Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
April 29 - May 3, 2001
The Wedding Trip - 3
Even taking it easy, they made good time down to Nankoweap, arriving at midday. Scooter had Noah pull out river right in an eddy immediately below Nankoweap Rapids, where Nankoweap Creek came down from the north. They unloaded, had lunch, and settled down for a quiet afternoon. The centerpiece of Nankoweap is always a hike to the spectacular view from the Anasazi granaries; Crystal offered to lead a hike up there. If they got back in time, Scooter offered to lead a hike up Nankoweap Creek, although she suspected there'd be few takers beyond Nicole.
Scooter got more than she expected, nine, and they hiked up for a ways, in and out of the water, having a good time. By the time they got back dinner was well under way; Karin and Nanci and some of the boatmen were working hard on it. Without thinking too much about it, she looked around for Crystal, and didn't see her. "Any idea where Crystal is?" she asked Karin.
"I think that's her with Noah up at the granaries," Karin replied with a nod.
Scooter glanced up to see two figures sitting on the ledge far above the river. "Might be," she replied. "Guess they have things to talk about, after all. Karin, did I ever tell you the story about Crystal and me having to go up there and bring two nude girls down?"
"No more than once a trip," Karin giggled. "And usually when we're here."
"Good grief," Scooter giggled. "Am I that obvious?"
"Sometimes," Karin grinned. "The stories build up, and I expect we'll have one or two out of this trip."
The next day was lazy, as it often was, with stops at the Little Colorado, then floating down to Cardenas where they camped for the night. By now everyone was getting settled in, and it seemed more like a normal trip, even with Adrenaline Alley coming up the next day.
They got down through Unkar, Hance and Grapevine in good order and floated on down to Phantom Ranch, where they caught up with Team 1 and picked up the hike-ins who had come down from the rim. They loaded up and floated on down to Horn Creek, where the combined parties made camp for the night. Al held a crew meeting and rearranged crews a little; Scooter and Jerry would be leading Team 3, as had been expected, and the rest of the rowing crew would consist of Barbie, Duane, and Andy, which was also pretty close to what Scooter had been expecting. They'd have Wade and Hannah for swampers, so it all added up to a pretty good crew of good people she'd worked with before.
There was one minor hitch -- a pickup boatman on Team 1 had to hike out; he had a motor rig trip scheduled for another company before Team 1 got off the river. That left them one short for this trip, but there was a spare boatman: Karin. -- she and Al had been planning to run a little separately from Team 2 the rest of the trip after the wedding, sometimes camping separately, a kind of a mini-honeymoon on the river. Now they wouldn't even be on the same raft. With Team 2 taking one fewer raft the next trip the problem would solve itself, but Scooter thought that had to be a little disappointing.
Al said he hoped that would do it for the summer, but Scooter thought he was optimistic; there were always changes, and she didn't think the odds of finishing the summer with the crew she started with were very good.
Team 1 was a lot slower getting around in the morning, so Al sent four rafts from Team 2 on ahead, to make sure they would be able to get into Baseball Man, where the wedding was to be held. They ran Crystal and the other big rapids in pretty good shape, with Randy getting spun around in some sort of a backwash and finishing Crystal backwards. They paused for a few moments to catch their breath, then got going again.
It took a while for the adrenaline to die down. They just drifted down river, getting close to their stopping point. There was one more rapids shortly below Crystal, Tuna Creek. A couple of days before this would have seemed like a big rapids, but now, it was just a routine patch of white water, and they just followed the obvious line, a little more water splashing over the side. Before long, Scooter told him. "Stay left, it's just around this bend."
"You stop here often?" Randy asked.
"No, it doesn't fit the usual schedule too well," she said. "We stopped last trip for lunch, just to check things out. The beach has built up a little since you were here. We'll land then work up as high up the eddy as we can. It's going to be just barely big enough for eleven boats along the beach."
"That little side canyon up there?" he asked Crystal, whose raft was right alongside.
"Yeah, that's it," Crystal said, letting out a sigh. "You know, Dad's and Mom's lives changed up there a couple times, and mine did, too. This is a special place."
"I'll bet we got an hour to kill, anyway," Crystal said as they pulled up on shore. "Maybe more. I remember Dad saying that there's a neat little waterfall not far up this side canyon. I've never been there, but we could hike up for a look."
When they made it back down to the beach they found the rest of the rafts just pulling in, with people getting out. It was just as well that they'd pulled the two rafts that came early up to the bitter end of the beach, because rafts lined the little beach from end to end. They heard Al yell, "Yo, everyone. Gather around and listen up!"
It turned out that the game plan had changed a little since they'd been gone -- Al had some concerns about the size of the beach too, and along the way had worked out a deal with Dave and Mary. What they'd agreed to do is have a light lunch, then open up all the rafts and switch gear around to get ready for the rest of the trip. Those who were hiking out or going on with Team 2 would stay here, while the rest of Team 1 would set up across the. Team 1 would ferry the people who came for the wedding back over to this side. Things were a little confusing there for a while, but at least most of the gear was marked, so it wasn't too bad. The biggest hassles were on rafts where rowers were changing; they all had their own gear, and each of them had their own way they liked to have things set up so they'd know where to find them. It took a while to set up, but it was why a boatman usually stayed with a given raft for the season.
Once she got her stuff off, Scooter just sat back and let Mike do his thing. It was no longer her raft, the one she'd had for a trip and a half; it was his. For practical purposes, it now made Crystal the trip leader, too. This felt strange, and a bit lonely. For over two years, she and Crystal had been the best of friends, closer than sisters, almost always doing things together. There had been people who had hinted at thoughts that they were lesbians -- and as butch as Scooter tended to act, they may have had some reason for justification, even though both of them were totally straight. She'd known Crystal for years, hiking with her, rafting with her. The two were very alike -- Scooter was a couple years older, a little smaller, a little coarser, but both were strong and rough and scruffy and liked adventure and good times; both were happy with what they were doing, and hoped to spend the rest of their lives doing it.
But tomorrow at Bass Camp, Scooter would be among the group to take the long hike to the rim to head back to Flagstaff and start another trip in a few days. It would be hard to leave Crystal behind; for the next four months Scooter would be running a week behind her, and probably wouldn't see her again until Canyon Tours broke back down into two crews. It was going to be a lot harder to run without her friend, but there was nothing that could be done about it. Pretty much what they had to say had already been said, except for the goodbye that would take place the next morning.
The first time that Karin made the scramble up the rock face immediately above the camp had been a few months short of twenty-seven years before, and what happened there changed her life, changed it several times over. Now, she started up the face again, knowing that it would be the scene of yet another huge change in her life, but content with the knowledge.
As she climbed, people followed, in no particular order. As she was stepping onto the second ledge, Michelle swung her pack frame onto her shoulders, the triangular harp case strapped to it, and started up the rock face as if it was a walk down the sidewalk in Flagstaff. Myleigh followed behind her, wearing only her black bikini, moving carefully among the footholds and handholds -- she wasn't a climber, but this wasn't that difficult. Behind her, Nicole followed, carrying a daypack stuffed full, and then Randy, followed on behind by several people, guitar slung over his back.
In a few minutes, the head of the group passed a larger-than-life Anasazi pictograph of a figure standing behind a huge reddish shield that looked like the chest protector of an umpire. Many people stopped for a brief look at the 'Baseball Man', as the few river guides who knew of it called it, then followed the line on upward through a narrow little wash, then up a steeper climb to a flat expanse of exposed stone. They turned another little corner, and they were there. Nature had formed a cavernous amphitheater, fifty feet deep, a bit wider, maybe seventy feet from floor to ceiling. A live seep high up the cliff supplied enough water to grow an assortment of ferns and moss, and to form a shallow water pocket perhaps six feet across and a foot or more deep.
Here the head end of the party came to a stop just as the tail end of it was leaving the beach. Given the location, a lot of the formalities and traditions normal in such a situation weren't present. The bride, for example, at least wore white, but it was a white blouse and white shorts that didn't come close to matching. The groom, when he appeared several people behind her, wore jeans and a Canyon Tours T-shirt, and went over to stand next to the bride near the end of the water pocket, as people kept filing into the tiny spot.
Shortly after the groom arrived, Michelle appeared with the harp, setting her backpack down and unstrapping it from the pack frame. Myleigh and Nicole were right behind her; Nicole set her daypack down, opened it, and handed Myleigh a package wrapped in clear plastic. It took a little ripping to get the package opened, but from it, Myleigh produced a blue evening gown, sparkly with sequins, and slipped it over her head.
"Myleigh," the groom grinned. "I think you're upstaging the bride."
"Someone must lend a sense of propriety to the proceedings," the small, dark-haired woman grinned.
A couple minutes later, Randy arrived carrying the guitar. He stopped and set it down, and Nicole handed him a plastic-wrapped package. It turned out to be a white shirt; he put it on, buttoned it up, and then followed it with a tie. From the waist up he looked almost formal himself, but the cutoff blue jeans he wore balanced things out. "What do you think, Myleigh?" he said. "Over in front of the ruins?"
"I would say it looks adequate," she smiled. "Let us get over there before it becomes too crowded."
Toward the end of the line came a tall, sandy-haired young man, wearing jeans and a white shirt and tie, and last of all, Crystal, who came scuttling up a minute or so behind him, having stopped to pull on a red cocktail dress over her swimsuit. The bride broke out in laughter at the sight. "Crystal, Myleigh, you've done it to us again," she laughed.
"Couldn't think of a better time or place," Crystal laughed.
"Everybody here?" Noah asked.
"Must be," Crystal said. "I took sweep."
"Then let us begin the proceedings," he said formally. The bride and groom stood side to side; to the groom's side stood Buddha; to the bride's, Crystal and Jon. Myleigh strapped on the harp, and began to pick out a gentle rhythm, and Randy joined in on the guitar as they began to sing. "He is now to be among you, at the calling of your hearts; rest assured these troubadours are acting on his part . . ." The guitar just lent depth to the music, without overpowering the harp, while Trey worked his way around the ceremony, the shutter snapping on his old Nikon.
It was a sweet and gentle performance. As it came to an end, Noah pulled a Bible from his back pocket, and, holding it closed in both hands, said clearly, "Dearly beloved, we are gathered together in the sight of God and this company to join this man and this woman in Holy Matrimony. Marriage is a sacred thing, and these two have come together after many trials and tribulations . . ." It was pretty much a standard ceremony in spite of the unusual surroundings, but there were a few hints that it was something out of the ordinary, such as Jon filling in for her late father in giving the bride away. When the time came for the groom to place the ring on the bride's finger, the best man handed him not a plain band, but a highly tooled piece of Navajo silver, worked by an old boatman the groom had known for many years.
In spite of all the effort taken to get to this spot, the ceremony itself seemed to go by in a flash. In time, Noah said, "In the name of God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, I pronounce you man and wife. You may kiss the bride." And kiss they did; it had taken nearly twenty-seven years for the story started in this spot to come full circle. There were hugs and handshakes all around, as people began to file back down the path to the beach.
It took a while to get everyone back down there, but by the time the bride and groom arrived, propane burners were roaring and stoves were humming, and the smell of steak was in the air. Several carefully-hidden bottles of champagne were produced, enough to go around and little more. There was no regular wedding cake -- no one had been able to figure out a way to get one down there -- but there were a couple of tins of fruitcake that filled the bill, and cut tightly enough, there was enough to go around.
As the serving began, Dave and Mary filled a Dutch oven with steaks and potatoes, and canisters with other food, and ferried it across the river to the group that waited on the other side, and took the time to eat with them. They ferried back across the river with the dirty dishes soon afterward, promising to be back after a while.
While the dishes were under way, the shadows began to grow long; Michelle gathered up Hannah and Wade, and they loaded the bride and groom's gear onto their pack frames and carried it up to the water pocket. Shortly after they were back, as the light began to go, the bride and groom took their leave of the party, and scrambled back up the rock face and narrow trail to the water pocket for their wedding night.
As darkness fell, wood and a fire pan were produced, and a fire built. There were stories told and there was music, the sounds of harp and guitar drifting above the Colorado River. The sound may have also drifted up to the water pocket where the bride and groom were spending their wedding night, but if they heard it, they never mentioned it.
Given the number of people who would have to be ferried down to Bass, the previous afternoon Crystal had worked out a deal with Mary to send Carl over with a partly loaded raft in the morning; he'd wait at Bass for Team 1 to catch up. Breakfast was well under way by the time Carl arrived, which was just fine with him; it was still going together over at the Team 1 camp. He hopped out of the raft with the bow line in hand, tied it off to a rock along the shore, then wandered up toward the kitchen, coffee cup in hand, hoping that there'd still be enough to eat. "How you fixed for breakfast?" he asked when he found Crystal and Scooter at the table.
"Go ahead and have some," Crystal told him. "We're about done, have what you want."
"Thanks, Crystal," the young boatman said, spooning up some scrambled eggs, sausages and hash browns. "I'll tell you what, I'm sure wishing that I was going to be running with you the rest of the trip, but I'll survive, I guess."
"That's the spirit," Scooter grinned. "Who knows, maybe the next trip you'll have some good-looking, horny young broad who thinks some one-on-one time with a boatman is just the cure for whatever ails her."
"Yeah," Carl laughed. "But who knows where that could end up? I mean, considering why we're here in the first place."
"That's the risk you take," Crystal agreed with a laugh of her own. "But I'd have to say it worked out pretty well. They both survived the night, anyway. They're around somewhere, and Michelle and Hannah and Wade hiked up to get their gear."
Given all the extra people, it was a little more confusing than normal, but soon they were loading the rafts. "If you're hiking out, put the stuff you're hiking out with on the end raft, that's Carl's raft," Crystal ordered. "That'll keep us from having to strip the tarps on all of the rafts when we get down to Bass. Leave your overnight bags with the sleeping bags and Paco Pads and stuff to go on the first raft this side of it. While you're at it, put the full rocket boxes and the empty coolers and food boxes on it, too. Boatmen, we'll load the other five rafts like it was a normal trip."
Oh, that answers it, Scooter thought to herself. She'd wondered if Al and Karin weren't going to have to be disappointed to each take a separate raft. They weren't going to have to -- Crystal had said nothing, but Scooter could see she was setting the second raft up as a gear boat! Have fun, Randy and Preach, she thought. Wonder who gets it?
Finally, in an hour or so, people were loading aboard the rafts. They were going to be carrying a load, with forty-four people spread around the seven rafts, but made a little more crowded by the fact that Al and Karin were running by themselves. It was a good group, running together, with lots of laughs and grins on this fine, clear morning. It wasn't a long trip, but one of the better ones, with several good if not especially difficult rapids spread out along the way -- just enough to make the boatmen work a little bit, and get some spray splashed aboard the boats.
But, this morning, the focus was more on friendship than it was on the Canyon, and perhaps it was made a little more significant by the fact that Scooter was riding along in Crystal's raft. It was pretty rare that they rode together in the same boat -- but now, there wasn't a lot for the two of them to say.
With the seven rafts nosed into the beach at the bottom of the Bass trail, people began to pile out and get organized for the long hike up to where Ray would be waiting in the late afternoon with the Canyon Tours bus far above. Scooter was one of the last to leave, now carrying her hiking poles, and with knees already wrapped in knee braces.
"Take it easy," Crystal warned her, "Don't push it."
"I know," Scooter said, visibly sorrowful at having to leave the river and leave Crystal. "I can do this, you know. We did it before. You just take care of yourself."
"You take care of yourself, too," Crystal said, sorry to see her friend leaving. "Good luck with Jim. See ya in the fall."
"Jim?" Scooter said, a little shocked. She thought she'd been doing a pretty good job of covering it up.
"Come on, Scoot, you don't think you can fool me, do you?" Crystal laughed. "Enjoy yourself. We'll get together in the fall and figure out next winter."
"Looking forward to it," Scooter told her. "Guess I'd better get going. See ya on the river."