Daily Press
July 31, 1998

Beer Chasers


Beer chasers
Unique 'sport' blends excercise, revelry and poor man's fox hunt

By Dave Schleck
Daily Press


HAMPTON - If you see a mismatched group of runners pass by your house, wandering aimlessly in several different directions and making cryptic chalk marks on the road, be aware - your neighborhood is being hashed.

A locality that recently witnessed this aberration is the North King Street area of Hampton, where the Fort Eustis Hash House Harriers held a Tuesday night chase several weeks ago.

Residents watched curiously from their front porches as more than 30 men and women ran, walked and fumbled through several neighborhoods, shouting out signals such as "On-On!" and "True Trail!"

A boy standing outside his home on Quash Street called out to the sweaty, swearing crowd that was jogging by.

"What are you all running from?" he asked.

Political correctness. Stuffiness. Seriousness, they might have answered.

The Hash House Harriers not only reject these qualities, they scold participants who slip into prim and proper behavior. The more ragged your running clothes, the better. Show up with shiny running shoes, and you may be asked to drink beer out of your brand new Reeboks.

Hash club chases combine the athleticism of an afternoon jog with the playfulness of Hide-And-Go-Seek and the rowdiness of a college fraternity party.

Like a poor man's version of a fox hunt, hashers chase after the scent of sneaky runners called "hares," who rush ahead of the pack and leave a confusing, powdery trail of flour.

A word of warning - this social sport isn't for everyone.

"Don't come if you're timid, don't like foul language, nudity or wildness," says Anne Croissant, a harrier who lives in Hampton now but has also hashed in her homeland of Scotland.

Hashing often crosses the bounds of decency and sometimes breaks public drinking laws.

But hashers don't fret over such things. The point of this game is to turn the old rules upside down and have fun. And the harriers want the public to know more about their goofy antics.

"I want people who watch us run through their neighborhoods to understand what we're doing," says August Zumbuhl, an active member of the Fort Eustis Hash House Harriers.

Zumbuhl, a computer programmer who lives in Virginia Beach, says in a world that often takes itself too seriously, it's nice to retreat into the friendly, slapstick world of the hash, where everyone is equally subjected to fun and ridicule.

"Once you put on your racing gear and use your hash name, what you are in real life isn't clear," says Zumbuhl. "When you show up, it's like you automatically have 30 friends."

Every hash name, whether it's "Sloppy Seconds" or "Final Foreplay," has a story behind it - stories too racy to mention here.

It may sound like a big joke. But hashing actually has a history and a sizable following.

A British accountant working at a Malaysian rubber plantation started the first Hash Club in 1938. The chase relieved the rigors of the work week and often ended with a spirited celebration at a "hash house." "Hash" is the British term for diner, Zumbuhl says.

In 1971, a British army officer started the Fort Eustis Hash House Harriers. Today, the group is the oldest continuing hash club in the country, Zumbuhl says.

There are thousands of hash clubs around the world. People have been known to travel to other countries in a quest for the wildest hash group.

About five hash groups meet regularly in Hampton Roads, including a "Harbor Hash" designed for families (bawdiness is kept to a minimum, with trails that are stroller-friendly).

Whether a jogger or a mad dasher, runners only need a healthy sense of humor to fit in with a hash club.

Harriers come in all shapes, types and sizes - the sleek and the pudgy, men and women, military and civilian, young and old, blue-collar workers and school teachers. About 20 to 50 members of the group meet at 6:30 p.m. every Tuesday.

The location changes every week. The Hash House Harriers think it's boring to run the same route over and over again.

On a recent chase, the harriers started with many laughs and a few drinks in the parking lot of Barron Elementary School on Fox Hill Road.

Two members of the group were designated as "hares." After the group sang a few drinking songs with lyrics that push the limits of an "R" rating, the hares ran off with bags of flour on their shoulders.

In a 4-mile path through several neighborhoods, the hares sprinkled a deceptive path of flour for the harriers to follow. This day's trail was pretty dry compared to the mud and muck many hares choose to trample through.

After giving the hares a 12-minute head start, the rest of the group left the school and started the chase, whistling and calling out to each other as they weaved their way through the zig-zag trail. The shouts "On-On!" and "True Trail!" mean that the runners think they're on the right track.

The hares, in addition to marking their trail with smatterings of flour, used chalk to mark off directional symbols on the road. A circle with a cross through it designates an intersection - a ploy to throw off the faster runners.

As the slackers caught up with the sprinters, neighborhood children started a cheering section at one street corner. A perplexed child stopped his Big Wheel in the middle of the road and stared open-mouthed at the passers-by.

This was no marathon race.

Instead of a water table, the harriers set up a beer stop in the middle of the race, where runners drank beer and sports juice from the back of a truck.

There was no victory tape or time clock at the finish line. That's far too stressful for this laid-back crew.

Most runners arrived at about the same time, about an hour and a half after beginning the 3-mile misadventure.

Then it was time for the second part of the hash experience - the "down-down," an awards ceremony held at a private home near North King Street.

At the down-down, the harriers formed a lopsided circle and recognized those who achieved great and not-so-great feats during the chase.

The harriers also joked around with the newcomers, teasing them with nicknames and encouraging them to drink as the rest of the circle sang rugby songs.

Remember, this is a rowdy group. It's not unheard of for women to flash their breasts or guys to show their hind parts at the down-down, Zumbuhl says.

But judging from the group's high spirits, no one was offended. Roy Kidwell, a non-commission officer at Fort Eustis who is new to hashing, says he will definitely come back for more.

"It was fabulous," he says. "It combines my two favorite things - running and beer."

Dave Schleck can be reached at 247-7430 or by e-mail at
dschleck@dailypress.com



FROLIC TAKES PRECEDENCE OVER DRINKING IN HASH CLUB

By Dave Schleck

Daily Press

Although combining alcohol and running may not seem like the healthiest of sports, members of the Fort Eustis Hash House Harriers insist that they discourage unsafe drinking.

"It's a drinking club," says August Zumbuhl, an active harrier with the Fort Eustis group. "But it's not a fraternity where you're trying to get everyone sloshed."

Hashers meet in public places, such as school parking lots, and make a roadside beer stop once during their chase. While it's after school hours and they don't stop for long, they are drinking in public.

"The beer stop being on the side of the road isn't particularly legal," Zumbuhl admits. Drinking in public is a misdemeanor in Virginia, except for places and special events approved by the state's alcoholic beverage control board.

Zumbuhl says most of the drinking takes place at the "down-down" - an awards party at a bar or house at the end of the trail.

There, the harriers celebrate by taking turns chugging beers, soda or water in the center of a circle while others sing drinking songs. Those who drink too slowly are serenaded with the song, "Why are we waiting?"

Runners drink out of dark-colored cups so it's not apparent who is and is not drinking beer, Zumbuhl says.

"You're decision about what you drink is personal," explains Zumbuhl, who says he and his wife are abstaining from drinking while she is pregnant with twins.

"We're not here to force you to drink a beer. What you have in your cup and how much you have in there is your business."

The popularity of hash clubs has spread through the military community and beyond. Although not sponsored by the military, clubs can be found near bases around the world. Officials at Fort Eustis and Fort Monroe say they've never had any problems with hash clubs.

Still, groups that discourage alcohol abuse worry that hash clubs take their carefree attitude too far.

"I feel a general discomfort of using alcohol as a basis of a form of entertainment," says Patty Gilbertson, clinical director for adult substance abuse programs at the Hampton-Newport News Community Services Board.

Gilbertson says some aspects of hash clubs are appealing - their noncompetitive attitude and acceptance of every level of runners, for example.

"On the surface, it sounds kind of harmless," says Gilbertson, who recently checked out the Fort Eustis group's Web site.

Running while under the influence of alcohol could cause harriers to trip and fall on the trails, which are sometimes in watery or wooded areas, Gilbertson says. People with respiratory or heart problems run a special risk of stroke or heart attacks if they mix alcohol and exercise.

In addition, people should not be driving home after chugging beers, she says.

Zumbuhl says the group encourages designated drivers and car pooling. Drinkers who don't find rides often stay put and sleep off their buzz. In fact, hosts of the down-down parties boast about the number of people who have "crashed" at their respective homes.

Adam Brooks, a government teacher at Woodside, prefers to drink water or non-alcoholic beer at the down-down.

"It's really not about drinking," he says. "It's a social gathering kind of thing."

Dave Schleck can be reached at 247-7430 or by e-mail at
dschleck@dailypress.com

------------------

The Fort Eustis Hash House Harriers club is open to adults only. To find out more about local hash clubs, call the hash hotline at 552-8043, or check out the Virginia hash club Web site,
www.macs.net/users/august/hashva.html

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