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 51

April 27, 2001

The Wedding Trip - 1

Once everyone had a chance at the lunch line and were standing around working on sandwiches and pop, Scooter got up on the drybox of her raft. "OK, folks," she called out. "I'm Scooter Whitsell. Scooter isn't my real name and some of you know what it is, but I'm trying to forget it so I usually don't answer to it. I'll be your trip leader the first half of the trip, since Crystal knows a lot of people here, and it'll give her a little more chance to be friendly. She'll be leading the second half of the trip, after I climb out the Bass Trail to start all over again in about ten days. Now, I know a lot of people here know each other, but maybe not everybody knows everybody. But, since Crystal does, I'm going to let her do the introductions. Crystal?"

As Crystal ran through the introductions, Scooter threw together a sandwich and gobbled it; as soon as Crystal finished, she got back up on the drybox and started in on the orientations. This was going to be a little goofy, too; usually they did it on the sand bar at Cathedral Wash, once people had just a little while to get used to the river and would have a little more understanding. Now, she'd have to do part of that lecture now, and the rest down river when they made a rest stop, even more at the first camp. "OK," she finally wound up. "There'll be some more orientation downstream. We'll leave the lunch tables up for another few minutes, so anyone who wants seconds should get them. While we're waiting, if anyone wants to visit the johns, this is your last chance for a flush toilet. If you haven't got river clothes on, now is the time;, the johns might be the place. In about ten minutes, we'll pack drybags, fit life jackets, and get on the river."

People headed for the lunch table, while Scooter thought about what came next. She glanced over where the motor rigs were waiting for their customer bus, not doing much of anything. This might be her last chance to talk to Jim she thought and started to head that way when Crystal caught up with her. "Scoot, we have to talk," Crystal said. "We've got a problem."

"Nanci?" she said.

"Well, that too," Crystal shook her head. "Randy got me off to the side and told me that Nicole is absolutely scared shitless."

"Nicole?" She couldn't believe it. She knew Nicole was an OLTA grad, an AT thru-hiker, a good sea kayaker, a committed outdoorswoman. It was hard to believe her lacking for courage. "I don't believe it!"

"Randy's not too sure why, but thinks it may have had something to do with a real bad experience on a thrill ride when she was a little kid, someplace like the Ocoee, he doesn't know; her folks only hinted at it, and she's never said anything to him. She's trying to get through it on sheer guts and tough it out for his sake, but he says it's wearing thin."

"That's not good," Scooter said. It happened occasionally that people would get a little nervous, even concerned -- and down river, there were places where it was a good idea to be a little concerned. Once in a while it got far beyond that. She remembered Jim telling a story of a woman on a motor-rig trip who got so frantic with fear they had to call for a helicopter to fly her out. And that had been down at someplace like the Little Colorado, before they got to the big stuff.

"I don't know what the fuck to do," Crystal said. "Nicole could get out and walk all the bad stuff, but we can't piss around with it every time we hit a tiddler, either. Randy thinks get her out on the river and let her see it's not big water every inch of the way. That may settle her down a little before we run Badger. But after we run it, pull in river right, whether there's someone in camp there or not."

"Probably shouldn't be, from what asking around I've done. Why there?"

"Because if she goes apeshit, they can walk out Badger Canyon, it's the last good place for a while. I can give him the keys to my car to drive back to Flag. I'm gonna have to leave it in the parking lot here. Michelle is going to try to get up here in the next couple days to take it back, but it'd be here today."

"Jesus, I hope it doesn't come to that," Scooter shook her head. "Especially with that deal you and Al set up for him."

"Right, especially with it being Randy. If they have to walk out she'd be ashamed to see me again, so I'd probably never see him, either. Fuck!"

"Poor Randy. Poor Nicole, for that matter," Scooter sighed. "He didn't know this was coming?"

"She covered it up pretty good, or it only flared up in the last few days, he isn't sure. You remember how he is about getting out and doing stuff."

"I get the picture," Scooter sighed, remembering again Randy's rant about not being able to go places due to having to work. If they had to walk out, Scooter didn't think it would make things better. "So what's the deal on Nanci?"

"I don't know how much of it she or Al told you, but she got beat up by her boyfriend, and blew every cent she had to get here because she couldn't think of anyplace else to go. She says she's trying to get away from the life she was living in Chicago. We don't know whether to believe her. And what's more, she has no real idea of how much things have changed for all of us. What we worked out was that she's going on this trip as sort of a junior trainee swamper like we do with the high school tryouts. If she does all right Al may put her on for a while, give her a chance to get on her feet and prove herself, and maybe the Canyon will straighten her out a little. If that doesn't work, I don't know what the fuck to do."

"Crystal, I really hate to say this, but she acts like a dog with its tail between its legs. If things get worse the next thing it'll do is bite."

"Shit, don't I know it," she sighed. "The only alternative I could think of was, considering how much she's screwed around, I send her over to Shirley at the Redlite Ranch, and shit, I can't bring myself to tell my sister to do that no matter what she did to me."

"From the stories you've told, that might be an idea," Scooter sighed. "If it fell on its ass, I could maybe tell her, but I'll be off the river before you get to the end of the trip."

"Yeah, I may have to tell her," Crystal nodded. "And then I'll have about as much trouble looking in the mirror as Nicole will if she has to walk out. The only ace in the hole we have is that I'm going to introduce Noah to her and have him work gently with her a little. He's a youth pastor; he's trained in working with kid problems, and what she has is a kid problem she's never outgrown."

 

At Mile 8 they came to Badger, their usual stop the first night out, although the plan from the beginning had been to run right by it. The rapids was the first of the bigger ones, in the top twenty of the ones they'd see in the Canyon, and Scooter knew it would be the do-or-die test for Nicole, along with Randy. Scooter wondered if she ought to be close to Duane's raft, or at a little distance so that if Nicole freaked she'd have at least a little time to pull herself together. Finally, she decided on the second course, since both she and Crystal would be below the rapids if things got out of hand.

Scooter was on point by now, and made a routine run of the rapids with Noah on the sticks. It may have been his first time on an oarboat, but he hadn't forgotten how to handle a raft. She didn't think Noah was going to have much of a problem anywhere else, either.

A few minutes later, all six of the rafts were nosed into shore, with lines run up to nearby tamarisk trees to hold them there. "Good place for a break," Scooter called from up on the bank. "On normal trips, we usually stop here for the night, or across the river. That's usually enough to let people get a feeling for what's happening and go over stuff you need to know. But, we need to get some miles on today, so since we started early, we'll have a leg stretch for a few minutes, then get moving again. We've come a little more than half of what I'd hoped to today."

She spent a couple minutes explaining how the system for urinating worked -- into the river, men upstream, women down, and noticed several people heading in the appropriate directions. Randy and Nicole were still sitting on Duane's raft, having a serious discussion. Finally, after a few minutes, they both got up, and Nicole headed downstream, while Randy came over to where Scooter and Crystal were standing. "Well?" Crystal asked.

"I offered her the option to walk out," he said. "She was all but panicked going down the drop; she says she's surprised she didn't piss her pants. But she says she wants to stick it out. It's what, three days till we get down to the Tanner Trail? You said that was the next good place to walk out."

"There are a couple others before you get there, but I'm told they're not good for Canyon newbies to try," Scooter told him. "The Tanner ain't exactly a walk in the park either, but Nicole ought to be able to handle it."

"I guess we'll try to tough it out till there," he said reluctantly. "If she can get down Soap Creek a little easier we may be gaining ground. You're going to stop and scout House Rock, aren't you?"

"With the boatmen we have making their first trip of the season, you damn betcha," Scooter nodded.

"I think I'll just tell her to walk House Rock," he said. "Then a few tomorrow morning, like 24 Mile, and then we're through the worst stuff before we get to the Tanner, right?"

"Pretty much," Scooter said. "Look, the only reason you're with Duane is that Crystal and Karin need some alone time with Nanci. Tomorrow we'll rig it around so you're with Crystal or me, and we can stop to walk anything you think she needs to. You're thinking she might start to get used to it, right?"

"Either that or go the other way," he sighed. "Shit, I don't know. Guess all we can do is find out."

 

Three miles downriver, they were coming up on Soap Creek, with Scooter's raft in the lead, Noah on the sticks. She'd been spending some time thinking about Randy and Nicole. Shit, what a nasty surprise! This could be the definition of bad trip for them, and there wasn't much she could think of to help. To try to get her mind off of it, she spent some time telling of the motor-rig trip she'd taken almost a month before, and some of the stuff she'd learned. She glanced down the river; the rapids were getting close. "Noah, why don't you go ahead and run this one, and then I'll give you a break on the sticks?"

"Fine with me," he said, glancing at the upcoming rapids. "Looks pretty straightforward."

She sat back without a lot of concern. Noah used to have the touch when it came to rafts. He may not have been in one for a couple years, but he hadn't forgotten much, and he was picking up the tricks of an oar boat quickly. He picked out a good line just by eye, and lined up for the center of the tongue without any need for comment on her part.

The raft plunged down the tongue, then crashed into the first of the standing waves below the rapids. That went pretty well, and the raft rode over it, but stuck its nose into the second wave a little, causing some spray to fly up. "Sometimes, it's fun to be up in the nose where you can get cooled off some," she said as things started to calm down. "But it's usually not a good idea in a real big mother." Good clean run, she thought. Yeah, Noah hasn't forgotten much.

Duane drifted up close to them, and she got a look at Nicole. She still didn't look real happy, but she wasn't quite as damn grim as she'd looked after Badger. "How's it going?" she asked cheerfully.

"Getting along," Duane said. "Back's doing better than I expected."

"Better not push it," Scooter told him. "Let Randy on the sticks for a bit if he wants. Hell, let him run Sheer Wall, if he wants. It's just a tiddler."

"Wouldn't mind the break," Duane said. "You up for it, Randy?"

An idea crossed Scooter's mind. Crystal had warned her quietly about Nicole's problem, and giving her something to do might help take her mind off it. Worth suggesting, anyway, she thought. "Even better," she smiled. "Tell you what. Nicole, why don't you give it a try? Just get the feel of it? It's not that hard."

"I don't know," Nicole replied dubiously. "You people are all so good at this."

"How do you think we learned?" Scooter grinned. "Right on the sticks, on easy flat water. Go ahead, give it a try."

"Well, all right," Nicole said with obvious uncertainty.

"Just listen to Randy and Duane," Scooter advised, making a mental note to stay pretty close. "Really, Nicole, it isn't that hard." She glanced back upstream, counting rafts. It was a little hard to remember that there were six on this trip, rather than the usual five, but Carl was on sweep, just finishing up the wave train with Buddha, Giselle, and Ernie aboard. OK, that was everybody.

As Nicole took Duane's place at the oars of the second raft, Scooter replaced Noah. They were drifting down around the bend, when she looked back upstream to see if everyone was in good order, and there, just starting down the drop of Soap Creek, were the first of the two S-rigs that had been rigging beside them back at Lee's. Things had gotten crazy back at the boat ramp, and she hadn't had time to say anything to Jim. Well, at least she'd get to wave at him, she thought.

She watched as the big baloney boats plunged down through the wave train of Soap Creek. Big as they were, they could still get pretty wet -- there was a lot of momentum -- and when they hit a back roller, sometimes the motor rigs would try to tunnel through them rather than ride over them.

The blue motor rigs caught up with them quickly. The first one went right past with just some hand waves back and forth from the passengers, but the second one idled down as it came up on them. Scooter pulled in the oars, and noticed that Jim was leaning on the seat's backrest near the stern of the raft, his hand on the throttle of the outboard. He edged the back end of the motor rig right over next to the oar boat and drifted alongside, just a few feet away. The oar raft seemed tiny compared to the big-rig with its two long side tubes for extra buoyancy; it was twice as long and sat up higher. "Hey, Jim," she called. "Sorry I didn't get a chance to say goodbye up at Lee's, but we sorta loaded up and rushed out."

"Yeah, it got busy for us, too," he replied. "All those first-trip-of-the-year kinks. How far you planning on running today?"

"House Rock, probably," she said. "We got a goofy schedule and have to push it some. How about you?"

"North Canyon, I guess," he said.

"Be tempting to run down there," she said. "But we probably couldn't get together, all that first night on the river stuff."

"Yeah, same here," he said. "Hey, I gotta get cracking. Joe twists that throttle pretty hard. You have a good trip, Scoot. See you a week from Friday."

"Looking forward to hoisting a couple," she said. "You have a good trip, too."

"Will do," he said, revving up the outboard on the back of the raft. "See ya on the river." The big motor rig soon pulled ahead of them, leaving a wake on either side.

"Oh, ho," Tanisha grinned. "Do I detect that Scooter has a boyfriend?"

"No, not really," Scooter said. "Raft guides sorta hang out off the river, too. At least we get to hear different stories from the people from the different companies. Jim is pretty cool. He was with us on that Park Service trip, the same one Crystal and Karin and I went on."

The rafts were starting to cluster up a little bit, now; Scooter was keeping her speed down so that Nicole wouldn't feel pushed, and Nicole wasn't going real fast. But, at least she was doing it. "How's it going, Nicole?" she yelled across the few feet of water.

"OK, I think," she said, sort of neutrally. "This is trickier than it looks."

"The big trick for right now is that you just gotta keep it in the fast water," Scooter told her. "You got any doubt about it, follow me."

"That's what I've been trying to do," the dark-haired woman said.

"Looks like you're doing just fine," Scooter assured her. "We'll make a boatman out of you yet."

"I'm afraid it'd take a while," Nicole said. "A lifetime or two, maybe."

"I can think of worse ways to spend a life," Scooter laughed. "Standing up in front of a bunch of kids talking about the Civil War or some damn thing is pretty near the top of the list."

"There are times it gets near the top of my list too," Nicole grinned. It was just about the first real grin Scooter had seen out of her on the trip. Maybe she was getting the idea.


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