July 3, 1997

Hashers Chase the Trail Not Taken

'Hashers' chase the trail not taken

The Star-Ledger
July 3, 1997
By Kristie Hanley

By day, they go by titles such as marketing director, teacher and bank vice president.

But when Monday evening rolls around, they don their sneakers and answer to the name "Hasher." And being a Hasher - a member of a sports club called the Summit Hash House Harriers – means chasing a flour trail that winds into the woods, through streams and around suburban neighborhoods. The reward is a keg of beer at a member's house or a few rounds at a local pub.

"For all Hashers, I think it's the opportunity to leave behind everything else that's serious that week," said Tony Saitta of New Providence, grand master of the club and marketing director for American Express in Manhattan.

"It's very relaxing," said member Drew Fischlein of Succasunna, who works for GPU Energy in Morristown. "It's a semi-escape from the pressures of work and everything else."

"It's just fun," offered Ed George of Lebanon Borough, a mechanical design instructor at Somerset County Technical Institute in Bridgewater. "It's non-competitive and it's a lot more interesting than just running on the road."

The Hash House Harriers is an international running group founded 61 years ago by an Australian living in Malaysia. It is named for the bar - the Hash House – where members congregated after their weekly run. The club eventually branched out into other parts of Asia, and now has chapters throughout the western hemisphere as well.

Member Jim Whitely has been hashing since the '70's, when he became a founding member of the Seoul Hash House Harriers. Whitely, now a vice president at Chase Manhattan, managed the Seoul branch of Marine Midland Bank for four years.

"It was very big in Southeast Asia for awhile," said Whitely, of Short Hills. "It was popular in the expatriate community, among foreigners who were living overseas. Then

it spread to Korea, and it took off." The Seoul group started out as American, British, Swiss and German businessmen and military people. Then a couple of Koreans started coming. I haven't been back in awhile, but I understand now it's quite a mixed group."

The hash, as the run is called, is modeled after the British game of hare and hounds. Each week, one member takes a turn playing the role of the trail-laying "hare," and the rest of the members are the "hounds." The hounds follow the trail, which consists of patches of flour and ranges from 4 to 6 miles in length.

Every so often, the runner will come across an X marking the trail's end. It is then up to the pack to try running in different directions to pick it up again. The real trail is indicated by at least three patches of flour in a row, and anyone who finds it informs the others by yelling out the call of the Hasher, "On-on!"

Speed can actually work agains a runner, said Saitta, explaining that fast runners waste more time on false trails, allowing the slower members of the pack to catch up.

The hashes are held year-round, no matter the weather. In the rain, trails are marked with flour on trees, and in the snow, food coloring is used on the ground.

A recent hash at Loantaka Reservation in Chatham Township started on the road, but soon turned off into a field of calf-high grass and weeds and then into the muddy woods. The trail was set by Fischlein, the "hare" of the group for that week.

Meeting in the parking lot, the members greeted and ribbed one another and covered their ankles in tick spray before beginning the run. They organized when Saitta yelled, "Ollie, Ollie, Ollie!"

Seventeen runners took off, leaving behind one forlorn-looking brother, Andy Norris of Mountainside. Norris was kept back by a brace on his leg, the result of an injury during a hash in Pennsylvania a few weeks before.

"It's a bad sprain," said Norris, "but I heard there was a hash tonight, so I checked myself out of the hospital and came over." Until the others finished running, all Norris could do was joke and limp and wait for the culminating celebration.

Thre were even a few pint-sized Hashers. Dave and Nora Carey of Morristown, who met at a hash in 1989, pushed their children, 2 1/2-year-old Alex and 10-month-old twins Emma and Brian, in jogging strollers.

"It usually puts them to sleep," said their mother, the only woman at the hash that day.

Whitely also brought along his son, Chris, 23. Although it was not his first hash, the junior Whitely admits it takes some coaxing on his father's part to get him there.

"You've got to work out once in a while," retorted Jim Whitely.

"They come from all walks of life," Saitta said of the group's members. "Everyone has two things in common: They enjoy running and they enjoy drinking beer. Some are athletes who do triathlons. Others do nothing all week except come to the hash."

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