January 16, 2005
With half a brain and old shoes, you could be a hasher
By Lewis Taylor, The Register-Guard
On a recent Sunday afternoon, a motley crew of runners could be seen darting across four lanes of traffic at the top of the 30th Avenue hill. The group drew some funny looks from passing cars but, this being Eugene, nobody seemed overly concerned by the sight of a dozen mildly inebriated, mud-spattered joggers following a trail of baking flour into the woods.
One by one, the runners dove into a mess of blackberry brambles, blowing whistles and shouting coded commands all the way.
"Are you?" boomed the voice of a man wearing dirty sweat pants and a fanny pack.
"On-on" yelled a runner on the other side of the nasty thicket.
Feeling bored with your fitness routine? If so, this might be the group for you.
Meet the Eugene Hash House Harriers, a cult of gonzo runners packing 22-ounce beers and 10-pound sacks of flour. Or, as they put it, "a drinking club with a running problem."
Each week, the group sets out on a four- to five-mile course of flour laid out by a "hare." Along the way, there are "false trails," "true trails," "shiggy" (mud) and "beer checks," not to mention swamps, barbed-wire fences, steep inclines, paved descents and, on this particular run, a meth lab dump site.
"An ideal hash should go through streams, brambles, mud," says the hare for this race, a runner who identifies himself only as Coco-Roo. "The idea is to run into as much stuff as possible."
At the final beer check, members of the Eugene Hash House Harriers put on gloves and get ready to run the last leg of a hash in southeast Eugene.
If hashing sounds dangerous, it isn't, but there are risks involved. Earlier this month, an Arizona hasher died when he uncovered a nest of killer bees inside Saguaro National Park. Still, hashing deaths are highly uncommon. Sprained ankles and other minor injuries do happen, and cuts and bruises are considered part of the game.
"You sick bastard," a hasher yells, after snagging himself on a cluster of blackberry thorns. He's referring to Coco-Roo, the hare, and in his own way, he's paying a compliment. In this game, says hasher Todd Bosworth, easy courses are frowned upon.
"In our terms, good is bad and bad is good," says Bosworth. "The nastier the better."
Bosworth is the founder of the Eugene group, which is by no means the only hashing club. Based on the English game hare and hounds (also known as the Paper Chase), hashing started in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, in 1938 and takes its name from a mess hall that was not-so-fondly known as the Hash House.
The pastime has since branched out into more than 1,200 chapters in more than 130 countries.
Portland, Bend, Ashland and Corvallis all boast their own hashing clubs. A group in Boston hashes every year two days before the Boston marathon. The London hashers are known for running through hotel lobbies and the Kuwait chapter is famous for holding a hash two days after the country was invaded by Iraq.
"For many of the hashers (in other cities), drinking is by far the most important aspect," says a 69-year-old woman who has hashed in London and Bangkok and goes by the name of Disc Go. "This hash (in Eugene) has lots of good runners in it."
The Eugene chapter has been together for roughly 13 years, and you can find them in the White Pages (last name "Hasher," first name "Eugene"). There are drinkers and teetotalers, young members and old members, students and stock brokers. Dogs are welcome, too.
Each year, during the Eugene Celebration, the group runs in red dresses or togas. They can be seen painting the town white on Halloween night, too. There's also a clown hash, a tighty-whitey underwear hash and a Super Bowl hash.
"I think most of us are in it for the camaraderie," says Larry Wikander, 39, a hasher of eight years. "That and the game. It's a fun game."
With all the talk of drinking, boozing is not really the main focus of the Eugene hashers. If the group has an identity, members say, it's that of a laid-back club filled with serious and not-so-serious runners, some of whom have been known to take a drink or two.
"You need to bring a sense of humor and a pair of old running shoes," Wikander says. "It's not about who's faster, so bragging about your latest race won't win you any points."
Learning hash guidelines (technically, there are no rules) and decoding the lingo is the first challenge for beginning hashers. Wearing new shoes will earn you a demerit (drink a beer from your shoe or pour it on your head), and matching running outfits are frowned upon. In hash-speak, "alcohol abuse" means spilling a beer, FRB stands for front running bastard (aka, the leader) and DFL translates to Dead Freaking Last. "Are you?" means "Are you on the trail?" and "On-On" is the universal cry of the hasher - a shout-out to the other members of the group to let them know they're on the right track.
"It only takes half a brain to be a hasher," says Tim Hyatt, parroting another favorite hasher slogan.
Most hashers have nicknames, but it takes a couple of runs before it's earned. According to hasher regulations, a runner cannot assign himself or herself a nickname. Bosworth, the founder of the Eugene group, christened himself Hugh Mungus, but who can blame him when you see some of the titles the other hashers are stuck with. There's Mystery Meat, Try Anything and Fed Sex. Some of the names provide a clue as to a hasher's personality or profession. Phil McCracken is a dentist by day, and Rock Hard works as a geologist. Wikander goes by the name Barely ManBelow, because he's a former rugby player who knows lots of songs.
For some, hashing is a means of staying in shape, for others, it's a social outlet. One hasher of 10 years who moved to Eugene from San Francisco, and whose hasher moniker includes the name Queen, met her husband on a hash. She says runners can easily join hashes in other states or countries. All that's required is a little "hash cash" to pay for expenses.
"You can hash all over the world," she says. "It's a way to meet people other than going to bars."
The telltale sign that a hash is either in progress or recently was in progress is the flour. You can find small puffs of it thrown onto streets and trails in dots, arrows and plus signs.
It doesn't always work like it's supposed to - cows have eaten the flour, homeless campers have snuffed out the markers and, in one instance following the Anthrax scare, a hazmat crew came to investigate. But even when hashers get hopelessly lost ("Dead on Trail"), they usually do get found.
When a hash finally does come to an end, runners arrive at the "on-in," where they are greeted with food, M&M's (aka "hasher vitamins") and, of course, more cheap beer. A short ceremony generally follows, replete with dirty jokes, lewd songs and a "sacred vessel" filled with "nectar of the gods."
Then the hashers all go back to their regular lives, which must seem terribly boring after what they've just been through.
To learn more about the Eugene Hash House Harriers, call the club hot line at (541) 344-6933.