Hashing

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“On On!” the person ahead of me shouted. As my feet paced the muddy ground beneath, I saw a splash of white flour tossed haphazardly along the trail. There were a half-dozen other Hashers in front of me, and about a dozen trailing behind, some of them far enough away that I could not see them through the thicket. As I passed the flour myself, I echoed “On On!” to the people behind.

A hash in Phnom Penh

My friend Brian describes Hashing (short for “Hash House Harriers”) as being like the movie “Fight Club” in that it’s a semi-secret collection of people that meet regularly to beat themselves up. I think of it as being more like an off-road imaginary fox hunt where the hounds are actually humans (although occasionally there are actual dogs as well). A t-shirt I saw describes it as “A drinking club with a running problem.”

Regardless of how one looks at it, this was my first time, making me a “virgin.” There are other parallels between the micro-cultures of our local hashing and the Rocky Horror Picture Show communities: a pre-occupation with dirty jokes / sexual humor, humorous songs, traditions. Though, I think Hashing also involves lots of beer.

History

Hashing, which is short for the “Hash House Harriers”, originated in Kuala Lumpur “when a group of British colonial officers and expatriates began meeting on Monday evenings to run, in a fashion patterned after the traditional British Paper Chase or “Hare and Hounds”, to rid themselves of the excesses of the previous weekend.

…[they became] known as the “Hash House” for its notoriously monotonous food. Apart from the excitement of chasing the hare and finding the trail, harriers reaching the end of the trail would be rewarded with beer, ginger beer and cigarettes.” (Wikipedia)

With over two thousand chapters, or “kennels”, around the world, it’s a rather prolific pastime.

Racing & Drinking

There are many homages to the “hare and hounds” nature: the trail setters are called “hares”, either “live” or “dead” depending on whether the whole trail is laid out beforehand, as in the latter, or if its laid while there are hashers chasing it, in the former; the trail is chalked with white flour, either as small splotches, arrows, or code-letters.

Most marks are simple splotches (as seen in the inset) which indicate that the hasher is on a trail, but possibly not the trail. Marks such as “R” (reverse), “X” (false trail) or “YBF” (you’ve been fucked) indicate that the hasher needs to double-back. Marks like “BC” (Beer Check), “BN” (Beer Near), or an “O” (circle) indicate that the hasher should pause to congregate and socialize for a break. “B” is kind of a sacred letter, reserved to only be used for “Beer” (or so I’m told). Update: Fellow Ithacan hasher “Crimes” has informed me that some kennels use “X” to indicate trail marks rather than splotches / lines. She also says that “BC” often means “Back Check” which is closer in meaning to “R”. I am going to assume, by extrapolation due to my inexperience with hashing, that there are other details that can be highly colloquial and may not apply to all kennels.

As each hasher discovers a trail marking, they call it out loud, to alert other hashers the status of the trail they’re running. At a few points, the trails would split into a true trail and one or more false trails, although there is no way to tell which is which. The hashers would split into separate groups, ad hoc, and explore each of the trails. As the markers were found, “On” counts were called out: “On 1!”, “On 2!”, “On On On” — while I don’t think it’s a hard-and-fast rule, it seemed generally accepted that three consecutive markers indicated a safe bet for further exploration.

Sometimes hanging back slightly would be beneficial, particularly if there was a mire of forks up ahead; when the hashers ahead finally find the true trail, you can shortcut your way up to them, allowing yourself and those behind you to optimize the trail path.

The socialization aspect is an important component of hash runs. Today, we had three “BC” (one of them was an “SC” for “slushie check”) waypoints. We would all waited for everyone to catch up, had some drinks, and some snacks, provided by a hidden cooler that was left there by the Hares. When runners that were not hashers (or other people) passed by, some of the more seasoned hashers would regale them with Hash songs, such as:

If I could fly high as an eagle
Or soar through the sky like a crow
I’d fly over all of the shiggy
And crap on the Hashers below
(sung to the tune of “My Bonnie”)

“Shiggy” refers to the brush, prickers, mud, streams, and generally anything unpleasant that hashers must run through. Some of the hashers today wore shirts that said “Ithaca is Shiggy”, which is both a play on the “Ithaca is Gorges” slogan and also very, very true.

One really awesome aspect of the hash trail is that it led us, on foot, through parts of town I had never seen before. We were in Ithaca (although at some point I think we crossed over into the communities of Cayuga Heights and possibly even near Dryden), and while I saw a few things I recognized, I saw some beautiful waterfalls, gorges, fields, streams, and wooded areas. The weather was a little chilly (~50 F), but otherwise perfect for running. Since the run (you misread, Mr. Stiffy — Ed.) is non-competitive and the trail finding doesn’t require that much attention, you really get a chance to appreciate the natural surroundings all around.

Being an FRB (“Fast Running Bastard”) is allowed, but not necessary, as the BCs ensure that everyone re-gathers at regular intervals. Being an FRB can actually make you do a Down-Down (drink beer) at the On-After, if you get called out. Most of us jogged, at least, though there were a few walkers. While the hash length varies, the one we ran today was between 6 and 7 miles, meaning I did 10 kilometers! Although I may or may not have referred to it as a “hash race” it’s not a race in the sense that it is not competitive. It’s purely for fun

A few people brought actual dogs, which turned out to be really enjoyable for the dogs. The dogs really enjoyed running along with the hashers, playing with one another, and generally just being dogs.

When everyone has completed the hash run, the hashers re-group for “Circle”, although today, the “Circle” happened at the “On-After”, a combination of drinking event, de-briefing, and uber-Beer Check.

The On-After

The “circle” is where the hashers acknowledge the hashers and reflect on the run. Mostly, though, it’s an excuse to drink more beer.

The protocol for “the circle” is everyone sitting / standing in a circle, and one person acts as master of ceremonies, leading the group in song, and introducing accusations and presenting awards.

The master of ceremonies will call some subset of people into the center, describe what they did, and then compel them all to drink (“do a down-down”). For example, as a “Virgin” (first timer), myself and four other virgins were called up, a song was sang (along the lines of the “My bonnie” parody from earlier), and then we all drank. The songs this Hashing group sings are typically very laden sexual innuendos, although I can’t say that is typical for all Hashing groups. I hesitate to reproduce any of them here. šŸ™‚

Oh, and wearing a hat (“headgear”) in the middle of the circle means you must do another Down-Down (“drink”).

Some of the reasons people were called to the circle were:

  • The Hares (“when one hare drinks, all hares drink!”)
  • Hashers caught in a “murky moment” (when a pair of people become isolated from the rest of the group for a prolonged period)
  • Hashers that haven’t been around for a while
  • Hashers having a birthday (which happened to be a hare, in this case, and when one hare drinks…)
  • Hashers visiting from far away places (we had one fellow visiting from South Korea, an ex-pat, and he taught everyone a new Hash song)
  • Hashers that peed on the hash trail or at beer checks
  • Hashers that were Race-ists (talking about marathon/race-running is strictly verboten at hashes)
  • Hashers that wear shoes that look really really new (in some cases, they must drink out of their shoe)
  • Hashers that hadn’t yet been in the circle to drink (“dry lips”)

Any hasher can implicate / accuse any other hasher of pretty much anything, and force them to down-down, at the behest of the master of ceremonies.

A “Hashit”, traditionally a t-shirt, but in this case (since apparently the t-shirt disintegrated) it was a toilet seat, decorated with honoraria. The hashit may not ever be washed or cleaned and must be carried by one hasher through each hash run.

Naming

At a hash, no one with a Hash Name uses their real name, only their Hash Name. New hashers are called “Virgin (their first name)”, so I was “Virgin Aaron.” After the first hash, the name is “Just (their first name)”, so I am now “Just Aaron.”

At some point, every hasher earns an official Hash Name. The names are meant to be both unique and reflective of some story that is similarly unique to that hasher. My friends that brought me were named “Man-o-whore”, and “Crimes Against Huge Mammaries.” Some of the others were “Eiffel Plow-her”, “Master Baster”, “Wowmomwow”, “Unidentified Feathered Orifice”, and “Old Timey Hoe Down.”

The kennel decides when someone deserves to be named, as well as what they are to be named, and the person in question is expected to leave the area, out of earshot, while the deliberations proceed. Today, there were three candidates, although only one of them actually received a name.

I don’t know how typical namings go, but the one tonight was quite entertaining. It is quite a rite of passage for a hasher. Our master of ceremonies (Master Baster) took the hasher down into the nearby stream, had her stand shin-deep while he described her history as a hasher and what led us to create her name. He then dubbed her, officially, “Old Timey Hoe Down.” Old Timey was led back up to the circle, where an impromptu song (to the tune of Old MacDonald) was spun, ending with a bunch of people blowing beer mist onto her. I can only presume that by this point, everyone else was fairly sauced. Some aspects of the naming remind me of fraternity hazing, although it doesn’t seem nearly as traumatic.

The next hash is in two weeks, and I plan on attending, as “Just Aaron”, and running through more beautiful scenic trails looking for that imaginary hare.