When the road turned into gravel, I gunned it. The rafting outfitters maintained it because it led to the Cheat Canyon take-out. After a half-mile, most of this spring’s gravel got washed out, replaced again by pocked bedrock and mud.
Alex didn’t say anything until I pulled up to the old Jenkinsburg Bridge. This was much higher than the bridge over the Big Sandy. The old steel trestle spanned the V-shaped Cheat Canyon quite dramatically. Big pines buttressed each end and a rocky rapid flowed below. Occasional rock outcroppings punctuated the steep, green slopes.
"Are we crossing?"
"That was the plan," I said. "You said you wanted a plan, right?"
"This one doesn’t look as sturdy." She sank toward the center of the Jeep and got real low in the seat.
She was right. The planks hadn’t seen anything other than foot traffic in years.
I said, "You never heard that you shouldn't look down if you're afraid of heights?"
She just stared silently at the river, some eighty feet below.
"Alex," I said. "There’s no other way." I let the Jeep creep forward instead of waiting for her approval.
After a pause she tried to negotiate. "Just go slowly, okay?"
I pushed the clutch in and said, "I was thinking faster is better. That way our momentum is forward instead of... You know." I pointed down to the river.
"Can I walk?" She asked.
"Alex..." I said, drifting toward the bridge. The sound of trucks coming down the take-out road made my decision for me.
"No time." I put the Jeep in gear and let out the clutch. "When I get to the other side I want you to drive up the hill a ways. Then that’ll be it. I promise."