July 6, 1996

Making A Beer Run

Making A Beer Run: Drinkers with a running problem

July 6, 1996
By Kyle Dalton

Special to the American-Statesman

With so many hike-and-bike trails throughout Austin, fitness is part of life for many residents. Whether it's running through the Greenbelt of Barton Creek, or biking the Veloway at Circle C, outdoor enthusiasts can be found everywhere.

For the Hash House Harriers, however, the goal is to not let exercise interfere with the other pleasures life has to offer. Or as one participant in this running group described it: "They're drinkers with a running problem."

At first glance, it would appear that way. But if you take a deeper look, there's much more there. So much in fact, I had to see for myself.

We all met on a warm, weekend afternoon in the middle of a shopping center parking lot at Highway 290 and MoPac. To me, it didn't seem like the ideal time to be running, especially during the heat of the day, but the promise of refreshments along our trek made it less anguishing.

The object of this affair is to follow a trail and the calls of those in front, make a few stops for freshening up along the way, ultimately reaching a final destination. Sounds easy, right? Not so fast.

The trail, which is composed of spots of flour strategically placed on tree stumps, manhole covers, and whatever else that is somewhat visible to the naked eye, is set earlier in the day by the "Hares." These are generally two runners designated for that day's particular run, who in addition to organizing the route, provide the drinks and snacks for the journey.

There are really no limits or boundaries and the run can range from three to six miles taking the runner through some very interesting terrain. Although it may sound crazy, this ritual as some call it, has been taking place throughout the world since 1938.

It all started in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, when a beer-bellied Aussie named Albert Stephen Gispert began running once a week to work off the excesses of the previous weekend. Despite his good intentions, as the legend goes, he always managed to end his excursion at a local pub known as the "Hash House."

Since that time, the "Hash" has been carried out around the world and now includes approximately 100,000 hashers in more than 1,200 groups in 130 countries. The Austin Hashers have been around since 1985 and grown to more than 40-60 pack participants.


With an X on the hot, black pavement marking our spot, everyone began to spread out in search of the first clue while I wandered around aimlessly. After a few minutes of searching, someone yelled, "On! On!" We were off.

Around the back of the shopping center we disappeared into the woods. Occasionally, the person at the head of the pack would yell "On! On!," indicating that we were on the right trail.

It seemed easy, I thought. Follow the leader. We jogged and at times, crept down winding hills littered with sharp rocks, through dried creekbeds with what seemed to be 10-foot tall weeds, all while dodging low-hung tree branches, bushes and whatever else nature had to offer. I began to question why I was here.

An occasional "Are You?" (as in "Are you on the right path?") was cried out by one of the trailing hashers, with those in the front responding, "On! On!" or "Checking!" (informing us that we were now at a checkpoint signified by a flour-spilled X on the ground where the trail stops and hounds must locate another "true trail" in the immediate vicinity.) Other misleading trails include a false trail, which is signified by the letter "F" on the ground and generally doesn't stray too far off the trail, or a backcheck, which is indicated by an X with a circle around it, and many times can be up to 100 yards off the right path. Just a little more spice to make it more interesting.

Up ahead the lead runner cried out, "Backcheck!" According to the group, we had reached the first real obstacle and an indication that our trail was about to change. As the group gathered, including those who had fallen behind early, we attentively searched for clues. After following several misleading trails, including one down a creekbed, someone came across the real path. He could be heard in the distance exclaiming. "Mark!" as he passed each successive mark leading us in the right direction. An occasional "On, On!" was also heard by someone letting us know that it was full steam ahead.

For the next 30 minutes, I labored on. Running and jumping over barbed wire fences, ducking under more low tree branches, and eventually climbing over a gate on to a residential street. As I crossed the gate, I questioned if we had just been trespassing on private property. One hasher had mentioned earlier that was something to avoid when setting the trail.

Despite those attempts, it is sometimes hard to avoid according to several hashers. "We've dealt with the police many times and they've made us leave the property," said Ann Pelton, a 31- year-old quality administrator who has been running with the group since 1989.

Sally Pelton, no relation to Ann Pelton, who was a hare for our race said although setting trails in areas of trespassing is discouraged, it does have a motivating factor for the hashers. "It makes you run faster.''

According to Rick Perkins, a local chemical engineer who at one time ran with the White House hash group in Washington D.C., a city known for its large hashing population, some trails including a few of his own have gone through federal government facilities. "I set a trail one time through the Kennedy Center and we also went through the Library of Congress on several occasions.''

Perkins said other trails have ventured through supermarkets, shopping malls, airports, concert halls and even the Austin storm sewer system. "It was our Full- Moon Hash and we were downtown by the river. We ran into a creek bed underneath the bridge and into a tunnel with our flashlights. After 30 or 45 minutes and approximately 11/2 miles through some of the oldest storm drainage systems in Austin, we found a ladder that led up to a manhole cover and climbed out into the middle of the street,'' Perkins said.

Definitely not your everyday jog.

We continued down the sides of the streets, not under them, ultimately coming to our next backcheck. A few hashers went one way, a few the other. Finally someone found the path, and we were off again.

As we ran along the mossed- over creek, I was tempted to jump in. Despite the nastiness of the green moss consuming the water, I thought it would have at least cooled me off. Instead, I surged ahead, invariably wiping the beads of sweat off my forehead onto my shirt with hopes of ending the fiery sensation in my eyes.

Crossing over a major thoroughfare, we ventured off into another wooded area. The sun glared down and my body felt like it was about to overheat. Then, there it was, like an oasis in the desert, the beer check. I saw a couple of hashers diligently following the trail of flour but I made a beeline for the Suburban. Through a construction area of unused sheets of plywood, stacked two-by-fours, and dried mounds of dirt, I floundered my way to those who had already gathered and were enjoying their refreshments.


As I brought my so-called jog to a screeching halt, someone said, ''You made it in the first pack.'' "Oh, really,'' I responded as I passed by and made another beeline, this time for the ice chest. Although the ice chest looked like something my body should be lying in, I opted to grab a cola. Others grabbed one of the many varieties of beer that had been stockpiled.

While we stood and in some cases, sat around watching the other hashers trickle in a few at a time. I found out what hashing is all about. It's not about competing or seeing who can get there first, instead it's about one thing -- camaraderie.

I realized that this run is a time when diverse backgrounds and distinct personalities come together to have fun and develop new friendships, all while the workplace and the world's troubles are left behind.

Mark Boyden, who was also a "New Boot,'' or first-time hasher like myself said the group is appealing for many reasons but especially the friendships. ''I like the fact that you can slow down and walk whenever you want because it's not a race. But it generally appeals to me because it's a fun group that likes to get together and raise their metabolic rate for a few minutes and then pound down a few beers.''

In addition to the fun and friendships, the hash also serves as a way to explore a variety of locations in and around the city. "It's a good way to see the countryside,'' Sally Pelton said, "you get to see parts of Austin that you never knew existed and learn the back country.''

After reminiscing and carrying on for a few minutes, everyone finished his or her respective beverage and we were off again.

The second half of the hash was not nearly as long or exhausting as the first. While I made my way closer to the finish, I began to wonder about what awaited me at the end. After all, I had been told there is a big ceremony at the event's conclusion where everyone gathers around in a circle and sings while the new visitors are rounded up in the middle and persuaded to swig a beverage or two. Knowing I was one of the unheralded ''visitors,'' I began to feel my body stiffen, like one of the large oak trees I was passing. Despite those feelings, I trudged on through poison ivy, and more than likely hiding snakes, toward our final drinking destination.

After 20 or so minutes of laboring through the unyielding sun and woods, I was there. The promised land -- a house of one of the hashers. Crawling over the barbed-wire fence into the backyard, I looked back and thought about what I had just done. Unfortunately, I saw others struggling down the homestretch and it brought me back to the harsh realization that I had just put myself through a grueling 3.5 miles, approximately, of hell. I was just glad it was over.


After washing off with a hose and applying rubbing alcohol to soothe the wounds and disinfect our bodies from suspected poisonous vegetation and bugs, most of the hashers got into a change of clothes.

The group visited for more than an hour and talked while I listened to their tales of travail. Then it was time for the "Down, Down.'' As they gathered us up like a herd of cattle, a gentleman took my cap and told me to give him my valuables. I wondered why, and soon enough found out.

Those of us in the middle, the "New Boots,'' were instructed that we were to listen carefully to the song, and drink our entire beverage, cola or beer, whenever we heard the cue. If we did not finish our beverage, we had to pour the container's remaining contents over our head. At that point I was glad I hadn't brought a change of clothes and was thankful the gentleman had taken my valuables. As the song began and I eagerly awaited the signal, I was reminded me of another childhood game -- musical chairs. As the song concluded, the words, ''Down, down, down,'' were repeated in rapid fashion and all the members closed their fist and motioned their thumb toward the ground in a rhythmic manner. This was our cue.

Unfortunately, I had consumed quite a bit of water upon arriving at the house so my body wasn't ready for more, at least not in this manner. Needless to say, the beverage I had been drinking, I was now wearing. However, my initiation was over.

When the circle had broken up, I realized that my concern about the concluding ritual was unwarranted. It was all in good fun and taste, albeit a barley-hops taste for most. What else should I have expected from a group of people who use running as an excuse to get together and drink.

For more information on the group's weekly runs, call 707-3818.

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