Making A Beer Run: Drinkers with a running problem
July 6, 1996
By Kyle Dalton
Special to the
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
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.
ON THE RIGHT TRAIL
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
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
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
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.
A KIND OF BONDING
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 --
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
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
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.