Off Duty
September 1, 1994

Wild About Hash


Wild about Hash

Off Duty (Pacific Edition)
September 1994

By Eric Minton

One thing is clear about the running that Hash House Harriers engage in: it is not jogging.

"Jogging is boring, and only boring people do it, proclaims Gordon "Prof" Williams, who runs with the Bicester, England, Hash House Harriers.

Well, if it's not jogging, what is it? Briefly, hashing is one runner laying a trail for a pack of other runners to follow. Yet, it is not simply cross-country running or even orienteering. "Hashing is far more than a mere sport--it becomes a way of life, a religion almost," says Williams.

Indeed, the word "sport" is frowned upon in H3 circles, for camaraderie, not running, is the key element in hashing: getting together at bars and noodle shops in Asia, where hashing originated, at cafes and bistros in Europe, at pubs in England, at pizzerias and 7-Elevens in America. Most hash runs start at a drinking hole and inevitably end at a drinking hole--and sometimes there are stops at drinking holes along the way.

In other words, hashing is a social event, first and foremost. "We have fun and don't really care all that much about other things," wrote "Mr. Spock," the editor of InterHASHional News, a publication for hashmen and women.

"Hashing is the most fun you'll ever have standing up," says Clay "Slippery Seaman" Kelley, a forty-four-year-old Chief Warrant Officer who works in the Pentagon. He even got married while hashing.

For some insight, we offer a list of "Hash Hints" Williams printed in his Bicester H3 newsletter, "Guide for New Feet & Virgin Hares."

(Hash Hint: Hashing is totally non-competitive, although someone has to be first. If by some fluke you manage to find yourself in this unfortunate position, Yell "ON! ON!" until you are exhausted enough to fall back to your rightful place in the pack. These calls are not designed to help you but the poor unfortunate at the rear who can then short cut (Hash Tactical) back to the pack.)

A runner called a hare maps out a trail marked by blobs of flour, chalk or sawdust (the latter is more effective on frosty ground or snow). The hares can choose terrain as easy or as difficult as they wish---rugged, rural, urban or suburban. If there is any rule in marking trail it would be "If there's a prevalence of mud, use it."

Karla "More-Leggs" Kelley, Clay's wife, says that once, in Atlanta, she ran through a tunnel with foot-high water. "A black hole for 10 minutes," she says. "It twisted so you couldn't see the end; you're groping along the wall with your hand to see where you are."

A series of hashes in Philadelphia wound through downtown, through the zoo, across a railroad trestle, up the steps to the Museum of Art, through a stream that covered the runners' shirts with a slimy black substance that didn't wash out. "I guess we do some bizarre things for fun," Mrs. Kelley admits.

Every 500 or so yards, the hare chalks a line across the trail to mark its end---called a check---then starts another trail about 150 feet away.

( HASH HINT: If it is your misfortune to arrive first at a check, don't sit down and rest, or stand about like a wet weed, but look for the new trail and shout "Checking!" loudly and often. If you find an X, announce "False Trail!" equally loudly.)

The hare will sometimes lay false trails in addition to the real one. These false trails shouldn't extend further than three marks, and end with an X.

Hash runs usually cover four to seven miles and last 60 to 90 minutes, but the recap of the run, with refreshments, can go on considerably longer.

(HASH HINT: The social pack retains it superiority by deployment of its greater intelligence. Short-cutting from the rear---hash tacticals---is encouraged and united pack is far better for warding of f homicidal landowners and Rottweilers, as well as forcing the (bartender's) arm if you arrive back at the pub early.)

Judy "Coach" Rusk, a travel agent in San Diego, was asked in 1986 to arrange a Thailand trip for the San Diego Hash. She went along and, after visiting various Hashes, ran her first in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, the birthplace of hashing. "It was awful," she says. "We went through muck, a rubber tree plantation where it had rained, and it was slippery and all uphill. That got me Started."

Rusk, now fifty-five years old, ran with the San Diego Hash for a few years and was one of the founders of the all-women's San Diego Mission Harriettes. What could possibly have enticed her about that first hash?

"Afterwards, we joined about 200 people sitting around in a restaurant with fantastic food where tourists never go and I got to meet people from all walks of life and nationality. I just found that so fascinating."

(HASH HINT: Short-cutting from the front is not allowed---one of the very few firm rules of hashing--and could result in the whole Hash straying on to uncleared land.)

"Uncleared" means "without permission" from the landowner. Kelley tells of a run with the Mt. Vernon Hash when a resident called 911 after seeing somebody throwing white stuff on the road and guys running around "acting crazy."

"The police came out and asked what we were doing," says Kelley. "We said, "Hash."

Some hares pre-lay a trail, but when a live trail is used, the hare get only a 15-minute head start. If the pack catches the hare, tradition calls for stripping them of their shorts, though some Hashes forego that one.

"It doesn't get vulgar," says Kelley, who claims he's "caught a handful" of hares. "Sometimes they wear two pairs of shorts."

(HASH HINT: Move at your own pace. Ignore the FRBs -front running bastards- and jockstraps who urge you to go faster. If you should fall behind, try a Hash Tactical. If your tactic succeeds, you may be accused by a jealous FRB of being an SCB -short cutting bastard. Just ignore it; such accusations merely confirm your superior abilities.)

Hashing is not for the prim. No matter where the hash is run, or the language spoken, all hashers seem to know the same, rowdy "body songs," Mrs. Kelley says.

And while hashing erases racial, ethnic, age and national barriers, the line between sexes remains. It can be an intimidating, chauvinistic experience for women. A women has to have good self -esteem," Mrs. Kelley says. "She has to have a good sense of humor, too."

For women who might feel intimidated by a pack of men running around singing rude songs and shouting "ON! ON!" there are all-female hashes. Rusk's group allows men to run, buts its one rule is that women have to be at the front of the pack, and only women can solve the check--that is, verify whether a trail is false or not.

Just about everyone in the hash has a nickname, most of which have some anatomical or sexually explicit origin. "People always ask me, 'How did you get a name you could tell your mother?'" says "Coach" Rusk. She's not sure, but she didn't have any say-so in the matter. The objective of most nicknames seems to be to call attention to something its owner would rather forget.

(HASH HINT: "Always try to keep at least one hasher between you and anything which looks at all fierce, such as bull terriers, geese and pigs."

In Japan, Kelley, as the hare, laid what he considers his trickiest trail---straight through a town, ending with a sign to go straight back, Consequently, he had to return along the same route. When he saw the pack coming his way, he ducked into a store. The woman merchant saw the this man, out of breath from running, covered in flour, hiding from a bunch of running, shouting men. "She knew they were looking for me," he says. "She was scared."

Hashing began with a group of British Army men stationed in Malaysia before World War II. They took up trail-chasing through the jungles near Kuala Lumpur, after-ward gathering for some imbibing at the Selangor Club, known locally as the Hash House. The activity resumed after World War II, and as more British and Australian troops took part, it spread, particularly in Asia. It isn't known when the American Hash was formed, but it likely was in the late '70s or early '80s, when U.S. military people got involved and began spreading the word. [Ed: OFF DUTY first published an article about the hash in 1973.]

Today there are hundreds of U.S. military Hash groups active all around the world.

Every even-number year, hashers from all over the world get together for the InterHash.

The 1994 meet was held in Rotorua, New Zealand, in February. The 1996 Interhash will be held in Cyprus.

(HASH HINT: "If you wish to know what the hell is going on up front, call 'How are you?' which should evoke the response 'Checking!' 'False Trail!' Off chalk!!' or even 'Lost!'

While stationed in Germany, the Kelleys visited Prague shortly after the Iron Curtain came down, and they saw flour on the road. "Can't be!" they said to each other. They soon saw a pack of runners wearing Czechoslovakain Hash T-shirts. We shouted 'ON!! ON!' and they shouted 'ON! ON!'" Kelley says.

"You can be in the most godforsaken place in Asia, and there will be hashers," says Rusk. "No matter where you go in the world you have friends."

"Bernard Mills" (his hash name)' a marine stationed at El Toro MCAS, California, was sent to Saudi Arabia during the Gulf War. He made contact on the telephone with British hashmen. "They said, 'We'll meet you at such-and-such coordinates and they gave me the number, and I went and waited for them. It was just a spot out in the sand. They came driving up from out of nowhere, and we went running together. It really seemed weird." Saudi Arabia being dry, however, they had to forgo the customary post-hash libations.

"If the run doesn't draw blood, people will say it wasn't a fun run," says Mrs. Kelley. She began hashing in 1986 shortly after moving to Columbia, South Carolina, when she read a notice for "this thing about runners" in a newspaper.

"It sounded kind of interesting so I showed up," she says. "It was horrible for me. We went through a lot of sand and bridges and a swamp. I'm a road-runner, and here are these people running in the craziest places---and enjoying it."

She was hooked. "The camaraderie and the spirit of it all," she says. "It's just nice to meet people that way," including her future husband on that first hash.

The Kelleys married two years later---twice. Both ceremonies were hash weddings. For the first, in Columbia, Karla wore her mother's wedding dress---in addition to her running outfit---and Clay had on a vest and boutonniere. They ran through the city, took a trolley to the starting point and had the ceremony.

Later, in a Charleston hash, the ceremony came halfway through the run. "We stopped, had the ceremony, and they had a formal line we ran underneath while they threw rice and champagne on us," Clay says. "Then they handcuffed us together. We still had three miles to run.

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