Q: How do I know I won’t feel intimidated by all those gathered intellectuals?
Clay: Most of the people who come to these retreats are Jefferson Hour listeners. The group conversations are informal, entertaining, playful, and serious without being pretentious. One of the things I do is pass out a “Conversation Bill of Rights” during the evening orientation. It specifies the “rules of engagement,” so that people listen carefully to each other, avoid trying to dominate, avoid showing off, etc. I like to keep the tone very informal. In 95% of the retreats I have hosted, everyone speaks.
Q: Do I really have to read all the books?
Clay: Well, there are no pop quizzes! Of course, I hope you will read everything and come eager to discuss these books. The more you read in advance the better you will enjoy the retreat. Most participants read everything or nearly so. Some read the bulk of it. A few (you know who you are!) read a bit. It’s like everything else: the more you give to it the more you will get from it.
Q: Are there any assignments?
Clay: Yes, Read the books! I often urge people to write poems, or paragraphs that they may or may not share with the rest of us. A couple of times per day I urge everyone to think about some idea or question or to reread a passage from one of the books during the down time. But once you are there, you are unlikely to be asked to do anything but take part in the discussions.
Q: Are there any security issues in staying in cabins?
Clay: None. It’s perfectly safe. The cabins are fairly closely clustered. We’ve never had an incident of any sort. The doors lock as they would in your house.
Q: How cold does it get?
Clay: Not cold. I’m from North Dakota. We know cold. I’m always so pleasantly surprised by how temperate it is at Lochsa Lodge. It often snows while we are there, but I don’t recall ever being their when there was wind or seriously cold. It feels like a winter paradise.
Q: Should I bring winter gear?
Clay: Yes, you should have gloves or mittens, a parka, a stocking cap, perhaps a scarf, and boots. Don’t rush to REI to get all sorts of new gear. We don’t spend that much time outdoors. But you will want to stay warm, especially if you are from a warm climate. Anyone from the Midwest will find it balmy. We will supply hiking sticks, and if you want to snowshoe, we have gear.
Q: How much time do we spend outdoors?
Clay: Well, you have to walk a short distance between your cabin and the lodge where all the activity is. On the first afternoon we walk about ¾ of a mile (one way) to visit an important Lewis and Clark site. We walk on a graded road, but it can sometimes be a bit icy. We often go to a hot springs during the course of the retreat. It’s entirely optional, of course, but people love it. From the parking lot on US12 we hike about ¾ of a mile to the hot pools. There is plenty of free time during the retreat. Some people hike every day or run. Others just relax in their cabins or in the lodge or in the bar. So, you can spend a good deal of time outdoors while you are there, or a relatively modest amount.
Q: What’s the rhythm of each day?
Clay: We like to be casual. We gather about 9:30 a.m. in the lodge. We talk until noon or 12:30 with a break in the middle. Then we eat. Afterwards we usually have some rest time. We talk for two or three more hours in the afternoon. Then people tend to regroup in their cabins or get a glass of wine. After dinner we sometimes watch a film (if there is a pertinent one), or we gather around a huge fire pit out overlooking the Lochsa River. It’s winter, but its magical. Sometimes I tell a story or two around the fire.
Q: Is there Internet at Lochsa Lodge?
Clay: Yes and mostly no. If you sit in the corner of the bar you may get Internet. You should really plan not to be online for the four days you are there. You can make calls out from the lodge phone if necessary. Most people are able to get online a couple of times during their time at the lodge, but you cannot absolutely count on it.
Q: Where is the nearest store?
Clay: Missoula. Once you get to Lochsa Lodge, you are really quite “off the grid” for a few days. If necessary, we can get you to Missoula. But this has in fact never happened. There is a limited lodge store with soda, beer, lip gloss, shampoo, etc., but it has a kind of retro feel.
Q: Can the lodge handle my unique dietary regimen?
Clay: Of course. Just let us know well in advance. We’ve had vegetarians, vegans, gluten-free, paleo, you name it. Andrea and the Lochsa staff can accommodate whatever your particular needs are, but after you get to Missoula it will be too late to let us know.
Q: How do the meals work?
Clay: Order breakfasts off the menu, just charge to Jefferson Hour Tours. Same with lunch. The evening meals are set meals (so make sure we know your dietary restrictions): beef, chicken, pork, potatoes, vegetables, bread, corn bread, that sort of thing. Hearty. We eat at a large rectangular table family style. There is always a great plenty of food.
Q: What about alcohol?
Clay: We serve wine with the meals. The rest of your drinks you should charge to yourselves. Most people bring their own bottles of hard liquor, and some bring wine for after hours. But nobody ever feels they have not had enough access to alcohol.
Q: Do the cabins have central heat?
Clay: It varies. Most do. Some have wood stoves that you feed a couple of times per day. Make sure you let us know what your preferences are. Some people like to rough it a bit. Others seek the usual comforts.
Q: What about bathrooms?
Clay: Virtually all the cabins have full bathrooms.
Q: Is Clay there the whole time?
Clay: Yes. Alpha to Omega. There is no respite, no relief! One of my favorites once said, “That’s a lot of Clay.”
Q: How do I know I will enjoy this?
Clay: Think of it as the book club you have always wished existed. If you enjoy the Thomas Jefferson Hour and my approach to ideas, history, and literature, you are likely to enjoy this. We do a good deal of laughing. Friendships spring up at these retreats. Many people have come again and again. There is no source of tension. We have most of Lochsa Lodge to ourselves, though some locals come in to dine and some hunters usually come.