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

Chapter 10
Tuesday, May 28 – Sunday, June 2, 2002

People began drifting off to their campsites after that; Crystal and Preach were among them. Their zipped-together sleeping bags were near the kitchen, but separated a ways from the other boatmen’s. They did the things they usually did before going to bed, then snuggled together under the stars and talked in whispers for a while.

“Preach,” Crystal murmured, “I’ve been thinking about what you said about visiting the Holy Land, and it sounds like a pretty good winter trip to me.”

“Me too,” he agreed. “I don’t think we have the money to be able to spend a lot of time there, but two or three weeks might be something we could do.”

“Maybe we ought to look into it a little more when we get off the river.”

“I think so, too. Let’s not forget about it.”

They were silent for a while before Crystal spoke up again. “Preach, were you serious about being in the Canyon just something to prepare you for something else, or were you just making a point?”

“Both, I think. I’m sure there will be a next thing. As much as we both like this place, I’m sure there will be a next thing.”

“You don’t mean leaving the Canyon, do you? Maybe getting a church after all, or something like that?”

“I don’t know. I’d tell you if I did. The Lord hasn’t allowed me a glimpse of that future. It might mean becoming a father, and it might mean a lot of things. We’ll know when we get there.”

*   *   *

The next morning it took them longer to get up and organized than it would when they were a little farther down the river, since people were still getting used to the idea. But it was normal to the boatmen; it happened every trip. What with everything, they were an hour or so behind their normal time for getting on the river, but that wouldn’t last.

As they were getting ready to board the rafts, Crystal shifted everyone around, so the members of the party could get to know each other a little better. Of course, she had other motives in mind, so she put the Fletchers in Preach’s raft, and the Barbers in her own.

Nanci’s passengers for the day proved to be just as delightful as the Fletchers and Barbers had been troublesome. Along with Mark, they consisted of two middle-aged couples, the Willets, who were from Georgia, and the Carters, who were from Arkansas. From what she could tell, both couples were serious about their Christianity, although neither were anything like as oppressive about it as the Fletchers had proven to be. In fact, they were very friendly and voluble, a breath of fresh air after the day before.

“Are all your trips like this?” Jan Willet asked Nanci at one point a few miles out from where they’d spent the night.

“Pretty much,” she replied. “Being a Christian trip things are a little different, but most things are pretty much the same as they always are.”

“Do you do Christian trips often?”

“This is the first one Canyon Tours has done,” Nanci told her. “Other companies may have done them in the past, but I wouldn’t know. There are several kinds of specialty trips, for hiking, bird watching, and a lot of other things. There even is a company that takes along a string quartet. I know that Al was approached by a woman who wanted to organize a nudist trip.”

“A nudist trip?” Jan frowned. “That would be, uh, different. What was that like?”

“It didn’t come off,” Nanci laughed. “Three of the trip leaders turned him down flat. The last one said she’d lead the trip if no one expected her to take her clothes off. I would have turned him down too, but it never got that far. I guess the idea died right after that. Maybe it was just as well. I don’t even want to think about the full-body sunburns that could have happened.”

“I suppose that would be a problem,” Rob Carter laughed.

“It can get to be a problem on any trip. That’s why we keep reminding people about sunscreen. The sun is the big enemy down here, not the river. We get a lot of customers, and even some boatmen, who react to the heat we get in summer by stripping down just as far as they can, and then it’s sunburn city.”

“I’d imagine you don’t do that, what with being a Christian. I mean, to preserve your modesty.”

“Well, there’s that,” Nanci agreed. “But I burn fairly easily, so I don’t want to take the risk. There are two schools of thought about how to handle the heat since we’re out in the sun so much. One is the strip-down school like I was just talking about, but one of the other trip leaders has the theory that the Arabs have that one right. He says that it’s better to dress in loose, lightweight white clothing to fight the sun, and I’ve come to agree with him. On a cool day like today jeans and a T-shirt like I have on work all right, but if it looks like it’s going to get hot, I’ll switch over to a martial arts gi.”

“This is a cool day? I thought it was rather warm.”

“Oh, it’s about average for this time of year,” Nanci smiled. “We’ll probably see some warm ones before the trip is over with, and I’ll be glad to wear a gi. I brought a couple of them with me. The advantage to them is that if it gets real hot like it will later in the summer, I can get them wet and the evaporation will cool me right off. There are other boatmen who generally agree with him but who don’t go that far.”

“I never thought of that,” Rob said.

“Don’t feel alone. He said it took him a couple of years to think of it himself.”

“If you wear a gi, what color belt do you wear?”

“Oh, just whatever piece of rope or something that happens to be laying around. I’m not into martial arts like Crystal.”

Due to the late start, they pulled in a mile or so beyond Soap Creek for lunch. While they were there, another party in oar rafts passed them, and shortly after they got back on the river, two motor rig parties passed within half an hour of each other. It seemed crowded out on the river today.

A couple of hours later and a few miles farther downstream, they came to House Rock Rapids, where Crystal had the group pull into shore just above the drop. “This is going to be the toughest rapids we’re going to face all day, or for several days,” Nanci told her customers as they pulled toward the shore. “We’ll hit rapids downstream as bad or worse that we won’t bother to scout, but it’s always a good idea to look this one over before we run it.”

“Why is that?” Jan asked as she heard the roar of the rapids in front of them.

“Because this one requires some maneuvering in fast water,” Nanci told her. “There are a lot of other rapids on this river where I could just let go of the oars and trust to the Lord to get us down all right. Oh, we might get some water splashed aboard, but we’d be OK. But the Lord expects us to do our best, so we try to do it.”

“How do you figure that?” Rob asked.

Nanci couldn’t answer him right then; she was busy getting the raft onto the beach. As soon as it was nosed onto the sand, she grabbed the bow rope and hustled up to tie it off. As soon as she was done with that, she turned back to Rob and said, “In First Corinthians Chapter Nine it says something like, ‘Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?’ I take that to mean that even if the Lord is with you, you still have to do your best if you want to win. That applies here on the river, too.”

“Well, I guess you have a point,” Rob agreed. “I have to admit, you know your Bible pretty well to pick that one out.”

“Oh, it’s something I picked up from Reverend Whittaker,” she smiled. “It’s one of those lessons you learn in this place.”

Along with the other boatmen and some of the customers, Nanci climbed up to where they could get a better view of the rapids. “About like always,” Crystal commented as they looked at them. “You’re gonna have to set your line to the right a little and then be prepared to pull river right if you don’t want to run into the rock.”

“Right, just about like always,” Larry commented. “But this is a good place to get caught. Remember, what was it, two years ago that Scooter had a customer washed out here?”

“I was there,” Crystal agreed. “He wasn’t paying attention and it bit him. Remind your people to get down and in, and hold on tight. They still haven’t developed the respect for rapids that we’ll need downstream. Oh, thinking about Scooter, I’d planned to go into one of the camps at North Canyon, but there’s no doubt that those motor rigs that passed us earlier will beat us there, and maybe those private party oar boaters. It wouldn’t surprise me if someone else did it, too.”

“It happened last trip, too,” Kevin agreed. “I like North Canyon, but I’ll bet we don’t get to stop there very often this year.”

“Me, either. I guess that means we might as well plan on just heading into Scooter’s Spot a mile or so upstream from North Canyon. I never see much evidence of people camping there.” Scooter’s Spot was a medium-sized high beach along the river right side of the Canyon where the group had been forced to camp the year before, and it turned out to be a pretty good campsite, better than it had looked from the river. Since Scooter had been the one to discover it, the Canyon Tours people used her name to refer to it.

“Mostly because there isn’t much in the way of hikes out of there,” Larry pointed out. Every one of the boatmen knew he especially liked leading hikes into out-of-the-way places.

“There isn’t much in any of the other spots around there except for North Canyon, either,” Crystal said. “I hate to make the day so short and would really rather go on a couple miles, but there’s not much for campsites there. Let’s plan on stopping at Scooter’s. At least there’s more shade there than there is elsewhere.”

“Yeah, that’s a consideration,” Nanci agreed. “We’ve got some people who are looking a little red.”

“I’m seeing it too,” Crystal agreed. “Bug your customers about sunscreen again, people. Let’s head ’em up and move ’em out.”

As they walked back down to the rafts, Nanci noticed that Deb Carter, one of her passengers, was walking with her. “That looks pretty scary,” Deb said.

“Oh, sure,” Nanci told her, realizing that Deb was nervous. “We do it every trip. That washout Larry and Crystal were talking about was because the guy wasn’t paying attention and not holding on. We’ll be all right. There are plenty more rapids downstream.”

They were soon back at the rafts and getting aboard. “All right people,” Nanci told her passengers. “This one is a little hairy, so I want everyone but Mark down and in before we leave shore. Make sure your life jackets are snugged up, just in case. Find something to hold onto and hang onto it. Mark, get us moving, but be real quick about getting into position and hold on yourself.”

“You’re sure there’s nothing to worry about?” Deb persisted.

“No, no problem,” Nanci replied, and decided to say something she wouldn’t have said on a normal trip. “The Lord is with us, isn’t He? Look on the bright side.” She took a breath and began to sing, “Gonna hop on that big blue raft, down by the riverside . . .”

After a couple of lines Deb joined in, and then the others. They quickly ran through the lines as they got settled in the raft, and Nanci started it over. In a minute or two they were afloat, and Mark was settling into position, so she changed the song a little to another of her original lines. “Gonna row through them big old waves, down by the riverside . . .”

“Down by the riverside,” Deb joined in again to overcome her nerves. “Down by the riverside . . .”

It took them three or four more repetitions before Nanci got the raft out to the tongue of smooth water leading down into the rapids. The raft speeded up as it raced down the tongue, then reared its nose as it hit the first of the backrollers. Nanci was rowing hard by now, trying to move to the right to get out of the way of the big rock that partly filled the rapids and made it more difficult than others they would meet. All of a sudden they were past the difficult part and she was rowing through water that was merely rough.

“See, Deb?” Nanci shouted over the roar of the waves, “I told you we could make it!”

Some time later, three miles or so downstream, the rafts pulled onto the steep sandy beach of “Scooter’s Spot.” They took a couple of minutes to get the kinks out, and then Crystal started getting people organized for the evening. “All right,” she said. “Let’s get a duffel line going. We’ll put the kitchen over to my right. As soon as we get the rafts unloaded, Nanci, why don’t you take Mark and Bethany and get them setting up the toilet? Since they’re kind of the junior people on this trip, I guess we get to stick them with the dirty details. Setting it up and taking it down will be your regular job, kids, although Nanci or one of the other boatmen may have to show you where to put it.”

Nanci didn’t think much about it; often one or more of the customers volunteered or got stuck with that usually less-than-favorite duty. It sometimes helped people to feel they were more involved with the trip.

It wasn’t until Nanci had to get something out of the boatman’s box of her raft that she ran into Crystal, who was doing the same thing. “I was a little surprised you tagged Bethany for groover duty,” she commented. “I figured her folks would have a fit at the thought of her being alone with a boy, even to set up a toilet.”

“Preach’s suggestion,” Crystal shrugged. “He suggested it to her right in front of her parents, and they didn’t have a fit, although who knows why. He says you’re right, they hardly ever let her out of their sight. He figured it would be good for her to have a little time with another kid. I realize she and Mark aren’t very close to the same age, but that was about the best we can do on this trip.”

“Well, I didn’t exactly think it was matchmaking, what with him being a Mormon and all,” Nanci grinned. “But yeah, that could be about as close to a date as she’s going to get before she turns eighteen.”

“Probably so. It’s kind of a crappy date,” Crystal laughed. “But she seemed pleased with it. Preach said she seems real interested in boys and dates, and just having friends, although he only got hints of it since she had to say it in front of her parents.”

“Yeah, I got the same impression,” Nanci agreed. “Let’s face it, girls that age are interested in that sort of thing, and she’s not getting much of it, the poor kid.”

“It may be perfectly justifiable to them,” Crystal commented. “But darn it, it seems almost like child abuse to me. I doubt if anyone could sell that idea to a judge, though.”

“Yeah, me either,” Nanci sighed. “I’ll bet they don’t have any idea of just how tough a time they’re setting her up for.”

“I’m sure they don’t, and it’s going to be rough when they figure it out.”

“Yeah, tough on all of them.” She decided to change the subject, since she knew what they were talking about could go downhill very quickly. “So how did it go with the Barbers?”

“You’re right, he’s a natural complainer,” Crystal replied. “It’s really kind of a pain in the neck, but I guess that’s how he relates to the world. I think he’s starting to get used to the idea that he’s on this trip, and things aren’t always set up to go his way. He really wasn’t as bad after House Rock as he was the first leg this morning.”

“Maybe he’s getting the picture.”

“Or accepting reality, although he still doesn’t like the idea of me leading the trip. He seems to really believe men ought to be in charge of things, and women should only meekly follow along. His wife acts like it, too. That was something Preach warned me about before we started the church tour last winter, that we would be going to a lot of places where people felt like that. We did, too, and sometimes it was hard to just stand back and keep my mouth shut. But we agreed that was the way it was going to have to be. At least Barber concedes that a man is the spiritual leader of the trip, which is the way he thinks it should be.”

“I don’t think Barber is alone in that, but nobody else is very outspoken about it, except maybe for the Fletchers, again. A lot of them don’t seem to mind.”

“Yeah, but I’m still worried about the rest of the trip. It doesn’t take many people to ruin harmony and stir up divisiveness.”

*   *   *

Things started to settle down on the trip after that – not all the way, but better.

William Barber still complained a lot, but when the time came to pitch in to do something, he was there in the middle of it – griping all the time, but helping out, which was better than the boatmen had expected considering their first experience of him. His attitude wasn’t endearing him to anyone and people seemed to go out of their way to avoid him, which Nanci thought was perfectly understandable.

A few days later it was once again his turn to ride on her raft, or, as the boatmen were putting it, “to take her turn on the noise.” It turned out he was still complaining, but it seemed to be more from pure grumpiness than it was from anything else. It wasn’t something that made Nanci very talkative, so for the most part she confined her comments to the things they were passing while going down the river.

He still didn’t seem to be very pleased that a woman was in charge of the trip, or in charge of his raft, but at least he seemed to accept that Nanci knew what she was doing. The fact that it was a day on which they didn’t have much in the way of rapids made things go a little easier, and a long stop at midday also took out some of the pain. Still, Nanci was just as glad that he wasn’t going to ride with her again the next day.

After what had been a promising few minutes at the first of the trip, the Fletchers continued to be sourpusses, and Nanci had to have them in her raft again, too. They weren’t complaining a tenth as much as Barber, but Nanci could feel their sneering disapproval of everything going on around them in every word they said – or didn’t say. She knew she’d be enjoying this trip a lot more if they weren’t along, since she thought that even Barber was easier to put up with.

At one point Nanci commented that Phantom Ranch wasn’t all that far ahead, and it was a place where it was possible to walk out of the Canyon. She said the trail wasn’t all that bad although it went up a lot, but it certainly could be done; after all, she’d walked the trail, but she didn’t mention that it had only been downhill. But the hint seemed to slide off the Fletchers as if it hadn’t even been noticed.

To her amazement, the one thing that seemed to be going well with the Fletchers was Bethany. She took to doing groover duty with enthusiasm, and Nanci had every idea why: Mark. As far as Nanci or anyone else could tell nothing out of line happened. The kids didn’t even get a lot of time to talk with each other, but it was at least a little bit of an opportunity for Bethany to interrelate with a boy somewhat close to her age without her parents looking over her shoulder and guiding every word she said.

Mark was actually a little less than thrilled with the idea, but Crystal told Nanci at one point that Preach had gotten him off to the side and explained a little about what was going on, and after that things fell into place. At times Nanci couldn’t help but wonder if Bethany was dreaming of Mark, but at least for the duration of the trip she had a little bit of a boyfriend, which was more than she’d had before and probably more than she could expect for some time to come. That meant it was going to be an exceptionally memorable trip for her.

The rest of the party, with a couple of minor exceptions, came together for the sake of the trip in the way that most of their groups seemed to do. After two or three days people were getting up not long after the boatmen – the noise and bustle of breakfast making had something to do with it. They were also getting their things together and ready to go on the river much more quickly than they had back up the river at Badger. Lunch stops went more quickly, and setting up after getting off the river turned into a practiced art.

After six days on the river the trip pulled into the campground at Cardenas Creek, a favorite stop for Crystal. Much of the campsite was located in a grove of tamarisks, short, grubby trees that to some were an unwelcome invader to the Canyon, although their cool shade was welcome on what was proving to be a hot day.

The camp at Cardenas Creek was notable because it was the last camp after several relatively easy days, and it was Sunday. At their camp up the river that morning at Kwagunt Creek, Preach made the morning prayer a little longer, added a brief teaching, and had the group sing Rock of Ages again, promising a longer service during the day. He delivered on his promise when they stopped for lunch at the Little Colorado River, although it was more an expansion of his normal evening teachings rather than anything special. Of course, there were a couple of complainers – the usual ones, of course – who thought they should take the whole day off since it was the Lord’s day, but as Crystal explained, they were more or less stuck with the schedule now, whether they liked it or not.

After the brief service there was time to take a short hike up the turquoise waters of the Little Colorado. A few brave souls stripped down to swimsuits to swim in the warmer waters of the creek, although again Barber and the older Fletchers seemed to resent the idea of people enjoying themselves on Sunday.

Preach held a brief service at Cardenas Creek that evening, but it was mostly another of his normal evening teachings. After the service he warned people to get a good night’s sleep and be ready for a couple big days that would be among the most memorable of on the trip. Ahead of them lay Upper Granite Gorge and Adrenaline Alley, the toughest collection of white water on the trip.

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To be continued . . .

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