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 60

September 15 - 28, 2001

Team Two's Autumn - 2

Crystal, Scooter, Jim, and Michelle found a quiet spot to gather around the rafts at Horn Creek, while Kevin and Nanci were part of a group that was doing a round-robin reading aloud from the newspapers Michelle brought with her. "You left Jeff watching the office, right?" Scooter asked; she knew that both Al and Karin were on Team 1, a week ahead of them, because a pickup boatman had bombed out at the last minute. It would be Karin's first full-length run as a boatman.

"Him and Marjorie," Michelle reported. "There just wasn't anything else to do, and I figured I'd have to hike back up with the Osborne's, but I hoped Preach would do it."

"He's the best person, all right," Scooter nodded. Over the summer, Team 2 had taken on a somewhat-religious touch she wasn't altogether sure she liked, but today she wasn't complaining. "Let's see, it's roughly three thousand miles across the country; we're about five hundred from LA, and it's not straight. Twenty-five hundred miles at least, maybe more, one way. I doubt very much that he's going to meet us at Havasu."

"It's a long shot," Michelle agreed. "Then you have to add to it that it's a long day's hike down. When I hiked down to replace Dan, Jeff dropped me off before dawn, I hustled every inch of the way, and it still was getting pretty late when I got there."

"I'm not going to hold my breath," Crystal said thoughtfully. "I just hope he doesn't kill himself trying to do it. You might as well figure on going the whole way."

"I'll tell you what, most days I'd just about kill to get out of the office and hike down to Phantom, but I was so damn sure that what I was carrying wasn't only bad news but real bad news that it wasn't easy to come."

"I will tell you what," Scooter said, a little bitterly. "I'm starting to get a little gun shy about Phantom. They ought to rename it Bad News Gulch. Louise that time, then Jerry falling, then this summer Dan, and now this. If bad news comes in threes, I wonder what else we're going to find out there this year."

"There is a bright spot," Michelle nodded. "I'll be away from the damn TV set for ten days. That was turning into a real downer. The same stuff, over and over again. I got so sick of it that it wasn't funny."

"I remember my first trip," Scooter sighed. "I was rowing Al's raft when this customer looks up and said, 'Three contrails, I guess that means no nuclear war, and if there was I'm just as glad I don't know about it."

"Yeah, this is a dream world," Crystal agreed philosophically. "Unfortunately, once in a while the real world reaches all the way down here. Maybe when we run Crystal, it'll get our minds back here where they belong."

 

The mood of the group turned back upward in the next couple days, although it never regained the mellowness they'd known above Phantom. In spite of the fact that there were three people left on the crew that ranged from dead-serious to moderately so about their religion, mostly they tried to not let it get overt in front of the customers. This time, though, Scooter took to asking Kevin for a prayer before dinner -- moderately nondenominational, mostly asking for solace for the Osbornes and safety for Preach.

To no one's great surprise, Preach wasn't waiting for them at the mouth of Havasu Creek, and they didn't hold up waiting for him. Nor were they particularly surprised to see him waiting with Jeff and Jimmie when they drifted into Diamond Creek Wash several days later. "I got the Osbornes home all right," he told the group. "They're doing as well as can be expected under the circumstances, and there's lots of people doing worse. Please keep them in your prayers."

As Jeff drove the customers up the hill, the crew let loading go to gather around Preach as he told them the long version of the story. The Bright Angel Trail is up all the way from the river, and while the Osbornes were in good shape, they weren't power hikers. Preach figured they'd be long after dark reaching the rim. Then the daily mule train coming up from Phantom Ranch caught up with them, and Preach explained what happened to the leader. Without discussion, two men slid off their mules and offered their saddles to the Osbornes. As it was, with a little switching around, everybody on the trip, including the leader, walked part of the way while they rode. "While there may have been thousands of deaths," he commented, "There have been millions of acts of kindness across the country that have helped to balance things off a little."

They got up to the rim just a little behind the mule train's normal schedule, walked over to Pat and Rachel's gift store, explained what was happening, then took off for Flagstaff. They changed over to Preach's more comfortable Buick and started east.

For more than two days they drove, day and night. Mostly Preach did the driving, but Mr. Osborne filled in a couple times so he could grab a nap, and once they all corked off in a truck stop for a couple hours. Almost three days after they'd first heard the news, they pulled into the Osborne home in Windsor Locks, to find the remainder of the family waiting -- they'd called home to let people know they were on their way. Yes, it was a time of sorrow, but the Osbornes had been having a 2500-mile memorial service, eulogy, and therapy session with Preach, and they'd pulled themselves together a lot. Preach sort of allowed as how he had to be getting back to the Canyon -- he actually had no intent more than going to the nearest box store, getting some clean clothes, since he hadn't brought a thing with him and was still wearing the clothes he'd been wearing in the raft, then finding a motel to be able to sleep around the clock. The Osbornes and their friends and relatives weren't going to let him get away that easily. So, he slept around the clock in their spare room, and someone washed his clothes. He woke up, to discover that someone had taken up a collection to cover his expenses. He told the Osbornes thanks, but donate it to some relief fund to help people who needed it more. He had some discussions with the Osborne family, their minister, and others, offered prayers and best wishes, then got in the car and started back west, with the invitation to drop by again if he was in the area.

A ways up the road he stopped for gas. There was a map of the country in the convenience store, and he spent a minute looking at it. When they'd come east, they'd taken I-40 to Oklahoma City, then I-44 and I-70 on into Pennsylvania. Eyeballing the map, Preach realized that the route took them a little north of the direct route between Oklahoma City and Pennsylvania. However, if he'd take I-81 back to I-40 near Knoxville, it'd be just a little bit farther -- and take him pretty close to Chattanooga. He could get a few things out of his storage locker that would be useful in the fall, like heavier clothes -- and clean ones -- and he could stop by Glen Hill Road First Baptist Church and see Pastor Jordan. He was already aware that there was no chance to catch the trip at the mouth of Havasu Creek, so it was an easy decision to make.

He took his time, made a night stop in Roanoke -- which, he remembered, was Scooter's home town -- and early Friday afternoon drove into Glen Hill, more with the intent of saying hello and spending an hour catching up. It didn't work that way of course -- while many people had been shocked by September 11, this was the first that someone from the church knew someone who had been directly affected, and Pastor Jordan got the idea that perhaps Noah would like to do the Sunday sermon. Preach thought about it for a moment, and said that he'd gotten into the habit of giving small teachings on Sunday in the Canyon, and he usually just spoke what the Lord put on his mind, rather than preparing something. He wasn't willing to prepare a sermon, but he'd give a Canyon-style teaching.

Thus it was that Preach gave the sermon at the main service on Sunday morning, not wearing a suit and tie -- which he had available, sitting in the storage locker -- but wearing the cutoff blue jeans and Canyon Tours T-shirt he'd been wearing when they'd pulled into Phantom a few days before. It was not the first sermon that Preach had given at Glen Hill, but everyone told him it was easily the best. He talked for just a couple minutes about his new life, the beauty and adventure of the Canyon, the wonderful feeling of peace of being in the midst of the Lord's creation. Then, he told the story of pulling into Phantom just a week before, and the Osbornes, the random acts of kindness ever since, how the Lord had used the incident to remind us of the brotherhood of man. His leave-taking of Glen Hill had been a little quick, and he explained that he'd felt the leading of the Lord to change his life -- and now he understood why. He hadn't left the ministry, he'd just moved to a new one, in the grandest cathedral of all.

That night, at the youth group meeting, he again talked about his new life in the Grand Canyon. It wasn't about the Osbornes this time, they weren't even mentioned, but about the beauty and adventure amongst the majesty, and how it was perfectly possible to have a life like that and still be a Christian and serve God at the same time. It was pretty off the cuff, but Preach was a good speaker, and could keep the kids' interest. That gave Pastor Jordan an idea. It was a good talk for being off the cuff. There was a speaker's bureau that had people traveling around to various churches giving inspirational talks. Did Noah think he'd like to look into that for something to do in the off season?

Preach thought it might be an idea, but he had to be heading on back to the Canyon. Perhaps Pastor Jordan could bounce the idea off the speaker's bureau and see what they thought; he'd call back at the end of the week. Preach got back on the road Monday and got back to Flagstaff in time to help with the de-rigging and loading at Diamond Creek.

"I spent a lot of the way back thinking about what I'd said off the top of my head in the sermon last Sunday," he summarized. "In spite of the leading that I felt strongly to leave Glen Hill and come here, I've felt a little guilty about leaving the ministry. But if I hadn't, there wouldn't have been an EMT present when Dan had his seizure, and I wouldn't have been at Phantom to console the Osbornes and help them home. So now, more than ever, I think that this is the place I'm supposed to be."

 

As they pretty well had expected, it was a little awkward around the house when they were on break, with Crystal and Nanci in separate beds in the one bedroom, and Scooter and Jim stuffed snugly into a 3/4 bed in the other. No longer could they have the run-of-the-house noisy and active lovemaking they'd enjoyed earlier in the year, but they knew that was going to happen. There were only two trips and one break left in the season, and then things would have to be worked out. This was mitigated by the fact that both couples would be on the Felicity Ann through most of January and expected to be gone somewhere separately much of the rest of the time. Several riverbank discussions had led to the conclusion that for this winter they'd try to get along for the sake of the convenience of having the house next summer.

Fairly early Friday morning, Scooter, Crystal, and Nanci piled into Jim's car, which was in a good deal better condition than the Dodge, and drove over to Kevin's house to pick up Kevin and Preach. They drove out to a truck stop near the Interstate that they favored for breakfast, and had a pretty good one. Say what you might about the mixed texture of the team, they were all good friends and as close on the river as they were off. After breakfast, one of the few things they had to do on Friday was pick up their checks, and around midmorning they pulled into the office to do it.

They no more than walked into the office when they heard Al say, "Yeah, he just walked in, just a second." He put the phone on hold and said, "Preach, it's for you, it's that Jordan guy you used to work for."

"Darn it," he said. "I wanted to run that by Crystal a little more before I talked to him. Guess I'd better do it." He headed back into Al's little office and picked up the phone; they could hear some conversation going on, but there was more discussion of the events of the trip, and the one Al and Karin had been on. They hadn't heard about September 11 until Jeff told them at Diamond Creek, but with the message that everyone was all right. "One of the things I like about the Canyon is that you can rarely get broadcast radio down there," Al said. "FM, forget it. AM, sometimes, but never very good, and then usually at night. Most of the time what's on it is either trash or stuff you don't want to hear about down there, anyway. Guess I'm just a crusty old purist."

"I think it safe to say that there's a half dozen crusty young purists in here with you," Scooter smiled.

About that time Preach wrapped up his phone call and came back out to the front office. "That's what I figured it would be," he said. "Durn it, Crystal, I wanted to talk to you about it, and I told Pastor Jordan we'd both have to be the ones to decide."

"What's this?" Al asked.

Preach gave him a brief thumbnail of the idea of doing a speaker's tour around several churches, to make the point that it's possible to live a Christian life and still do exciting things. "They'd like to book me in a number of churches in the southeast in the tail end of November and the first part of December," he told them. "Crystal, I know we promised ourselves some time away by ourselves to sort out where we're at and where we're going, but this is not what I had in mind, so it's your call."

"I don't know," she shrugged. "It isn't what I'd planned, either."

"Just as a question," Al asked. "Is this all weekends and Sundays and like that, or is it weekdays?"

"It hasn't been nailed down yet," Preach replied. "He wants to know if I'm willing to do it before they start scheduling dates."

"Let me have a little input on that," Al said. "You're probably not aware of it, but we had several cancellations in the wake of the eleventh. At first it was airline difficulties, and of course we rescheduled the people for next year under the circumstances. But fall bookings were light anyway; you're only going to have nineteen the next trip unless we get someone at the last minute, and it's today or nothing on that. I think at least a part of it is that the economy is a little soft. We've usually been able to keep the trips pretty full by a little advertising and some good word of mouth, but I think we're going to have to push a little harder. What I'm thinking is that there's a big weekend outdoor show in Atlanta and another one in New Orleans in that period, and I could still get a booth."

"That has some potential," Preach agreed. "You're saying do both shows and the church tour."

"Killing two birds with one stone in the process," Al nodded. "No reason you can't take a fistful of Canyon Tours brochures on your church tour, either. I'm also thinking that maybe we can work it around so Scooter and Jim could be booth bunnies a show or two, Karin and me, maybe Dave and Mary. We'd have to work up a display, but I think I have enough to get one started."

"I'm not opposed," Scooter nodded. "So long as we can work out the dates so it doesn't interfere with January in the Bahamas."

"Should be able to," Al nodded. "Since this is a fresh idea I'd have to look into it. If any show comes up in that period, maybe Karin and I could do it, or maybe even you and your mom, Nanci."

"Well, what the heck," Crystal shrugged. "It's not what I really envisioned doing this winter, but I didn't have much envisioned besides Buddha, the Bahamas, and hanging out with you, and it could be fun."

"There's a second part," Preach said. "The booking agency told Pastor Jordan it would be a lot better if I had some visual effects, maybe a slide show, rather than just talking, and I don't know where to start."

"Good point," Al said. "I've got a collection of slides going back years, and I know Michelle's dad does, too. That'd probably get you started. The only problem is that some of the on-river and camp stuff is a little dated. Some of it's a lot dated. Maybe you ought to take my Pentax WR-95 and some slide film on your next run."

"It probably wouldn't be a bad idea to have the slides scanned and put into PowerPoint," Jim suggested. "That way you could take a laptop and a projection viewer, rather than the slides themselves."

"That would be a lot of work in the time available," Preach objected. "But I've got the laptop; we'd have to come up with a viewer, but they aren't hard to find."

"You don't want a whole huge pot load of slides," Al observed. "Pat and I can probably get a good start on it."

"Is there any chance Jennifer and Blake and Myleigh would let you use some of the music from Canyon Tours as a backdrop?" Scooter suggested.

"Might be," Al nodded. "I think I'd want to run it by Myleigh first. On the other hand, I don't know how close they are to releasing that; maybe we can get a few cases of them to sell at the shows."

Over the next half hour, there were a lot of ideas thrown around, mostly about things that could be included in the show -- not just specific scenes, but river and camp life, some of the Canyon plants and wildlife, maybe a historical photo or two, say of John Wesley Powell. A shorter version of the show could be kept running in the show booth as an eye-catcher.

"Hey, I don't want to louse up you guys' day off," Al said finally, "But Preach, what do you say you and Crystal and me take a run up to Pat's and start pulling this together. He's forgotten more about this stuff than I know."

"You guys skip the groceries tomorrow to make up for it," Scooter offered. "Maybe we can get some of the college kids from Northern Arizona over to help with them."

"We may be working on the slide show anyway," Al commented. "Thanks for the offer, Scooter."

"You know," Scooter commented. "This is going to make a lot of what we're going to do this winter drop into place. Unless you come back here for Christmas, you are mostly planning on being gone from Thanksgiving until we get to Buddha's, right?"

"It's still tentative," Preach nodded. "It could be made to work out that way."

"Then that makes the question of what we're doing over the winter and the house come a lot more into focus. You two will be gone a month, maybe a little more, before Buddha's and the Bahamas. Jim and I would have about a month, maybe a little more before we'd have to get back to get going on the spring rigging."

"Nanci, I suppose you'd want to stay here in Flag with Kevin," Al smiled. "Might be such a thing as you could stay with us part of that time so these lovebirds have the house to themselves. And I ain't exactly specifying which lovebirds."

"It doesn't matter to me," Nanci shrugged. "I wouldn't mind getting to spend a little more time with Mom, anyway."

"Boy, things are falling into place this morning," Crystal smiled as the phone rang.

Al reached for it. "May be that couple that was looking to go on your next trip," he commented. "Canyon Tours," he answered. "Oh, hi, how ya doing? . . . it's still pretty nice here . . . yeah, she's here. Hang on a second." He put the phone on hold. "Crystal, it's Randy," he said. "You want to take it in my office?"

"Might as well," she shrugged. "It's probably about going with us on the trip after next, and there's a good chance it's not good news." She headed for the office, but left the door open. In the course of the next couple minutes, they heard phrases like, "We knew that could happen. Sorry Randy, maybe next time . . . no, it's still on, we were just talking about it . . . yeah, we could maybe do that, if it would fit together for you . . . hey guy, I'm really sorry, maybe next time, next spring maybe . . . then next fall, but sometime, OK?"

"That," Scooter said quietly, "Is not the news he was hoping to give us."

"No fooling," Preach shook his head. "One of these has to break his way someday."

In a couple minutes more, a subdued Crystal came out of the office. "That was Randy," she sighed. "They have a couple projects running late and a late building they have to get closed in before the snow flies. There's no way he can make it for three weeks in three weeks."

"Bummer," Scooter shook his head. "Is the Bahamas trip still on?"

"At this point," she replied. "He can get down to Buddha's right after Christmas, but he's got some kind of a construction meeting he has to go to right after the first of the year, so he'd have to fly up for it and fly right back if he was going the early part of the trip. I told him we could rig it around any way he wants, and if he can get away for the whole month, come and join us."

"Well, that's something," Scooter nodded. "He's a heck of a nice guy, but this is eating him up. I sure hope he and Nicole can get it solved."

"Would have been a good trip for him to go on," Al observed. "It's real small. You could have put him in a light gear boat and he could have had a ball."

"Al," Crystal sighed. "The last two years the last trip of the year has been real light, and we've had to give a discount to people to get them on it. I'll bet you've lost money."

"We haven't broke even, that's a fact," he said. "But you know my position; I'm going to launch every trip we're allowed, even if it's one raft with two customers, because if we let that date go we may not get it back when we need it. And if we can ever go to the shorter season, we could well need it."

"Two thoughts on that," she said. "First, let's do some thinking about just going to the shorter season, even if we have to limit the trips to four rafts. Most trips don't fill up until the last month or so, Michelle tells me."

"You don't make out as well with four rafts and maybe twenty people," Al told her. "And each raft is loaded pretty heavy."

"But it only takes four boatmen instead of five," Crystal pointed out. "Besides, is there any reason we couldn't launch a six-raft trip with maybe thirty customers in the summer?"

"Be a little more of a hassle," Al said. "But they take more than that on motor rigs, don't they Jim?"

"I've seen motor-rig trips with two rafts as small as thirty, counting crew," Jim said. "Usually they like to shoot for thirty-six. Just thinking about it, it might be easier to take six rafts with thirty people than four with twenty, since there's a certain amount of gear that has to go anyway."

"Something to think about," Al nodded. "Crystal, you had another idea?"

"Yeah," she said. "You remember we were talking last spring about doing a deep-winter trip?"

"I remember," Al said. "I think it would be fun too, but we'd have to use one of our regular launch dates, and set it more than a year in advance."

"Wouldn't it be better to have one trip where all the boatmen go without being paid and split the costs than it would be to lose money on running an under-booked trip?"

"Good point," Al sighed. "We got a couple months before I have to set the schedule for 2003. Let me think about it, and let me push some dates around for the idea of going to three crews full season, too."

"Let's get it tacked down before we go to the Bahamas," she said. "I'd really rather do that deep-winter trip in January. Besides, we're going to have to think about chartering the Felicity Ann another year."

"Might be," Scooter agreed. "Or we might have to modify it a bit. Let's not worry about that right now, we've got enough else on our plates to keep us busy on our off time till the season's over."


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