Wednesday, May 5, 2010


Most weekends when I'm not sailing, I go hashing. No, I’m not talking about quick jaunts to Amsterdam. The hashing to which I refer is a bit off the beaten track, but it’s totally legal.

“An exhilaratingly fun combination of running, orienteering and partying where bands of harriers and harriettes chase hares on four-to-six mile-long trails through town and country, all in search of exercise, camaraderie and good times”: That’s hashing, according to The Half-Mind Catalog.

I belong to the Baltimore-Annapolis Hash House Harriers, BAH3 for short. We run every Sunday at 3pm. We’ve run every Sunday for almost 20 straight years. Every Sunday, come rain or shin, ice or Hurricane Isabel. The cost is $6, to cover the beer, water and snacks.

Our group prides itself on being a “drinking club with a running problem ... where there are no rules.” Ritual is another story, for hashing is all about ritual.

The ritual began, or so the story goes, in Kuala Lumpur, Malaya, in 1938, with some bored lads in the British foreign service who wanted to run around the local countryside and have a few cold ones along the way. They named their group after the Royal Selangor Club, the Hash House where they ate most of their meals, which were relentlessly bland. They brought the tradition from their days English public schools, where games of paper chase or hare and hound runs dated back as far as the 18th century.

After World War II, hashing began to spread around the globe, like beer running downhill. Today, you’re likely to find a hashing group, or kennel, in most cities of any size anywhere you go. A week doesn’t go by when BAH3 doesn’t have visiting hashers who are doing business or vacationing in the area. In the last few, we’ve had a geezer from Sheffield, England; an American expatriate from Bangkok, Thailand; a Key West boat captain; and a Bostonian lady with a black lab.

Hashers come from all walks of life, but they tend to be eccentric free spirits. Most kennels are evenly split between men and women. People in the military are big fans of hashing, and there is even a Baghdad kennel in the Green Zone — with neer beer, of course.

Southern Maryland now has its own kennel, out of Solomons. SMUTTy Crab HHH was founded Dec. 12 by Jim ‘Major Private Tickler’ Baker. It runs every third Saturday at noon. Learn more from Dan ‘Wind Up Toy’ Price at ; 301-342-5562.

Kennels operates pretty much the same, wherever you find them. I was welcomed to my first hash as a virgin and referred to as just Steve. Some five hashes in, I had revealed enough about myself to be named. Everyone who hashes regularly has a name, which travels with them wherever they hash. Most can not be printed in a family newspaper. I got lucky. My name is May’oral Fixation, because I work in politics, smoke a pipe and can’t keep my yap shut. Many hashers wear customized choke collars with their names spelled out in little colorful beads.

A BAH3 hash might take place in Patapsco Valley State Park or downtown Annapolis. Where ever we go, we like it shiggy. That means we want to run through the nastiest terrain possible: steep slopes, slippery swamps, greenbriar and poison ivy thickets, raging rivers, muddy streams, rocky hillsides, slimy stormdrain tunnels under I-97. Bring it on. Blood, bruises, and broken limbs are badges of honor, though not required.

It’s up to the hare of the week to decide where we will play. Several hashers usually team up to hare, sending out the driving directions via e-mail and posting them on the group’s website. From their starting point, the hares lay out a trail, using flower or chalk, temporary signals that vanish with the next rain.

The pack sets off en masse following the trail until they come to an X, which is a check. Here the game gets tricky. Falsely marked trails force the pack to work together like dogs trying to find the right scent. When three consecutive marks are found, the pack is off again to the call ON-ON! The checks make it impossible for the faster running devils to get ahead because they have to check the false leads and find the right path while the slower harriers catch up. At about the halfway mark, the hare meets the group with beer and water.

It’s not about competition and there are no losers or winners. In fact, whoever finishes first must carry a brick the next time to slow them down.

On Palm Sunday, I hared at Rockburn Branch Park for the group’s 1,040th hash. The trail included the usual shiggyfied fun. For two hours we could forget all the troubles of crazy, stressful lives and just act like little kids again, getting lost in the woods with our hashing friends.

And in the end, we did our usual “circle-up”, drank beer, made fun of each other, and sang ribald songs until it was time to go back to the real world.


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