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 49

April 5-26, 2001

2001 Grand Canyon Season Opener

If it had been a normal trip they would have had an extra couple days to get around, but this wasn't a normal trip, and there was plenty to do. It was late enough when they got back from the Park Service trip that they just headed to the house and tried to share out the shower as best they could. The next morning they were out at the office, to find out where they were and what had changed. "Boy, I don't know where to start," Al told them. "We got Dave and Mary out of here on schedule, but I had a couple different pickup boatmen bomb out on me, and a lot of the motor rig guys I could call on are still out of town, so I had to send Jerry, Dan, and Fred from GCR. I could have sent Michelle or gone myself, but there's a lot to be done yet."

"Are we going to have enough boatmen Sunday?" Crystal asked.

"Somehow," Al told her. "The two of you and Michelle. I've got one pickup boatman I tacked down last night, and I'm still trying for another one, so I guess I'll go if I have to. The next trip, no problem; it'll depend on which kids have completed finals as to who actually goes to Lee's, but we're going to have all we need."

Crystal frowned and suggested, "Could we make do with four rafts in a pinch?"

"No way, you've got twenty-two customers now, and Karin was talking with a couple this morning, that are thinking about it real hard since we offered a last-minute discount. If I have to go, there's a good chance Charlie will be in town in time to meet us at Phantom. Let's see, what else? The big thing is the turnaround at the end of your trip. Rather than dink around like we do on the last day, Jeff and I worked out that you'll run down to Diamond Creek the night before and camp there. Jeff and Jimmie will leave way early and try to get there maybe an hour or two after dawn, so that'll buy a few hours. Then Karin suggested that it's a hell of a pain to try to clean all the gear from this trip to take it right out again when we'll have an extra set of gear sitting here. So, what's going to happen now is that when you get in, it's going to be a pit stop, just unload the stuff that has to be inspected or cleaned or whatever and leave it in a pile, load the other stuff and go. Jeff and Jimmie and Karin will have the groceries done and loaded, so it'll be about like a normal Sunday morning, then we'll head right on up to Lee's and get started on the rigging before it gets dark. Don't plan on getting much in town if you can avoid it. I know that's going to be hardest on you two, but it's only this once."

"Not to worry, we know it's special," Scooter smiled. "Maybe if there's something special needed we could call in from Peach Springs and have Karin pick it up while we're on the way here. But how does the stuff that's left behind here get cleaned up so it'll be ready to go when I have to start Team 3?"

"The kids that we don't take with us will be finishing finals in the next couple days. Michelle is going to set up a workbee with them along in there somewhere and get the inspection and cleanup done, probably the day before they hike down to Phantom. You'll still have to get groceries, but it'll at least give you back an evening to make up for some of the time you're losing on this burnaround."

There was still a lot to do in getting both the Team 2 and Team 3 trips ready, but quite a bit had been done while they were gone, mostly done by Jeff and Jimmie and Karin. They were going to be busy, if not frantically busy, and they spent the day messing with it. When they knocked off, they headed back over to the house, with Scooter wondering how she was going to lose Crystal so she could go have a sort of date with Jim at the Burro. Fortunately, Karin gave her an opening. "Girls," she said, "While you're gone I'm going to move my stuff over to Al's, and just live out of a suitcase here for the last few days, but there's a couple things I need an extra set of hands to set up over there. Could one of you help me?"

"Sure, Mom," Crystal said.

"Can I beg off and borrow the Dodge?" Scooter asked. "I've got some running I really need to do. It could take two or three hours."

"I'd hoped we could get in a couple hours with our laundry tonight," Crystal said. "Any chance you could deal with it?"

"Throw it in the car, I'll add it to my list," Scooter agreed with what she hoped was concealed relief. It was hard to say if she was thinking about taking a run at Jim, or had even thought about it, but with Crystal and Scooter together virtually all the time, it was damn difficult to pull something like that past her.

She drove over to the Burro, got a load of laundry going and headed into the bar, where Jim was just settling in. "Wow, stranger," he smiled. "Fancy meeting you here."

"Just in the neighborhood," she grinned. "Hey, I don't know if you knew, but Al is scratching around for someone to run the next trip with us."

"I knew that," he grinned. "When I got in last night, Marty gave me a message that Al wanted to talk to me, so I called him right up. I'm going to be on your trip leaving Sunday; I've got time enough before the regular season starts."

"Way cool," she smiled. On a regular trip, it might be possible to spend a little more social time than they'd managed on the Park Service trip. "The trip itself ought to be all right, but the burnaround at the end is going to be a massive pain in the ass."

"Yeah, he said you had a crazy one there," he nodded. "We do, too. I guess I'm going to be riding on back up to Lee's with you afterward, since we're going to be doing our first rig of the season at the same time, and guess who's going to be on it."

"Boy, doesn't that just beat everything in the ass?" she said. "First you sit around for months waiting to make a trip, and then they're jammed on top of each other with hardly time to shit in between."

"I guess that's the price we pay if we want to be down in the Canyon," he nodded. "You know, when I took this up, I looked on the rafting as a way to fill in the summer break between ski seasons, so a four-month season was fine. Now, I've come to like the Canyon so much that I'm looking at it the other way around, and I sure wish I could get in with you guys. Hell, I'm not even sure I want to go back to Cooper Hill next winter."

"The subject has come up with relation to something else," Scooter said, thinking hard about this revelation. "Al says there's sort of an informal agreement among the companies to not poach each other's employees."

"I've heard that too," he said. "I can see where at times it would make sense, but this is a little different. Hell, I spent more days on the river for Canyon Tours last year than I did for my own outfit. Al says he'll have me running this fall as a boatman instead of as a swamper if there's space, and he thinks there will be."

"I'll put in a good word for you if I get the chance," Scooter smiled. "I know you're pretty good with an oar boat, but hey, those S-rigs take some managing. Just ask me, and I can point to a skid mark at 60-Mile for proof. Are they going to have you scheduled pretty heavily?"

"Pretty heavy, but a little goofy, what with doing both motor and oar trips. Like I said, we launch the same day you do, but we're back the third, and I'll have two short trips, a long trip, a few days off, and then an oar trip."

"Hell, I'll be back the third," she smiled, an idea creeping into her mind. It could be done . . . but wanted some thinking. "I'm only running half the trip, then coming back to launch my own. Maybe we ought to get together for an evening or something."

"I'd like that," he smiled. "Especially with you. There aren't a lot of single woman rafters about my age running around."

Jim, she thought, you keep talking like that and you're going to talk yourself real easily into someplace you're really not expecting. "I've made about the same observation about single guy rafters," she smiled.

In between bouts of laundry -- it turned out he was doing his, too -- they sat and talked about a lot of things. One thing kept coming to the front of her mind: in a month, when she came back to start her first Team 3 trip, Karin would be living with Al, and Crystal would be out on the river. She would have the house to herself. Alone. Without Crystal. All summer, too; there was talk of Barbie possibly moving in with them in the fall but it wasn't a done deal yet. As they compared notes about trip schedules, she realized that there would be three different weekends when they'd both be off the river at the same time between now and August. Just running her mind over Crystal's schedule, there would only be one day in that period when both he and Crystal would be off at the same time, and they'd each have turnaround work to do.

So, that begged the question: would she be able to take him to bed and turn it into something serious, rather than just sportfucking? The only time in her life she'd ever managed that was with Tinman, and that was something just about totally different. Would building a friendship work better if she didn't take him to bed, just held out the promise . . . with, of course, the deadline of fall rolling around when she and Crystal would be hanging around together all the time again.

It was an interesting question, and fortunately one that would not have to be answered tonight. In fact, she had a month, much of which she'd be hanging around with him a lot, although not alone most of the time -- and Crystal would be hanging around with him, too. Much could happen between now and then, but she figured she'd be spending a lot of time wrestling with it between now and the evening of the day she hiked up the Bass Trail a little less than a month off.

 

Scooter didn't see Jim on Friday, but he was at the Canyon Tours back lot on Saturday to help with groceries and packing. The three of them along with Michelle wound up at the Burro that evening for the usual beer and burgers, but talking about rafting and sailing and surfing, things like that, telling stories, and these were people who had those kinds of stories to tell. There was no chance to get personal -- and she knew there wouldn't be much of one for the rest of the month -- so about all she could do was show some interest.

As always, the first rig of the season the next day went a little slowly. It really was a scratch crew; Crystal and Scooter, of course; Michelle and Jim. Al was going along as the fifth boatman, at least for the first part; he'd been able to work a deal with Charlie, the motor rig guy from GCR they'd run the first trip with the last two years, to swap with him at Phantom so he could go up and ride herd on the final arrangements for the complicated wedding trip.

Just before the customer bus pulled in, as Scooter sat lighting her traditional cigar, she did some mental record keeping and realized that with the Park Service trip this was her twenty-second Grand Canyon trip. It seemed hard to believe that just two years before she'd been sitting in the showroom at NOC, bored to tears and depressed about the future. If the good fairy had walked in the door and given her an outline of what those two years would be like, where she would be today, she would never have believed him. All from one phone call . . .

They had a full load, the first time in three seasons that the first trip of the season she'd been on had the full capacity -- and, to make life interesting, no swampers this trip, so the work load was heavier than normal. However, it was a good bunch of customers, and they pitched in more than normal.

The weather was nice for early April, a little on the warm side for that time of year. There were a couple of days that clouded up fairly heavily during the day, but it cleared off and cooled down by evening. Probably the thing that stuck most strongly in Scooter's mind -- beyond trying to be friendly with Jim without being too obvious to Crystal about it -- was that she, Crystal, and Jim had just come off of the Park Service trip and were filled to the brim with all sorts of Canyon lore, and would take any opportunity they could to spout off about it. They'd always done some talking about the Canyon, of course, but now it was more intensive. Several times Scooter found herself giving short talks about the geology of the place, how rapids were formed, the changes in hydrology that had been caused by Glen Canyon Dam, and lots of other such things.

A week down the river they pulled into Phantom Ranch, where Charlie was waiting with a backpack of personal items. Once again Scooter warned Al to take it easy going up the hill, he had all the time he needed this hike, and he promised that he would. Still, she could feel the overwhelming sorrow of the last time she'd watched him start up the Bright Angel Trail for the rim; apparently, he felt some of it, too, for he was quiet and reserved, lost in his own thoughts. Crystal and Scooter walked with him a short distance up the trail; as they broke up, he said something that made them realize that they'd all been thinking more or less about the same thing: "At least this time I know I'm climbing toward happiness, not sorrow." Once again, they told him to take it easy and said they'd see him in a few days, and turned back toward the waiting rafts.

Except for a few iffy days, the weather continued nice for the rest of the trip. The day after they switched Al for Charlie, they stopped at the little beach below Crystal where the wedding would be held next trip. Crystal and Scooter and Michelle climbed up the rock face and hiked up to the little water pocket where the wedding itself would be held, just to make sure that it hadn't been trashed -- unlikely, but you never knew. It was the first time either Michelle or Scooter had been up there, and they too realized it was a hidden, magical place.

As they proceeded on down the river, Scooter began to get back into the rhythm of life on the river: getting up early to get breakfast going, packing up, running the river, stopping for hikes or to see the sights, stopping for lunch, finding a place to stop for the night, dinner, often but not always a campfire, and sometimes the crew just sitting around by themselves on the rafts as the customers were going to sleep. A couple times Scooter managed to get off with Jim for a few minutes, but in situations where they couldn't really get personal. She was still turning over in her mind inviting him to stay the night when they could be alone, but decided to more or less reserve judgment for a while. In any case, they still had a date for the next time they were both off.

They floated past Granite Springs on the last day of the trip, as they had planned to do, and for the first time camped right at Diamond Creek. They tried to keep the evening for the customers, but as they unloaded the rafts, they had loading the truck, trailer and bus more in mind than stacking stuff back in the rafts for another day's running. Sure enough, not long after they finished a relatively early breakfast the next day Jeff and Jimmie showed up, and while Jeff took the customers up the hill they got started loading rafts. The trailer already had the extra raft loaded on it, the spare that they usually kept inflated just in case. They'd be leaving Lee's with six rafts on the next trip, rather than the usual five, so they'd be able to haul more passengers -- they couldn't be called customers this trip -- between Phantom and the Bass Trail. They loaded up a little differently this time, too; all the stuff that would have to be cleaned or renewed or inspected at the office was loaded into the truck, stuff like food boxes and ice boxes and rocket boxes, sleeping bags and that sort of thing.

Given a good start, they were pretty well ready to throw the rest of the stuff on the bus and get out of there by the time Jeff made it back, and they were headed up the hill well before they would normally have been. Not long after noon they pulled into the office. What ensued might just as well have been called a pit stop; they were unloaded and reloaded in less than an hour.

While all that was going on, just to make life more interesting, Scooter and Crystal exchanged trip leader and assistant jobs; it was Scooter's turn, and since several of the passengers were Crystal's friends it gave her a little more chance to socialize with them. Crystal would still have to lead the second half of the trip. Scooter allowed those going on the next trip another hour to make a quick one to the store or whatever while those who stayed finished up the odds and ends. Several other people got onto the bus, including three summer rafters who had finished their exams that day or the day before -- one more was taking a final even as they loaded, and would be coming up with the customers the next day. They were also joined by two new swampers: Trey Hartwell, who they'd met in Florida -- he'd driven straight through from Kansas City to make this trip. The other was Ernie, who was going to Michigan State, and like Trey only beat the bus in from Diamond Wash by an hour or so. They had two more passengers on the bus with them, the persons of honor of this trip: Al and Karin.

Around two, there wasn't anything left to be done. Scooter stood up in the bus, counted noses, then yelled, "OK, people, let's be about it!"


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