by Emily Abedon writing for Beer Across America
“DRINKERS WITH A RUNNING PROBLEM,” is their defining slogan. Beer is their driving force.
They are the Hash House Harriers (a.k.a. hashers)–beer aficionados who run, and runners who drink beer–and their historic club spans the globe.
Hashing is a sport loosely modeled after the old English schoolboy game of “hare and hounds.” One or more “hares” sets up a path, marked with flour, lime, or chalk, and the “hounds” then follow the hasH-mark trail.
According to a Pittsburgh club’s Web page, the hounds follow the four-eight-mile trail because:
- They don’t know any better.
- There might be beer along the way.
- It might go interesting places.
- There might be beer at the end.
In fact, places that have been “hashed” include shopping malls, cemeteries, swamps, jungles, beaches, college dormitories, slag heaps, and the Hollywood sign. One hash even took a group of runners on a plane from San Diego to Los Angeles.
The history of such antics is rumored to be ancient, but goes back at least as far as the 1930’s, when British soldiers in Malaysia ran to work up a thirst before heading to their favorite tavern. Today, there are several hundred hashing clubs around the world, all utilizing terms consistent with those of their English forefathers.
There are guidelines, but no rules. The run is cooperative; the pack works as a team to find the trail. You don’t have to drink beer; there are usually soft drinks and water at each stop. You don’t even have to run. You can walk, crawl, or even shimmy.
“On-on!” comes a jubilant shout when members of the pack find they’re on the right trail. “Shiggy” is the mud, sludge, swamp, storm drain, or whatever particularly messy terrain the pack has been drawn through in this arguably pointless quest. “Down-down!” calls the boisterous crowd when beer consumption is in order. Those with unfinished beverages run the risk of having them dumped over their head.
Most hash clubs run locally once a week. Special hashing events take place on Halloween, April Fools’ Day, or pick-a-day-any-day at a variety of locations across the country. Local hash hotlines detail weekly happenings. And hard-core hashers travel the nation, and even the world, for Interhash events–mega-shindigs that have been known to involve hasher hellions in various stages of undress, as well as tremendous amounts of shiggy, not to mention beer, beer, and more beer.
Second to hashers’ love of the illustrious malt beverage is their love of bawdy humor. Runners embarking on their first hash are labeled virgins. After a half dozen or so hashing events, a hasher gets a name. Usually it’s a title with an explicitly dirty double entendre.
Stark Nekked, Vibrator Dependent, Open Wide, Sweet Cheeks, Bunny Banger, Melon Molestor, Dirty Harry, Mutha, and Tight Lips are a few of the somewhat milder names. One married couple is fondly known as Grunt and Groan. The hasher at the front of the pack, vying to be first to the beer, is known as an FRB–Front Running Bastard.
Kentucky-born hasher Chuck Magera–whose nickname can’t be mentioned here–hashed close to 20 miles last year through the jungle-like terrain of Orlando, Florida, to a dreamy oasis finish line–more than 100 kegs of beer. In six years of hashing, he has encountered trouble when hash marks brought his group onto an airport runway; thanked fate when he found his future wife, “Bo Peep.” on a hash cruise to Nassau; and indulged in total hedonism via naked jaunts with a busload of hashers through unsuspecting cities.
But the attorney can be a lot more serious than his hashing persona would indicate. He has trained fast and hard and won numerous 5K races.
“Hashing is a good complement to racing,” Magera says, “because you can’t be serious all the time, or you’ll go nuts. It’s totally non-competitive. It’s the opposite of racing.”
In fact, the word “race” is strictly forbidden at hashes. The slightest mention can bring serious consequences to the offender. A popular punishment is sitting on ice and chugging a beer. Other hash crimes include wearing new shoes, having a birthday, getting lost, and getting found.
Georgia native Mike Henderson’s hash name, Dawggie Style, stuck after an amorous Labrador attached himself to the runner’s leg in front of a group of hashers. His interest in hashing seems to stem from a three-way split among beer, running, and sociability.
“It’s amazing. You meet people from all over the place,” Henderson says. “I mean, obviously beer is loved around the world. People run around the world. And silliness seems to be universal as well.”
“I’ve got friends from all over,” says Babette Burstein, a 10-year veteran of hashing.
Nicknamed Maui Waui after a stint in Hawaii, Burstein helped celebrate the international spirit at a post-Olympics Interhash in Atlanta, sponsored by the city’s seven hash groups. Close to 100 compatriots attended the three-day event, which featured a party, a pub crawl, and a hash run with a dozen or so kegs.
Burstein says her friends may have funny names, but most of them are professionals with great senses of humor and excellent outlooks on life.
“We’ve got doctors, lawyers, nurses, accountants, carpenters,” says Burstein, an administrative assistant at an engineering firm. “They’ve got a lot of responsibility during the week, and on weekends hash runs are a great stress release.”
It appears the desire to let off some steam is universal. Last year’s World Interhash brought 3,500 people from all over the world to Cyprus. In April 1997, sneakers will meet suds in Trinidad.
The Internet has become a popular method of finding fellow hashers in exotic locales. There are thousands of hash sites on the World Wide Web.
Jennifer Cox (Eager Beaver to her hashing pals) has been following the shiggy trail for eight years and hopes to keep it up for the rest of her life. Several men she introduced to her hobby didn’t quite understand her love for the hash. Needless to say, those guys didn’t make the final cut. The man she married is a happy hare.
“I think hashing brings the world closer together,” says Cox, “uniting people who just want to stay healthy and enjoy beer.”