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Down By the Riverside book cover

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

Part III: Havasu Creek

Chapter 27
Wednesday, September 3, 2003

Five days after exchanging Al for Nanci at Bright Angel, the White Team was camped a little farther down the river than they would have been on a normal trip. A number of customers had indicated more than usual interest in hiking on this trip, and even before they picked up Al it had been decided to try to work things around for the opportunity to take a long hike up Havasu Canyon. Since the torrid heat of the year had dialed back a little this was a good trip to try to do it.

Crystal had decided to use the same tactics that had worked well a couple of times in the past, that of camping the night before as near to the mouth of Havasu Creek as she could manage. They would then send a couple of rafts ahead with the hikers as soon as there was light enough to see where they were going. The rest of the party would follow along and poke around in the lower section of the Canyon for a couple of hours while a raft or two went on ahead to nail down a campsite as early as possible.

She wanted to make the hike herself; she’d been up Havasu Canyon as far as Mooney Falls a few years earlier, but it had been a rushed hike and she’d felt she hadn’t had time to absorb some of the spectacular scenery on the way. This time she wanted to push the river part of the trick enough that the hikers could get far up the creek again with a little more time to look around than she had managed in the past.

It had originally been planned that Nanci wouldn’t be on this trip at all, but when they came off the previous trip it proved that Al was having his normal trouble finding boatmen to crew the rafts. He asked Nanci if she could make a half-trip down to Phantom Ranch. It would solve a big problem for him to have that position filled even for a week. She had agreed readily, even though it would mean the loss of a week of getting ready for her return to Black Mesa College. Besides, she said, the extra pay she’d get for the half-trip would be welcome when she went to buy books and clothes, even if she had to do it in a rush.

When they’d started out from Lee’s Ferry they had no idea who would be replacing Nanci on the trip since Al was still juggling things around. Getting boatmen into rafts was always a hassle at this time of year since so many of them were heading back to college, and it was no different this year. At least the only boatman the White Team lost on the changeover this year was Nanci; Crystal could remember times when almost the whole group was new when they went into the fall trips.

She knew the situation was complicated this year since Duane and Michelle, the Gold Team leaders, were going to be heading back east to go on to their winter jobs of training racing sled dogs as soon as their trip was off the water. They were especially interested in doing it this winter, since if everything else worked out – and it hadn’t been finalized the last anyone knew – Duane would be running the Iditarod, the thousand-mile dogsled race across Alaska, next March. That held the possibility of making some good stories to be told around the Gold Team’s river campfires next summer, and Crystal was just a little sorry that she probably wouldn’t be hearing them.

So it wasn’t terribly surprising to see Al himself sitting up under a tamarisk tree on the Boatman’s Beach when they’d floated around the bend back on Saturday. He and Karin were the most reliable fallback boatmen Canyon Tours had, and they were frequently penciled into the spring and fall trips, occasionally together but not very often. From what he said this would only be for this trip, since it looked like Jerry Palmer would be back with them for the rest of the season, big white Stetson and all. Crystal still felt like she owed him a beer or two for picking them up and towing them into South Cove earlier in the summer after the road up Diamond Creek Wash had washed out.

It had been hard to see Nanci sling on the daypack and start up the Bright Angel Trail toward the rim. She’d been a solid rafter for them all summer; not the strongest one at the sticks, but careful and crafty when running big water. She was almost always cheerful and upbeat, and was a huge inspiration on the Christian trips. Crystal and the rest of the White Team knew that she’d almost rather have stayed on the river with them, but her college career was important to her too, so it was with real sadness that she had to leave them behind. As far as Crystal knew, she was sitting in a classroom at Black Mesa today, a junior now.

Even after three years, there were times that Crystal couldn’t quite believe the change that had come over Nanci since she’d first shown up in Flagstaff, and the fact that she was considering becoming a minister and studying in that direction still seemed unbelievable at times. Even though Crystal had been sitting there when the idea came up, she still couldn’t quite make herself believe that Nanci would be preaching at the Flagstaff John Wesley Fellowship in another week and a half. To sit around a campfire or over a cup of coffee and discuss it was one thing, but she knew that seeing her sister in a pulpit leading a service was going to put a pretty big strain on Crystal believing she wasn’t out in la-la land somewhere.

But apparently it was going to happen – at least that had been the news that came down from the rim with Al. Jeff had been absolutely delighted when the idea came up, especially since he knew Nanci and had been impressed by her. It had been decided to have her do the service on a Sunday when the White Team could be present to give her support and actually see it happen. Al had told them that even Jon and Tanisha planned on coming up from Phoenix to be there, even though Tanisha would be eight months pregnant with her second child.

Crystal knew it was good to have her father with them on this trip, even if for no more reason than there would be stories told around the campfire that none of the White Team had heard before. Although the usual stories were new to the customers, most of the members of the team had heard much the same thing over and over, and not just this summer. In thirty-five years on the river Al had picked up a good many that were well on their way to being legend and had been there for or even involved in some of them.

It was also a good time to sit down and have a good discussion with him about their plans for Crystal, and to a lesser extent, Preach, to take over much of the management of Canyon Tours. While Al intended to keep his fingers on the company for a while longer, he wanted to back out of it a little, winding things down to retirement while he was still young enough to enjoy it. There were a lot of things he and Karin wanted to do, especially in the summer, that were impossible if they had to cope with the day-to-day management of the company.

It was often difficult for the three of them to get off to the side to discuss business while the customers were around. This afternoon was different; they were at a camp were there were several good hikes, and most customers and the boatmen were off exploring, so this was an opportunity they couldn’t pass up.

Since it was still a warm afternoon, they were sitting in the shade of some tamarisk trees with cold soft drinks in their hands. The cold of the river may have been awkward at times, but it was good for keeping drinks relatively cold by dragging them in burlap bags alongside the rafts. It made the conversation go a little easier.

“I hope you don’t have any major plans for the winter,” Al said after working up to it with a discussion of who would be on which of the three remaining teams for the rest of the fall season, “because we have a lot to do, even more than normal.”

“We’ve been talking about making a quick trip to Israel,” Crystal replied, “but that isn’t pinned down yet. It wouldn’t be a long trip though, just a couple of weeks.”

“We wanted to do it last winter,” Preach added, “but we could see the war was brewing, and we didn’t think it would be a good time to be in that part of the world. I haven’t been following the news closely, but from what I’ve seen things have settled down a lot.”

“Well, yeah, they have,” Al agreed. “You sure wouldn’t want to think about being in Iraq, since that’s still a mess you can’t believe, and I can’t help but think we’re not seeing all the bad stuff that’s going on. But you’re probably right that Israel would be safe enough if you were careful. I know you kids have been talking about a long winter trip somewhere, even if it’s to go with Scooter and that crowd down to Costa Rica.”

“It would be nice to do that,” Crystal agreed. “I haven’t seen anything of Scooter and the rest of them this summer, but they sure had some interesting stories when we were all in the Girls’ House together last spring.”

“Yeah, I’ve heard a few of those myself,” Al said. “It sounds like they found a pretty good spot to hole up for the winter, and from everything I’ve heard they plan on doing it again this winter. It’d be nice to go down and join them for a few days, but whether Karin and I do it is still up in the air. We’ve been talking about doing something really different. There’s this island way out in the Pacific called Truk. The Navy bombed the crap out of it back in World War II, and there are a bunch of sunken Japanese ships at easy SCUBA diving depths. Since we’ve gotten into diving and have our cards, we’ve been taking a real hard look at going out there for a couple of weeks. There’s supposed to be some surf on the outer islands, too.”

“It sounds like it would be a real neat trip,” Crystal smiled. “It would sure get you out of Flagstaff for a while in the depths of winter.”

“Well, yeah, it would, and that’s why we’re talking about it. The thing of it is, we’re going to have to work things out so we’re not all gone at the same time. Right around that time of year is the peak season for taking reservations, and while Dan can handle a lot of it, he needs someone around who can make decisions about things that are a little out of the ordinary, like group discounts. That’s something I don’t want him deciding by himself.”

“We ought to be able to rig things around if we get started early enough,” Crystal agreed. “I have to admit that I don’t know much about the reservations system myself. I’ve never had to do much with it.”

“That’s one of the things we need you to learn. Part of the reason for that is that while Dan is a nice guy and he knows a lot about the river, he’s not really an office guy. He was available when we needed an extra set of hands, and I felt I owed him a little when he came down with his brain tumor and couldn’t go on the river any more. Really, it’s worked out about as well as I could expect and then some, but let’s face it, he’d rather be out in the shop messing around with rafts and stuff with Jeff than be looking at a computer screen and talking on the phone.”

“I can’t say as I blame him,” Crystal smiled.

“Well, me either, and I’m not going to worry about it too much. One of the long-range problems we have is that Jeff is slowing down a little more every year and I don’t know how much longer he’s going to be up for doing everything he does now. So sliding Dan in a little at a time to replace him is how I’m looking at solving that problem, and he’d still be able to help out in the office when it’s needed.”

“That makes a lot of sense,” she agreed. “Are we ever going to let him be out on the river again?”

“I don’t know. It’s up to his doctor, but if I had to bet I’d bet against it. In a real pinch we might be able to take a risk and let him run a half-trip, but I don’t think we ought to do it if we don’t have to. He realizes that and isn’t bugging me about it.”

“That’s kind of a shame. He was a pretty good boatman, easy to work with, and a year-round guy, good with the customers.”

“You’re not telling me anything I don’t know, but that’s the way it is. If we can keep him going to the doctor and getting his head examined when he needs it, he may be a big asset to the company for a long time, but I don’t think he’s ever going to be able to do much with management. Anyway, this is getting away from what I wanted to talk about. All the plans for the winter haven’t been firmed up yet and probably won’t be for a while, but it looks like there’s going to be plenty to do for all.”

Crystal shook her head. “I hope we’re not going to get stuck spending most of the winter doing church visits.”

“That hasn’t been settled yet, and it’s one of those things that needs to start getting worked out pretty soon. Preach, your Pastor Jordan has already been on the phone with me about them, and I think I could have you doing them most of the winter if you wanted to.”

“I don’t mind doing some of them, but I’m really not up for doing them all winter, mostly because I’d prefer that Crystal doesn’t tear my throat out.”

“That’s a pretty good reason,” Al grinned. “I can’t blame you, either. So the answer on that is ‘don’t know.’ We’ve had a pretty good response to the program, but only pretty good, if you know what I mean. The church trips have been a good deal and I think we could fill another trip with them each summer without much effort, but I don’t know if we want to go much further with them than we are now. That’s not a decision for next summer, by the way, since that’s already settled, but we need to be figuring out what we’re going to do with them after that.”

Crystal let out a long sigh. “Dad, I don’t know what to tell you about that. With the crew we have now, I think we could do it, but I don’t know if we can keep this crew together that long. You know all the boatmen in the company better than I do, and you told me that Angie was the best you could come up with to replace Larry last spring. Don’t get me wrong, Angie is OK, but given a choice I think she’d just as soon skip them. Mark will probably be able to replace her the year after next, maybe later next summer if we got into a pinch, but he’s still pretty green.”

“Well, that’s one of those issues we’re going to have to think about,” Al agreed. “I want you two thinking about it because we’re going to have to be working on the plans for the year after next pretty soon. But to get on with it, this next winter we’ve also got a list of shows, and I want to do as many as we can. Karin and I will help out on those so it doesn’t all fall on the two of you, and that’s something else we’re going to have to juggle the schedule around on. Some of it runs on into March. There’s a big show in Wisconsin I’ve wanted to get to for years, but we’re usually getting into rigging by then so we’ve had to give it a pass. Add it all up, we’re not going to be twiddling our thumbs this winter, any of us, and I’m glad the two of you can take part of the load so Karin and I can plan on getting away for two or three weeks.”

Crystal glanced over at her husband. They had been talking about being gone quite a bit over the winter – a couple of weeks in Israel, and hopefully a trip of a month or so to Costa Rica with Scooter and that gang. It really sounded like it would be fun and would be with people who had been close friends in the past, but it also sounded like it would be a struggle to take the time with what Al was saying.

“Frankly, Al,” Preach said, “we’d hoped to be able to have a little vacation time, but I guess the company is going to have to come first. If we can work it out to get some vacation, we’d like to do it, but if we can’t, we can’t.”

“Yeah,” Crystal agreed, glad that Preach had been the one to make the statement and break that ice. “In fact, ever since we’ve been married we’ve been talking about wanting to take a big trip somewhere down in the Southern Hemisphere, something that might take a couple of months, or maybe even more. I mean, sort of like I used to do when I was running around in the winters with Scooter and Michelle back before Preach and I got together. I mean, it’s not a got-to thing, but it might be our last chance to do it, too.”

“Especially if we’re going to be more involved in running the company,” Preach added. “I don’t want to say it’s our last chance, but the last chance is coming pretty quickly.”

“I can understand that,” Al nodded. “I used to really envy the way Crystal, Scooter, and Michelle ran around in the winter and it’s nice that Scooter and them can still do it, but they don’t have the responsibilities in the winter you kids are taking on. For that matter, Karin and I want to do some of that too, and that’s what the trip to Truk is all about. Just as a suggestion, why don’t we plan on you hitting it pretty heavy this winter while you’re learning some of the stuff that needs to be done? Karin and I can do some running around. Maybe another winter, especially if we decide to dial back the church visits, Karin and I can do most of the shows and the winter work while you kids plan on having your big trip.”

Again Crystal glanced at Preach, who nodded slightly. Apparently he agreed with her: either Israel or a long stay in Costa Rica was as dead as a doornail, at least for this winter. Another winter, who knew?

“It probably ought to work,” Crystal said after a moment’s thought. “It would give us a chance to stash away some cash for the big trip. I still would like to be able to get away for a couple weeks if we can manage it.”

“No reason you shouldn’t,” Al agreed. “We’ll have to work out the dates and stuff and we can’t do that here. Let’s take a swing at it after we get off this trip and then iron everything flat right after the season wraps up.”

“It sounds like the logical thing to do,” Crystal agreed. “So do you have anything else we need to be thinking about as soon as the season is over?”

“Oh, lots. I haven’t even scratched the surface. You remember last winter when I was talking how we needed to think about developing some more trip leaders? I still think we need to, and now it’s even more so than ever.”

“Why is that, Dad? Nobody’s pregnant, are they?”

“Not that I know of, but like I said back then, it could happen at any time,” he shrugged. “And there are some other factors involved. One of them is that you might as well get used to the fact that you’re going to have to miss some trips and stay topside next summer, since there are things you need to be learning up there.”

Crystal shook her head, but stayed silent. It had been clear that this day was going to come for a long time, but now here it was and it wasn’t any more palatable than she had expected. “Yeah, I guess,” she said slowly. “I hate to say it, but it’s part of the deal, isn’t it?”

“Yeah, it is,” he agreed. “Hey, I don’t like staying topside and dealing with business either, but it has to be done. But at least next year I think we can rig the schedule around to phase you into it slowly. I really haven’t worked on the schedule for next summer, which is another issue entirely, but right at the moment I figure you ought to be able to run the spring and fall trips along with the church trips, which is five total. Preach, I’m figuring on you leading the other four. Don’t ask me about boatmen for those four trips because I haven’t gotten that far in my thinking yet, but we ought to be able to come up with someone. There might be such a thing that we turn Mark loose with a gear boat on those trips, or something else.”

“I don’t know,” Preach said. “I’d have to think about it. Like we were talking a few minutes ago, he’s still pretty green.”

“We don’t have to make up our minds right away, and there are other things we could do. Crystal, I know you’re not crazy about the idea of staying topside but you might as well get used to it. It’s not all bad. One of the things we need to work you into doing is to ride with some of the other teams for a half trip every now and then. I try to do it but the last couple summers it hasn’t worked out very well. There are useful things you can learn from them, besides evaluating some of our other people.”

“I don’t mind that part of it,” Crystal said. “I’ve always wanted to run a trip with Mary and Dave, but I never have. I’ve heard stories about them and I know they do things a little differently.”

“Yeah, they do, and while it seems to work for them it might not for anyone else. Face it, Crystal, you’re moving on into a different level and things aren’t going to be the same.”

“I suppose you’re right,” she sighed. “I sure am going to miss being on trips with Preach, though.”

“It ain’t easy. I learned that with Louise a long time ago, hell, almost thirty years ago. But it has to be done if you’re going to be running this outfit in a few years, and honestly, while it ain’t all good, it ain’t all bad, either.”

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To be continued . . .

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