By Michael Kew
I REALLY NEED EXERCISE.
An early-December Tuesday. Raining. It’s been raining—hard. I've been sedentary since Friday. I need to sweat—outside.
Afternoon comes. A rift in the clouds.
Ooh. I like windows.
And so, from Brookings, I drive up along the north bank of the River Chetco, flowing fast and fat, wide acres of murky brown embossed with wispy-white rapids and swirling eddies, poked with driftwood beneath a sky of polished lead.
I stop at Loeb State Park. Its air speaks of moss and camphor. Its evergreens contrast the deciduous hardwoods, wind-stripped of their summer grandeur, now pretty, pre-winter groundcover amid salal and salmonberry.
The Riverview and Redwood Nature trails are two gems that seem custom-built for jogging. They thread several streams tumbling loudly to the Chetco, 56 scenic miles of river born deep in the Kalmiopsis, a wilderness area in the Klamath Mountains of southwestern Oregon.
I run the moist myrtle-to-redwood-to-myrtle loop. Later, back at the trailhead, I’m thirsty. And naturally so. The swollen Chetco is front-and-center. Indeed, some of that cold rainwater will become delicious beer that I and many others will drink in the months to come.
Five hours later, I'm warm and dry in Chetco Brewing Company's snug taproom, feeling fit with a pint of award-winning Block & Tackle Stout. The beer was made with river water in a repurposed home garage mere yards from the Chetco itself, three miles from where it empties into the Pacific, two miles from the intake station that draws fresh water for Brookings and Harbor.
With me are seven members of Chetco Running Club, launched in September 2015. (The brewery was founded in 2011.)
"Welcome to the clubhouse!" brewmaster Mike Frederick says merrily, clinking his glass against mine. A bearded, beatific human who also owns a massage practice, Frederick is thrilled to make tracks again.
"I used to do a lot of running in Minnesota and down in Los Angeles, but I sort of stopped when we moved to Oregon—we were so busy with other things, and I kept thinking I didn't have enough time."
But the popularity of his beer made a taproom imminent. When a clean, 768-square-foot space surfaced in early 2015, Frederick and his wife, Alex, wasted no time. Now, a year later, it's more than a quaint bar with a long beer menu.
"We had always wanted to be deeply involved in our community," Frederick says after a sip of IPA. "Providing jobs, hosting local musicians, supporting charities—stuff like that. I'd looked at several breweries that did different types of community involvement, and a couple of them, like Nevada’s Great Basin, had a running club. I thought that was a fantastic idea.
“When we finally got the taproom going, we were more in touch directly with the community, so I said, 'Let's start a running club, because then I'll have to run!'" (laughs)
Having weekly group runs in and around town, usually on Mondays evenings, the club has also participated in a couple of 10Ks, and there was the official Chetco Brewing 5K held during 2015's rainy Oktoberfest in the middle of Brookings. "It was so great to have our small town draw a high number of enthusiastic runners of all levels," runner/taproom beertender Loretta Alcala says.
"And some of them are brutally competitive," Frederick says with a wink.
Overall, he wants the club to evolve and be as welcoming as it possibly can. "Anybody—anybody—can join,” he says. “If you're 80 years old and can walk a block, you should be able to do this. People who want to run a marathon should be able to do this."
In the future, Chetco Running Club would like to flourish for trail excursions, half-marathons, marathons, triathlons, and to be a team in events like the Wild Rogue Relay and the Warrior Dash, a 5K obstacle course.
"We can make one of those," Frederick says.
"We could have an awesomely muddy event here," runner Diana VaVerka adds. "We get enough rain, right?"
VaVerka is the group’s newest recruit.
"Running is such a culture of its own, and it can take some sort of level of insanity to truly enjoy it," she continues. "It's really nice to meet people who can share that level of insanity, and it keeps you sane!"
"It gives us something to look forward to,” Alcala says. “It keeps us accountable. It's social. There are people around here who want to be active outside."
"Yup,” runner Jackie Knudsen says, “and if you find someone you can compete with, it helps you improve, because you're always better or worse than someone else.”
"What's the connection between beer and the whole group athletic effort?" I ask.
"It's our motivation to run!" runner April Smith jokes.
"Yeah—we run, and then we get to come here and drink," Alcala says, grinning with her pint of porter.
But isn’t that detrimental to our good health?
Table consensus: Nope.
Not at all.
"Beer is not an unhealthy thing," Frederick says with sincerity. "For example, silicon builds stronger bones, and the lupulin from hops helps to prevent cancer.
"But, bottom line, anything that can be used to bring people together for a positive cause? That's the best health benefit in all of this."
I look at the dark beer in my hand; I think of my earlier jog. Two pursuits of mind, of exercise, of satisfaction, of well-being. Two concepts of joy, two things widely loved. I am here because of them.
Frederick? He's right.
Welcome to the Club.
Chetco Brewing Co., 927 Chetco Ave., Brookings, Ore., 541-661-5347, chetcobrew.com