The Hash Dash
humans play the hare-and-hound There is no finish
line, only a pub
Fri., Feb. 21, 1992
By Craig Wilson
FAIRFAX, Va. - The ground is snow-covered. The trail
Sixty idling runners hop in
unison to fight off the cold.
Ten or so scatter. Scouts. They
return with nothing but frustration on their faces.
Then, from deep in the woods,
come the words they've been waiting to hear:
``On! On!'' a distant runner
yells through the snowy silence. ``On! On!'' the pack
Whistles blow to alert other
runners near and far that someone is ``on'' the trail
The chase resumes ...
Fifty years ago this month,
A.S. Gispert was killed defending Singapore from the
Japanese. A footnote in history.
Gispert's real claim to fame -
and why he's being toasted worldwide on the
anniversary of his death - is that he founded
``hashing,'' a rapidly growing sport for, what
hashers call, ``the terminally immature.''
Hashing is a cross between a
Marine Corps obstacle course, a cross- country race
and a frat party after the big game. A hare-and-hound
chase, with a few twists.
Do you like to run but find it
boring? Was the zenith of your social life college?
Tired of the politically correct exercise program and
the ``reward'' of mineral water at the end?
Then blow the dust out of that
beer stein. Brambles beckon. Over the river and
through the woods takes on a whole new meaning.
The tradition began more than
50 years ago in Kuala Lumpur when Gispert and a
couple of friends decided running was just too
boring. So, using flour and paper, they began laying
trails through the countryside, adding false leads
and loopbacks just for the hell of it. They then
rewarded themselves, and those who successfully
completed the ever-changing course, with a few dozen
beers. The stories differ, but some say those beers
were taken at a local cafe called the Hash House.
Hence the term ``hashing.''
And the runners? Hash House
Harriers: self-dubbed ``beer drinkers with a running
Today, there are some 100,000
hashers in more than 1,200 hashes (groups) in 130
countries around the world. Australia boasts the
In the United States, the San
Diego and Washington, D.C., areas are hashing
hotbeds. The capital area alone boasts nine such
The hashing circuit has grown
to the point that, like members of Alcoholics
Anonymous or Rotary Clubs, a kindred soul is never
``I went to Westchester County,
N.Y., a while ago, and I just called up to find out
when the next hash was. And there we were, hashing
with these perfectly strange people,'' says Dee
She joined the White House Hash
last year after seeing the group, dressed in tuxedos
and ballgowns, on its annual run through the streets
of Washington. She spotted them clomping through the
National Zoo. ``I knew right then they were my kind
``It's really a way of life,''
says Wanda Kennicott of Fairfax County, Va., a hasher
since 1984. ``It's every bit as good as Lions or
John Martin, a San Diego
radiologist, writes InterHASHional News, updating
hashers around the world on runs and events. (The
World Hash is July 4 in Thailand; more than 2,000
hashers are expected.)
Hashing since 1982, Martin was
the man at the now infamous Philadelphia Interhash in
The hash trail there led
runners into a dark train tunnel where, indeed, there
was the proverbial light at the end. It was a train.
``I was the first guy through
the tunnel, running toward the train,'' says Martin,
who hashes at least twice a week. ``Yes, I was
scared. I thought it was going to run over the guys
Martin swears the train was
moving toward him. Others say it was stationary. The
hash organizer in Philadelphia has never revealed
what really happened that day.
Was it planned? Maybe. Maybe
not. Such is the world of hashing.
Hashers - who follow trails
through shopping malls, train stations, the Library
of Congress, concert halls, supermarkets, airports,
department stores and amusement parks - pride
themselves in handling such spontaniety.
No true hasher would have
turned back on that fateful day in Philadelphia.
There are no rules, really, but
there are a few things you should know:
- It's not a race. It's a
run. You can't win and you can't lose. The
idea is fun.
- You can cheat - taking
shortcuts, say - but it's best not to get
- Don't wear anything either
too new or too coordinated. One hasher who
showed up at the Mount Vernon Hash here
recently was wearing brand-new running shoes.
Bad mistake. His penalty was to drink beer
from his new cushioned slipper.
For decades hashing has been
more of a sport for foreign shores - popular with a
small group of Foreign Service and military personnel
in Asia who needed exercise and diversion.
The stories are legion.
Barbara and Bob Fitz, who
founded the Mount Vernon Hash six years ago, remember
hashing one New Year's Eve in Japan. The course took
them over a wall, through a public building, and out
the other side. Not until they were arrested did they
know they were running through an insane asylum.
``The neighbors thought it was
a breakout,'' says Fitz, a grandmother of four. ``A
lot of people are very nervous about grown-ups
running around having a good time. People have called
the police on us a number of times. I fear it's only
a matter of time before someone gets shot.''
There are hashers who run by
the light of a full moon. One hash group in Taiwan
runs only on Thursday nights.
The rowdy Austin, Texas, hash
prides itself on its notoriety. Once, the hare (the
person who sets out first to lay the course), was
caught by pursuing hashers. His punishment: running
to the beer in the buff.
And there are hashers who
prefer routes that take them through large bodies of
water: fountains, lakes, streams and waterfalls, both
urban and rural. (One hasher died in Japan when he
fell on a rock in a stream bed and drowned before
trailing hashers found him.)
The course the Mount Vernon
Hash ran on this February Saturday took the hashers
from a suburban parking lot, across a four-lane
highway (in front of screeching traffic), through a
farm field, onto the streets of a housing
development, down a muddy hill, up a semi-frozen
stream and through the campus of George Mason
University before finishing where these four- to six-
mile runs always finish - at a pub where the beer was
already waiting in huge pitchers.
It was a good run. It was cold.
The stream was icy. The morning's snowfall was a
perfect foil. ``You get more people when the weather
is bad,'' says Kennicott. ``What else can you do but
go outside and hash?''
A glossary of terms
- Hashing: A four- to
six-mile run, often through briars and
streams, based on the old hare-and-hound
chase. Runners follow a trail laid out by a
- The Hash: The collective
bunch of misfits making up individual hash
- Harrier: Male hashers.
- Harrietts: Female hashers.
- Hash: White flour or
flour/shredded paper mix used to mark the
course. Jell-O is added for color if there's
snow on the ground.
- On on: Words used to
inform those behind you that you are
definitely on the true trail.
- Down down: Twelve ounces
of your favorite beverage. Once you start to
drink you're expected to finish it all. If
not, you pour it on your head.
- CUTLINE:John Moran, above,
of the Mount Vernon Hash in Fairfax, Va., is
the `hare' who marks the trail ...
- CUTLINE:... for a recent
``hash,'' or run, for his fellow members,
through briars and brambles ...
- CUTLINE:... to follow the
twisting trail. On! On! To the finish where
pitchers of beer await the hashers - harriers
and harrietts - who discuss the next run.