Hashers follow the long path of history, fun
11-17-1994, pp A74
By Bill Falk. STAFF WRITER
was not the kind of terrain the original chaps
envisioned when they blazed the first hash trail
among the rubber-tree plantations of Kuala Lumpur,
But Hash House
Harriers will run through whatever the local
topography has to offer. And in New York City on a
recent Sunday the local topography offered city
streets filled with puddles and a slippery slope in
Riverside Park slickened by mud and scattered piles
of dog doo.
On!" a group of hashers shouted as they edged
down the slope, nervously eyeing the doggy hazards.
In the pouring rain, soggy men and women pooled at
the bottom of the hill, walking in puzzled circles,
looking for a trail marker. Alarmed by the sudden
appearance of this shouting horde, a man clutching a
black garbage bag moved through the trees like a
rag-tag ghost, looking over his shoulder.
you?" some laggard hashers shouted, just
reaching the top of the hill. This is hash shorthand
for "Are you on the trail?"
hashers at the bottom shouted back. Then Laird
Stiefvater, a seven-year veteran of the hash, spotted
a small, chalked arrow on a tree, left there by a
"hare" (a fellow Harrier who set the
four-mile, zig-zag course through the parks and
streets of the Upper West Side).
On!" Stiefvater shouted, resuming the run
northward through a clump of trees.
splashed off behind him, relaying the call: "On!
On!" The man with the black garbage bag watched
the mud-spattered entourage run past - some
sprinting, some staggering with exhaustion - and
shook his head. On? On?
Groups of Hash
House Harriers have been carrying on like this for 56
years, trotting through topographical puzzles set in
the rice paddies of the Far East and the deserts of
Saudi Arabia and the Outback of Australia - as well
as the streets of Rome, Paris and New York. Hash
House Harriers run - not race - in 130 countries
around the world.
Conceived as a
way for British expatriates in Malaysia to blow off
steam, hashing mixes elements of running, British
hunting tradition and beer swilling, flavored with
droll humor, elaborate rituals and a vocabulary all
is," says Bob Kleinberg, a geophysicist who has
hashed eight years in Connecticut, Westchester and
New York City, "is a subculture."
It grew slowly
at first, but in the past decade hashing spread like
a contagious tropical disease throughout the world.
Today the loosely coordinated organization lists more
than 1,200 chapters, or hashes, and approximately
100,000 male and female participants.
chapters have sprung up in the United States. There
are hashes based in Manhattan and Brooklyn and
several in Westchester, Connecticut and New Jersey.
Each chapter runs once a week, every week, regardless
of weather, in packs of about 20 people and up to as
many as 70 in the summer.
don't advertise or proselytize. People find out about
them through friends or co-workers, or sometimes
simply by seeing a pack dash by and, out of
curiosity, running along.
join," said Ian Cumming, a British native who
began hashing in 1959 at the "Mother Hash"
in Kuala Lumpur. He later founded a chapter in
Singapore, and then began the first New York area
hash in Westchester in 1978. "You either show
up, or you don't."
The sport, if
you want to call it that, was invented by bored
British and Australian expatriates in Kuala Lumpur in
1938. They modified a 19th-Century British game of
hares and hounds into a running game devised to give
them a reason to work off large meals and frequent
hangovers. The name of their informal club came from
the "Hash House," which is what they called
the Selangar Club, where they took their meals.
hashers, including the sainted founder Albert Stephen
Gispert (he was
killed in World War II), laid their trails through
the rubber trees of the Malaysian peninsula. At the
end of their slow, meandering runs they drank copious
amounts of ginger beer, sang randy rugby songs and
generally carried on disgracefully.
decades, very little has changed other than the
admission of women to the once all-male hash world.
"It is irreverence that counts," Cumming
said. For this reason, he said, the transplant has
thrived on American soil.
every hash proceeds along a new, quirk-laden trail;
the idea is to go where no hasher has gone before
and, whenever possible, to confound and irritate the
non-hashing world. "We made a decision early on
not to ask permission to run across people's
property," Cumming said. "If you ask, some
lawyer will become involved and you will be told no.
So we don't ask."
trails through a wide range of locations. In the
metropolitan area, Harriers have run through the
lobbies of expensive New York City hotels, through
the streets of the South Bronx, through an abandoned
train tunnel in Jersey City, onto the ferry for
Governor's Island, and, most memorably, across six
lanes of traffic on the FDR. "Not a good
idea," Stiefvater conceded.
But whether in
the urban jungle or in the Outback, every proper hash
follows the same basic design: A trail-setter, or
"hare" selected for the day sets a zig-zag
route of from three to six miles, marking the route
on trees, rocks or telephone poles with chalked
arrows and dollops of flour. The pack sets out along
the trail, having no idea where it will lead.
The trail has
various checkpoints, false trails and loops. Their
purpose is to challenge the runners and give slow
ones a chance to keep up with the fit. At the checks,
the trail stops, then resumes in any compass
direction within a radius of 100 yards. False trails
are marked with an "F," telling the runners
to go back to the checkpoint and search in another
direction. Once a hasher locates a marker showing
where the trail resumes, he or she shouts "On!
On!" and springs off. Often, a member of the
pack will sound a hunting horn.
solve the puzzle together, in a cooperative effort.
Short-cutting is both allowed and covertly admired.
Because the checkpoints periodically stop all the
runners in their tracks, sub-three-hour marathoners
and beer-bellied joggers usually arrive at trail's
end on each other's heels.
good trail has everybody finishing up at the same
time," said John Burke, a New York City hasher
who picked up the habit in 1983 while working in
Nigeria for a French bank. "It also has
everybody finishing at a good pub. The most important
thing is to find a good pub and work backwards."
social gatherings, called the "on-on,"
feature beer drinking, bad food, and singing of old
rugby songs with sophomoric lyrics. The degree of
outrageousness of the "on-on" varies from
mild to considerable, depending on local custom.
In the crowded
confines of the New York metropolitan area, the
groups are somewhat sedate. Glasses of water are even
provided at the "on-on" for those who don't
drink or must drive afterward. There are lots of
single men and women, and numerous "hash
marriages" have resulted. "It's become my
social life, and it's a very good place to meet
single men," said Katherine Wandersee, a medical
writer who's been hashing in Manhattan and
Westchester for a year.
offers an introduction to out-of-the-way corners of
wherever hashers live. "I think we've run on
every street in Manhattan at least once," from
Wall Street to Harlem, Stiefvater said.
hashing's primary appeal: It's just another winding
road to camaraderie, a sort of beer-drinking Rotary
Club in dirty running shoes. Begun by expatriates, it
remains a club for those without a club, and those
who are unlikely to join any other.
honest, I don't like running that much, and I don't
like singing that much," said Kleinberg, who has
hashed everywhere from Paraguay to Austin, Texas.
"To me, hashing is a social thing."
Cumming said. That's the point of all the carrying
on. That, and "providing a sense of
businessman, Cumming now travels in search of peak
hash experiences, hashing in about 20 cities and
countries a year in addition to New York. Perhaps the
ultimate hash, he said, came during the legendary
Philadelphia "interhash" in 1987, during a
gathering of hundreds of hash chapters from
throughout the U.S. (There's also a World Interhash
every two years; the last, in New Zealand, brought
together more than 4,000 hashers.)
To spice up the
finale of the Philadelphia hash, the "hare"
had his little arrows lead a giant pack of 700
hashers into a train tunnel. "Just as the people
ran in, a train moved into the tunnel from the other
end," said Cumming. "Lights on, clanging
"On! On!" gave way to a mad scramble to run
back out of the tunnel's mouth. "You can imagine
the panic," Cumming said, his face lit up with
the memory. The train, fortunately, halted before
grinding the fleeing hashers into hash. "To this
day, nobody knows whether the appearance of that
train was arranged or not."
matter, of course. What good clean fun!
information about hashing in New York, call (212)