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 52

April 28 - 29, 2001

The Wedding Trip - 2

While most everyone but the crew was still asleep, Scooter and Crystal got their heads together in the early morning half-light. "If we're going to make this a qualifier for Randy, we're going to have to get him and Nicole out of Duane's raft," Crystal said. "And, I want to run with Nanci and Mom, at least today."

"Guess we can do it," Scooter said from behind the roar of the big propane burner that was heating wash water. "How's about you take Noah, and I'll take Randy and Nicole? I'll keep getting Nicole on the sticks some."

"Yeah, that seemed to work pretty well yesterday," Crystal agreed.

"How's it coming with our other problem?" she asked.

"To early to tell," Crystal sighed. "She and Noah went a little late last night; I don't know what they talked about." She let out a sigh. "Just between us, Scooter, she was considering suicide, and might have done it if we'd thrown her out on her ass. After she and Noah wrapped up, she said she'd been driving across New Mexico at midnight the night before last, and figured there was a fifty-fifty chance she'd be dead by now. She said she was even looking forward to it a little."

"Maybe this will work," Scooter said. "She seemed to be pretty helpful last night."

"Too soon to tell," Crystal shook her head. "But I want you to know I spent some time wondering which would be better, the Redlite or suicide."

"I'd take the first."

"Me, too," Crystal sighed. "But damn, it's a pisser of a choice, isn't it?"

One of the things that really amazed her was that as late at Nanci had gone the night before, she was up right with the rest of the crew, well before dawn. From what Scooter could see, she was trying to pitch in and make herself useful. The night before, Scooter had publicly designated her as the junior swamper of the trip, and had Andy show Trey and her how to set up the rocket box and handwash station -- it would be their job for the rest of the trip. It wasn't dumping on her, any more than it was on Trey; someone had to do it.

Nanci had no outdoor experience whatsoever; that night had been her first in a sleeping bag, she told the crew as they were getting around. It was really pretty exciting, she bubbled the next morning. It was much too early to say if she was taking hold, but Karin and Crystal both said that it was nice to see her taking a little responsibility, whether it stuck or not.

With everybody pitching in, they were on the river in good order. Scooter put Randy on the oars right away; the rapids in the next few miles weren't ones he'd done before. Scooter plopped down on the gear pile next to Nicole, and glanced down the river at the motor-rig site. As they got closer, it was clear that they were still making breakfast, and might be an hour or two before they got on the river. She saw Jim out working at the stove; he looked up and waved, and she waved back. "Jeez, we got going early," Randy commented.

"We got around pretty well," Scooter said. "Most everybody here has done it some, and everybody got around and pitched in." It wasn't that surprising; after all, this group was heavily outdoor people. Tiffany and Josh did outdoor tours of their own, dogsledding in winter and sea kayaking in the summer, and others were oriented to it.

"Yeah," Randy said, looking down at where North Canyon Rapids was approaching, "I don't remember it going that well last time. I don't really have a clear memory of this rapids. What's the deal on it? Straight down the middle?"

"On the tongue," Scooter told him. "Then try to get to the river right side of the wave train. Pretty straightforward. Not as bad as Badger, yesterday, about like Soap Creek."

Scooter wasn't concerned about Randy; she knew he could run a raft, and had done a lot of white water elsewhere. Just letting her mind drift back, she remembered when she'd first met him; he and Crystal had just gotten off a run of Nantahala Falls, right in front of NOC; she'd been standing outside, smoking a cigar, watching the two of them run. Who would have believed then that any of them would be here now?

She shook her head; this wasn't the time to be woolgathering. While she wasn't particularly worried about Randy, she was concerned about Nicole. Remembering back to how shaken she'd been at Badger yesterday, it looked like she'd made a fair amount of progress at learning to handle this -- or at least in covering up how scared she was. She was still obviously nervous as they bounced down through North Canyon Rapids, with Randy taking the raft down the edge of the wave train in an effort to ease the ride. He overdid that part of it a little, got caught in the eddy, and spun the raft around, with Nicole obviously alarmed.

"Got a little far over the eddy line," Randy said complacently, working the oars to continue the boat's spin as he pulled it back into the current, the right move. The raft bucked up and down a couple more times, nowhere near as bad, and then they were just bobbing up and down, as he tried to keep it in the fast water.

"Yeah," Scooter said complacently. "That one's a little tricky. Randy, I know you were trying to keep it as smooth as possible for Nicole, but I think you overdid it."

"Sorry about that," he said. "You OK, Nicole?"

"I think so," she said dubiously. "Was that the worst we're going to see today?"

"No, we've got several others about like that in the next six miles," Scooter told her. "Actually, that one . . . well, it's a little longer than the others. They're mostly over more quickly. Then, that'll be the worst we'll see for a couple days."

"That'll be good," Nicole said, obviously fighting to stay calm.

"Nicole, if you want, we can stop at any of them and you can walk around them," Scooter told her, not revealing how much of Nicole's problem she knew about.

"No," Nicole said, taking a deep breath and trying to get a grip on herself. "Let's just get it over with."

They rode on down the river, deep between walls rising high above them on either side. Soon, they came to 21 Mile Rapids -- about as much drop as the last one, but in a shorter distance. It was a quick and brief thrill ride before they were back on placid waters. The worst was 24 Mile Rapids, a rough ride, but a thrilling one.

Almost at once they were at 24-1/2 Mile Rapids. Like the rapids earlier that day, they didn't get out to scout them ahead of time. It wasn't quite as wild a ride as 24 Mile, but it was still hairy enough to see what the river in the Canyon was all about. Almost before they could catch their breath, they were at 25 Mile Rapids -- not quite as difficult as the two that went before. There was one more about as bad a mile ahead, Cave Spring, and they ran that one without any difficulty, either. Shortly after that, they found a little beach and pulled in for a leg-stretch. "OK, Nicole," Scooter smiled, "That's the hard stuff for today. Want to row?"

"Yes," Nicole sighed, "Doing something will be welcome."

Soon they were back on the water. Another hour or so passed, an easy hour of drifting on the current, watching the scenery high overhead. They were deep into the Canyon now, the walls towering almost vertically to either side, narrowing the blue of the sky to a narrow slot. Finally, a wide side canyon opened to river right, and Scooter had Nicole nose it into shore. Just downstream of the landing, they could see the irregular hole of a cave mouth, and beyond, the sparkle of rushing water and a spray of vegetation so green it almost hurt the eye after all the barren rock they'd been seeing -- Vasey's Paradise.

This stop was for an early lunch. The boatmen and swampers soon set up two metal tables from the rafts; cold cuts were liberated from coolers, and flatbread and chips made their appearance. They were standing there eating when the motor rigs passed them. They didn't stop, but hovered in front of Vasey's Paradise on motor power so the customers could look it over and take some pictures. She waved at Jim again, but they didn't get close enough to talk. She knew that the motor rigs usually made a long stop shortly downstream, and she planned to as well, so there might yet be a chance to see him.

Shortly afterward, the six rafts were back on the river. They swept near to Vasey's Paradise -- the river was fast there, and there was no stopping like the motor rigs had done. They weren't on the river long; in only a mile or two they swept around a bend and saw a huge horizontal slot in the Redwall in front of them. "Redwall Cavern," Scooter told them. "We're going to pull in there, too."

Soon, the rafts were pulled up on the sandy shore next to the motor rigs; there were no good places to tie off, so the boatmen had to use sand stakes to hold the boats. Up in the sandy shore of the huge cavern, passengers from the motor rigs were exploring and throwing frisbees around; Jim, the Grand Canyon Rafters trip leader, and a couple of swampers were lolling around the back of the raft, watching as she talked to the Canyon Tours group.

"We usually like to make a long stop here," Scooter said. "It is kind of a neat place. Powell said this amphitheater could seat 50,000 people. I figure he was overestimating by a factor of ten, and I wouldn't want to see that many people here, anyway. But the acoustics are pretty incredible. One of the other rafting companies does one trip a year where they bring a string quartet along, and this is a favorite stop. We don't have a string quartet, but I thought this might be an interesting place to hear Myleigh do her stuff. Andy, you'll have to get Brown Bess out." She turned to the motor-rig crew a few feet away. "You guys might like to stick around for this. This is going to be a treat to remember."

"What's this all about?" Jim asked.

"Just a little off-the-cuff concert," Scooter grinned. "By one of the world's leading jazz harpists."

"Cool," Joe, the trip leader said. "I picked up an album of jazz harp last month. It was called Harp Strings. It was awful damn good."

"She's the woman who did it," Scooter grinned. "Myleigh Harris. You know Crystal Chladek, right?"

"Yeah, sure," both said.

"She was her college roommate," Scooter grinned.

"No shit?" Joe grinned. He stood up, put his fingers in his mouth, and gave a shrill whistle to get the attention of his party. "Hey, folks!" he yelled. "Free concert! Check it out! We'll stick around for it."

"How long you figuring on staying?" Jim asked.

"Maybe an hour, I don't know," Scooter grinned. "We're probably not going to run a whole lot farther today."

"I'd like to make it to Nankoweap," Joe said. "But we can run a little late if we have to. I think I'll wander up for the concert. Jim, you want to stay with the boats?"

"Yeah, I can," he said. "We ought to hear it pretty well from here."

A couple minutes later, Scooter was lying back in one of the boatman's seats on the motor rig, just talking with Jim. Finally she'd gotten her chance to be alone with him, the last chance she'd have before next weekend -- but she still hadn't made up her mind what she was going to say, so they talked about nothing much in particular.

There was a pretty good crowd clustered around Myleigh, back up in the cool shadows of Redwall Cavern, about the most unusual concert hall imaginable, lit only by the reflections of the sunlit, colorful rock across the river. The concert got going pretty good; yet another group arrived in the middle, and soon there were over twenty rafts pulled up on the shore of Redwall Cavern, parked tube to tube along the sand. Scooter had seen some crowds here, but never one this big. It had been a heck of a show for an off-the-cuff idea she'd had, and she expected she'd be hearing about it for a while when the raft guides got together in the Burro later.

The show ran longer than planned, but Scooter couldn't bring herself to ask Myleigh to wind it up. Finally, Myleigh brought it to a close. "Thank you," she said warmly as the haunting notes died away into the silence of Marble Canyon. "You've been a wonderful audience, here in Redwall Cavern today. Now, I imagine the trip leaders have more of this wonderful Canyon to show us, so I suppose we should going."

It wasn't going to be much longer now, Scooter thought. Now or never. At the last instant, an idea hit her. "Hey, Jim," she said quietly, so that no one but the two of them could hear. "You're still living out of your car trunk and staying at a motel between trips, aren't you?"

"Yeah," he replied. "I'm not in Flag enough to make it worth getting a place."

"Tell you what," she smiled. "Karin is moving out of our place, and next weekend Crystal will still be on the river. Why don't you save some bucks and stay at our place? There's an empty bed."

"Might as well," he smiled. Scooter couldn't tell if he'd gotten the hint or not, but it didn't matter -- she still didn't have to commit one way or another. "You have any idea when you're going to be in?"

"No idea, we're doing that Bass Trail walkout," Scooter smiled. "Tell you what, come by our office. If I'm not there, wait. If we get in early, I'll come by yours. We'll make it work."

"Sure will," he nodded. "Scooter, thanks for the offer. Those damn motel rooms get lonely after a while."

"Yeah," she agreed. "They do indeed."

 

Soon they were back on the river. Her original idea had been to stop at Nautiloid Canyon, at Mile 35, only a couple of miles below Redwall Cavern. It was kind of a small site for the group, but would be adequate, and did at least have a short, but interesting hike up to some three-foot-long fossils of some ancient sea creatures. But, as they approached the place, she saw that there was a private party already there -- they must have passed up the traffic jam in the mouth of Redwall. It was a small party, and she thought she recognized the group that had picked out the big upper campsite at North Canyon, where she'd hoped to stop the night before. As the rafts drifted down river, she got the group to cluster together a little. "Let's push on a few miles," she said. "If we can get down to Mile 41, there's several good big sites there, and good hikes. It'll probably mean we get in a little later than I wanted to, but we'll take a short one tomorrow to make up for a big day today."

Even though it was along in the afternoon, once they got the rafts unloaded and campsites picked out, a number of the party headed up the side canyon to explore it, with Nicole and Scooter at the head. Nicole may have been nervous on the water, but she was still a power hiker on land. With her bad knees Scooter had trouble keeping up with her. It was a pretty good day hike, not fast walking, and there was some scrambling. They didn't go as far up the side canyon as they might have, since they'd had another long day, and soon they decided to head back for dinner. Now Nicole and Scooter were sweep, making sure everyone got down all right. This gave them the chance for some time alone. "How are you working into the trip?" Scooter asked, hoping for a halfway honest answer.

"I'm coming along," Nicole sighed. "I guess I've been a little nervous at times."

"I've noticed," Scooter nodded, not wanting to reveal what Crystal and Randy had told her. "Most people take a little while to get used to it."

"It's worse than that," Nicole told her. She stopped and turned around to look at her. "Look, Scooter," she said. "I'm just about scared shitless all the time. It's nothing you're doing. When I was real little, we went on a raft trip down south somewhere, I don't remember where. We had an accident, we flipped, and I almost drowned. I think I could run this in a dory, maybe a canoe, even a white water kayak and be all right. But these are rafts, damn it, and I'm scared."

"But you're hanging in there for Randy's sake," Scooter nodded.

"Take that as trying to hang in there," she sighed. "Look, thanks for making me row some; it's helping as much as anything."

"Randy probably told you, but we've got a couple more easy days, then we'll be hitting a couple days of rough stuff. You can handle the easy stuff. When we get to the rough stuff, there's no reason you can't get out and walk."

"I hate to do that," she sighed. "It makes me seem like I'm shaming Randy."

"I don't think you are," Scooter shook her head. "And I don't think he thinks so. He knows you're scared, right?"

"Yeah, I've told him."

"Then I'll bet he's damn proud of you for hanging in there and facing up to your fears," Scooter told her. "Look, I don't know what to tell you, besides hang in there. If there's anything I can do to help, all you have to do is ask. You can do this, Nicole. Remember, we're both OLTA grads and AT thru-hikers, we have to stick together, all right?"

"I'll try to remember," Nicole nodded. "Thanks, Scooter. I'll try to not make a pest of myself."

"Don't worry about it," Scooter grinned. "My job is to make sure everyone has the best time they can. That includes you."

They talked for a couple minutes more, then started working their way back down the side canyon. They were still a little ways from camp when they found Myleigh, sitting out on a rock, Brown Bess in hand. They came up from behind her and heard her playing some intricate, unidentifiable music. "Don't you get enough?" Nicole asked as they drew close.

"I just felt the desire to come up here and play," Myleigh said. "Scooter, what a marvelous place you have here."

"Myleigh, it's yours and Nicole's and everyone else's as much as it is mine," Scooter smiled. "It's just that I get to spend a lot of time in it. You might want to think about packing up and getting back down to camp; it looks like they've got dinner pretty well under way."

"I shall be along shortly," Myleigh nodded. "I fear the glory of this place has me inspired to sit here and enjoy it."

"We'll leave it to you then," Scooter smiled, realizing that Myleigh was having an intimate moment with the Canyon and not appreciating the intrusion. "Catch you later."

After they got out of earshot, Scooter grinned, "It sure looks like she's enjoying this place in her own way."

"Guess so," Nicole grinned. "I've known Myleigh for years now, and the one thing I know about her for sure is that she usually sees things differently from the rest of us."

"That's about all I know about her, too," Scooter grinned. "She and Trey have gotten close, haven't they?"

"Closer than they'll admit to," Nicole agreed. "But you can see it in the way they act toward each other."

"It happens, I guess," Scooter smiled. "I don't know Trey well, but he seems like a nice enough guy. It's just that he's not the sort of guy I'd expect Myleigh to go for."

"You don't know about that?" Nicole said. "When Myleigh flew back to Kansas City from Florida, the airline lost Blue Beauty."

"I hadn't heard that. She got it back, I take it?"

"Yes, but not easily," Nicole told her. "That harp means more to her than you or I can understand. She was devastated and frantic, I thought pushing suicidal. Fortunately she told Trey about it. I'm still not clear what happened, but Trey wound up spending four days going through this huge warehouse in Alabama where they send unclaimed luggage. He didn't waste any time on anything irrelevant like sleep, either. He found Blue Beauty, drove back to Kansas City, returned it to her, and collapsed on her couch. Since then he walks on water as far as Myleigh is concerned. But from what I understand he feels about the same way about her. I think he provides a link with reality and practicality that Myleigh really needs."

"Could be," Scooter shrugged. "I guess that's one of those stories you'd like to know more about and know you're probably not going to hear since it's none of your damn business."

"Yeah," Nicole sighed. "Like Nanci there, I guess." She nodded over toward the kitchen area, where Nanci was standing at the warped griddle frying hamburgers for supper, wearing an ugly old brown one-piece swimsuit. Scooter knew it came from the lost and found room at the office, where Michelle had fitted her out for a river trip in about five minutes flat from stuff that customers had left behind over the years. Some of the stuff was pretty ratty, since the boatmen and swampers picked it over regularly, and pretty thoroughly, too. "From the first minute I met Crystal," Nicole continued, "It was nothing but what an asshole her sister is, but now they're spending quite a bit of time together, and she seems to be a nice enough kid."

"Karin said once that Pete always used to say that Crystal had to be her daughter, since some of the outdoors stuff that Crystal did meant that she couldn't be his daughter," she giggled. "I'll bet he still doesn't know how right he was. But from all I ever heard, Nanci was his daughter, if you know what I mean."

"How do you think it's going with her?"

"So far, so good," Scooter shrugged. "Too early to tell. You probably know she just barely wound up going on this trip at all; she knows it, and she knows it's close to a last chance, so that's playing a part. It looks like she's trying, though, and not just going through the motions. She's right in there pitching in on what she knows how to do, and you don't have to tell her twice."

"I hope it works out for her," Nicole nodded.

"I think there's a chance," Scooter smiled. "From what I hear, Crystal didn't get along all that well with Jon when she was younger. There's no doubt that he's Pete's son, but he grew out of it. She could do it too."

 

Since they'd had two days with more time on the river than planned, they were well ahead of schedule, so the next day Scooter decided they'd keep it short and only run to Nankoweap. There wasn't much in the way of rapids, either, so they took their time. Once again, Nicole was on the sticks much of the time, and Scooter thought that given some time to get over her fear of white water, she could be made into a boatman, too.

A lot of the passengers were at the sticks that day -- it was a good day for screwing around, since they didn't have a big run to make. One of them on the sticks was Tiffany; even though she was five months pregnant she wasn't going to let it slow her down any.

Crystal had told her long before that there were few women in the outdoors who she looked up to, but Tiffany was one of them -- and with good reason; Scooter agreed totally, and for the same reason. Tiffany had made five runs across Alaska in the thousand-mile Iditarod dogsled race, and had spent countless hours raising and training dogs along with a million other things, which included a touring business and an outfitting store. She hadn't run the race this year, nor had Josh. They explained that they were just so busy that something had to give, but her pregnancy was also a reason. They were still raising and training dogs for another Spearfish Lake musher who had finished in the top ten in the Iditarod a couple months before.

As she lay back against the raft tube and let Nicole work them down the river, Scooter realized that there were a couple big object lessons in the solid little blonde dogsled racer. She proved that it was possible to be a wife and have a big outdoor commitment, but being a mother obviously wasn't going to be as easy. Tiffany had said the first night out that she hoped to do the Iditarod again, but it was probably going to be a few years up the road. That had Scooter thinking more than once whether it was possible to be a mother to small children and still be a boatman. She knew that Pat and Rachel had tried it when Michelle was tiny, and it hadn't worked out. That had a direct bearing on where she was going with Jim, and was something that needed to be ironed out before getting too serious -- children or Canyon? Scooter thought that it might be all right to have children some time but had no particular desire to, but she had some serious passions about the Canyon. Louise, she knew, had been faced with the same question, and she'd chosen the Canyon. Tiffany had obviously made a different decision, and Scooter wondered how it was going to work out for her. So far, so good, she thought.

Tiffany was still involved in dogs and dogsled racing; she'd told the story that morning sickness had kept her out of most of the racing last winter; her sister-in-law had filled in with her team, but she planned on getting back into it another year. There was no doubt that the interest was still there; whenever Scooter happened to get near Duane's raft with Josh and Tiffany aboard, they seemed to be talking about dogs and dogsledding -- Duane seemed fascinated by it. Scooter remembered that Crystal had spent a winter working for Josh and Tiffany; before they were very far down the river, she was betting with herself that Crystal wasn't the last Canyon Tours boatman to spend the winter working dogs with the two.

A little while later, they happened to work their way near Crystal's raft. As far as Scooter knew, Crystal hadn't put an oar in the water yet on this trip -- Karin had rowed the first day, then they'd put Noah in her raft and he was getting a huge thrill out of it. He was good, maybe a little rusty, but Scooter had always been impressed by his calm and his raft handling skills, and had no reason now to change her opinion. But now, even he wasn't on the sticks; Scooter was absolutely amazed to see Nanci in her ugly brown swimsuit and shorts at the oars, giving it her best shot. It was obviously a beginner's first time; she was working hard at it, trying to figure it out, concentrating more than one of the regular raftsmen would do in one of the big rapids. But, for a first timer she was doing all right, and avid rafters Crystal, Karin, and Noah were sitting back and watching her with obvious amusement, starting to give her lesson one. Maybe she was taking hold a little, she thought. Maybe the hassles she'd been through mixed with the awe of the Canyon were starting to work their magic. She'd been carrying her share of the load and more the last couple days, and even cheerfully headed off to groover duty with Trey. So far, so good, but Scooter still wondered what was going to happen down the river after she hiked out.


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