Hashing and dashing: A drinking group with a running problem

by Amy Kingsley

I’ve just pulled my left foot through a snarl of thicket when I see it: a cement wall topped with chain link. The low static of rushing water half buries laughter, like the straining of an AM station just past the edge of its range.

A few steps later I’ve cleared the treeline with a few other stragglers to find the rest of the group hoisting beers at the far side of the creek or sipping in the whitewater rushes. Water tumbles over a concrete dam, through the rocky chutes and into an almost perfectly still circle.

It’s the first beer stop. For more than an hour about 15 of us have been dashing through the woods ‘— on the trail then back off again ‘— chasing an elusive hare who now stands on the opposite bank next to a cooler emptied of beers. The trail has cut through spider webs, ran over downed tree trunks made impossibly slick by last night’s rain, and included innumerable thrashing branches.

Goofy Style greets us with a flash of silver, the glint of a beer can raised into a shaft of light. Buck wades over and helps me navigate a path through the uncertain rocks and persistent current. I sit down in the cool waters swirling around my hips.

Everyone’s got their legs in the water where they are washing off cuts, stings and poisonous saps. People lounge in groups, laughing and talking. Goofy tosses the last beer to a latecomer, a Milwaukee’s Best Light that misses its mark and bobs down the current into the pool.

The beer pops up on the other side, and Snoreplay swims languidly out to get it ‘— the relative scarcity of beers making this perhaps the only time in history that ‘“the beast’” is a precious commodity.

‘“Look out there,’” Scabby says pointing and gesturing at the pale swimmer, ‘“There’s a big white fish.’”

‘“I’ve never seen a fish that looks like that,’” CJ says.

The fish swims unaware, tipping the can back every so often to drink as he paddles back to the group. Others toss back the last of their beers, examine legs a final time for ticks and other parasites, and slowly pull themselves out of the water.

Goofy has left 10 minutes ago according to Buck’s watch. The chase, once again, is on.

‘• ‘• ‘• ‘• ‘•

The G-Spot Hash House Harriers describe themselves as a drinking group with a running problem. But that description is not entirely accurate. Neither running nor drinking is required this afternoon, although the majority of the participants partake moderately in both.

Some say it’s a social club and others describe it as a fun alternative to the routine of running to keep in shape. It’s a tradition, a network and a pastime, all wrapped up in the trappings of fraternity.

Which is not to say that women aren’t well represented. On the June 3 hash, women comprise at least half of the runners. But to a one, the women here appear thoroughly at ease in this realm of machismo and bawdy humor.

‘“I was a tomboy when I was a kid, and I like hashing because it reminds me a lot of the things I used to enjoy as a kid,’” says Just Christine, a second timer.

Today those things include dodging across a golf course populated by weekenders vying for a tournament title, splashing through muddy streams and showing a little skin.

Hashing is a combination of cross-country running, orienteering and occasionally swimming. If it’s a live hare trail, then the selected member departs fifteen minutes early with a bag of flour and a piece of chalk. They mark the course with piles of flour and an occasional symbol, a circle crossed with an X that symbolizes an intersection.

When the hashers reach the intersection, they look for the flour that indicates where the hare has gone. A false trail peters out after a few marks, but if you find more than a handful of flour marks, chances are you’ve chosen the right path.

Runners hot on the hare’s trail shout ‘“on-on’”. Similarly, those who have lost their way (which is easy to do even outside the confusion of an intersection) can shout ‘“Are you?’”

A couple of the intersections require a little extra from the hashers. An intersection mark with two dots indicates a titty check, where women must show some skin before proceeding. Likewise, a dick check means the first man at the site must pull out his stuff to move on.

Hashers look for the letters ‘“BN’”, which translates to ‘“beer near.’” Trails usually have two or three beer stops where the leaders and the stragglers all regroup, relax and imbibe.

‘“The mark of a really good trail is when people can stay together,’” says Rapunzel.

Those of us at the end of the pack lose sight of the leaders about a third of the way through the trail. The problem, as Rapunzel sees it, is that the group is still too small.

Rapunzel first started hashing in Hong Kong where she worked as a bartender. Military men (who make up a core of hashers) frequented her bar and asked her to hash.

‘“At first I thought they were talking about drugs and I said ‘No I don’t do that.””

Rapunzel speaks with an accent molded in the British Isles and sports a mid-length bob of blond hair. Back when she started hashing, her head was shaved.

Every hasher starts as a virgin and eventually earns the honor of a hash name, which is bestowed upon them by committee. Hashers in this article are identified by hash name only, which have in some cases been modified for publication in a family weekly.

Rapunzel’s hash club bestowed that name upon her in reference to her shorn scalp. The names generally derive from embarrassing moments or negative personality traits.

Rapunzel’s husband earned the hash name Insecticle after a deer tick affixed itself to a certain place in his nether regions and infected him with Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever.

Buck-a-Fuffalo got off fairly lightly with a moniker reflective on his hometown in Buffalo, NY Nipplepotomus’ name refers to her generous bosom and her husband, Goofy Style, got his name from an unusual bedroom practice.

The other names, most of them in fact, are too dirty to print.

‘• ‘• ‘• ‘• ‘•

Hashing started in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia in 1938 with a group of British colonial officers and expatriates led by an accountant named AS Gispert. The running group modeled their outings after the traditional English paper chase where a hare would elude a group of harriers. Their variation, however, involved rewarding the runners with a tub of cold beer.

During World War II, the practice died down, but returned and multiplied in the 1960s and 1970s. Today almost every major city has a group of hash house harriers, who adopted as their symbol the outline of a foot with the words On-On printed inside. Hashers, with the aid of the internet, have established a number of weekend conventions notable for their unabashed debauchery.

Today the group is talking about NCSC, an annual gathering that floats to different locations in the Carolinas and features 48 hours of camping, singing, hashing and drinking. G-Spot will host a weekend sometime in July.

Hash clubs across the United States share a number of common traditions, including an annual red dress run where both male and female members hash in the prescribed costume. G-Spot held their red dress run earlier this year, through downtown as usual, a ploy to recruit new members keen on the spectacle of cross-dressing men. Their unique approach to recruitment serves both an introductory and gate keeping role.

‘“Hashing isn’t for everyone,’” Buck says.

This is indeed a salty but good-hearted group. There are two virgins on the trail today, a guy named Jesse and myself, and we are not allowed to hash alone lest we lose the trail and become hopelessly lost. And although none of the participants shies away from risqué conversation, anyone who crosses the line from fun to sleazy gets the boot.

‘“I feel really comfortable around these people,’” Just Christine says.

Hashers have been known to incur the wrath of authorities and citizens whose sense of humor might be a bit more straight-laced. Whiner, a hasher from Atlanta, recalled a time when someone who hared a run passed out flyers declaring a dog barbecue in response to the increasing number of participants who saw fit to take their dogs on hashes.

The police arrived at the after-hash hours later. The hare had put a Pound Puppy over the spit, prompting a virgin to call the cops.

After the first beer stop, hashers walk up the hill to the plateau of Battleground Avenue. Across the asphalt, which hums with weekend traffic, Lake Brandt absorbs the shadows from a forest of trees.

Water spills from the lake, choked with rain from storms that swept through the day before, down a broad concrete ramp. In the direct sunlight, the thin, moving sheet of water resembles a cascade of aluminum foil. Two hashers grab the cooler’s lid and try to slide the ramp. After a couple futile attempts ‘— the lid sticks stubbornly to the rough concrete ‘— they walk back up to the bridge.

Soon after, a fishing boat sputters up to the edge of the lake. Its pilot hollers out to the group.

‘“You can’t swim in the lake!’”

He keeps yelling as the group tries to pick up the trail. We recross the street and head back down the way we came. My shoulder twinges as I pull myself up a muddy ravine.

‘“Isn’t this the way we came in?’” CJ asks.

Us latecomers shortcut the proper trail. This is the way we came in, charging through brambles and thorns, slipping on mud, bark and anything else underfoot.

Half the group follows those hash marks back into the woods, but our splinter group opts for a walk down Battleground, back to the beer truck.

A police cruiser spots us walking back toward the car and pulls over. He heard about our illicit swimming and wants to have a little talk. The cop is a thickset guy with a head of blond stubble.

‘“We got in the water but we left when the guy told us to stop swimming,’” PS says. ‘“It was just a misunderstanding.’”

PS has a crushed can of Beast in his back pocket, but he’s turned so the cop can’t see. The officer shakes his head uncertainly but lets us go.

‘“He was fat. We could have outrun him,’” PS says later.

‘“In Charleston they had to switch to cornmeal because people thought the flour was anthrax,’” Rapunzel says.

Once, after she hared a run, parks and recreation authorities called Rapunzel to sweep up all the flour she’d left behind. She refused. They insisted. Rain came down and resolved the dispute the next night.

‘• ‘• ‘• ‘• ‘• ‘•

The band of hashers who set off into the woods has already arrived back at the beer truck by the time we arrive. Only the hare is missing.

Most of the returning hashers have changed clothes. The women are wearing skirts and the men have donned ‘… skirts.

I’m congratulated on the crosshatch of superficial cuts on my pale legs and on the fact that my nearly new gray shoes have assumed the reddish hue of Carolina mud. My shoulder feels fine, and whatever stung my hip has proved nontoxic, so I’m feeling pretty triumphant.

Although the hare is absent, the Circle begins.

Earshot is appointed the hare pro tem quo and ordered into the center of the circle. He hoists up his kilt, flashes half the circle with his bare ass and takes a seat on bags of ice.

‘“Can I get a hash note?’” Buck asks.

The circle hums something a tad off key and launches into a ribald tune set to the familiar cadences of ‘“The Mickey Mouse Club’” theme song. It ends with the refrain:

‘“Drink it down down down down down down down.’”

That’s the cue for whoever is in the center to chug their drink. The group goes through a number of drinking songs for trail infractions both real and imagined. This is what’s known as ‘“The Down Down.’”

The focused and collegial group determined to solve the trail has disappeared, replaced by a crowd of rowdies. A couple of families gathered in the parking lot turn to stare at the shirtless and skirted men wearing bib-like cloths stitched with hash names and adorned with pins that characters in the film Office Space would refer to as ‘“flair’”.

Goofy returns alongside his wife, Nipplepotomas, who had been dispatched to find him, and chastises Buck for sabotaging his trail. The ruckus dies down; virgins are spanked; and everyone involved in the hash is forced to sit on the ice. Plenty of inadvertent mooning ensues.

Then, with the beer drunk and the sun lodged squarely in the brassiness of late afternoon, the hash is dismissed. The after hash is scheduled for Ham’s, where the runners will rest their buns on something more comfortable than ice.

‘“We’re thinking about starting a kid-friendly hash,’” Rapunzel, a mother of two, had told me earlier in the week.

I try to imagine what that would look like as I pull my rattling heap out of the parking lot. But all I can remember are the multitude flashes of pale butt cheek.

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