What happens when you combine running and beer? Something terrible? To this group of people it’s nothing but fun.
Take the disparate activities of running and boozing and mash them together–most are confident that this would be a very bad idea. However, there’s a group of devoted people here in Richmond, and across the globe, who find such an activity worthwhile and downright fun. They’re called the Richmond Hash House Harriers, and they continue a tradition that dates back before World War II.
“It’s just goofy, fun, and happy,” said Hoot Are You, a person linked to the Richmond chapter of the international Hash House Harrier collective, who asked their identity not be revealed. “You can be debaucherous and silly.” A way to encourage that silliness is through anonymity: each participant has a distinct “hash name.” Hoot, who has been an active participant since 2005, says that this provides an alternate identity for participants, who are commonly known as hashers. “I’ve hashed with doctors, lawyers…secret service agents,” said Hoot one afternoon last week. The local hasher said that part of the allure is “being around other people who are there to have fun.”
History of Hashing
British colonial officers and expatriates in what’s now modern-day Malaysia created hashing in 1938. The activity was inspired by the traditional British “paper chase” run.
In a paper chase, a man acting as a hare would be granted a head start in a race. He would leave behind shreds of paper to mimic the scent followed by a tracking hound dog. A larger group of men (the “hounds”) would follow the shreds of paper, attempting to catch the hare before he reached the end of the race.
In 1938, A.S. Gispert, an accountant at a rubber plantation in Kuala Lumpur, decided to gather fellow Brits on Monday evenings and conduct their own “paper chase” to run off the drunkenness of the previous weekend. To make the race more enticing, hare and hound alike would inevitably discover a tub of iced beer at the finish line.
After several months, the Registrar of Societies informed the hashers that they were required to name the group and draft an official charter. The group named themselves as the “Hash House Harriers”1 after a local restaurant. Below are the tenets of the Kuala Lumpur Hash House Harriers, as outlined in their original charter:
- To promote physical fitness among our members
- To get rid of weekend hangovers
- To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
- To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel
Hashing dwindled during World War II, but afterwards spread through Singapore and Indonesia (“In Southeast Asia hashing is huge,” said Hoot), along with Australia and New Zealand. It’s now estimated that more than 1,700 chapters exist worldwide.
“Circle Up You Wankers”
When speaking to a hasher, one quickly learns that hashing is not racing. “You can’t say it’s a race because you sound like a racist,” said a droll Hoot.
Hoot had her first experience with the international phenomenon one afternoon in March 2005. While seated on a Church Hill apartment balcony, something caught Hoot’s attention: roughly 50 people jogging by in green dresses. “They’re all coming through the alley, singing and happy.” Hoot recognized one of participants as a neighbor. Come join us, several of the bizarre verdant runners said, urging Hoot. “So I did.”
Virginia is for Hashers
There are several hash events in Virginia. Here’s a map to get in touch with fellow hashers in the Commonwealth.
Hoot is now the Grand Master of Richmond hashing (or Grand “Mattress” in the tongue-in-cheek nomenclature of the Hash House Harriers). Richmond hashers, a formal group since 1992, meet at varying locations each Saturday at 1pm. The weekly hashes typically average around 12 participants (special hash events, like the Full Moon Trail, can bring upwards of 40 hashers).
To begin, hashers form a circle in a preamble event called “Circle up you wankers.” Introductory remarks are made and hashers introduce themselves. One of the stipulations is that hashers never point with one of his or her fingers (“you never know where it’s been,” said Hoot). Instead, hashers typically use their elbows. To limber up and get into the hashing spirit, the Richmond hashers perform five verses of “Father Abraham”.
Hashing in RVA and Around the World
While hashing events will vary from place to place, the basic premise remains the same. A hare will typically be granted a five-to-fifteen minute head start and, using chalk, will leave signs for the pursuing hounds.
For instance, an “O” designates an open intersection along the route, meaning the trail can divert in one of several directions–hashers employ trial-and-error to find the correct trail. A collection of three dots (” … “) indicates a bad trail, while an arrow with two vertical dashes indicates a correct trail. Another common hashing hieroglyph is a circle with a dot in the center, a “tit check,” that means hashers must wait for a female hasher before continuing.
Not all marks relate to direction. A “BN” indicates “beer near.” Often times, at least one location on the trail will have chilled beer and water for hashers. Just as in Kuala Lumpur, beer is also at the finish line (a $5 hashing fee pays for the alcohol). Despite the good time, Hoot maintains that hashers play it safe when it comes to the recreational drinking. “There’s a difference between having a lot of fun and being stupid.”2
Hoot said that one of the more audacious hares is Rambo the Love Commando. Rambo once created a hash course in Ashland that took hashers through seven-foot tall grass and had them following a line of string between trees. Hoot said that some trails have taken the local hasher on rooftops, in parking garages, and to other unusual locations. “Seeing new parts of our city” is part of the fun, said Hoot. Whether surrounded by concrete, birds, or wildlife, hashing gives people first-hand experience with nature in its various forms. “I love being outside.” Hoot is in good company.
Of the approximate 1,700 hashing communities throughout the world, Hoot has hashed in Ireland, Australia, Cambodia, and Costa Rica. While in Australia, Hoot hashed alongside a World War II paratrooper. The 80-year-old (hash name God Knows) had undergone two knee replacement surgeries. Hoot said that returning soldiers from the Middle East have spoken of beer-less hashes in Iraq and Afghanistan. Hashing, said Hoot, introduces you to people of all sorts, and through the Internet, these people stay easily connected with hashing communities, notably through GoToTheHash.net.
For Hoot and the many other Richmond-area hashers, modern day hashing remains true to A.S. Gispert’s creation in Kuala Lumpur back in 1938. To put it simply: “it’s about hanging out and having a good time.”
First time hashers (or “virgins”) are encouraged to register with the Richmond Hash House Harriers to find out and participate in the current week’s hash location. First time hashers can hash for free. Returning hashers must pay $5 to the Hash Cash (i.e. the treasurer).
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- ”Hash house” was slang for “a cheap restaurant.” ↩
- Back in April, Hoot was creating a trail through downtown one Saturday afternoon and soon after marking the trail for the hounds came upon a police barricade that surrounded a man who had sustained multiple gunshots. Hoot had to double back and re-establish the trail so hashers avoided running into the crime scene. ↩
photo from a Hash House Harrier event in Sacramento, CA by Robert Couse-Baker