The lodge is empty. Eight cabins and various other buildings sprawl around a grassy lawn, the centermost a 4,500-square-foot, two-story log cabin beside a marble-lined swimming pool and hot tub. We wander the grounds like spacemen in our bulky yellow drysuits, lifejackets, and helmets, looking for a sign of life. A herd of deer grazing on the lawn scampers off. The thermometer hanging in the pool registers 98 degrees; The tub’s reads 102. Finally, a woman emerges from one of the buildings and says they expected us the night before. Drew steps forward and tentatively asks whether she knows about our arrangements. She says she has no idea, she’s just the cook, but will be happy to show us to the cabins. Each has a view of the river and a reading chair on the porch. The showers are marble-lined, too, and the twin sinks are festooned with three-ounce bottles of soap and lotion. Terry-cloth robes hang behind the bathroom doors.
“Will four cabins be enough?” she asks. We look at each other and, unable to withstand the temptation any longer, plunge into the cabins and peel off our polypro. After a long soak in the tub, we file into the main ranch house for dinner and meet the two ranch hands, Buck and Travis. They’re so stereotypically cowboy it feels like a put-on. If our unusual mission surprises them, they don’t let on and don’t say much unless pressed. “Me and town don’t get along,” says Buck, looking into his food when we ask him how often he leaves the ranch. Over grilled pork loin, they talk about the hunting operation they run at the ranch—shooting elk, deer, and cougar—for which they keep a dozen tethered hounds. “You won’t see a bear until May,” says Buck, to Drew’s disappointment. Buck has checked the computer and says the weather is supposed to improve. He’s also received an e-mail from the ranch foreman. Our stay is free after all. I push my chair back from the table to get seconds on the lemon spice cake and wonder, for Drew, what the opposite of drinking a boot is.