2019 Salmon River Writing Workshop

The Human Wilderness Experience

hosted by Brendan Leonard, author of Sixty Meters to Anywhere and creator of Semi-Rad.com

23 – 28 JUNE 2019  /  MAIN SALMON RIVER  /  IDAHO

An intensive workshop in making compelling stories with humor, adventure, and ingenuity

Brendan Leonard, adventure writer and master of unconventional / modern literary arts, will lead this unique writing workshop on the Main Salmon River, through the heart of the rugged Idaho wilderness.

Dubbed “The River of No Return” by early explorers, the Salmon is a stunningly pristine, free-flowing, federally designated Wild & Scenic waterway; the Frank Church is the largest contiguous swath of wilderness in the continental United States. This 90-mile wilderness trip boasts big sandy beaches, exciting rapids, charismatic bighorn sheep, Native American pictographs, and natural hot springs.

Leonard will share lessons from his post-college “education,” starting at small weekly newspapers (before Facebook, even!); the uncertain process of making a living as a full-time adventure writer, including how he grew his blog from zero readers to more than half a million readers per year; and how creatives can use traditional publishing, self-publishing, and social media to make a living in a dynamic media environment.

Brendan Leonard graduated from the University of Montana’s graduate school of Journalism in 2004, and has spent a decade and a half learning how to tell stories his own way in diverse channels. He’s written nine books, produced and directed several award-winning adventure films, and written for dozens of magazines. More than 3 million people have read his blogs on Semi-Rad.com since 2011, and more than 50,000 people see his cartoons every week on Instagram. He’s a columnist for Outside Magazine, and his writing has appeared in Runner’s World, Climbing, Alpinist, CNN.com, Men’s Journal, Backpacker, Adventure Journal, among dozens of other publications.

Is this program for you? (We sure think it is.)

  • Do you like to write?
  • Do you dream of creative adventures through wild spaces?
  • Are you interested in exploring the nexus of human and wilderness experience?

Who Should Apply

Anyone who likes to write! There is NO prerequisite of publication or formal writing education. You should be excited to learn about storytelling as a form of expression in any medium, and maybe as a way of making a living. You will benefit from this course if you are interested in journalism, creative nonfiction, memoir, marketing / advertising, creative writing, film, blogging, or social media. You should also be open to considering new storytelling technologies that may not even exist yet.

Learning Objectives

  • Consider the difference between a relatable personal story and narcissism.
  • Identify the characteristics of a successful narrative, as well as the pitfalls and mistakes in ineffective or overly indulgent personal stories.
  • Develop your knowledge of the techniques, principles, and devices of personal narrative, adventure writing, and creative nonfiction.
  • Cultivate and refine your knowledge of the themes and styles of various nonfiction and adventure writers.
  • Produce, begin, or refine, in the field, your own original stories.
  • Begin to develop an understanding of the Salmon River corridor and the nuances of its associated ecosystems, human histories, and the contemporary challenges and issues facing the region.
  • Consider your moral or ethical accountability for protection of wild spaces, as well as the impact that societal, ecological, and personal decisions or forces can have on those places.

What to Expect

A multi-day river trip is an exercise in simplicity. The excess and hurry of “the real world” is stripped away, leaving only the essential in its place.

Each morning, the birds and our guides will wake us with a coffee call and leisurely breakfast will follow. In the mornings, we will engage with a key question, goal-setting practice, or discussion to help focus and guide our writing. Time is set aside for writing and reading during lunch.

Each afternoon, at each new camp we visit, after we help our guides unload the rafts and change out of our river clothes, we will write and reflect independently or in small groups. You may choose to write some more, or you might take a walk along the beach, sit by the fire, or find a nook in which to read. Our Freeflow facilitator and instructor will be available to you throughout the evening and during periods of independent writing time.

In the evenings, we will regroup for seminar-style discussion around a campfire.

Integral to the course is intentional exploration of place: side hikes to historical sites, pictographs, or high points along the river will be offered daily. We will also visit homesteads along the way, listen to historical talks from Salmon River residents, and explore the many facets of human and natural history of the region. We will discuss the sometimes uncomfortable dichotomy of modernity (manicured lawns, logging, mining, and jet boats) in an otherwise pristine and protected Wilderness river corridor.

An element of personal challenge is inherent to the course. You will be encouraged to step beyond the limits of comfort, both physically and intellectually/creatively. Course staff will be there to guide and support you as you move through this new landscape. Even if you’ve been down the Salmon River before, we’ll help you to experience it with new curiosity.

Individuals with disabilities are absolutely encouraged to apply and participate, as special accommodations are easily made.

This river trip, though not excessively strenuous (it’s quite luxurious, actually!), will require you to move over uneven ground, across rocks, and through water. We recommend that you engage in regular, moderate physical training / activity for at least the two months prior to your trip. Basic swimming skills, though not necessarily required, will help with your comfort on the river. If you have any health conditions or concerns, please let us know and we will help you determine how to best prepare for your trip.

PRE-TRIP ORIENTATION June 22, 2019 in Montana, Missoula, 4:30 – 6:00 pm

If you’re coming into Missoula from out of town, let us know and we’ll help you choose a comfy B&B, hotel, or hostel. You’ll have time after the pre-trip orientation to enjoy dinner in Missoula, pick up any last-minute gear items at the local outdoor shops, and get a good night’s rest before we depart early the next day.

FIELD EXPERIENCE June 23 – 28, 2019 on the Main Salmon River, Idaho

We’ll meet at Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures’ office at 6:00 am, packed and ready to go. A few hours on the bus will take us down the Bitterroot Valley, through North Fork, Idaho (where we’ll stop for huckleberry milkshakes, a restroom break, and any other last-minute provisions), and on toward Corn Creek, our put-in on the Salmon. That morning, you should dress comfortably and with warm layers for a potentially chilly mountain bus ride. When we get to the river you can change into your shorts and river gear and pack away puffy jackets and fleece. We’ll meet our guides, eat lunch while they pack the boats, and then head on downstream toward several days of exploring, writing, and sleeping under starry skies.

On the return, you should plan to leave Missoula the next day (June 29), since there’s no guarantee of when we will be back after our take-out on June 28.


Your program cost includes:

  • daily writing instruction + one-on-one sessions with Brendan Leonard and Freeflow staff
  • transportation between Missoula and the Salmon River
  • all meals, snacks, Big Sky beer, and wine on the trip
  • professional, licensed river guides
  • pre-course reader
  • all National Forest permits and fees
  • personal flotation devices (PFDs) and all river safety gear

Sleep kits (tent + sleeping bag + sleeping pad) may be rented for $40.

Guide gratuities are not included in the program cost. We strongly suggest giving your river guides some love, and we are happy to discuss norms for tipping – just ask.

Registration deadline is May 15, 2019. Capacity on this course is 14 students, and we will close registration once the roster is full.

Our preferred methods of payment are check, money order, or free bank transfer via the link in the invoice we’ll email to you.

What to Bring

Once you are registered for the course, we’ll send you a river trip packing list. We’ll also provide you with a pre-trip reader and suggested supplemental reading list.

All participants will be asked to share with the group a one- or two-page personal narrative for workshop. (If you’ve never participated in a writing workshop before, don’t be scared! You will likely be invigorated and inspired by the advice and suggestions of your peers. Embrace the critique – this is where we grow tremendously as writers and reflective thinkers.)

We will also ask students to bring as many as five new ideas for stories (articles, books, Instagram accounts, short films, etc.) that will be shared with the class and “workshopped” as concepts.

Our Professional Outfitting Partner

Since 1989, family-owned and Montana-based Lewis & Clark Trail Adventures has been sharing the rivers of the West with visitors and locals alike. The Freeflow Institute is proud to work with LCTA as our USFS and USDA – Salmon National Forest licensed and permitted professional outfitter for this trip.

How to Earn Credit

This program is accredited through the University of Montana’s Journalism School as “Salmon River Writing Workshop,” JRNL 391. Please contact the Freeflow Institute to find out how to EARN COLLEGE CREDIT while exploring the rivers of the West.

For more information, please get in touch with us! [email protected]

Program Cancellation Policy

Program deposits and fees are non-refundable. The remainder of the program balance is due on May 15th unless otherwise specified, and is non-refundable at that time.  Space is limited on all of our trips and once you have registered, we no longer have the opportunity to sell your reserved space; however, transfer of your space to another participant is usually an option. We STRONGLY encourage purchasing trip insurance (try www.insuremytrip.com).  We reserve the right to cancel a trip due to reasons including, but not limited to, insufficient reservations, water levels, health issues, wildfires, and other issues that may impact your ability or desire to participate in the trip. In the unlikely case of trip cancellation, a full refund will be issued.