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Naked Pumpkin Run

6.21.14

n my novel Profile, I mentioned some of the attractions of Boulder, Colorado, the home of my character, Arden Chase:

I lived in Boulder, proudly described locally as ‘twenty-five square miles surrounded by reality.’ It was a popular destination for hippies in the sixties, and that free-spirit mentality has been a part of Boulder culture ever since then. Situated right at the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, it’s the site of various athletic events and music festivals, as well as such refined affairs as the Polar Bear Plunge and the Naked Pumpkin Run.

Profile is a work of fiction, but the information in this paragraph is true, including the part that sounds the most like something that was made up.

The Naked Pumpkin Run has taken place in Seattle, Washington, Portland, Oregon and Arcata, California. But Boulder, Colorado has the distinction of being the proud birthplace of this event. According to an article in the Wall Street Journal, Boulder “has always taken pride in its liberal-to-the-point-of-loony reputation.”

That liberal looniness has long included clothing-optional events. Back in 1974, hundreds of University of Colorado students ran naked across campus to try to set a Guinness world record. (They didn’t.)

Starting in 1998, the Naked Pumpkin Run began, and it’s just what it sounds like. Late on Halloween night, dozens of people made a run through downtown Boulder, wearing nothing but running shoes on their feet and a carved pumpkin on their heads.

Who would have thought that taking off your clothes and running through town on a cold night, wearing a heavy, smelly pumpkin shell over your head, in front of hundreds of spectators would become so popular? But it was an event that was tailor-made for Boulder. In 2008, more than 150 people participated.

Those less liberal-minded in the population took notice. So on Halloween of 2009, the police issued a warning that more than forty police officers would be stationed along the route, and even two SWAT teams nearby. One would assume the SWAT teams would be in case any of the runners were carrying concealed weapons. The police were ordered to arrest any naked runners and charge them as sex offenders.

This was kind of a sticky stance, because being naked in downtown Boulder is not a crime. Nudity has had a place in Boulder for quite a long time. Besides the aforementioned UC Boulder Guinness attempt, Boulder has also hosted a Naked Bike Ride to encourage freedom from fossil fuels.

Since there’s no law against nudity in Boulder, the police instead made use of Colorado’s indecent exposure statute. Under this law, it was a misdemeanor to expose one’s genitals under circumstances that were “likely to cause affront or alarm.”

According to the Wall Street Journal article, “given that the Naked Pumpkin Run starts at 11 p.m., long after young trick-or-treaters have retired, and given that the route is packed with fans who come out specifically to see the event, runners argue that it's absurd to think their prank is causing either affront or alarm.”

Participants, who included professional people like lawyers and scientists, were understandably fearful of being labeled sex offenders. So nobody showed up. Boulder’s Naked Pumpkin Run is now a thing of the past.

Boulder no longer allows people to run or ride a bicycle naked. Boulder still proclaims itself “twenty-five square miles surrounded by reality.” But their liberal lunacy is now a little more conservative.