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A Down-Down Showdown In Margaritaville

Features
posted: 11/12/2003

On winter afternoons in Old Colorado City, a pleasant suburb of Colorado Springs, residents do not expect 60 or more men and women to mass in tiny Bott Park, all dressed in summer garb: Hawaiian shirts, shorts, sarongs, and Panama hats.

But on a Saturday last February, they did.

Nor do they expect to hear a hunter's horn blow, as if calling hounds to a fox. And they certainly do not expect to then witness a wildly dressed mob sprint off toward the countryside of Bear Creek and beyond.

But on a Saturday last February, they did.

To innocent observers in that residential neighborhood, with all the undulating color—pinks, tangerines, violets—it must have seemed as if some tropical cruise ship had popped its seams. A few of the runners even lugged cross-country skis—and most snow in the area had melted days before.

If a concerned citizen had summoned police, the explanation would have been equally loony: It was the start of the Margaritaville Run, hosted by the Pikes Peak Hash House Harriers. Even more weird, the Hashers (a running club) had invited the Colorado Parrot Heads (a Jimmy Buffett fan club) to join them for the first time in a kind of party-warrior test of mettle.

It was the most simpatico of mergers, or so insisted an individual who was a proud honorary member of both groups. This same person lured the emphatically nonburly Parrot Heads to participate by telling deliberate, outlandish lies. Among them:

1. Parrot Heads were reassured that the run-ski trail was actually a pleasant walking course selected to generate thirst without generating sweat.

2. Hashers were promised that Parrot Heads were feisty outdoor vets but also easy drunks who, after only a couple margaritas, were generous with free tickets to Buffett concerts.

3. Downhill skis, he went on, were just as serviceable as cross-country equipment because skiing wasn't required.

Llies, damn lies, all lies.

What species of treacherous, low-life, double-crossing fiend would resort to such tactics?

Me, the treacherous lying fiend.

I had cause. Parrot Heads and Hash House Harriers (H3s) rank among the world's most eccentric social organizations, and Colorado's enclaves of each are shining, oddball examples. If these groups met in a one-day revolt against snow, slush, and many things Gore-Tex, there might be chemistry, there might even be alchemy—but something interesting would surely result.

the parrot heads and hashers had introductory drinks at Beau Jo's Bar in Old Colorado City as a prelude to embarking on a customized Margaritaville-style run-plus-ski (beverage stops included). I watched with a puppeteer's appreciation as Hashers and Heads mingled in the crowded bar. Nearly everyone was sporting tropical garb, yet differences were apparent. Although H3 members call themselves a "drinking club with a running problem, they at least wore appropriate shoes—low hikers or trail running shoes. The Parrot Heads, on the other hand, were dressed unambiguously as non-athletes. I leaned in to listen as ultramarathoner Michelle Stoll approached a female Parrot Head who was lounging comfortably at the bar. Stoll considered the woman's boots and blue jeans for a moment before she asked, "Do you really think you're going to be able to run a rough trail dressed like that?

The woman smiled at Michelle's sleek running tights, sucked on her cigarette for effect, then replied, amused, as she exhaled, "I've got pockets. At least I won't have to go around begging someone to carry my smokes and lighter.

There were more sparks later when a Hasher suggested to Ruthie Guthrey, a spiritual Parrot Head since 1974, that she tell fellow members to pack a few beers in the event they wanted to rehydrate while on the trail.

"You don't need to tell us about partying! Guthrey bristled. As evidence, she described the battery-powered blender that club members carry on field trips and in other wilderness situations. "We know how to handle oursels under survival conditions, she added. "Try standing in the rain three or four hours, waiting for Jimmy to sing. We're professionals.

Yes, the tension was palpable, and egos were on exhibit. It was high noon in Old Colorado City. There were fins to the left, fins to the right. A lot of pride was on the line.

when it comes to partying, no group enjoys more nationwide cachet than the Parrot Heads. Established in Atlanta in 1989, and known officially as Parrot Heads in Paradise (PHP), Buffett's disciples have utilized the man's music as scaffolding for a passionate lifestyle that celebrates all that's affirmative and tropical.

"It's not just an organization, Todd Rule told me. "Being a Parrot Head is a way of living. A very positive, fun way of life. Rule, along with his wife, Maureen, founded the Colorado club in '94—and said that they and a portion of their 250-plus members participate in Parrot Head events almost every week. Oddly, ski weekends are no longer scheduled. Rule told me they tried one a long time back, but not a single Parrot Head showed up.

Unbelievable. There are more than 170 PHP clubs around the world, and many of them do group ski trips—but not the Denver-based group. "We don't claim to be a club for athletes, he said.

Like the parent organization, the Colorado Parrot Heads also take the charity work they do seriously. "We'll hold these great events, have a blast, and give all the proceeds to good causes, Rule says. "It's what we love to do.

Standing in Beau Jo's, Rule seemed less enthusiastic about the run. He and the other Parrot Heads had arrived at the bar an hour earlier than everyone else, and they'd found their margarita rhythm, so they were reluctant to abandon cold drinks and warm seats for the outdoors.

"Something that worries me, Rule said, "is the Hashers say even they don't know how long the course is. They say they never know in advance.

True. "Hares lay a trail of chalk or flour in secret, complete with several false trails and at least one beverage stop.

"An easy walk, I told him. "Don't worry.

Rule replied, "Good. It's like Jimmy would say: Some people treat their bodies like a temple. We treat ours like tents.

While the parrot heads seem to have elevated partying to art, few organizations rival the Hash House Harriers when it comes to promoting innovative, bizarre party skills.

According to the World Hash Handbook, the organization was started in 1938 at the Selangor Club in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, where the British expatriates' mess was known as the Hash House. Members held a hare-and-hounds run that ended with much drinking and singing. The event was such a success, they gave it a name and kept running. Today, there are clubs in more than 130 countries with many thousands of members. Pikes Peak H3 of Colorado Springs, and its sister club, the PMS Women's Hash (they run every 28 days) are among the most active.

Bruce "Slugbust Huber, a longtime member, told me, "I love the traditions. It's considered impolite to be competitive on the trail. People who finish at the front—the Front Running Bastards, or FRBs—are singled out for punishment: what we call a down-down. To be sentenced to a down-down is to be made to chug a beverage (you don't have to drink alcohol to belong anymore). "The run is still just an excuse to have a party afterward, says Slugbust. "That part of Hashing'll never change.

When the 2 p.m. starter's horn sounded at precisely 2:32 p.m., more than five dozen runners dressed like Buffett clones jogged off through winter streets, following blue chalk marks. The first part of the trail took us through an area of rugged brush, up a hillside, then across a creek. There'd been snow all week until the previous day—when a heat wave melted it. Now it was cold again, but muddy—unpleasant conditions for running or walking, or skiing.

At first, I hung back with the Parrot Heads. After two miles or so of arduous slogging, though, I decided to put some distance between us when I perceived a growing animus directed at me. This was reconfirmed every time I topped a ridge on that evil path. When Parrot Heads spotted me from below, they'd shout, "We're going to have your Florida-loving butt for this, Rando! You'll regret the day you did this to us!

They were right. I did regret it—and much sooner than they'd hoped.An hour into the route, I saw what I thought were Hashers on a far hillside. Believing I was taking a shortcut (not allowed), I bushwacked for another half hour only to discover that the Hashers were actually strollers from a nearby gated community.

I was so lost that I had to telephone for directions—a taboo guaranteed to earn several down-downs at the after-run awards ceremony known as the Hash Circle. ("It's kind of like a Kangaroo Court where people are sometimes honored, sometimes humiliated, but mostly always both, explained Terry "Rat's Ass Weathers, one of the founders of Pikes Peak H3.)

I was filthy and exhausted by the time I made my way to the short ski section. I had the option of first resting at the rehydration stop (beer and piña coladas). The weak and the wise did exactly that. Not me. Face your fears—that's my motto. Years ago, during my only alpine skiing experience, I wore skis into the lodge's restroom and was traumatized by the distance that separated me from the urinal. I was eager to put this second skiing nightmare astern.

I didn't. Wearing cross-country skis, I slogged through stretches of orange mud that were interrupted by micro-seconds of sheer terror on patches of sheet ice. We'd walk, slog, then ski a little. Then we'd walk and slog some more, only to hit a long lane of ice, and suddenly we'd be rocketing down the hillside on a collision course with the next long stretch of mud and rock.

A couple Parrot Heads had come along to watch. They slurped their beverages and held cigarettes at jaunty angles while offering downhill tips. On one particularly ugly trail—a hellslide of rotten snow and iron oxide—they endeared themselves by muling gear without complaint.

Good people, those Parrot Heads.

It was here, on an icy grade, that ultra-marathoner Stoll took a very nasty spill—and then tried to blame me just because I'd used her as an emergency braking device. Absurd!

Finally, though, I limped into the beer stop at Rat's Ass's plush home. There I found Parrot Heads and Hashers swilling margaritas like old pals, trying to steel themselves before they attempted the ski section, all laughing at my distress.Michele Gandy empathized. She'd arrived only slightly before me. "That was like the Trail of Tears, man. I needed oxygen. If someone kidnaps me and makes me do another Hash, I'll never leave the bar.

Veteran Hasher Tony "No Girth Sharer, who was using a blender powered by a weed-whacker gas engine to make daiquiris, paid her a compliment—and Hashers aren't known for flattery. "I give you guys credit, you didn't quit. I don't think we'll see you on the trail again. Hell, we'd of had to been running backward to see you this time. But the partying part, at least, you clearly know your stuff.

Then, as No Girth held up a fresh pitcher, he tipped his tropical straw hat. Attached to the top was a stuffed, life-sized artificial parrot.decided to put some distance between us when I perceived a growing animus directed at me. This was reconfirmed every time I topped a ridge on that evil path. When Parrot Heads spotted me from below, they'd shout, "We're going to have your Florida-loving butt for this, Rando! You'll regret the day you did this to us!

They were right. I did regret it—and much sooner than they'd hoped.An hour into the route, I saw what I thought were Hashers on a far hillside. Believing I was taking a shortcut (not allowed), I bushwacked for another half hour only to discover that the Hashers were actually strollers from a nearby gated community.

I was so lost that I had to telephone for directions—a taboo guaranteed to earn several down-downs at the after-run awards ceremony known as the Hash Circle. ("It's kind of like a Kangaroo Court where people are sometimes honored, sometimes humiliated, but mostly always both, explained Terry "Rat's Ass Weathers, one of the founders of Pikes Peak H3.)

I was filthy and exhausted by the time I made my way to the short ski section. I had the option of first resting at the rehydration stop (beer and piña coladas). The weak and the wise did exactly that. Not me. Face your fears—that's my motto. Years ago, during my only alpine skiing experience, I wore skis into the lodge's restroom and was traumatized by the distance that separated me from the urinal. I was eager to put this second skiing nightmare astern.

I didn't. Wearing cross-country skis, I slogged through stretches of orange mud that were interrupted by micro-seconds of sheer terror on patches of sheet ice. We'd walk, slog, then ski a little. Then we'd walk and slog some more, only to hit a long lane of ice, and suddenly we'd be rocketing down the hillside on a collision course with the next long stretch of mud and rock.

A couple Parrot Heads had come along to watch. They slurped their beverages and held cigarettes at jaunty angles while offering downhill tips. On one particularly ugly trail—a hellslide of rotten snow and iron oxide—they endeared themselves by muling gear without complaint.

Good people, those Parrot Heads.

It was here, on an icy grade, that ultra-marathoner Stoll took a very nasty spill—and then tried to blame me just because I'd used her as an emergency braking device. Absurd!

Finally, though, I limped into the beer stop at Rat's Ass's plush home. There I found Parrot Heads and Hashers swilling margaritas like old pals, trying to steel themselves before they attempted the ski section, all laughing at my distress.Michele Gandy empathized. She'd arrived only slightly before me. "That was like the Trail of Tears, man. I needed oxygen. If someone kidnaps me and makes me do another Hash, I'll never leave the bar.

Veteran Hasher Tony "No Girth Sharer, who was using a blender powered by a weed-whacker gas engine to make daiquiris, paid her a compliment—and Hashers aren't known for flattery. "I give you guys credit, you didn't quit. I don't think we'll see you on the trail again. Hell, we'd of had to been running backward to see you this time. But the partying part, at least, you clearly know your stuff.

Then, as No Girth held up a fresh pitcher, he tipped his tropical straw hat. Attached to the top was a stuffed, life-sized artificial parrot.

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