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Down By the Riverside book cover

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

Chapter 21
Monday, January 27, 2003

Crystal pushed back the curtains a little and looked though the crack at the motel parking lot in St. Paul, Minnesota. “That looks awful darn cold out there,” she said at the view of snow and ice below a dreary gray sky. Before she’d gotten serious with Preach she would have been likely to use terms that were both more colorful as well as obscene, but she’d tried to break herself of using that kind of language. Usually it had worked, but not always.

“You’re the one who tells stories about living in a pickup camper in this kind of weather,” Preach said as he piled some clothes in a suitcase. “I was the one living in east Tennessee at the time, so it’s got to be even colder for me.”

“Yeah, but that was before I started spending the summers in the Grand Canyon,” she protested futilely. “It’s got to be warmer there than it is here.”

“Well, at least we’re getting out of here,” he replied. “Although it’s not going to be any warmer where we’re going.”

Where they were going was the home of an old friend of Crystal’s, Randy Clark, located about three hundred miles to the east in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. She and Randy had shared a long and often close relationship during her college days, and for a few years afterwards. There had been times that each of them thought they might like to marry the other one, but those times had never come simultaneously, so it had never worked out. But Randy and his wife Nicole remained good friends, partly because Nicole had walked part of the Appalachian Trail with her years before; Crystal had been the maid of honor at their wedding a little over three years before.

Crystal and Preach had several days to kill before their next show, set for East Lansing, Michigan. A stopover to see Randy and Nicole seemed like a good idea, especially since it had been well over a year since she and Preach had seen them. While Nicole was working as a teacher, things were slow during the winter for Randy’s construction company, and there had been talk of getting out on snowboards. Crystal was looking forward to that as much as she was looking forward to catching up with her old friend.

Crystal’s old roommate, Myleigh Hartwell-Harris, lived in the same town with her husband, Trey Hartwell, and Crystal was looking forward to seeing her as much as she was Randy. She and Myleigh had been very close all the way through college, and like Randy, she hadn’t seen her often enough in recent years.

To top it off, Duane MacRae and Michelle Rawson, the Gold Team leaders, were also in the same town training sled dogs. It wasn’t clear how much longer they’d be there, since they were planning on leaving for Alaska with the dogs any day now. If they were still there, it would be good to check in with them, too.

After that, they were planning on at least going through Preach’s old home town in west Michigan, so he could make a quick visit or two to distant relatives, and show the place to Crystal, who had never been there. They didn’t anticipate any problems filling the time, even though it was pretty cold and snowy out there.

“Are you about ready to go, Crystal?”

“I need to hit the john and get my jacket on,” she replied. “It’s going to take the car a while to warm up.”

“Putting it off isn’t going to improve things any.”

“Yeah, I know, I’m just putting off the evil moment.” She stopped for a second, then added, “Hey, you know, we ought to check in with Dad before we hit the road.”

“You’re probably right,” Preach conceded, not really wanting to face the cold car any more than Crystal but not wanting to admit it to her. “He’ll want to know how the show went.”

“I don’t think it went too badly, at least partly because everyone at the show was looking forward to liquid water again.”

“Remember this when we’re out in hundred and twenty degree temperatures and no shade,” he teased again.

“I’d rather have that than this,” she said as she headed toward the motel room’s telephone.

Making the long distance call wasn’t simple, and there was a lot of button pushing involved, but soon the phone was ringing in Flagstaff, where it had to be warmer. After longer than she wanted, she heard her father answer, “Canyon Tours.”

“Hi, Dad,” she said. “How’s it going in Flag?”

“Crystal! I’m really glad you called. I’ve been trying to get hold of you all weekend, but they had some real idiot manning the phone at the auditorium where you were at and she said she couldn’t get a message to you. Next winter we’ve got to get you a cell phone just so I don’t have to deal with twerps like that.”

“Dad, is something wrong? Is it Mom?” A little alarmed at that, Preach came over close to her so he could listen in on the phone.

“No, Crystal, nothing is wrong but things have gone crazy out here. Do you remember a couple years ago when you came up with the idea of taking a winter trip down the Canyon? We were talking about the idea of exploring a commercial winter trip.”

“Yeah, it struck me that it might be fun and it would be really empty down there at that time of year. But I thought it couldn’t be worked out with the Park Service.”

“Well, I thought so too, but I was wrong. Look, this is all pretty complicated, but you know Marty Welker, the guy who runs GCR?”

“Sure, I know him, not real well.”

“He was kicking the idea around, too. In fact, we both kicked it around together over a few beers last winter sometime, but nothing came of it. But it turns out he has an unused trip date from last year that the Park Service will let us use.”

“Dad, that’s great!”

“You may not think it’s so great when I tell you we’ve got to hit the water next Sunday.”

“Sunday! Holy . . . uh, cow! Why so soon?”

“That’s the other part of it,” Al said. “The Park Service only allows one launch a day this time of year. Next Sunday’s launch was filled by a private trip until Friday, when they had to cancel at the last minute. There isn’t enough time for anyone near the top of the waiting list to pull a trip together, so we got the date.”

“Can we get a trip together by then?”

“To make a long story short, we’re going to try. For a couple reasons that involve politics and the Park Service, we can’t take an S-rig, although both Marty and I tried to talk them into it, and you know how much I don’t like baloney boats. That means we’ve got to take oar boats. Jeff and Dan think they can have as many as eight ready to go, but it’s going to involve some gear shuffling. We’re going to load the rafts light, only two or three people on each one, and that’ll give us some room for firewood and warmer clothes and stuff.”

“That sounds like a good idea, Dad.”

“It does to me too, but that’s only a part of the problem, and it’s a small part of it. The real problem is going to be people. I mean, we’re going to go with what we’ve got, even if it’s just Marty and Karin and me, but we need to have a little bigger group if we’re going to try to justify it as an experimental commercial trip. To make a long story short, while Marty thinks he can scrape up some GCR people, the two of you are the only Canyon Tours trip leaders available and pretty close to the only boatmen.”

“Just us?”

“Scooter and that crowd are still down in Costa Rica,” Al replied. “I talked to Duane yesterday, and they’re stuck with going to Alaska, they’re getting stuff ready to leave now and will be moving out in a couple of days. That leaves you two from among the trip leaders. The boatmen, well, a lot of them are in college and there’s no way they can get away for a trip as long as we’re planning. Most of the rest have winter jobs someplace. So how soon can the two of you be back here?”

“Boy, that’s a good question,” Crystal shook her head. “When Randy drove out to Flag that time, he said it took him something like thirty hours on the road. It’s probably not a lot less from here, maybe a few hours.”

“I’ll bet it’s every inch of sixteen hundred miles,” Preach put in.

“Well, if you want to make the trip, get on your pony and ride,” Al said. “It may be your only opportunity to make it down the Canyon in the winter. I can arrange for you to skip the show in East Lansing. It struck me as being a little marginal, anyway, but you were in the neighborhood so I figured what the heck, you know?”

“I don’t know, Dad,” Crystal frowned. “I mean, I would really love to do the trip. I mean, I would really love to do it, but I’ve blown Randy off so much in the past, including last winter on the sailing trip, I really hate to do it again.”

“I talked to Randy yesterday, too,” Al laughed. “He’s blowing you off instead. He’s going to be flying into Phoenix in a couple of days. That was part of the reason I wanted to get hold of you, to tell you not to waste your time unless you just wanted to talk to Nicole and Myleigh.”

“Nicole’s not going? She’d get a kick out of a winter trip in the Canyon.”

“She can’t get out of school,” Al laughed. “I could just hear Randy gloating when he told me that.”

“I’ll bet,” Crystal laughed with him, understanding what he meant perfectly. It was one of the reasons she and Randy had broken up, after all. Since he was in the construction business, he was busier than he wanted to be in the summer, the good time to take the kind of trips he wanted to take. Both Crystal and Nicole had taken advantage of free summers to take those kinds of trips, including the Appalachian Trail, while leaving Randy behind working. Crystal knew it had ground at him for years. “Payback time has come,” she added. “Even after he left Nicole behind to go sailing a year ago.”

“Oh, yeah, you bet,” Al laughed. “It ain’t clear yet whether Randy is going to be rowing a raft or what. It depends on how many actually go, but he’s up for it and I know he can handle one, too.”

Crystal knew about that part of it. Randy had rowed most of two trips down the Canyon in the past. He had a ton of whitewater experience in kayaks – Crystal had been with him for some of it – and he’d proved to have a deft touch with a raft, too. She knew he really wanted to do the Canyon again, and had little doubt that he’d hopped on the idea like a cat on a new catnip mouse. “Even if it’s a whole bunch of us, he could probably row at least some,” she suggested.

“It may not matter. He said he was going to see about bringing a dry suit and one of his whitewater boats with him if he can get the airline to carry it. That’s not all worked out yet. He probably wouldn’t paddle the thing the whole way, but would tow it behind one of the rafts on the flats.”

“That ought to work. He ought to have a ball with it if he does it. I remember him pointing out play holes in Hance and I thought he had a play hole right through his head.”

“I remember that, too. Anyway, nothing is totally settled yet, but it looks like he’s going to be bringing Trey with him.”

“Trey!” Crystal smiled. She knew Trey; he’d been a swamper for part of a summer before he’d gone off with Myleigh. “That would be cool. No Myleigh, I suppose.”

“Nope, guess who has to work?” Al laughed. “Trey happens to not be too busy right now, and he’s getting tired of stripping paint on all the woodwork in their house. One of the deals we have with the Park Service is that we’re supposed to take some people who don’t have a whole lot of winter camping experience, and Trey qualifies for that. There may be another one of their friends going too, we’re not sure about that yet, either.”

“That makes it even better,” Crystal grinned. “Trey is cool. Preach, are we up for it?”

“Sure. It sounds better to me than standing around at some small show answering the same stupid questions over and over. We can check out my old home town some other time.”

“Well, good. Like I said, get on your pony and ride. There’s about fourteen tons of work to do and nothing is set up yet, so the sooner you can make it back, the better.”

“If we drive all night and only make pit stops, we ought to be in sometime tomorrow,” Preach said. “We’ll be pretty tired when we get in, though.”

“That’s why you’re young, so you can do stuff like that,” Al laughed. “Don’t worry about it. There’s going to be some long nights on the river this time of year, so you can catch up on your sleep then.”

*   *   *

It was not long before the two of them were in Preach’s Buick, heading south out of the Twin Cities for Flagstaff. Amazingly enough, the car got warm quickly enough that Crystal was able to wiggle out of her jacket, and help Preach out of his while he drove down the Interstate.

They spent some time talking about some of the things they would need. Crystal had a wetsuit she wore occasionally, and a dry top that she hadn’t used for years. She knew that Preach had a wetsuit; they sometimes came in handy on the late fall trips they’d run. But a lot of the gear they used in the summer just wouldn’t be up to a winter trip in the Canyon, and there would have to be some fast purchases made. At least Crystal knew that Randy knew what he was doing, so he ought to be able to help his friends get some gear together even before they left home.

After a while that part of the discussion died out a little. “You know the part that scares me?” Crystal asked.

“The weather? It shouldn’t be as bad as it is right outside the window,” Preach pointed out. “It’ll probably get down below freezing once in a while, but it shouldn’t be anything like that.”

“No, not that,” Crystal laughed. “I mean, knowing my dad and knowing Marty, there’s likely to be a little bit of anti-freeze taken along. Well, more than a little. I keep thinking that the whole idea of our leasing those GCR trips first came out of a bottle of single-malt at our wedding reception. I mean, it seemed like a good idea at the time, but I guess it seemed like an even better idea when there wasn’t a bottle involved.”

“Well, yeah,” Preach conceded. “I’d heard that story, but I think it worked out pretty well all the way around.”

“I think it did, too, and as far as I know, it worked out better than anyone expected. But that’s not it. What happens if we get Dad, Marty, and a bottle or two of the good stuff together around a campfire some night? They’re liable to cook up just about anything!”

Preach contemplated it for a moment before he replied, “Yeah, you might have a point. I can think of a number of wild things they could come up with that could change things around considerably, and maybe not to the best advantage of anyone.”

“Yeah, I can, too,” Crystal sighed as the reality struck home. “And one of them is the idea of Dad selling out to Marty.”

“That really would change things,” Preach replied thoughtfully. “I mean, it could change things a lot. I really don’t think I’d want to have to run S-rigs on five-day rushes down the river.”

“Yeah, that’s one of them, and I hadn’t even come up with that one,” she agreed. “I mean, I don’t know if it would happen. At least I think it wouldn’t. Marty wanted to get rid of those oar boat trips after all, not add onto them. But what happens if he and Dad start to get creative?”

“Good question,” Preach nodded. “Crystal, I know your dad has been pushing you to take over more of the management of the company, and we all know you’d rather stay on the river. Your dad is old enough that the idea of hanging it up in the next few years is bound to be on the horizon. If you don’t take it over, then what’s going to happen? Selling out is a possibility, and I think Marty would be first in line if he decides to do it.”

“That’s pretty much what I’m thinking,” she said a little glumly. “It might not be Marty, he’s about Dad’s age, and I’ll bet he’s thinking along the same lines. I mean about retiring. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t someone else out there who might be thinking about wanting to buy out a rafting company. Preach, that could happen, and the next thing you know we’d both be out on our ears.”

“That’s not a happy thought,” he shook his head. “I mean, it might not happen right away, but usually when something like that happens in other businesses, the new owners want to bring in their own people. If it’s another rafting company, then yes, our position might not be very secure in the long run.”

“That’s exactly what I’m thinking,” she said. “And really, I don’t think we’re in much of a position right now to buy Dad out directly. I pretty much figured he’d want to keep his fingers on it until he would leave it to us, but now that I look at it, that might not be what he’s thinking.”

“I don’t think he’d sell out without giving us a shot at it.”

“Yeah, I pretty much agree with that, but we don’t have much to shoot with,” she sighed. “Look, I know that some people have trolled offers around Dad in the past, although I don’t know the details. I do know someone offered him four million for the business a while ago, and he turned them down flat. I mean, ‘don’t make me laugh’ flat. Dad might be willing to give us a sweetheart price on it, but I don’t think it would be anything under four million.”

“I didn’t think the company was worth that much,” Preach shrugged. “I mean he owns the rafts, the office buildings, the bus, and a bunch of gear, but I think if you were to buy it all new on the open market, it probably would be less than, oh, a quarter of a million.”

“Yeah, but there’s one other thing,” she replied. “The Park Service concession, which includes the launch dates. Thirty of them, well, thirty-six of them if you include the GCR dates. The Park Service isn’t making any more of them and might even take some of them away, and that’s why the business is worth as much as it is. I think there are at least a couple of companies out there who would buy up the company just to get the launch dates, and trash everything else. Preach, it’s a good business, we know that. Dad isn’t making a huge profit on it, but he makes out all right, we both know that.”

“You’re saying that you think we ought to try to hold onto it.”

“I’m saying that we need to think about it real, real carefully. I don’t even know if we can do it, but we might be able to if Dad were to help us out a lot. I don’t know anyone who has that kind of money to help us out. Well, Randy might be up for it, but he doesn’t have that kind of cash. His dad does, but it’s pretty well wrapped up in the businesses they have, and they’re a long ways away from the Grand Canyon. But there’s a chance he might be willing to back us a little. It’s nothing we could bank on at this point.”

“We might be able to go to a bank,” he pointed out. “I mean, that’s what they’re in the business to do.”

“Yeah, and they might say we’re a couple of dirty rafters with no business experience, so what are you bothering us for?”

“You have a point. We’d have to have some kind of money behind us, and that might only mean your dad.”

“So we’re back where we started,” she sighed. “Yeah, if Dad and Marty were to work out a deal to buy Dad out, I don’t think we’d be out the door on our butts, at least not soon, but there might not be a lot of future there, either. If there isn’t, what do we do? The only fallback I can see is that you might be able to get a church somewhere, and I know you don’t want to do that. We’ve talked about it enough before.”

“I sometimes wonder about it a little, but it’s certainly not anything I’d want to be forced into doing,” Preach replied, examining the thought. “And if they did put a combination together, if we can’t raise four million or whatever it takes, it would be impossible for us to come up with enough to buy out the combined operation.”

“Yeah, it wouldn’t be cheap and I have no idea of how much it might take. Those S-rigs don’t come cheap, but GCR has a lot more launch dates, so it would be way more expensive.”

“It comes down to one thing,” Preach said flatly. “We, and by that, I mean the both of us, are going to have to show more interest in taking over the company. We’re going to have to sell him on it without being pushy about it. I think that means more than just running rafts down the river. We’re going to have to take some interest in managing it, which means that one or the other of us is going to have to plan on spending a lot of time topside, rather than being out on the river.”

“I hate to say it, but I’m really going to have to be the one who’s elected on that,” she sighed. “I was pretty sure it was going to come sooner or later, but now maybe it’s going to be sooner. Preach, we’re just not going to be able to keep going on the way we have been, enjoying ourselves out on the river.”

“I think we’re going to have to sit down with your Dad and have a serious talk about this whole thing. I doubt that we’re going to find the time before this winter trip, if it’s going to launch Sunday, but maybe we can talk to him out on the river someplace.”

“Or maybe not,” she frowned. “I don’t think we want to get too deep into the issue with Marty being around.”

“True,” he nodded. “But there is one good side to it.”


“We’ve been talking about having a family, and that would pretty well keep you topside anyway, at least for a while. Maybe me, too. It’s hard to tell at this distance.”

“Yeah, there is that,” she agreed, not terribly enthusiastically. “I hate the thought of having to give up the river, but I guess it would be part of the price we’d have to pay. But one way or another, I can see us having to pay it pretty soon anyway. I guess we just shot the idea of getting to do some big trips in the butt, didn’t we?”

“Maybe not all the way, but I can see them getting cut way back.”

“Yeah, I can, too. Maybe if Dad is in no real hurry we might be able to squeeze one or two in, but we’re going to have to think about them real hard.”

“I know we’ve pretty much agreed that we’re going to have to get a house before we get too deeply into starting a family,” he pointed out. “Maybe that would help sell the point that we’re serious.”

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To be continued . . .

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