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Down By the Riverside
Book Nine of the Dawnwalker Cycle
Wes Boyd
©2015, ©2016

Chapter 3

Karin’s raft – now the gear boat – was in the middle of the line of rafts along the bank at Hance. Given that she would need to row hard from the moment she left the shore there was no time to shove off and get into position, so without even being asked a couple of customers from Larry’s raft next to her gave the raft a shove.

There was no time to think now, no time for woolgathering. Like everyone else in the party, she would have been happy to have a half-hour on the water to get loosened up before running this rapids, but things just hadn’t worked out that way.

As soon as she was free, Karin glanced over her shoulder and started rowing as hard as she could for the position she would have to be in to start a successful run, which was left of a big rock in the middle of the river. The raft floated down to it quickly, then the nose dropped as it went over the lip of the run.

As always, Hance was a wild ride. The bad part of it was near the top and the raft bucked spectacularly as it went over a couple of big backrollers. Karin knew that once she was established on the line she needed there wasn’t much she could do but try to keep the raft going straight, but it took some serious working of the oars to do it. Things settled down a little after that, but there were some secondary drops that kept things thrilling until she was flushed out the bottom, still in good shape. As always, it seemed a little harder to contemplate doing it than it worked out after she’d done it.

In the somewhat calmer water below the rapids, she pulled into a small eddy where the other rafts were waiting while the last two rafts made their runs. In a way she was a little disappointed; there would be three more big ones in the next couple of hours, and then she was going to have to make the long hike up the Bright Angel Trail. After that she would have to be content with being in the office until her next opportunity to get out on the river came along. There was no telling when that might be, and it might not happen until fall when the college-student rafters had to go back to school.

It really wasn’t going to be enough to suit her – it never was. Given a choice she would just as soon be running a full season like Crystal, Preach, and Kevin would be doing, even though she knew that at her mid-fifties age she really wasn’t up to doing it for weeks on end.

Back when she’d first met Al in 1973 and they’d unknowingly conceived Crystal, she had contemplated staying on the river with him, but for what seemed to be good reasons at the time she’d rejected the idea. With no little reluctance she’d gone back to Chicago and her sedentary inside job, married Pete, and settled down to a nice suburban existence. She hadn’t really realized at the time that Pete was pretty sedentary himself, and wasn’t much of one to travel much farther than work or the local convenience store for a carton of milk. It would have been unfair to say it chafed on her, but for a quarter of a century she’d been aware of the missed opportunity to have a life that was a little more adventuresome than that of a corporate bookkeeper.

Then she’d left Pete, reconciled with Crystal, and rediscovered Al, and her life changed completely – more than she had realized at the time. She’d known she’d been missing a lot in her years with Pete, and hardly aware of what she was doing, she’d set out to do some catching up. She’d even surprised herself at becoming a boatman – although admittedly not a full-time one – but she and Al had done a number of other things she’d missed out on, like surfing and scuba diving, things she’d never even contemplated until she discovered she enjoyed it. Just before this raft run started she and Al had been kicking around the idea of making a trip to a Western Pacific island to dive on some old Japanese wrecks, maybe over the off-season next winter. Such a thing would have been a dream beyond comprehension in her days with Pete.

She had to admit that there were other things in her life besides the Canyon. For once she wasn’t going to mind staying topside for the next few weeks, since Tanisha was pregnant with what would be her first grandchild, due in six weeks or so.

Tanisha had also been a huge surprise that had come on her trip down the Canyon after leaving Pete. Karin had been almost as estranged from Jon as she had been from Crystal, but until she heard about Tanisha she had no idea why. Jon was like his father in many ways, both physically and in his approach to life, so she’d never really understood why he’d cut himself off from them, other than maybe not being able to put up with Pete’s temper. Tanisha was a very bright, very personable woman, but so black that Karin had figured Pete would never be able to accept her, and that was probably true at the time Jon left the family.

What she didn’t know at the time – and hadn’t known until a couple of months before – was that Pete had a brain tumor that was mostly responsible for his bad temper. Jon and Tanisha had unexpectedly run into Pete at an engineering show, and they’d reported that Pete was a changed man, back to being the friendly and studious, if rather low-key and unadventurous man she’d once married. She still felt more than a little guilt for not sticking with him in his time of need, even though she was still very happy with what had happened with her since she’d left him.

A lot of things were changing in Jon and Tanisha’s life this summer, and it was part of the reason Karin wasn’t going to mind spending the next few months topside. In addition to the baby – they already knew it was going to be a little girl, and planned on naming her Barbara – the couple was moving from their cramped townhouse apartment to a nice suburban house not far from where they worked at Lambdatron, an engineering firm. Karin didn’t exactly know what the two of them did at work, other than it was classified, but she knew both were highly regarded and well paid.

The last raft, with Crystal aboard, came down through the wave train with no problems. Without discussion, Karin pivoted the gear boat with the oars, and pulled back into the wave train. She’d be a boatman for a couple of hours yet; she could understand and accept that, but somehow in the back of her mind it was a little hard to contemplate being a grandmother.

*   *   *

Down at Boatman’s Beach Nanci was wrapped up in Acts. It may have been her favorite book of the Bible; it was a little light on teaching compared to some of the Epistles, especially those of Paul, but the tremendous faith Apostles like Paul must have had awed her every time she thought about it. They weren’t living in the midst of other Christians in a Christian society; they were at best an outspoken and unappreciated minority, with little to guide them but their faith. That took courage – the same kind of courage, she figured, that it took to be a serious Christian today in a society where that kind of faith was often not treated kindly. Maybe it was a little easier today, but sometimes not much. She could think of any number of people from her past that would have laughed in her face – or worse – at the things she had come to believe in the past year, such as having faith in Jesus.

As hard as her life had been – and it had been hard indeed – in a way it had been easy to just do the next thing and not care about where it was taking her. Those days were gone, now.

Even though her attention was mostly on the little pocket New Testament, she still had some awareness of what was going on around her, especially upstream, so when she heard a low-pitched purr coming at her she knew a motor rig party was coming around the bend. She looked up to see the bright yellow of two Grand Canyon Rafting S-rigs – huge rafts with sponsons, powered by outboard motors. As they drew close, she noticed that the boatman running one of the S-rigs had on a big white Stetson hat. She stuffed the New Testament back in her shirt pocket, left her backpack on the rock, and went to see what she could do to help. Favors given meant that favors ought to be returned, and Jerry Palmer had been a fill-in on Team Two – now the White Team – last fall. It was just common courtesy for boatmen from different companies to help each other out when they could.

Jerry waved to her and gunned the outboard to get the GCR S-rig up to shore. A crewman she didn’t know tossed her a line from the bow; she grabbed it, and ran it up to a tamarisk tree a few feet in front of the raft, then tied it off. “Thanks,” the guy on the bow said.

“No problem,” she replied. “Hey, Jerry!” she called, raising her voice. “How’s it going?”

“Not bad. What are you doing down here?”

“Crew change,” she shrugged. “Crystal and the gang ought to be along anytime now. Have you seen them?”

“No, we haven’t passed anyone, but we left from Grapevine, so there probably wouldn’t have been anyone below us anyway.” He raised his voice loud enough for everyone on the two rigs to hear, “This is going to just be a quick pit stop, folks. If you absolutely have to get something up at the canteen, make it quick because we’ve still got a long way to go today. We’ll have lunch down the river someplace.”

Most of the customers stayed in place, but a few clambered down off of the rafts. A few worked their way upstream and down to tap their kidneys, and a couple wandered up the beach a ways to have a cigarette. Jerry walked down to the bow of the raft so they could talk without yelling. In the next couple of minutes, Nanci learned that it was Jerry’s third trip of the season, a five-day rush from Lee’s Ferry down to the helicopter takeout at Whitmore Wash. The customers would get off there, but the crew would have to run the S-rigs another hundred miles to a landing at South Cove on Lake Mead, the first place where they could get the big rigs out of the water.

In turn, she told Jerry that she was making her first trip of the season, and first as a boatman. “I figured back last fall that was going to happen,” he told her. “Al isn’t one to let talent sit around if he can use it. Good luck to you, Nanci.”

The stop was a brief one; the GCR motor rigs were soon heading down the river again. Nanci wondered a little what it would be like to go down the Canyon on one of them, but she was pretty sure she wouldn’t like it. Especially on short trips the motor rig outfits rushed down the river too fast, missed too much, and didn’t let the Canyon truly seep into people; if GCR kept the usual schedule there was a good chance she’d be seeing Jerry again before her trip was over. Still, it would be interesting to see how the other half lived; if she was ever topside for a long break, she figured she could get Al to talk someone into taking her on one of their trips as a swamper or something.

The thought went into the back of her mind as she returned to her relatively comfortable rock, leaned back against the trunk of the tamarisk, and turned her attention to Acts once again.

She was so wrapped up in it that sometime considerably later she hardly noticed the group of five blue rafts coming around the bend and heading for shore, but at least she did notice them. Once again she put the New Testament away, and went to help with the landing. This time she could be of more use, especially to her mother in the gear boat. “I see you made it down all right,” Karin said as Nanci went to tie off the bow rope.

“It was actually a nice walk, better than I expected.”

“Have you been waiting long?”

Nanci glanced up at the sun; it had indeed gotten higher in the sky. “Oh, a while,” she replied. “Nothing to complain about. How’s the trip going?”

“Nothing to complain about, other than it’s ending for me,” Karin sighed. “I’m not looking forward to that long hike up the Bright Angel.”

“At least it’s May and not July,” Nanci grinned. “I’ll probably have to do it sooner or later, and that could be a killer.”

“So how did your finals go?”

“Aced one of them for sure,” Nancy smiled. “I don’t know about the other one yet, but I didn’t have any trouble with it.”

“Good deal,” Karin smiled. “I guess that was worth the wait.”

“Nanci,” Crystal broke in. “Any word from Al?”

“Nothing for the trip, but there’s some family stuff we probably ought to talk about when we get a minute. Nothing big, though.”

Crystal raised her voice. “All right, folks. Let’s break out the food and have some lunch. It’s just going to be cold-cut sandwiches and chips, but I think we’ll be able to find a few goodies in the dryboxes to fill it out a little.”

Nanci turned to with the others to get lunch set up. It was something she’d done often enough the year before, so not a lot of discussion was needed. Soon there were plates full of cheese, cold cuts, and pita bread spread out on the tables, along with a bowl of cold baked beans, some tubes of chips, and little individual serving plastic cups of fruit and pudding. Nanci and the other boatmen stood back to let the customers have first crack at the food although there was plenty to go around.

While they were waiting, Crystal asked her sister, “Have you seen any other trips going by?”

Nanci knew what that was all about – Crystal was trying to figure out how hard it was going to be to get into whatever camp site she wanted for the evening. There was a spot below Crystal Rapids that she would head to if it were in reach. If it was as early as Nanci suspected it was, they might be heading there this evening.

“Jerry went by with a couple of GCR S-rigs, oh, a while back,” she reported. “But it’s a five-day trip, so they’re not going to be stopping soon, and might even get as far as Fossil or somewhere in there. No one else came by, and I got here early enough that I doubt if anyone else would be on the river unless they came from that site right around the corner.”

“I guess we’re just going to have to see how it goes and when we want to stop,” Crystal shrugged. “Just checking, but are you going to be ready to take on Adrenaline Alley the first thing after being off the river all winter?”

“I think I am, or I wouldn’t be down here,” Nanci said soberly. “The Lord willing, everything ought to be all right.”

By then the line for food was thinning out, so Crystal and Nanci went over to put together some sandwiches and grab a handful of chips. Eating on trips like these was mostly a case of standing up or finding a space to sit to eat off laps, and the bow of the gear boat was convenient. Karin and Preach soon joined them, seating themselves on the tubes of the next raft. “So, Nanci,” Karin asked, “what was the family message Al had for us?”

“Like I said, no big deal,” she replied as soon as she managed the mouthful of sandwich she’d just bitten off. “Jon and Tanisha got their moving date settled finally. It’s going to be the twenty-fifth, the Saturday after we get off the river. Ben and Joy will be moving then, too.” Ben and Joy were friends of Jon and Tanisha, and would be moving into the house next door; Joy had been the spark plug for the whole project since Jon and Tanisha had other things to worry about, too.

“That’s a bit of a surprise,” Karin smiled. “I figured they were going to wind up doing it while the rest of you were on the river. Al and I had planned on going down and helping out, whenever it happened.”

“Preach, let’s figure on going to help them out,” Crystal said immediately. “We’ll have to get back early to get the food and stuff together, but that’s the day before we rig for the church trip, and that way I’d have something to do to keep my mind off of it.”

“It’s fine with me,” Preach replied. “I’m not as worried about that trip as you seem to be, but I’d just as soon you have something to keep you busy and not worrying about it.”

“I might as well go, too,” Nanci told them. “Otherwise I’ll just be sitting around the house by myself. I might as well have something useful to do.”

“Many hands make light work,” Karin smiled. “Jon and Tanisha don’t have that much stuff, but I don’t know how much Ben and Joy have.”

“Don’t be so sure,” Preach opined. “When Crystal and I were there a couple of months ago they had a lot of stuff in it.”

“If we have to break off early, we have to break off early,” Preach nodded, “but at least we can help with some of it.”

“True, and at least the grocery store in Flag is open twenty-four hours if we run late,” Crystal shrugged. “We can catch up on sleep later if we need to.”

Karin finished off her sandwich. “That’s it for me,” she said. “The sooner I get started going up the hill, the sooner it’ll be over with. Nanci, do you want to go get your pack?”

“Yeah, sure, Mom,” Nanci said, getting to her feet; she was done with eating, too. This had all been worked out ahead of time. Nanci had only needed to carry water, a couple of candy bars for energy and a small first aid kit with her; she’d had her river gear put on the raft the previous Sunday at Lee’s Ferry. Her mother would take the same pack with the same gear back up the hill with her; her river gear would stay on the gear boat for the rest of the trip. It wasn’t a great deal of gear for either of them in any case.

Nanci went over to the tree where she’d waited for the party to arrive. There was something she needed to do, and this might be the last chance to do it. When a prayer was public she had no problem with praying, but she was of the opinion that a private prayer should be private. That was especially true on a river trip with customers; though everyone on the crew was Christian to one degree or another, mostly to a high degree, they also knew that some customers didn’t appreciate it, so the crew had learned to mostly keep their thoughts to themselves. That might not be quite as true on the church trip coming up, but they would have to see how that played out.

She got down on her knees, facing away from the crowd of boatmen and customers; to anyone looking on it might seem as if she were digging around in the pack. She had one thing about her private prayers that most people would probably have considered to be pretty unconventional, and she wasn’t sure if Preach, her mother, or anyone else knew about it – it was something of hers alone.

Rather than putting her hands together as most people might consider proper for prayer, she put them on her knees, open palms up. It was something she’d learned from Curt, her last so-called “boyfriend” in Chicago. He’d tried to turn her into a slave, and insisted that she speak to him in that slave position, her open hands indicating that she wasn’t hiding anything like a weapon. His teachings hadn’t taken – they were among many good reasons she’d left Chicago in the first place – but this was the only useful thing she’d kept from his efforts. It made sense to her, for she was approaching God as His servant, hiding nothing.

“My Master,” she said softly – someone a few feet away wouldn’t have heard her, but He did, and that was what mattered. “Watch over me today, and let Your hand guide me in Your will. Watch over the customers and the crew, and help Mom get up to the rim safely. Help us all to see the glory of Your works. In Jesus’ Name, I pray, Amen.”

She kneeled there for another few seconds, confident that her words had been heard and comfortable in His presence. Then, she picked up the pack and took it over to her mother, who was getting set for the long trudge up the Bright Angel Trail.

At the last minute, Karin decided that a few more minutes wouldn’t hurt anything; it was more important to see her daughter off on this next big step in her life. The crew spent a few minutes getting things loaded back onto the rafts, and Crystal took the opportunity to introduce Nanci to the passengers, and asked them to help with launching and landing the gear boat since Nanci would be by herself aboard it. They’d known from the beginning that the crew swap was going to take place, and why, although no one had met her before. Nanci thanked everyone for welcoming her, then settled into the gear boat, rearranging a few things a little so she’d be more comfortable there. A couple minutes later, Preach and one of the customers gave her boat a shove; she pivoted it with the oars, and began to drift down the river to some of the Canyon’s toughest challenges.

*   *   *

Karin watched the launch from the Bright Angel Bridge, downstream from where the rafts had landed. She knew it was going to be a long climb up to the rim, but she had the time she would need. Duane and Michelle, another Canyon Tours leader team, were staying with Michelle’s parents in Grand Canyon Village, the heart of the tourist area on the south rim, where her parents ran a gift shop. They would take her into Flagstaff when she arrived, so they could get started preparing for their own trip, one of the new short ones, which would be launching early the next week, so there had been no reason for Al to hang around the village all day. He had other things to do, anyway.

She watched Nanci pivot the gear boat and start down the river with no little pride. Her daughter had truly turned her life around, and she knew it. Karin wasn’t about to say anything about it, but she’d watched her daughter pray a few minutes before. She didn’t know why Nanci chose to pray that way, and had never asked her about it, but she was satisfied with it. It was her business, after all.

Sometimes Karin thought Nanci was just a little too serious about her Christianity. In fact, she’d have to say that she was more serious about it than Preach, who was an ordained minister, even though it was sometimes a little hard to tell it down here in the depths of the Grand Canyon.

On the other hand, Karin had some idea of what the girl had been through before she made her desperate escape from Chicago. She didn’t know everything, and was pretty sure she didn’t want to know, but what Nanci had now was so much better than what she’d had before that Karin felt she didn’t have anything to complain about.

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To be continued . . .

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