle. But I get the impression he's thinking about hanging it up. If we can show some confidence in him and he can grow into the job, maybe he'll decide to stay on for a while. He's a perfectly adequate boatman, and careful; he doesn't stick his neck out. I'd hate to lose him because of that."

"You have a point, Al," Crystal said. "If he bombs out, do we put Michelle into the job?"

"Maybe," Al said. "Depends. I'm thinking at this point of putting Duane on your team as a backup, or maybe Team 1 where he could drop back if we need an assistant on your team. As always, you never know till you shove off from Lee's who is doing what, but this looks like it has enough potential to try."

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To be continued . . .

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