When we returned to earth, we watched the pilot lift his bird back up into the deep turquoise of the fathomless Colorado sky. Turning to more mundane tasks, we drove the rig back through the arid, dusty heat of the afternoon; there were a few more things to attend to that day. The sun was starting to slant across Sunnyside Plateau, the broad bench from which the Mesa arises. The dirt is sandy and red, and the sloping light burns everything a rich and brilliant red-orange. The beauty of this eases the transition from airborne to earthbound, and I feel myself settling peacefully back onto my foundations - but not completely, because the sky has taken root somewhere inside me. I do not know it then, but it will never completely let go. I'll love small-aircraft flying forever.
But that day, we finished up some errands that had to be done, in preparation for us to go to Rifle District in the morning. Maggie had some confabulation set up with one of her mentors in the DOW, so accordingly the next day I drove us to Rifle. I cooled my heels while Maggie took care of project business, and then we turned tail back to Plateau Creek.
The town of Plateau Creek has one main street upon which stand maybe 20 or so storefronts. There is one grocery store, a post office, two diners, a bar. The only pizza to be found in town is at the bar, and that night we opt to go in for a pie and a beer; for the next several days we'll be on the mountain, and our diet will be limited to more durable (but less enjoyable) camp fare.
Unsurprisingly, the Northern Geo crew have located the one and only bar in town, and have descended upon it like a plague of locusts. Also unsurprising is their delight at seeing Maggie and I turn up in the bar. There are, after all, at least a dozen men in the bar, and only two women - and that'd be us. That fact alone was enough to guarantee us a certain amount of courtliness and interest, but here I must mention that Maggie is absolutely beautiful. Black Irish, her hair is lush and glossy as sable and her eyes are the rich deep color of coffee beans. She has perfect white teeth, a beautiful profile, and actress-worthy looks. She smiles readily, is pleasant and upbeat, and is always willing to laugh at a joke. Even when she is not one of only two women in a roomful of men, they still cluster around her admiringly.
Accordingly, we have no sooner placed our pizza order and had the bartender draw us a couple of drafts than we are surrounded by lonesome NG crewmen. I am not the man-magnet that Maggie is -and I'm more introverted, to boot - so she takes this better in her stride than I do, chit-chatting and introducing us around. I'm no more than halfway through my beer when another round magically appears in front of us. Um. Okay, then. Thanks. Oh, and there's another round, fancy that.
By the time I'm on my second slice of pizza, I have three beers sitting in front of me, courtesy of the NG crew, who are all WAY better drinkers than I am - and very attentive lest Maggie and I perish of thirst. Hm. No demur seems effective; all the Northern Geo guys wave off my observation that I have more beer in front of me than I can manage to drink before next Friday. It's rather dear, really, their generosity, and I can't bring myself to step on their generous and attentive toes. Accordingly I get up every so often with my beer in hand, go up the the bartender for a quick chat, and allow him to discreetly pour it down the channel. Then I go back to the table, pick up the next mug for a sip, and repeat until done.
Before long our pack of admirers is either bored or getting bolder with the beer lubricating them. They invite me to play pool - at which I suck, by the way - and they look so hopeful and forlorn that I agree. They helpfully coach me - often two or three of them offering conflicting advice at the same time - and though I don't improve my billiards skills, I do rather enjoy their puppyishness.
Several of them try to recruit me to join their crew. I point out that I'm much smaller than any of them, and unlikely to be able to hump chain and cable up a mountain all day long.
"You look strong," one of them tells me, eyeing my deltoids.
"Thanks," I tell him, "but I'd bet money any one of you can hike me into the dirt in no time."
"We'd help you," says another hopefully. While I am reflecting that this might defeat the purpose of hiring me in the first place, another one pipes up.
"It's really good money," he says, in coaxing tones. I can't help it. I smile at them. They all smile back, brightening like a gang of 10-year-olds offered ice cream.
"I really can't," I tell them. "Maggie can't get back into the field without me. She can't drive the rig til the splint comes off."
They all look over at Maggie, who has graduated from her hot-pink cast into a flesh-colored splint - but who still has the seal-flipper effect going on. They look slightly crestfallen, but nod judiciously. This they understand. They don't believe that, even recently off the track, with my mini-linebacker shoulders, I am not half as strong as them; and they don't get it that I can't keep up with the slowest of them on the trail, especially hauling heavy lines uphill over my shoulders - but they understand helping a friend.
One of them - called Skip by his pals - wants to dance. Our Skip is a little tipsy - by which I mean fairly drunk - and is so lovelorn (no so much for me, but for any female companionship) that I can't refuse him. It would be like swatting a puppy. So he trots over and feeds the jukebox, and I try to swing dance with him. I say "try" because Skip's balance has gone the way of the buffalo (along about his 6th beer, I'd guess) and I'm having to help him keep his feet. Skip is the smallest of the crew, but he's wiry-tough, and surprisingly heavy when he steps back and his weight tugs at my grip. His arms may be leanly knotted with muscle, but they are limp as linguini, and after one particularly enthusiastic move Skip's fingers jerk right out of my grasp and down he goes. Oops.
His buddies gather around him and ask if he's okay, helping him to his feet. He went down like a plank and I'm pretty sure I heard his head hit the floor, but he assures us manfully that he's just fine. He wobbles over to take my hands again, but yields to one of his buddies at the next song, and seems content to sit with a beer and smile sleepily at me thereafter.
Meanwhile Maggie is deep in conversation with the crew boss. I glance over and see the topographical map spread out on the table in front of them, their heads bent close together over it. I wonder what she is up to, but I am still surrounded by NG crew, so there's no chance to go look.
It goes on like this, in a pleasantly exasperating sort of way, until I am ready to curl up under a table and sleep. Maggie folds up her topo map with a satisfied air. I remind her it's after 11:00 and we have to hit the mesa in the morning, and we bail out of the bar, our admirers calling goodnights as we make our escape.
"What were you up to with the crew boss?" I ask her.
"He said they could move our cubies for us," she says. "I marked where I want them to put them. That way we can hike out to water instead of carrying a whole day of it with us."
Hmm. Well, that's nice. Water is necessary, especially up on the arid mesa, but it's heavy. Being able to hike for an hour or two, refill water, hike out to the spotting point, and then reverse the process after sheep scoping, is a happy thought. The cubies are five-gallon bladders of water, enclosed in a heavy cardboard cube, and having them placed strategically in our main hiking paths is a dandy idea. I'm not sure how much of the crew chief's cooperation is based on general make-nice PR, and how much is due to the influence of Maggie's thick shiny hair and pert sun-kissed nose, but either way, it's a nice offer. And they do a nice job if it, too, those Northern Geo guys; they place the cubies exactly where marked, always under the shade of a tree and flagged on two sides to make finding them a snap. In the end we lose two of them: One was placed on the ridge where designated, but Maggie didn't notice that her X marked a spot on the far side of a deep, narrow ravine. The other fell prey to a thirsty bear. Based on the claw marks scored deep into the heavy cardboard sides, it appears that the bear tore off the screw-top lid and then simply grabbed the 5-gallon box and tilted it up to drink the contents. Still, the remaining cubies bailed us out of carrying many a quart along the way, and for that we were grateful.
Next up: Battlement Base Camp.