At this, I felt three adults and my older son's eyes all turn on me. No one would say a word, I knew; it was my call. I was glad his mother wasn't around, and hoped this would be funny by the
time she heard of it. "It should take you about three hours. Dunk your t-shirt in the river if you get too hot", I finished.
Matt climbed into the boat, still crying, and began searching for his tennis shoes, throwing things around, but gently. He changed into his shoes, I handed him a Pepsi, and I carried him to the bank. He struggled through the brush, an invisible, moving noise, and appeared on the tracks above us. Looking at his feet, he started upstream, still crying. "See you in three hours, " I called.
When Matt was out of sight, I finally faced the rest of the group. "We would have waited", Larry, my brother-in-law said. Bob, the oldest, and a grandfather several times over, said little but was visibly hurting. Don, who had never married and thus no kids, was the more shaken. I was the youngest adult by ten years, but the leader of this expedition. "No", I said, "it would be ridiculous for the five of us to sit here and swelter for two hours, lose the campsite, and nearly a whole day's fishing. Matt forgot it, and he can get it. It's going to hurt, but there's no way he can get into trouble out here." And before I could change my mind, I raised the anchor and pushed off the bar.
At nine o'clock in mid-July, it was hot, too hot in the boat to keep your waders up. The desert sun would be burning in another hour, and the canyon would be baking by afternoon, easily over 100 degrees. Walking the tracks on a hot day, I knew, was a special kind of hell; sweltering, unshaded exposure as you stepped from off-stride tie to tie, the tracks freezing you in place with their unchanging parallel convergence seeing where you would be in a half hour, without apparent
progress. And the river, with it's green shade and cool, moist air, trapped only thirty feet below, lifted up now and then by a tantalizing zephyr. Matt might find a bisected and dehydrated
rattlesnake or two, but that would be the sum total of his experience on the track that day.
We fished on down the river. I subconsciously lingered, slowing our progress so badly that when we finally pulled in, the bower campsite was already taken. We had to settle for the sandy,
exposed, and unshaded campsite just below. Hot and dusty, back too far from the river to get the river air, it's only feature, a distinct negative in a sizzling mid-day sun, was a wide open view of the canyon. At least we could see the tracks for about a quarter mile upriver. Under normal
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