Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
Saturday, November 24, 2001
Normally weather forecasters in Arizona are pretty much like weather forecasters anywhere – they'll tell you they had a ham and cheese sandwich for lunch when they actually had tuna salad, just to keep in practice. This time they'd actually managed to screw up and call the weather pretty accurately on this November Saturday. It was cool in Flagstaff, but the day showed signs of warming. Lee's Ferry was at a much lower elevation than the town; that plus being later in the day would help, too.
The parking lot at Canyon tours was crowded with cars and people standing around shooting the bull. Everyone was casually dressed; for example, Scooter had on a "University of Virginia – Roanoke" sweatshirt that had somehow survived a dozen clothing purges and more. One of Myleigh's many quirks was that she always wore skirts or dresses, even on the river, unless she was wearing a swimsuit. That was no less true today, but this time it was a denim skirt and a "Marienthal College" hoodie sweatshirt, which for her was pretty damned sloppy. She was standing talking with Crystal, who was in her usual jeans and T-shirt, this time with a light pile jacket, and Randy, in khaki slacks and a jacket that said "Clark Construction" with the picture of a backhoe silk-screened on the back.
Like a lot of weddings, it was sort of a reunion. For example, Randy spent some time talking to a large man who was possibly the neatest dressed on the parking lot, wearing slacks and a turtleneck sweater. He seemed familiar, and the two talked for a minute before Randy realized who the man was, just before the man asked, "Don't I remember you from somewhere?"
"Sure, Pastor Jordan," Randy replied. "Down at the Ocoee takeout in Tennessee, let's see, must have been five or six years ago, right after Crystal and I flattened two drunks who attacked her."
"Oh, yes, I remember that well," Pastor Jordan laughed. "That's still talked about around the church. In fact, that was part of what led Noah to start martial arts classes for some of the young people of the church. That means you must be Randy Clark, Crystal's friend."
"Got it," Randy smiled. "I have to admit, it's not one of my happiest memories. I don't like using my skills like that, even if I have to. I have to say, sir, that meeting you was an important thing for me, and for one of the guys who's running around here today."
"How's that?" Pastor Jordan asked.
"It's a long story," Randy replied. "But your example that day was part of the reason I became an EMT. Strictly a volunteer, I do it for community service, but I manage a construction company, and I've been able to help out here and there along the way. One of the times was when one of the raft guides here was rock climbing and fell a few years ago. We had to have a helicopter haul him out from Phantom Ranch."
"That's very good to hear," Pastor Jordan smiled. "I believe a churchman must not only serve the community spiritually but physically. Like so many things, you never know when a good deed is going to bear fruit. You might like to know those two were let out of prison a couple years ago. One of the first things they did when they got out was to come and thank me for saving their lives. One is a church member now, and the other one will probably be one soon. You and Crystal turned their lives around that day. Blunt end first, obviously, but sometimes it has to be that way."
"That's a surprise," Randy said, barely managing to keep from saying 'I'll be damned.' "But then, that was the only time I met them."
"Oh, if there's anything I've learned over the years, the Lord has his ways and his tools. This may well be the oddest wedding I ever will have performed, with some of the oddest people, but I expect good to come from this day."
"They're odd people, there's no doubt about that," Randy replied, quickly taking a shine to this very personable man. "But they're all good people. If you ever get the chance, run the Canyon with them. Not only will you get to enjoy one of God's most spectacular creations, you'll make some friends for life."
"You're not the first person to tell me that," Pastor Jordan smiled. "I'm thinking about it. The only problem is that I fear I'd get as attached to the place as Noah is."
"There is that danger," Randy smiled. "But I can think of worse things to be addicted to."
* * *
Nicole, dressed in jeans and a "Spearfish Lake Marlins" sweatshirt, broke away from the discussion and ambled in the direction of the office rest room. On her way, she changed course and headed over to where Scooter was talking with Dan and a couple other raft guides. "Scooter," she said, "Got a minute?"
"Sure," Scooter said. "We're still waiting for everyone." They walked away from the crowd a little, getting a couple cars between them and anyone else. "What's up?" she said.
"I just wanted to thank you again," Nicole told her. "I know that was a big step out of the way for you."
"No big deal; I like Randy; he's cool," Scooter smiled. "I know he doesn't think so, but he helped us out of a couple jams, and several people here at Canyon Tours think we owe him. I take it things are back on an even keel?"
"I think so," Nicole told her. "That got put back together in a hurry, didn't it?"
"Not really, because it had never been put together in the first place," Scooter smiled. "It's just that a lot happened in a short time, and some things got too far ahead of other things. The original plan was to work everything out on the last river run, when Jim and I were supposed to be with Crystal and Preach. Then Mary's grandmother died, and Jim and I had to go fill in for them at the last minute. If things had gone like they were supposed to, we would have had everything worked out before Randy even heard about it. Just bad communication, that's all. Not everything is settled yet and won't be till it's over with. We might even wind up with another body or two. That's the rafter way, take it like it comes because there's another rapids downstream."
"Good advice," Nicole replied. "I'll admit, I was a little worried about Michelle, because of her reputation, but she seemed pretty adamant last night."
"As crazy as she is, even she has her limits. She's as honest as the day is long and not very good at lying, cheating, or backstabbing. She is good at partying, though, and I'll bet we get Randy shitfaced once or twice."
"Good for you," Nicole laughed. "Go for it. He needs it."
"You know, you're pretty cool about this," Scooter smiled. "I don't know. If I was in your shoes, I think I'd be jealous as hell because he gets to take this trip and you have to stay home."
"I am jealous as hell," she smiled. "I know exactly what he was going through when I did things like the AT. It's just my turn to be jealous."
"No promises for another year," Scooter smiled. "But maybe we can work out something over next Christmas so you could go along."
"Let's see next spring," Nicole sighed. "We were talking about doing a major trip somewhere next Christmas, but it's all talk so far. We'll see how this trip goes, and whether he wants to do something like it again. Like I said, push him hard; I want him happy to be back at work."
"Nicole, I have to be honest," Scooter said. "I know people have told you before, even I've told you before. This is a bunch of raft guides. We work hard, and we play hard. You know what I said about repairing our reputation."
"Like I told Michelle, Randy's a big boy," Nicole grinned. "He can take care of himself, and I'm betting even with Michelle around."
"You've been warned," Scooter laughed. "I just want you to remember that."
* * *
"Yo, everybody," Al's voice boomed out. "I guess everyone is here so we might as well get moving. Crystal, Preach, you take point. Those that are going on the crew bus, get loaded. The rest of us will caravan behind the crew bus; it'll be easier to spot if we get separated."
People began to head for cars; this time Scooter and Jim were going to ride out in his car, rather than the crew bus, just for the sake of comfort, they told everyone. "Not a bad day for heading to Lee's without any rafts," Scooter grinned as she closed the door. "You ready for this?"
The caravan soon got under way, with Preach and Crystal out in front. It was fairly long, fifteen or twenty cars besides the crew bus. As they headed out of town, the bride and groom got a little ahead of everyone; then the crew bus caught a light, then a second one. By the time they were dropping down out of the ponderosa country into the pinyon pine north of town, Preach had a good mile on them. By the time they hit the red-rock desert of the Navajo Country, they were out of sight. "Looks like we got away with it," Karin leaned forward to tell Jeff, who was driving the crew bus as usual.
"Yeah, unless they decide to stop and wait," Jeff said. "On the other hand, they know that I know how to find Lee's Ferry if anyone does, so maybe they won't."
"That's what we hoped," Karin grinned.
They rode onward across the rolling red-rock desert, the little Navajo villages visible from time to time, the occasional ramshackle souvenir stand, the sagebrush, and the cliffs. More than an hour after leaving Flagstaff, they turned down into the Canyon on US-89, descended sharply into the outer limits of the Canyon, then crossed the Navajo Bridge, with the green of the river far below. There weren't many people who wouldn't have preferred to have been down there on the river, heading down the Canyon – but the next time most of them would get a chance to do it would be months off, and the sight was a little uncomfortable. They'd rather be going under the bridge, rather than crossing it.
Shortly past Navajo Bridge, when the crew bus got to the turnoff to the road down to Lee's Ferry Jeff drove right past without a hint of a turn signal. The wide spot in the road known as Marble Canyon is very isolated in a state that has a lot of places that are merely isolated; the launch at Lee's Ferry and the Navajo Bridge are about the only reason it has to exist at all. There really isn't much there – a handful of houses back from the road, a couple of rafting company warehouses, a bar, a gas station and convenience store, and a motel. The motel is nothing special, but Karin had driven out a couple weeks before to negotiate a rate for a couple hours for every unoccupied room, and that's where the crew bus headed, followed by the entire caravan.
As far as Karin could tell, Preach and Crystal didn't suspect a thing. The wedding guests headed for the motel rooms and started changing clothes. Karin changed from her jeans and flannel shirt to a long lavender ball gown, Al to a tux. Myleigh pulled on the blue-sequined gown she'd worn the last time she'd played a Canyon wedding.
Scooter put on a low-cut white gown with some degree of protest – as far as she could remember it was the first time she'd worn a dress since maybe the sixth grade. With Karin's insistence and considerable help, she put on makeup for the first time since she and a friend had played with her friend's mom's makeup case, and that was well before the sixth grade. "Scooter," Karin said, "You know, you actually look like a woman when you try."
"That's it, Karin, rub it in," she snorted. "Next thing you know, you'll be bitching about my cigars."
"They really aren't good for your health, you know," Karin teased. "Come on, Scooter, you wanted to do it this way, and now you're just going to have to go through with it."
* * *
It was indeed warmer at Lee's Ferry, at least partly because it was a little later in the day, but more because it was almost four thousand feet lower in elevation. It was cool, in fact, a nice day for this time of year, despite being mostly overcast, but here and there breaks of blue sky showed through. It had all the makings of a memorable day.
It seemed strange for Crystal and Preach to be down at Lee's Ferry with no Canyon Tours rafts around. On the ramp a private party was just getting set to shove off – they'd go whenever they could get a permit from the Park Service, and going in the cold months allowed some to be moved up years on the waiting list – as commercial rafting had shut down for the season. In fact, the trip that Crystal, Preach, Kevin and Nanci had finished up the week before had been the last commercial trip of the year.
Winters for raft guides could be tough, being away from the river they loved. Her first winter off the river, Crystal helped out training dogsled teams for Josh and Tiffany in Spearfish Lake, feeding and cleaning up after a hundred and more huskies every day. The next two winters had gone better; Crystal and Scooter and Michelle saved their money, pooled their resources, and had some adventures. There had been a trip to Hawaii surfing once, more surfing in Florida, chartering of sailboats in the Bahamas, some skiing, an interpretive training trip down the Canyon – and some odd jobs along the way.
At one time, the three had given serious consideration to skipping some of the other stuff, putting their money into airline tickets and spending a month or six weeks in New Zealand. Then, Crystal started going with Preach and Scooter started going with Jim, and plans got changed around a lot. Crystal and Preach now faced a fairly busy winter based to some degree on what was scheduled to happen this afternoon.
That is, if it happened.
"Where the heck is everybody?" Preach frowned. They'd left the Canyon Tours office in Flagstaff a couple hours before at the head of a caravan, and some separation had been expected, but they'd been waiting here for nearly an hour now for the rest of the caravan to show up. It wasn't as if most of the people in the caravan hadn't been to the launch ramp for the Colorado River tours before. Lee's Ferry wasn't the most likely place for a wedding, but it was the only place that could be driven to easily along the length of the Canyon. Since Crystal and Preach had decided they wanted to get married next to the river they loved, it was about the only choice available on short notice.
"I don't know," Crystal said, feeling just a little uneasy about the reality of what was about to happen, along with the strange and uncomfortable feeling of being beside the river without a raft nearby. "They must have gotten stuck behind somebody going real slow."
"Nervous?" he asked quietly. In spite of feeling sure that this was the right thing to do, he couldn't help but feel a little nervous himself.
"Yeah," she giggled. "At least I get a last name that people can spell when they hear it. I don't think I've ever had anyone get 'Chladek' right the first time. 'Whittaker' is a lot simpler."
"You get the one 't' versus two problem," he grinned. "But that's nowhere near as bad."
"True," she said. "It wasn't going to stay 'Chladek' much longer, anyway. After Mom and Dad got married, I was going to file the paperwork to have it changed to 'Buck' over the winter, but this happened instead. I mean, 'Chladek' was never supposed to be my name in the first place."
"You're still pretty steamed at your stepfather, aren't you?"
"I guess," she replied. "I really haven't thought much about it recently. But, it's all water down the river and I don't want to think about it today. Where the heck are they, anyway?"
Preach took a glance up the road leading across Paria Canyon, and saw a car approaching, then another. "That might be them coming, now," he said.
"Good, I hope so," Crystal said. "I mean, I'm nervous enough that I'd just as soon get this over with."
The line of cars coming proved to be the wedding party; they pulled into the parking lot, and car doors began to open as people got out. It took a few seconds for Crystal's eyes to get wide and realize that she'd just been had – big time. While the people gathered up at Canyon Tours earlier had been wearing jeans and T-shirts and jackets like the bride and groom, now the men were in suits and tuxedos, and the women were wearing evening gowns and other formal wear. Trey was one of the first out of the cars, snapping photos with his Nikon.
"Motherrrrr . . ." Crystal half-snarled, knowing just who had to be the one to organize this. She should have been expecting this. Years ago, Crystal and Myleigh had shown up wearing evening gowns at a normally casually dressed Chladek Christmas dinner; two years ago, Karin and Crystal and Myleigh and Jon's wife, Tanisha, along with some others, had pulled much the same stunt on Scooter at the Buck Christmas party in Flagstaff. Then, Myleigh had pulled on an evening gown and Crystal a cocktail dress over their swimsuits at Karin's wedding, deep in the heart of the Canyon. She should have realized it was going to be payback time sooner or later, but she'd never expected sooner had arrived – here, of all places!
"Come on, Crystal," Karin grinned. It was a miracle no one had let the cat out of the bag to Crystal, but everyone had kept quiet and allowed it to work. As far as Karin knew, only she and Pastor Jordan, along with two other people, knew about the other surprise that was to come; this was still going to be a raft guide wedding, all right. "You didn't think we'd let the chance get away, did you?"
"Yeah, but Mom!" she said, looking around. There were her father and mother dressed nicer than she'd ever seen the two of them before. Her half-brother Jon was in a tux and his wife, Tanisha, was in a low-cut and very hot red ball gown. Her half-sister Nanci was in a rather conservative ankle-length creation of lavender and lace, with her boyfriend Kevin looking very uncomfortable but smiling in a black suit. Myleigh was in her sequined blue gown with a slit in the side nearly up to her waist, carrying her travel harp, Brown Bess; her fiance, Trey was in a tan tuxedo.
There were others: Randy with a guitar and Nicole; Scooter and Jim; Dave and Mary, Michelle, and a lot of other raft guides and friends. As she looked at all the people, Crystal realized she had not known what she was going to unleash when she told her mother to get the wedding set up, and then headed off down the Grand Canyon for three weeks. As people got out of cars, a few others she hadn't been expecting got out – including Jennlynn Swift along with Phil and Becky Osborne, who Preach had driven home to Connecticut in September after their son had been killed in the Twin Towers. Crystal couldn't help but giggle at that; they'd ridden down in the same car, and what a conversation that must have been! Everyone was dressed like this wedding was going to be at Glen Hill Road First Baptist, not at a launch ramp by the Colorado River.
Without a doubt, Duane "Icewater" MacRae stole the show from everyone: he was dressed in a kilt and sash in the MacRae plaid, wearing a coat and tie, along with a sporran and a tam-o-shanter. He carried a sword belted to his waist, a dagger in his belt, and throwing knives in each knee sock; it was clear that no one was going to tease him about wearing a skirt unless they wanted their guts used as a necktie.
"This is embarrassing," Crystal moaned after she looked around the people assembling around the parking lot. "I mean, you got to everybody!"
"I think I did pretty good," Karin laughed. "I mean, people should be appropriately dressed for a wedding."
"Well, yeah, but here I am in a T-shirt and blue jeans," Crystal shook her head and sighed. "I guess I deserved it."
"Yes, you did," her father said. "But it doesn't have to be that way."
"Dad?" she said quietly.
"Louise's wedding dress is on the bus," he said softly. Louise was his wife of twenty years, who had died a couple years before. She had been a great friend and mentor to Crystal, who missed her almost as much as Al did. "You're pretty close to the same size."
"And Noah," Pastor Jordan said from behind him. "I used the spare keys to your storage locker back home and brought one of your suits."
Thus it was that twenty minutes later, wearing a suit and a simple but treasured wedding dress, Preach and Crystal were married to the tune of harp and guitar in the open air beside the river that led through what most of them thought was the greatest cathedral on earth. The music was from Randy and Myleigh, of course, the same pair who had played at Al and Karin's wedding six months before. They hadn't had a chance to practice since then, but they were very good, and their voices meshed well together.
Pastor Jordan was a good egg, very open and friendly, very charismatic, and he gave the wedding some flourish; it was more than just a quick run-through. Though there had been no practice, everything went off more or less like it had been choreographed for weeks. He finally got down to "I now pronounce you man and wife," and "You may kiss the bride." Of course, they kissed to the cheers of the surrounding friends and raft guides as Trey clicked away with his trusty Nikon.
Eventually they broke the kiss, and Preach and Crystal stood there, just beaming at everyone for a moment, before Pastor Jordan spoke up. "Before we conclude these proceedings," he said, still holding the open Bible in his hand. "We have one more thing to accomplish. Noah, would you and Jim exchange places? And Crystal, would you exchange places with Rhonda?"
Both Crystal and her husband looked at each other with looks that said 'What's going on here?' but went ahead as they were told, as Scooter and Jim stepped in front of Pastor Jordan.
"Dearly beloved," he began again, "We are gathered together in the presence of God and this company to witness this man and this woman enter a state of holy matrimony . . ."