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 57

June 15 - July 15 2001

Team Three's Summer - 2

Just from the way the schedules matched up, Jim got in a day ahead of Scooter, just like he'd gotten in a day behind last trip. Scooter was looking forward to her day and a couple nights with him -- they were rigging Saturday. The only problem was that this would be the last time they'd have a chance to be together until toward the end of August, and then it depended on how the boatman pickup and scheduling worked. That meant there was a chance it could be freaking November before they saw each other again. They usually had trouble getting swampers in the fall, but maybe he might be able to do that again -- but it would be on Team 2, and they were unlikely to run with two swampers, since Nanci most likely would stay running. So, she had no choice but to work hard at what they were doing.

Jim was waiting when they got off the bus back at the office, and he pitched in pretty hard with the unloading and cleaning to help her get out of there earlier. As always, they headed out to the highway for dinner, then back to the house. This time he'd had a day to shower in a motel, so she had dibs on the shower, although he joined her after she'd had a chance to get cleaned up a little. Soon the hot water ran out and they turned to other bare-skin activities they liked better than taking a cold shower.

Other than a couple hours to do a laundry run and a little shopping, they pretty well stayed around the house all day -- they didn't even go to the Burro. Neither of them could guess much further ahead about the fall and winter than they had been able to the trip before, and they agreed they'd just have to see what happened. They did manage to work out that, if it became November before they saw each other again, they'd spend at least some time together; if he could work as a boatman through the fall, that might include the Felicity Ann, but it wasn't a done deal.

Nevertheless, after Scooter had helped the baloney boaters load gear and food on Saturday morning, she put him in the Dodge and drove him up to Lee's Ferry behind the semis with the S-rigs, just to spend a few more hours with him. She hung around and helped them rig, but started for Flagstaff before dusk as she had to be down to the Canyon Tours office at six for her own trip. There were hot tears in her eyes as she kissed him goodbye just before she got in the Dodge, hating to have to go but knowing she had to do it.

Jim and the motor rigs would be gone by the time she got back to Lee's in the afternoon -- they had a four-day trip to the helicopter pickup at Whitmore Wash, and then the hard run with the side tubes rolled up to Pearce Ferry. Fast trips like that could be a real hassle, and they never got to know the passengers very well. The next time she got off on break, he'd be running the only oar trip he'd get to take for the summer, twelve days to Diamond Wash instead of the eighteen days that Canyon Tours usually took, so that was pushing pretty hard, too.

The next day she was up early getting groceries, packing, and loading. The whole crew was there, plus some of the usual extra hands like Karin and Michelle; Kelly was there helping, too; there was a very long kiss before Jerry got on the crew bus and Scooter told Jeff to be about it.

Rigging could have gone better. Even though they were practiced, Jerry was testy, and that made things ouchy because Scooter was a little ouchy herself, and probably for the same reason -- the break that was too goddamn short. Both of them had a few more beers than normal up at the bar in Marble Canyon, and the rest of the crew did it a little more stiffly than normal too. There were several heads doing the final loading and rigging the next morning, and the trip leader and assistant trip leader's heads were a little larger than most. Things were getting back together when Scooter lit her cigar as she saw the customer bus come down the hill.

It was hot now, fucking hot, second week of July hot, swimsuit and lots of sunscreen hot. There were a few things that mitigated the heat; there were thunderstorms around most days. They were rarely hit directly and were grateful when they were; rain suits were just not being used. They got hit once while they were visiting Redwall Cavern, a dry place to sit out the storm, but on a day so hot that being rained on would have been welcome. The thunderstorms made side canyons treacherous, for they could flash flood from a storm that was so far away they might not even know it was going on. Scooter made a point of telling the story of Norma down at Shinumo Creek and then at Diamond Wash, just to make the point that those things were dangerous; as a result, Scooter waved off several potentially good hikes without mentioning the possibility. Occasionally, she wondered how Norma was doing on Team 1, and when thunderstorms were in the area wished she were with them instead.

The river was still the coldest thing around; Scooter passed along some stories that Crystal told of going to sauna when she'd been training dogs up at Josh and Tiffany's a few years ago, cutting a hole in the ice, roasting, and then going out to jump into the freezing water. Roasting in the sun on the rafts and jumping in the Colorado wasn't that much different, only a matter of degrees and not all that many of them. She got to tease Duane that those days weren't going to be very far off for him; the day would come that the roasting heat down in the bottom of the Canyon would seem welcome indeed -- it could be as much as a hundred and fifty degrees cooler!

Duane reported that he called Josh and Tiffany every break just to see how things were coming. They were in their new house, the new dog barn was up and seemed to be working out well, and their old house trailer had been moved over near the barn for the dog handler to live in. Duane wouldn't have Crystal's experience of having to live in a pickup camper sitting on cement blocks in thirty and forty below weather. Right at the moment, that didn't sound like such a bad deal after all.

It was almost pleasantly cool the morning they started down Upper Granite Gorge, cool enough that Scooter suggested people might like to take rain suits with them in their daybags even if they didn't want to wear them in anything but the rapids and maybe not there after the day warmed up some. The night before, she'd suggested trying for a very early start, so they could take their time, and then have a long lunch in the tamarisks at Phantom Ranch, then run down river to one of a couple small but shady-side spots she knew.

That sounded like a pretty good deal to everyone, so they got up and around fairly decently -- they'd been on the river five days now, so they pretty well had gotten the bugs shaken out. This really was a pretty good group although the heat sometimes made people irritable. They pulled out while the sun was still low; Scooter actually pulled on her rain jacket for Unkar, but took it off immediately afterward and left it off for Nevills. When they pulled into Hance, she suggested that everyone wear at least their jackets, not because they needed the protection from the wet, but the flying water could sometimes feel pretty hard on bare skin. After looking at the rapids they were facing, just about everyone agreed, and afterwards those who hadn't said she had a point. Of course, the rain jackets were off almost before the boatmen pulled themselves together enough to head for Sockdolager. This time, Scooter didn't say anything about rain jackets but everybody pulled them on anyway. Grapevine was somewhat less wild, and by now it was getting hot enough that the rain jackets seemed like portable saunas, so Scooter decided to go in her swimsuit, and felt cooled by the time they flushed out the bottom.

By now, they were drawing close to Phantom; the rock formations in the Vishnu Schist were stunning as always, but Scooter was more thinking about the shade of the tamarisks and a cold soda or two when she pulled under the Kaibab Bridge, around the last little bend and pointed the raft toward the rocky beach at Phantom. At first she didn't notice the figure sitting in the shade of a tamarisk near the shore, but when he stood up all she could do was gasp, "Jim! What are you doing here?"

"You don't have to run up to the message box," he told her, "I brought one."

"What the hell is this?" she said as he grabbed the painter and dragged the raft up on shore.

"In a second, let me help the others," he said as he headed for the next raft, Andy's. Scooter was shaking her head; she knew this was an off-day for him -- had he walked down seven miles in the heat, and planning to walk back up seven, just so he could say hello and have lunch with her? It seemed unbelievable, but the only possible explanation, a way to hack a week off the long wait she'd have before she could see him again.

She piled out of the raft and followed him down the shoreline, until he got to Jerry who had been running sweep. "Jim," she said. "What's this all about?"

"You got a little crew shakeup," he said. "Duane, get over here, you need to hear this too."

A few seconds later Duane had joined them, asking, "What's up, Jim?"

"Duane, you and Jerry are headed topside. Dan had a seizure, not sure what it's all about. Preach is an EMT and was able to stabilize him. Crystal got on the satphone and called for a chopper. They flew him out."

"Damn," Jerry said, "He thought they had it under control."

"What do you mean, Jerry?" Scooter asked.

"He had a brain tumor in high school, he told me once. He had chemo for a while and the doctors said they thought they'd licked it. But this spring, he just didn't strike me as being as well as last spring. Of course, I couldn't get the dumbass to see a doctor."

"Well, shit," Scooter shook her head. "Hell of a thing. So what happened?"

"They were a couple days above Havasu Creek. Michelle made a mad dash over there and hiked down to meet them, they had their best swamper running a gear boat, and Crystal said they were shuttling it through the harder rapids, like you guys did with Randy that time. At this point, they don't know if Dan is gonna be able to run again or not, although they think he's getting better now. Karin is almost certain it won't be this year, so Duane, you're going to wait till Team 2 gets off the river and you're the new assistant trip leader."

"Damn," Duane said. "What a pisser of a way to get that job. So you came down to replace me?"

"No," Jim smiled, "Karin came down to replace you, but she hiked up to the canteen to get something; we weren't expecting you this soon. I'm replacing Jerry."

"What?" Jerry frowned.

"You get up to the top of the hill; Kelly's going to be waiting for you after four. She's gonna run you over to Lee's, you got a motor-rig trip starting in the morning."

"Motor rig?" Jerry exclaimed, "You're shitting me! I never thought he'd come through with it!"

"I never did either," Jim smiled. "You're replacing me, although there's going to be someone else going along to check you out on motor rigs."

Scooter shook her head. "Why do I suspect there's been something going on I don't know about?"

"Well, there has, a little," Jim said. "The last break I had, I went to Al and asked him to see if there was some way I could move over here without pissing Marty off. I've been wanting to do it for a year anyway, I'd talked to him about it before."

"I've been wanting to move to motor rigs," Jerry said. "Kelly has been getting pissed with me being gone two and a half weeks at a crack. She figures six or seven on and two or three off is a whole lot better, and I don't know that she's not right. The last time we were on break, I went to Marty and asked him if there was some way I could move over there, even next season, without pissing Al off. I will be damned!"

Jim got a big grin on his face. "Al said it made him feel like he owned a ball team, trading an assistant trip leader for a boatman and a swamper to be named later."

"Son of a bitch," Scooter said, the shock starting to hit her now -- it wasn't going to be a load of weeks or November or whatever before she saw Jim -- he was going to be running with her, and apparently assistant trip leader at that! "Son of a bitch!"

"I'm willing to admit to some surprise myself when I come off the trip a couple days ago and Marty said I'd been traded," Jim grinned. "Jerry, Al wants you to call him, either from Lee's or when you get off the trip; I think he wants to talk to you about maybe running some fall trips to replace Dan. He wasn't pissed or anything."

"I might be able to get away with one or two," Jerry nodded. "I doubt Kelly would be very happy with four."

"Anyway, you and Duane can take Karin's and my backpacks, she ought to be back any time. Duane, Kelly is going to take you back to Flag after she drops Jerry off; it might be late, but you can sleep in tomorrow. Take it easy going up guys, and take plenty of water. It was hotter than shit coming down and that was coming down."

"That changes a lot," Scooter said. She turned to the rest of the group. "Andy, Barbie, Wade, Hannah, get started setting up lunch. Jerry, Duane, get your stuff together. If there's anything you can leave behind and pick up at the office after we get off the water, you'd better not take it. Go as light as you can, and like Jim said, take plenty of water, you're gonna need it in this sauna. Get some lunch before you go. I gotta have a couple words with Jim in private, don't go before I get back with you. Jim, come with me."

They broke away from the group; Scooter looked around, and saw that around a corner on the trail was about the closest place they could get out of sight. Moving quickly in the heat, she headed that way, with him following. As soon as they were out of sight of the group, she stopped, turned around, and put her arms around him; almost immediately they were in a serious kiss that went on for a while. Finally, they broke away. "What couple words?" he asked.

"Thank God," she sighed. "Shit, this changes a lot; I haven't even begun to think about it."

"I have some," he said. "Al told me on the way up, and told Karin to tell you, too, that we need to keep it above board in front of the customers."

"I agree," Scooter sighed. "You weren't along, but when Al and Karin and Crystal found out about each other, no one else on the trip knew about it until we got off the river. We're just going to have to do the same thing, but I think we can handle it."

"I think so too, Scoot," he smiled. "But that doesn't mean that there isn't a lot we can do."

"Jesus, I still can't believe this is happening!"

"Well, me either," he smiled. "Al and I talked about it a little. He said that as soon as he heard from Marty that Jerry wanted to get into motor rigs because Kelly wanted him around more, he knew Jerry was out of here, end of the season at the latest, maybe sooner. He might be able to hang on with motor rigs for a while before Kelly gets too pissed off with that. Marty knows about us, and figured I was gone at the end of the season, too, so a trade made sense to both of them. They do actually work together, after all."

"Guess they do," she smiled. "I have one other thing to say to you."

"What's that?"

"Go jump in the river."

"Huh?"

"Go jump in the river," she repeated, with a huge grin on her face. "You stink! You're a Canyon Tours oarboater now; we gotta get that goddamn gas smell off of you!"

 

There were several people wading around in the river to cool off, so no one was very surprised when Jim came racing back, Scooter right on his heels, and dashed into the river with her right after him, laughing and splashing like a couple kids. By the time they quit messing around -- it didn't take long since the water felt like it had ice cubes floating in it -- Karin was back from the canteen. She was already swapping stuff from her backpack to Duane's drybag and vice versa, as Jim started to do with Jerry as soon as he got out of the river.

By the time they were done, lunch was well under way. After everyone had been through the food line once, Scooter stood up on a drybox and said, "Folks, listen up for a minute. I know some of you heard what just happened a few minutes ago, but we found we had to do some crew swapping to replace a guy on another trip who got sick and had to be flown out, so Duane and Jerry are leaving us here. Replacing Jerry is Jim, this is his fourth year of running rafts down this place; he's gonna be our new assistant trip leader. He's pretty good, and yes, he's a close friend of mine. Our other new boatman is Karin Buck, our boss's wife. She's been running this river off and on since 1973 and fills in once in a while in an emergency, so I'll tell you it's a real treat to have her down here. Rafting runs pretty strong in the family, Karin and Al's daughter is trip leader on another trip right now, so she should work out pretty well on this trip."

She turned to Jerry and Duane. "Jerry, you take it easy and say hi to Kelly for us. Enjoy that baloney boating and figure on dropping by the season wrap party next fall. Most of you know that Duane is going to be a dog handler and trainer for a couple Iditarod racers this winter, so Duane, if I don't see you till next spring, enjoy looking at those dog fannies. When you're out mushing, and it's fifty below, remember how hot it is here right now. I'll bet it'll look pretty good to you."

"It probably will," he grinned. "You take it easy with Jim, now, Scooter. I'll be telling some furry dog stories next spring."

"Be cool, Scoot," Jerry said. "See you on the river. Duane, maybe we'd better get moving. We want to go pretty slow and easy."

A couple minutes later, Duane and Jerry waved at them as they crossed the Bright Angel Bridge, heading for the rim. "I hope they really do take it easy," Karin said as she and Scooter worked on their lunches in the shade. "That was a scorcher coming down; I'll bet I drank a gallon of water and haven't had to use the river yet."

"Duane's done the AT; he ought to be able to pace them," Scooter observed. "Karin, this is quite a turn of events. How come you came instead of Al?"

"I was tired of sitting in the office, and there were a couple things he had to do anyway," she shrugged. "I haven't run since the first part of May; I was going stir-crazy. I'd thought about going as an extra on this Team 2 trip; I wish I had, but it worked out anyway."

"Yeah, one of those deals," Scooter sighed, and took a long drink from the can of pop in her hand. She thought for a moment, then said, "Karin, I've got a question."

"What?"

"I know they only have first-year swampers on Team 2. Is their best one who I think it is?"

"Yes," Karin said. "And I am so damn proud of her it's not funny. That's the big reason I came down, I didn't want to embarrass her by crying in sheer happiness when I saw her. We didn't know what had happened until Crystal called to let us know they'd picked Michelle up."

Scooter shook her head. "I know Barbie had Jon on the sticks some back there on the wedding trip," she said. "I've never asked her how he did. It sure would be cool if it was a clean sweep, though."

"It's not going to happen, they're too wrapped up in their jobs," Karin sighed. "But we're not done seeing them down here. They got about as hooked as everyone else."

Scooter broke out with a serious laugh. "Karin," she said finally, "Can you imagine what your ex would say if he was to see the four of you?"

"He'd think we were out of our minds," she giggled. "All of us. And by his definition, we would be. He would not believe what has happened, or even believe it could have happened." She let out a sigh, and continued, "To tell you the truth, Scooter, I sometimes have trouble believing it myself."


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