chase the trail not taken
July 3, 1997
By Kristie Hanley
By day, they go by titles such
as marketing director, teacher and bank vice
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
"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 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.
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,
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."