USA Today
February 21, 1992

The Hash Dash


The Hash Dash
Where humans play the hare-and-hound There is no finish line, only a pub

USA TODAY
Fri., Feb. 21, 1992
FINAL EDITION
Section: LIFE
Page 1D
By Craig Wilson

FAIRFAX, Va. - The ground is snow-covered. The trail lost.

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 echoes.

Whistles blow to alert other runners near and far that someone is ``on'' the trail again.

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 problem.''

Today, there are some 100,000 hashers in more than 1,200 hashes (groups) in 130 countries around the world. Australia boasts the most.

In the United States, the San Diego and Washington, D.C., areas are hashing hotbeds. The capital area alone boasts nine such groups.

The hashing circuit has grown to the point that, like members of Alcoholics Anonymous or Rotary Clubs, a kindred soul is never far away.

``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 Hester.

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 of runners.''

``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 Rotary.''

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 1987.

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 behind me.''

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 caught.
  • 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 ``hare.''
  • The Hash: The collective bunch of misfits making up individual hash groups.
  • 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.

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