Spearfish Lake Tales
Contemporary Mainstream Books and Serials Online
“Well, crap,” Crystal said as she looked down the river with dismay. “Would you look at that.”
It was still pretty early on Thursday morning, the last day of the trip. As always, they’d stopped near Granite Springs the night before and had a nice farewell dinner, steaks that had been frozen to near cryogenic-temperatures in dry ice and kept in a stout cooler for the two and a half weeks they’d been on the river. Even as hot as it had been, they were still very cold when they were broken out and slapped on the grill, and they tasted great.
Since it was a short run and there were no serious rapids on the last morning, they’d packed up a little differently than they usually did. This time they packed with a view to unloading the rafts and loading up the truck, bus and trailer for the run back to Flagstaff after the charter bus picked up the customers.
As always they held pretty close to river left as they swept down the last little bit before they got to Diamond Creek Wash. The current ripped by the place pretty fast and there was always the possibility of being swept past the landing and into the rapids just below, so everyone had to be on their toes.
But there, perhaps a couple hundred yards ahead of them, she could see a cluster of multi-colored rafts, at least a dozen and probably more since she couldn’t see into the creek mouth from where she was. That could only mean one thing, and it wasn’t good news.
Fortunately there was a little beach up just ahead on river left. Well, beach was stretching the definition a little; a patch of sand with some tamarisks just behind it. She swung around and yelled to the rest of her party, which was spread out a little, “Land river left! Quick as you can!” She pointed, then began working the sticks to get her raft ready to land. “Joe!” she yelled to one of the passengers. “Grab the bow line and get ready to tie us off as soon as I can get the nose of this thing up on the beach.”
Things were a little confusing for a moment, and a couple of the rafts barely made the landing without being swept past, but soon they were tied up to the bank. “What happened, Crystal?” Nanci yelled from two rafts away.
“Diamond Creek must have flashed,” she replied. “There’s rafts all over the place waiting to load.”
“Now what?” Kevin asked, from a little more closely.
“Right now, I’m just glad Dad and Marty had an extra bottle of single-malt to work their way through when we were blown in on the winter trip,” Crystal said. Then, she turned to check to make sure the lines were all holding; it didn’t look like the rafts were going anywhere.
Once she was sure about that, she raised her voice so the customers could hear her as she dug through her boatman’s box. “Looks like the pickup plans have changed, folks,” she said. “I’ve got to call the office, but I’ll let you know what’s happening as soon as I know it.”
The boatman’s box was full of stuff, some needed every day, some only for emergencies, and what she was looking for was down at the bottom of the box. In only seconds, she pulled out a medium-sized blue drybag, unsnapped the parachute clips that held it closed, and pulled out a waterproof military-surplus ammunition box; from that, she pulled a plastic case, inside of which was a strange-looking telephone.
Canyon Tours crews rarely used the satellite telephone, and then only in case of emergencies, mostly because it was hideously expensive to use. This was the first time in a couple of years that the White Team satphone had been unpacked except to charge the batteries, and as far as she knew this was the first time all season a Canyon Tours crew had used one. As a result, she was a little unfamiliar with its operation, but in only a couple of minutes she was talking to the office.
“I figured I’d be hearing from you pretty soon now,” Al said. “How bad does it look?”
“I can’t tell, we’re just upriver,” Crystal told him, realizing that Al must have known about the washout already. “But there is a whole pot load of rafts waiting, that much I can tell.”
“I’d say don’t even bother walking down to see,” Al advised. “It flashed real bad the afternoon of the day before yesterday, and from what I hear there was some damage done and vehicles lost. I talked to someone at the tribe this morning, and he said it probably will be another two or three days before the road opens again, and that assumes they don’t get another storm. The forecast is calling for more rain this afternoon.”
“Lovely,” Crystal replied. “Look, I’ve got the GCR schedule here but I haven’t dug it out yet. How soon before we can expect someone?”
“I talked to Marty, and he says Jerry should be coming by with two S-rigs this afternoon,” Al replied. “The GCR crews are supposed to call in if they go by Diamond Creek and see a mess, and I’m pretty sure Jerry will do it. So you might just as well go on downriver. The farther you can get now means that much less they’ll have to tow you.”
“I’m sure glad you worked that out.”
“Right now, I am too,” he replied. “Look, canvass your passengers and see if any of them have flights out of Lost Wages this afternoon. If there are any, get their names and flight information and I’ll see if I can get them rescheduled, or at least the airlines notified. I’ll also need to know about hotel rooms, like we talked about last spring.”
“OK, I can do that. It’ll take a few minutes or so.”
“Then call back. Oh, and you’ll have to work with Jerry on this, but figure out when you’re going to get to South Cove, and give me another call, either here or at home. I’m supposed to give the charter bus a good idea of when they can pick up the customers. I’m holding Jeff and the bus and stuff here since there’s no point in having him and the charter bus sit over at South Cove for hours. At least four hours notice would be good.”
“Great, let’s not burn any more satphone time than we have to. I’ll be waiting. Good luck, Crystal.”
Crystal shut the satphone off with some degree of relief. This was going to take some time and it would have to come out of their break, but at least they ought to be able to start the next trip on time. She stood up and said to everyone, “OK, folks, this is the deal. Diamond Creek has flash-flooded and the road is closed, maybe for the next two or three days. We’re going to go on down the river, and this afternoon we’ll be met by a couple of GCR S-rigs. They’ll tow us in to South Cove. I don’t know how much later we’re going to get in and it could be way after dark. But the good part of it is that we get to see a piece of the Canyon we don’t normally get to see on these trips.”
“We have airline reservations for this evening,” one of the customers said.
“Right,” Crystal said. “I’m supposed to get your name and flight number, and someone in the office will inform the airline. I guess someone in the office will work out hotel arrangements for everyone if needed, or at least that was the plan last spring when we talked about what to do if something like this happened. I’ll at least need to know numbers. If you had hotel reservations for tonight, I need to have your names and the hotel so the office can inform them.”
It took a few minutes to get everything worked out and the second satphone call to the office made; a few messages had to be passed on to alert people at home that the customers involved would be arriving on a later plane.
“All right, places, everybody,” Crystal finally called again. “We don’t have a lot of extra food, but we ought to be able to stop for a snack sometime. Boatmen, Preach and I have run this last section but the water level was a lot different. Try to stay river left of centerline in the next rapids, but be alert for debris in the water when we pass the creek. Dad said it flashed bad and there have been vehicles pushed out into the river when this happened in the past. There are some rapids down the river, but they’re moderate. Keep spaced out, and Preach or I will take point since we went down this turkey before. We’re not going to make any stops, except maybe for a potty break, although if we beat the S-rigs to Separation Canyon we may stop there. We’ll have to see. Any questions?”
In a couple of minutes the rafts were under way again, pulling toward the center of the river. It was good that Crystal had told everyone to be alert for debris, because as they got close they could see some of the roof of what looked like a full-sized van barely above water part of the way out in the stream. At least everyone managed to miss it.
From there on it was new country to everyone but Crystal and Preach. There were some interesting places to stop that had been explored on the winter trip, but given the circumstances, they didn’t have time to stop. Crystal didn’t think Jerry would forget the instructions to stop and pick up the stranded Canyon Tours trip, but she wanted to be on the river just in case so it would be easier to flag down the GCR S-rigs.
They didn’t quite make it to Separation Canyon before they heard outboard motors approaching behind them, and soon two GCR S-rigs pulled into view. While GCR ran some trips on an eight-day tour clear down to South Cove from Lee’s Ferry, most of their runs were a four or five-day trip to the helicopter pad at Whitmore Landing, then finished without customers down to South Cove. Crystal could see that this was one of those, for they had the side tubes deflated and rolled up on the decks of the big rafts so they could run faster. Best of all she could see Jerry’s big Stetson on the head of the guy running the lead raft.
The rafts were less stable that way, and there had been accidents when the motor rig boatmen weren’t paying attention. A couple of years before another company had rolled an S-rig running without side tubes when the second one hit them through inattention, and from the stories told in the Burro, it had been a heck of a mess. It took the aid of a couple of other motor rig parties to get everything back upright.
Crystal was relieved to hear the motors backed off to an idle, and one of the S-rigs sidled up alongside her raft. “Hi, Crystal,” Jerry called. “Fancy meeting you here! Need a tow?”
“We saw that mess up at Diamond Creek and thought you might,” Jerry replied. “I called in on our satphone and Marty said to look for you.”
“Good, everything worked,” Crystal said in relief. “That was one of those deals where we didn’t know for sure.”
The down side to the deal was that nobody in the party had ever tried towing a group of oar rafts with an S-rig before, and there was some messing around to figure out how to do it. They decided to try towing three rafts in line astern behind one of the rigs, and two behind the other. It seemed to work adequately as long as there wasn’t a lot of wind, which there wasn’t at the moment.
It was a long, slow trip down the rest of the river and across Lake Mead. The S-rigs weren’t very fast at the best of times, and they were made even slower by towing the oar boats, but by then they were glad to have the horsepower. In theory, they could have rowed the oar rafts clear out to South Cove, but it was sixty miles below Separation Rapid, and the flow of the river died out soon after in the backwaters of Lake Mead. It would have taken days, even if they hadn’t had wind to fight.
The good part was that there wasn’t much wind as they watched the barren shores of Lake Mead slowly crawl past. The lake level was way down, to the point where some of the last rapids on the river had started to reappear, and there was an ugly white ring around the shores of the lake to show how high the water had once been. While there had been thunderstorms predicted, and they could see some in the distance, just by pure luck they didn’t tangle with any; that would not have been fun in the condition they were in.
Even though they changed off the last raft between the S-rigs a couple of times, the motor rigs were just about out of gas when they finally pulled into South Cove. It was well after dark as Crystal had predicted, and several hours past when the GCR crew had been expected in. The motor rigs were big enough that they had to be loaded on semi-trailers. Even at that they managed to be loaded before the Canyon Tours group could have everything unloaded and packed up on the trailer, bus, and pickup Al had brought, along with a couple of extra hands and the customers pitching in.
It was another long haul back to Flagstaff, and by now it was getting to be very late. Jeff was looking very tired, so Preach offered to drive the bus for him. Jeff was glad to take him up on it, even if it wasn’t exactly legal for Preach to do it. They finally pulled into the Canyon Tours office about two in the morning, and the only reason most of the team was awake was that they’d slept at least part of the way back on the bus.
“OK, folks,” Al said as people staggered off the bus half-awake. “I know the normal procedure is to clean gear and stuff when we get in, but screw it for tonight. I hate to have to take part of a day off away from you people, but let’s grab some sleep and get started on it about nine in the morning. I’ll see if I can get some extra hands here to pitch in, and there’ll be something extra in your pay envelopes to make up for losing part of a day off. You done good, people. Thanks for hanging in there.”
That was about all it took to get everyone out of there; Crystal, Preach, and Angie headed for the Girls’ House. A nice long hot shower would have been welcome but the house didn’t have a big water heater, so they could only have quick ones. That may have been just as well as they were so tired they could have fallen asleep in the shower.
All three of them were experienced boatmen and used to cracking their lids well before sunrise, so they really didn’t sleep in long. They got in Preach’s car and went out to get breakfast at an all-night place near the highway interchange since it was much too early for the Burro to be open. After breakfast they went on down to the office, where they found Al, Karin, Kevin, Nanci, and Jeff already waiting, not to their surprise. They weren’t the only ones used to getting up early, it seemed.
“Boy, you guys don’t know when to quit, do you?” Al said as he handed each of them a large takeout coffee that he’d brought with him.
“Has to be done,” Crystal yawned. “But we get this done, I’m heading back and taking a nice long nap. I sure remember the days when Scooter and I used to go to a motel out on the Interstate and try to run their hot water heater cold. Never managed it, though, although we sure tried hard enough.”
“So now that it’s over what did you think of that deal yesterday?”
“Actually, it worked just about the way it was supposed to,” Crystal said. “We were just lucky that there was a GCR trip coming by yesterday, though. We didn’t have enough spare food if we had to wait it out another day or two.”
“Good thought. Maybe there’s some kind of hard ration we could get, maybe like Army MREs, that we could just have stashed on the rafts in case we needed them.”
“Those are supposed to be kind of crappy, but they might work. Maybe we could just use some freeze-dry, but a little reserve food is something we need to think about.”
“Jerry said the gas on the motor rigs was getting real low before we got in,” she replied. “He said he didn’t think they could have made it if they’d had to buck a headwind. We talked about it a bit, and he said that if the gas got real low they’d leave us with one motor rig on some beach somewhere and take the other one with what was left of the gas from both rigs to go get more. But in the end he thought we could get away with it, and we did.”
“Maybe I ought to suggest to Marty that they carry an extra few gallons in case this happens again.”
“I’ll bet Jerry has already done that. You know, we lost a pretty good hand there when he decided he had to go to motor rigs so he could be at home more.”
“Yeah, no fooling, but it was his decision,” Al agreed. “He’d have been a trip leader by now instead of Duane. Of course, he’s a trip leader now for GCR, and he still runs in the spring and fall with us a lot anyway. So how was the trip otherwise, besides hot?”
“Mostly hot,” Crystal sighed. “I sure thought about our winter trip a lot.”
“Yeah, there are times when that air conditioning gets to feeling pretty good. I suppose we’d better go out and get going on it before it gets too hot. The others should be along shortly.”
“Yeah, I guess,” Crystal sighed. “The sooner we get it done, the sooner my head can find a pillow.”
“Uh, Preach,” Jeff spoke up. “I need to talk to you for a minute. I would have talked to you about this last night, but I thought that with all the hassles it wasn’t a good time to do it. I need a little favor from you.”
“Sure, Jeff. What is it?”
“Look, I guess you know Marjorie and I go to the Flagstaff John Wesley Fellowship over across town, don’t you?”
“Yeah, I guess I knew that.”
“Look, we’ve been without a pastor for a while. We’ve been getting along on supply pastors and lay speakers, but we just can’t bring in a new pastor for what we can afford to pay one right now. We’re kind of stuck for someone for this Sunday, and I, well, the suggestion was made that I ask you to fill in. I mean, I know it’s a tough time with the short weekend, but I’ve heard you speak.”
“I don’t want to say no, Jeff,” Preach sighed. “But I’ll tell you right now, I’m not up for being your regular pastor, and that’s final right there.”
“I ain’t asking you to be a regular pastor, I’m asking you to fill in on a Sunday when we’re stuck,” he replied. “The way things are going I might have to ask you do it again, but I’ll try to not make it too often.”
“Well, on that basis, I guess I can’t turn you down,” Preach said hesitantly. “You just have to remember, I’m not a Wesleyan, but a Baptist.”
“Right at the moment nobody is likely to get picky. And while the name sort of says we’re Wesleyan, we don’t have any formal connections with them. We’re independent, and have been for years. Actually, we’re pretty close to being Methodists, but we like having our own group. I know you hang out around the Methodist Church some.”
“Well, if you can live with it I guess I can,” Preach shrugged. “Look, part of the deal on this for me is that I don’t want to be paid. It isn’t going to cost me much for gas to get over there.”
“I know they pay the supply pastors a little, but I’m sure the gal who writes the checks will be glad to hear that.”
“She probably will,” Preach grinned. “But from my viewpoint, I don’t want any money since I don’t want to feel like I’m committed to doing something anymore than one day at a time. You know how much I’m not going to be around, even after tripping season ends. But I guess I’m willing to help out on that basis if you are.”
“Good. I’ll call them up in a few minutes and let them know we’re covered for Sunday. Next week is next week, and we’ll see what happens when we get there.”
The group broke up and went out to the shop to start working on the rafts and gear to get them ready for the next launch, which was all too soon. Crystal, Preach, and Nanci reasoned that since they were going to have extra help they might as well get started on getting the groceries, since they’d normally be doing it that afternoon. They got in Al’s pickup and headed for the supermarket.
On the way, Crystal spoke up. “Look, Preach,” she said. “I know you’ve talked about not wanting to have a church, and it almost sounds like this is the first step down that road. I’m not so sure it’s a good idea.”
“If it’s just an occasional thing on a spot basis, I suppose it won’t matter,” he shrugged. “I really don’t think I want to get involved in it as a regular thing, but Jeff is a good guy and he’s helped us a lot. Think of it as a favor being returned.”
“Yeah, I know,” Crystal sighed. “But what with everything else, things are complicated enough as they are. I don’t think I want to have any more complications if we can avoid them.”