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

Chapter 8

To Nanci – and the rest of the boatmen – it always seemed as if they messed around forever getting the party off the bus and onto the river. It probably seemed that way because they’d done, and heard it all so many times before, but actually it took them about the normal amount of time.

After Preach gave a brief prayer, asking for a safe and enjoyable trip, it was time to get going. Everyone got their life jackets on, and the boatmen checked them to make sure they were tight before people got seated.

The Barbers found places on top of the gear on Nanci’s raft with their backs to her, and Nanci was just as glad of it. There wouldn’t be much water coming aboard before they got to their lunch stop a few miles downstream at Cathedral Wash, their normal lunch break spot on the first day, but Paria Riffle, the first rapids, although hardly worthy of the name, was a mile and a half downstream. It might splash a little aboard, just to give an indication of what was coming. The Fletcher family found spots on the raft tubes around the stern.

One by one Al and Karin shoved the rafts off of the landing; the boatmen used the oars to get the craft out into the river, then swung sideways to ride the current. Almost predictably, within a minute Nanci heard Barber’s voice coming from behind her. “Hey, how come we’re not pointed down the river? I thought you said you knew what you were doing, young lady!”

Nanci turned her head and replied loudly enough for him to hear. “This is going to be the normal practice most of the time. We’re riding the current, and going sideways lets me go back and forth across the river to where the current is strongest, or at least where we want to be. We’ll only be pointing down river when I have to row into a headwind, and we’ll run most rapids stern first so I can see where I’m going.”

“That is absolutely insane,” Barber grumped.

“Look at the other rafts,” Nanci told him, trying to keep from being sharp with him. “They’re doing the same thing.” She could think of a couple other choice comments she could have added, but she didn’t use that kind of language since she’d become a Christian, and especially not on a Christian trip. She contented herself with a shake of her head, and keeping her mouth shut otherwise.

All was quiet for another minute or two, as Lee’s Ferry slowly fell behind them. “Well, I guess we’re off to see the wizard,” she said finally, mostly to the Fletchers but loudly enough that the Barbers could hear her. “You’re going to see things you could barely dream about. As we go along, I’ll be telling you about a few of the things we’ll be seeing along the way. I should probably explain that I’ll often be talking about river left or river right. That’s left or right as we face down the river. Lee’s Ferry, where we just left, used to be the only place the river could be crossed for hundreds of miles upstream or down. Over on river left you see the remains of the old road that used to run down to the ferry.” She spent another couple of minutes talking about the history of the place, as it slowly faded behind them.

Then she changed the subject. “We’re going to be coming up on our first rapids in a couple of minutes,” she told her passengers. “It’s a good place to get into practice for what’s coming down the river. If a rapids is at all difficult, I’ll tell you to get ‘down and in.’ That means you shouldn’t be riding on the tubes, but sitting on the gear in a low spot. This really isn’t much of a rapids, but we probably will have a little water splashed aboard, so this is a good place for practice. Malcolm, Cassie, Bethany, you probably ought to have your rain suits on since you’re going to be a little more exposed unless you don’t mind getting wet, but I’ll warn you, the water is very cold. You can take them off right afterwards. Mr. and Mrs. Barber, you’ll probably be all right up there without them. I’ll give you a minute or two warning of when to get down and in, then I’ll swing the raft around to run the drop.”

There are drier ways to run Paria Riffle, but as Nanci had said, this was practice for what was to come, so she took a rougher route. The raft plunged down the small drop, over the top of some backrollers, and as she had predicted, there were some splashes coming aboard. “Everybody all right?” she called as she swung the raft back sideways to the current.

“Yeah,” Bethany grinned. “That was fun!”

“You’re going to have lots more fun downstream then,” Nanci told her. “By the time we get to Diamond Creek for the takeout, that one won’t seem like anything, and unless we get a lot of wind or actual rain you probably won’t have your rain suit on for the last few days. When it gets hot down here, and it gets almighty hot down here, getting wet is really going to feel good.”

“Do you expect it to get real hot?” Cassie asked.

“There’s no way of telling at this distance, but we’re at the end of May and it usually warms up quite a bit in June, so we’ll just have to see. I suppose Crystal looked at the weather report before we started, but any report we get now will get stale pretty quickly so we pretty much have to take it as it comes.”

“Can’t you get a weather report off the radio?” she heard Barber ask.

“There’s not much chance of it,” she told him. “We’re down in a hole here, and radio waves just don’t get down here. Oh, when we get down in the lower Canyon, I’ve been told that sometimes you can pick up AM radio late at night, but it could come from someplace as far distant as New York just about as easily as you could pick up Las Vegas. I wouldn’t know for sure since I’ve never tried it. There’s no cell phone coverage, of course.”

“No cell phones?” Barber complained. “I’m going to need to call my broker!”

“Same thing, we’re down in a hole, and there are no towers. Well, on one of the trips I was on last summer, one of the people climbed a hill several days down the river and was able to get one bar, but couldn’t get a connection. Part of the idea of this trip is to get away from civilization, and we manage that. If you need to make a phone call, probably a week from today there’ll be a place where you can hike half a mile or so to a pay telephone, but that’s the only place.”

“That’s outrageous! I’m going to need to call my broker! There are several things happening, I need to keep informed on. In your brochure it said you had satellite telephones.”

“Sir, if you need to communicate that badly, you should have brought your own equipment with you. We do have a satphone, but it’s for emergencies only,” Nanci replied calmly, although inside she was enjoying listening to Barber squirm. He wasn’t going to have much choice but to live with the facts. “It said that in the brochure, too. In fact, if I recall correctly, it was in bold print. To the best of my knowledge, last summer Canyon Tours only used the satphone four times, and two of those it was to call for a helicopter for a medical emergency. As far as I know, no one in the company has used one so far this year.”

“That’s unbelievable in this day and age. People need to be able to communicate.”

“Well, if you have your cell phone in your day bag you might try it right now. It might be possible to get a connection right here, but when we get around this next bend, forget about it. This is supposed to be a wilderness trip. That means we’re away from civilization. It’s hard enough to manage that in this day and age that we have to enjoy it when we can.”

“I demand to be allowed to use the satellite telephone. I can’t be arbitrarily cut off from things I need to do.”

Nanci decided it was time to pass the buck. “You’re going to have to talk to Crystal about that,” she replied. “The satphone is on her raft.” She had little doubt what Crystal would say, though – Al had been pretty adamant that the satphones were for emergencies only, and Barber had already rubbed her the wrong way even if he didn’t know it.

There was silence from behind her for a minute or two before they heard Barber say, “You’re right, no bars. Deader than a doornail. I was told I could get coverage anywhere in the country with this.”

“That’s something you’ll have to take up with your provider, sir,” she replied, an internal smirk filling her although she tried to keep her face passive. “I wouldn’t know anything about it. I’ve never had a cell phone. See that water tower over on river right? That’s the Lee’s Ferry Campground with the paved road between the bridge and the boat ramp going right by it. If you don’t want to take this trip, it’s your last chance to get out before real hikes are necessary, all with steep climbing and several miles to get to a road.”

When Nanci made that statement, she wouldn’t have wanted to bet whether Barber would take her up on it or not. For the next few minutes Nanci and the Fletchers could hear various mumblings and gripes coming from Barber, but no demand to be taken to shore.

Finally they swept around a bend and the chance was gone, so it looked like Barber was going to stay with the trip. She was pretty sure by now that they hadn’t heard the last out of the man, and was amused about what he might say when he found out a few more things that were awaiting him.

Fortunately, Bethany changed the subject for them. “I can already see this is going to be pretty neat,” the teenager said. “I’m amazed that your dad would let you do this!”

“Well, Bethany,” Nanci smiled, “I’m twenty-three, so I can pretty much do what I want, and he doesn’t have much to say about it.”

“But . . . what does he think about you doing this? I mean running a raft down the river and like that?”

“I’m sure he thinks I’m crazy.” There was something in Bethany’s words that bothered Nanci, but she couldn’t figure out what it was. She knew she’d probably find out. “Crystal, too,” she added. “But we haven’t talked to him much recently.”

“You mean, you’re single, and you don’t live with your folks?” She seemed shocked at the idea.

“I live with my mom and my stepdad now,” Nanci explained. “At least when I’m not on the river.”

“And they don’t mind?”

“They wouldn’t,” Nanci grinned, beginning to understand a little what Bethany was saying, and she wasn’t sure she liked it. “After all, my stepdad owns the company.”

“He told you to do this, then?”

“No, I had to ask him. I didn’t exactly get this job because I’m related to him or because he made me do it. I got the job because I wanted to do it, and it turned out I’m pretty good at it.”

“How did you find out you were pretty good at it?” Cassie asked, getting involved in the discussion.

“Slowly,” Nanci sighed. “I had to make a lot of trips as a swamper like Mark is doing, rowing a little longer and on more difficult rapids each trip, and I found I liked the challenge. Mark is real new to this, but if he works out, he’ll probably be a boatman in a couple of years.”

“It still seems pretty amazing. After all, this isn’t the sort of thing I’d expect to find a woman doing. It seems more like the thing a man ought to be doing.”

“I suppose a lot of people think that,” Nanci replied, starting to feel a little bit irked at the unspoken insinuation. “I wasn’t as strong as the guys, so I had to spend a lot of time in the weight room in the off season. It isn’t simple and it isn’t easy, but it’s been worth it to me.”

“What does your boyfriend think about it?” Bethany asked.

“I don’t have a boyfriend. In fact, I haven’t had one in a while.”

“I thought, uh, Crystal said that Kevin was your boyfriend, and I thought maybe that was why you did this, so you could be with him.”

“No, Bethany,” Nanci said as she made a few oar strokes to get into some slightly better current. “Kevin is a very good friend and I owe him a lot, but he’s not my boyfriend. Crystal was sort of teasing us.”

“Don’t you want to get married, and, uh, like that?”

“Not now. I suppose I’ll get married eventually, but I’ve got other things to do first, like get through college.”

“I don’t think it’s a very good idea for a young woman to be single without her parents or a husband to watch over her,” Malcolm said, entering the discussion with an attitude Nanci took as being very negative.

Nanci’s suspicions were starting to firm up now. In her mind she was starting to hear the sounds of helicopters coming from both of Bethany’s parents. “You could be right, at least for some people,” she replied as neutrally as she could, deciding to be a little more snoopy than she’d been so far, just to see if her suppositions were correct. “So, Bethany, how do you like school?”

“I don’t go to school,” Bethany said. “I mean, not like other kids. I’m home-schooled.”

“We thought it would be better to do it that way,” Cassie explained. “Malcolm and I don’t agree with some of the things they teach in school today, and we want to make sure Bethany doesn’t get involved with things she shouldn’t.”

Yep, that’s helicopter parenting I’m hearing, all right, Nanci thought. I’ll bet Bethany’s parents hover over her and never let her do anything on her own. The poor kid! Oh, well, it’s not my problem and I really shouldn’t get involved, but still, I’m a little bit curious. “Well, I have to agree with you at least partway,” she replied. “There are a few things I learned in school that I wish I hadn’t, at least when I was your age.” And wow, what an understatement that is, she thought, although I don’t think I ought to get into it right now. “So how do you like being home-schooled Bethany?”

“It’s all right, I guess,” the teenager said, with an evident lack of enthusiasm.

“Do you get to hang out with other kids very much?”

Once again, Cassie answered for her daughter. “We’re involved with a group of home-school parents. We get together usually a couple of times a week for programs and games so the kids can get a little socialization.”

“So do you have any friends there?” Nanci said, directing the question to the girl.

“Well, yeah,” the girl replied, still not showing much enthusiasm. “We never get much time to hang out, though.”

So yeah, Nanci thought. No real friends because their parents are all watching over every move they make and every word they speak. No chance to be a kid, no chance to do kid things. Poor kid! When she gets old enough that her parents loosen the strings a little – if they ever do – she won’t have any idea of how to make friends in the first place. Maybe it’s not all bad, but it’s not all good, either. I’d better get away from that thinking, or I could say something I shouldn’t. “Well, I’m sorry there aren’t other kids on this trip you could hang out with. When I first heard about this trip I had the idea that it was going to be more families, but I guess this one didn’t work out that way.”

“We’d hoped it would be that way too,” Malcolm shrugged. “But perhaps it’s just as well. A bunch of kids could get themselves in trouble.”

“We usually don’t see a lot of kids down here in the Canyon,” Nanci replied. “Oh, there are a few, but the lower age limit keeps the numbers down, I guess. But when we do have several kids on a trip, it usually works out pretty well.”

“I’ll bet it takes more supervision when you have a lot of kids.”

“Not really any more than it takes with adults, at least considering the age limit, and I’ll say that I wouldn’t want to have to deal with a pack of little kids. But older kids, that’s a little different. Down here adults can be just as stupid as kids until they learn the realities of this place. Maybe even more so; kids often realize they’re kids and don’t know it all, while the adults think they know better. That’s why we spend so much time with orientation and warnings the first few days of the trip.”

“Perhaps it’s just as well,” Malcolm huffed, “having a bunch of kids along might not add to the Christian atmosphere of the trip we were hoping for.”

“I hope we’ll be able to do pretty well with that,” Nanci said, glad for the change of topic. “This crew was put together out of the most serious Christians in the company, just for this trip and one other one we’ll do later in the summer. I don’t think the company would have tried it if we hadn’t had Reverend Whittaker.”

“I wondered about that,” the man replied. “I mean, why he’s down here at all, instead of having a church somewhere.”

“I don’t know a lot about it and it’s not my place to say,” Nanci replied, realizing that the first part of her response was a little bit of a fib – at least she didn’t plan on talking very much about the part she did know. “You’d have to ask him about that, but I will say that I’ve heard him refer to the Canyon as ‘the grandest cathedral of all.’ I think he’s got a point. My own feeling is that it’s easier to feel God among all his handiwork we see down here. Believe me, we haven’t even gotten started yet. What we’re seeing now is barely a warm-up. It’ll be considerably more spectacular when we get down the river a ways.” There, that ought to change the subject, she thought.

“I think it’s neat that you get to do this,” Bethany spoke up. “Do you get to do this all the time?”

“No,” Nanci replied. “The tripping season starts in late April, or around the first of May. It varies a little bit from company to company. Some companies end their season in September at least partly because they have to depend on college students for boatmen. Canyon Tours usually runs as late as November, although sometimes it gets a little cold down here then. I ran in November last fall, and it got pretty cold and windy. It wasn’t exactly the best trip I was on last year.”

“What do you do in your off season?” Malcolm asked neutrally.

“I’m a college student at Northern Arizona University. Since I was on the river last fall, I was only there for the spring term last winter. I’m not planning on running this fall so I’ll be able to go both terms.”

“What are you studying?” Cassie asked.

“Just general stuff for now,” Nanci shrugged as best she could while she was stroking the oars. “I’m still working on what I want to do for a major. I’d like to do religious studies at least as a minor, but Northern Arizona is a public school and they don’t offer that either as a major or a minor. At the moment I’m thinking I’ll transfer somewhere else after next winter so I can study that. I don’t know where yet.”

“What are you planning on doing when you’re out of college?”

“If I could answer that one I’d know what I want to major in. I don’t plan on being a boatman for the rest of my life, so I’ll probably have to give it up sooner or later.”

“What’s it like to be in college?” Bethany asked.

“It’s a lot different than it was in high school, and I’m pretty sure it’d be more different for you with you being home-schooled. The classes aren’t as regular, but they’re more intense. There’s nobody looking over your shoulder to be sure you get your reading and your homework done, so you have to learn to do it yourself. Are you planning on going to college?”

“I guess,” the teenager shrugged. “That’s what Mom and Dad want. I don’t know where or anything, or what I want to study.”

“We’re sort of thinking about Ephesus College,” Malcolm said. “That’s a good, conservative Christian school that monitors their students closely.”

Probably not as closely as you would like, Nanci thought without saying anything. It sounds more like out of the frying pan, into the fire. Finally she said, “Well, you’ll have some time to make up your mind.”

Cassie spoke up. “Do I remember hearing that you’re a Methodist?”

“Well, sort of a Methodist,” Nanci replied. “Obviously I don’t attend church at Hillside every Sunday, but since we have Reverend Whittaker on this crew we always have some sort of a service on the river on Sundays.”

“What do you mean, ‘sort of a Methodist?’”

“I go to Hillside. I’m taking membership classes there, but I haven’t finished them. Being down here in the Canyon so much of the time has delayed that a bit. Really, it was Kevin who got me to going to his church, and it seems just fine to me.”

“Were you brought up a Methodist?”

Nanci could see where this was heading, and she didn’t like it. But there was nothing she felt she could do but tell the truth, and maybe change the direction a little bit. “I wasn’t brought up as anything,” she replied. “My father, I mean my real father, not Al, used to say that his grandfather came from Austria-Hungary, in what’s now the Czech Republic, about a hundred years ago. He said his grandfather used to say that the thing he was happiest to leave behind him was the Catholic Church. Since I got to looking into it a little, it seems a little strange to me. I understand that most of that part of the world is Lutheran, but I guess there must have been some Catholics around, so I take it to mean that my great-grandfather was happy to leave the religious tension behind.”

The diversion failed. “You’re saying that you weren’t brought up as a Christian?” Cassie persisted.

“No, I wasn’t,” Nanci replied, but realizing she needed to be blunt, added, “But I don’t think that makes me any less of a Christian than anyone else.”

“I see,” Cassie frowned, clearly not pleased about Nanci’s answer.

Nanci found herself thinking kinder thoughts about William Barber; suddenly he didn’t seem quite as bad as her original impression, at least by comparison. Obviously Cassie felt that Nanci didn’t measure up to her obviously pristine standards by being brought up as a Christian from babyhood, and with no words being said she had the impression that Malcolm felt much the same way.

This, she thought, was going to be a long, long trip.

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To be continued . . .

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