24. I Am a Hasher

24. I Am a Hasher

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Runners

I Am a Hasher

Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.
 ~Ralph Waldo Emerson

I have a confession, I am a hasher. No, that doesn’t mean I smoke weed. “Hasher” is what members of the “Hash House Harrier” running group call themselves.

A name steeped in wartime history for British expats, these “drinkers with a running problem” simply were out to get some exercise, rid themselves of the weekend excess and celebrate their good living with a cold one. The housing complex in which they lived was called the “Hash House,” and the game they played was “Hares and Hounds.” When the Malaysian government required the group to register with a name back in 1938, the Hash House Harriers was simple enough.

After World War II, the remaining members split up and went home. Having enjoyed the camaraderie of their runs in Kuala Lumpur, each started his own chapters of the original, eventually causing the group to grow worldwide.

However, this is not a history lesson. It’s the start of what — for me — was a world adventure, and one particular group which gave me an everlasting memory of what it is to belong.

I was born and raised in Las Vegas. Which, contrary to popular belief, doesn’t fly its populace in from California. It was here that I started hashing, brought in on a whim by a cute girl with a crazy T-shirt and a business card that had the group hotline number on the back.

Not knowing what to expect, I called the number later that night and listened to a pre-recorded message with directions to the local wet-lands preserve and advising me to bring a flashlight, a whistle and a thirst for the “golden nectar” (which I thankfully learned later was beer).

I ran cross country in high school, but never at twilight, and while we had water, I was at the time clueless to what golden nectar could refer to.

Dialing my brother, I described the message to him and asked if he would join me in attending this trail run, what with me not knowing anyone else there. He told me it sounded like a cult and then hung up.

Well, I’ve always thought there was nothing to lose by going out on the limb, except for a little face, so I put on my shoes and drove down to the starting point.

As I pulled into the parking area, I found the most motley group of individuals. With my matching name-brand running shirt, shorts and shoes, I must have stood out like a sore thumb. Here people were drinking beer while dressed in Day-Glo shirts with the sleeves ripped off, multi-color headbands, mismatched socks and shoes that looked like they’d endured the Trail of Tears.

One man came up to me, introduced himself as “Reverend Right Hand” and pointed out a few others to me with insane names like “Hunka Hunka” and “Blueberry Hill-less” along with some names that would make my grandmother blush.

Everyone stood in a circle and they took an empty beer bottle and spun it in the center of the group. It landed on one gentleman who took a large bag filled with flour and started running, leaving large dollops on the ground behind him. Right Hand told me to wait a couple of minutes and they did the silliest warm-up exercise I’ve ever seen before we took off as a pack and chased down the man with the flour.

Catching up to him first, he thrust the bag in my hand, pointed me in a direction and said, “Go, you’ve got a three-minute head start!”

I stood there with a blank look and told him that I hadn’t a clue what to do. He replied, “Run, and don’t forget to leave flour behind you! You’ve got 2 minutes and 45 seconds!”

And that was it. I bolted into the reeds, frantically dropping flour behind me. There was a hiking path through the wetlands but I don’t really remember using much of it. What I do remember is the thrill of being chased, the freedom of creating my own path and the exhilaration of hearing a dozen whistles blowing with yells of “On-On!” from the other side of a large thicket. Eventually someone caught up to me and I was relieved of my flour burden, once again the hound and not the hare. I was hooked.

In the past five years I have run with over 100 different hashes, logged in over 1,000 miles, worn about 10 pairs of shoes through the sole and loved every minute of it. Being a hasher may be the best part of my life. The group is more a brotherhood and it doesn’t take much to experience its hash-pitality.

I took a year to travel around the world and nine times out of ten, I had a place to stay. I’d arrive in a foreign country and a hasher would meet me at the train station, take me out for a drink and give me a couch for the night, simply because another hasher had called to say I was coming.

And the running was gorgeous! As a tourist you see what tourists see. As a hasher you get to experience the real country through the eyes of a runner. Forested hills in Switzerland, ancient castle ruins in Germany and Scotland, rice fields in Thailand, rural villages in Cambodia, the barrios of the Philippines. Then later you drink local beer in local bars, surrounded by people who may not always speak your language, but understand the language of a good drink. It was the time of my life and one I’ll never forget. It showed me that a great winding trail and a willingness to imbibe in the ridiculousness of our zest for adventure in a pair of shoes isn’t limited to a wetlands park in Las Vegas, but is shared around the world.

~Jeff Hoyt, AKA Alcoholiday,
Las Vegas Hash House Harriers

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