Curtis Imrie goes west

Curtis Imrie (left) and Hal Walter in a photo lifted from one of Hal's columns at Colorado Central magazine.

Curtis Imrie (left) and Hal Walter in a photo lifted from one of Hal’s columns at Colorado Central magazine.

Just when the Republic needs every man jack it can muster, one of the true wild ones, Curtis Imrie, has left us.

Longtime readers of the DogS(h)ite are familiar with my old friend Hal Walter; we’ve known each other for the better part of quite some time. But Curtis is the guy who introduced Hal to the manly Western art of pack-burro racing, and they were friends, rivals and friendly rivals for more than three decades.

As soon as Hal posts a proper obit, I’ll provide a link. Meantime, the long and the short of it is that Curtis Imrie was (among many other things) an actor, and while he played other roles — including that of the murdered Mountain Bike Hall of Famer Mike Rust — the part he was born to play was that of Curtis Imrie.

A scion of privilege (among his forebears was Robert S. Brookings, founder of the Institute for Government Research, which would become the Brookings Institution), Curtis drove a Triumph motorcycle across Europe and the USS Enterprise across the galaxy, and nearly got killed by a wandering 18-wheeler near the National Western Stock Show complex (where he finally did die almost exactly a dozen years later, reportedly of a heart attack, at age 70).

He worked in front of the mic at Salida’s KHEN-FM on Tuesday evenings; worked both in front of the camera and behind it on a movie that seemed to have no ending (and now never will); won the World Championship Pack-Burro Race at Fairplay three times; and ran quixotic campaigns for Congress from his ranch in the Upper Arkansas watershed nearly as often as he ran for the top of Mosquito Pass. That race, he never won.

Curtis was an honest-to-God, sure-enough character in a world of ciphers, devoted to democracy, donkeys and drama, a spiritual cousin to Ed Abbey, Doug Peacock, Ken Kesey, Thomas McGuane and the Pilgrim from Kris Kristofferson’s “The Pilgrim, Chapter 33”:

He’s a walkin’ contradiction, partly truth and partly fiction

Taking ev’ry wrong direction on his lonely way back home.

He’s gone back home now. Peace and comfort to the friends and family he left behind.

• Update: KHEN will host a live memorial tribute to Curtis beginning at 5 p.m. Salida time on Tuesday, Jan. 24. You can stream it at their website if you’re so inclined.

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8 Responses to “Curtis Imrie goes west”

  1. Hurben Says:

    Love Kris Kristofferson, on his Auckland tour he walked on stage with a heavy cold, blew his nose & then said”You paid all that money to see some old fart blow his nose?”

    It was a magic show, worth every cent.

    I did not know Curtis but it sounds like his passing leaves the world a poorer place.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Curtis was a tough old bird. I’m not certain, but I think 2016 may have been the first year he ran the 15-mile short course at Fairplay instead of the full 30-miler.

      I ran just one burro race, a rolling 10K around the Greater Weirdcliffe-Silver Cliff Cosmopolitan Area. Hal loaned me a burro (I’d done a couple training runs with him over the years) and confided that he started a bit fast and if it proved too much for me I should get out in front of him and slow him down.

      There were a bunch of other noobs in this race, and when the gun went off, about half the field instantly lost their burros, which scattered to the four winds. My burro galloped straight ahead, full tilt, and I couldn’t have gotten in front of him without shooting him, and I was unarmed.

      Thus I found myself leading my first burro race. But not for long. I think Curtis was the first of the old pros to lope smoothly on by as we tackled the first hill, the rope curled around his hips so he could catch a bit of a tow from his mammoth jack.

      He flashed this big grin and hollered something about was I having fun yet, but I was preoccupied with trying to suck air through every hole, crack, crevice and pore in my body. Quite a sport. Quite a guy.

      I guess his departure makes Hal the grand old man of burro racing now. It’s something of a burden to bear.

      • Hurben Says:

        I THINK that this a quote out of “How to keep your Volkswagen alive”, (the finest Tech manual ever written),

        ‘Take care of your Ass, because it must bear you’,

  2. Pat O'Brien Says:

    Burro racing must be to marathon running like cyclocross is to cycling. Both sports seem a little weird to the regular cyclist or runner, but they seem to attracts really interesting and friendly people.

    • Patrick O'Grady Says:

      Troo dat, Pat. Barb Dolan, a former top-shelf cyclist, took to burro racing like a duck to water. She’d run so hard she’d barf more often than not, and generally flogged a lot of the dudes.

      Ken Chlouber, the state senator turned Leadville Trail 100 honcho, was a burro racer who entered his first event in 1977.

      Tom Sobal, a winner of the IditaShoe snowshoe race in Alaska, was just about unbeatable during 1989-95, with his burro Maynard. They may still hold the Fairplay record (3:44:18). Mind you, that’s over 30 miles from Fairplay (10,000 feet), up Mosquito Pass (13,187 feet) and back down to Fairplay … running alongside a burro.

      The white-bearded Bill Lee was a storyteller who played Santa Claus when he wasn’t racing or raising burros. Rob Pedretti was a professional hunting guide, and Curtis … well, Curtis was Curtis.

      He told me once: “It takes a certain commitment to deal with a 600-pound animal with the brain of a 4-year-old, a sense of its own rights and a perverse sense of humor.

      “A horse will give you everything. A donkey or mule knows his rights and has to understand it’s worth doing before he’ll give it to you. It takes a double-patient person todeal with their idiosyncrasies.”

  3. Mike Frye Says:

    “Radio Days” before I worked at Action Sports I used to work at a little Plaid Pantry convenience store and the manager used to be a news director at a New Mexico radio station I think it had 100,000 Watts. His name was Dave Pay.

    At the time I was a real media nut into work for a guy who was actually on the air gave me a really kick. I still remember him talking about the broadcasts he used to do out of that little New Mexico town. Since the station was in the nebulous area they could get away with huge output and be heard states away.

    I also remember another clerk like myself, although he was a few years older than me I believe his name is Mario and he was going to Portland State. I forgot what classes he was taking, but he was the first gentleman of Mexican ancestry I ever met, and he was definitely cool.

    I remember the three of us going down to the Cinema 21 in downtown Portland and watching “Eraser Head”.

    I don’t know what happened to either one of them,, but I do know that the world was made a little better because of their presence. I’m thinking of your friend and I’m sure you have similar thoughts.

    “Good night, and good luck”

  4. Jeff Duncan Says:

    You all seem to have know Curtis for some time. I only met him once up on Mosquito Pass.

    I met Curtis in 2014. We were running the Leadville Trail marathon. Between my inability to breath at that altitude and his worn knees, we were pretty evenly matched. We talked as we ran, then talked some more as we walked. We talked about politics. I learned about burro racing and his work in film making. We probably spent a little more than an hour together. Since then I’ve listened to his radio show when I could. We would occasionally communicate on Facebook. I admire Curtis because he lived and breathed life like so many of us want to. He participated in life. He examined and questioned life. He celebrated life. Neither of us finished that race. We were pulled at an aid station for missing a cutoff time. Neither of us were never disappointed that we didn’t finish or get our medals. I always had it in my mind that we would run it together again someday. I’m grateful to have known him.

  5. Keith Willy Says:

    Thanks for this. Sad to lose a man of character. So few left. And we’re finding it hard to build them.

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