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The Good News Is There’s Beer In Hell

It’s Redding Beer Week and not a moment too soon. The global economy is crashing, the smoke from area wildfires has yet to clear and the long hot summer isn’t over yet. Why not get together with friends and tip back a pint or two of the latest zanily-named local craft brew? Pull up a stool. Take a load off. Appreciate how blessed we all are here in beautiful Shasta County.

Sure, it’s hot here. The all-time record is 118 degrees set on July 20, 1988; this past July, a dozen days exceeded triple digits, topping out at 110.

That sounds pretty “bad” but heat is not our enemy. Heat is our friend. Heat gives good advice. For example, during the remainder of Redding Beer Week, which concludes Saturday, the forecast for the early evenings is in the tolerable low 90s, so heat advises you might want to consider a venue with a patio.

Or perhaps one with a waterfall.

King Of The Jungle For 15 Minutes

Last month, on the morning of the day the mercury peaked at 110, heat was telling me “go to Hatchet Creek Falls, go now, beat the crowd.” So we packed a lunch and strapped the camping chairs on the back of the bike and motored east on Highway 299, then north on Big Bend Road to the dusty parking lot near the bridge crossing Hatchet Creek.

We were the first to arrive, but a van occupied by five females—two adults and three teenagers—pulled in shortly afterward. I unpacked quickly and urged my girlfriend to hurry so we could hike the quarter-mile to Hatchet Creek Falls and stake our claim on the best free swimming hole in northern California. She snapped the above photo just as the group of five emerged from the trail on the opposite bank.

After 15 minutes, it became clear that in my haste to arrive first I’d pitched our camp directly in the path of the menacing sun (my girlfriend had warned me to no avail) while the other group had wisely chosen the bank with the most shade. As we moved to a nearby grove of trees, two of the girls scuttled up the side of the cliff next to the waterfall and stood on its precipice, staring dubiously at the dark pool of water below.

Although I’d been to Hatchet Creek Falls previously and jumped off the log plenty of times, I’d never seen anyone jump off the cliff. I had no idea if the pool was deep enough, and the girls standing on the overhang 30 feet or so above me, directly adjacent to the roaring waterfall, didn’t seem to know either.

Then one of the women below scrambled up the cliff nimble as a goat, said a word or two to the girls I couldn’t hear and stepped into the abyss. She entered with nary a splash and popped safely back to the surface. It was all the encouragement I needed.

I grew up in southern Idaho and eastern Washington along the Snake and Columbia Rivers. There was no shortage of swimming holes with cliffs to jump off of but few were as idyllic as Hatchet Creek Falls is now, at this late date, in the midst of a four-year drought. It’s existence almost seems impossible. Shasta County residents are blessed indeed.

Of course, such blessings aren’t exactly secret, since heat speaks to each of us equally. After we’d been there an hour, men, women and children of all ages, shapes and colors, all escaping the wretched conditions in the valley, began arriving by twos, threes, and half-dozens. By noon more than 50 people were gathered around the falls.

A group of ten or so boys in their early teens took command of the log— an uprooted sequoia jammed in the waterfall’s maw—performing dance moves and acrobatics, flexing their abs and heckling each other, diving from bizarre perches. It was the goofiest thing you’ve ever seen. One kid could “twerk” better than Miley Cyrus. He twerked in my general direction just as I was jumping off the cliff one time. I cracked up laughing and belly-flopped.

Paradise Abandoned

As pleasing as it was people-watching in the cool mist of the falls, boredom set in shortly after we’d eaten lunch. We packed up our stuff and hiked out. It seemed liked we’d been there all day, but when we reached the parking lot, it was only 2 p.m. Just in time to ride the motorcycle back during the hottest part of the day.

It was scorching in that parking lot. “Go back to the falls,” heat hissed in my ear. I slipped into my black leather jacket and strapped on my black motorcycle helmet instead.

I was given one last chance to change my mind at the intersection of Big Bend Road and 299. Eighteen miles to the east, Burney, where higher elevation ensured lower temperature. A couple of miles west, the Station Cafe in Montgomery Creek, where a couple of beers offered fortification for the ride down the hill. Or … go back to the falls.

We headed west on 299, sealing our fate.

The Road To Hell Is Illuminated By Craft Beer

Outside Montgomery Creek two vultures pecked at unidentified roadkill smeared on the searing asphalt. It turned out the Station Cafe had recently changed hands, was still in transition, and at any rate wasn’t serving beer. We should have settled for water, but I was confident we would find something on the road to Redding, some 30 miles distance.

Passing through Round Mountain, we got caught up behind an ancient diesel truck belching thick black smoke out twin stacks. A scrawny doe casually strolling beside the road feinted a dart in front of the truck then shot between it and our motorcycle, so close I could reach out and touch it, the whole scene unfolding in rubbery slow motion through roiling waves of heat.

Somehow, we missed it. The diesel chugged away in front as a long line of overheating cars formed behind us. We caught up with another long line of slow-moving traffic and passing was no longer an option. We were going 50 in a 65 in 110 degree heat. I wondered what temperature meat starts cooking. I desperately needed inspiration.

I don’t drink beer often, but when I do, I prefer local craft beer. The beer’s almost always better and most of the money goes straight back into the local economy. That’s what Redding Beer Week is all about. My current local favorite is Fall River Brewing’s Hexagenia, a strong, bitter IPA brewed from pure waters drawn high in the foothills between Mount Shasta and Mountain Lassen. Pure liquid gold. A beacon.

If I’d only turned east on Highway 299 instead of west, we would have been halfway to the brewery already. It was too late for that, but fortunately, there’s a Fall River Brewing taproom in Redding, and Hexagenia is on tap at several other Shasta County locations.

I pointed the bike at the nearest one and drove onward, straight to hell.