Tuesday, January 29, 2008
from Avenue Magazine March 2006
“Where’s Penile Dementia?” someone asks. There’s a line of parked cars and P.D.’s convertible is at the end of the row. Jagermonster moves towards P.D.’s convertible to see. Jager is gone a few minutes until everyone moves from behind the car to check themselves. They see Jager coming back to the group of runners now, literally no expression his face.
“What’s he doing, drinking?” someone asks.
“He’s naked,” Jager says.
The group of runners has gathered at the observation area at the airport for the afternoon just off North Kerr. It’s a cold and very grey Saturday. Rain has been called for since Friday, eighty per cent chance, but the hashers are ready to run, rain or shine. Tastes Like Chicken wraps her arms tight to stay warm. Jager is antsy to get moving cause its cold and everyone dressed a little too light. Arapaho is the only runner who doesn’t show any signs of getting cold. A plane taxis down the runway and sits idle, waiting for clearance.
P.D. steps away from his car in only jogging shorts and shoes. He puts on a shirt and returns a ball cap and glasses to his head. He’s come to Wilmington by way of San Francisco by way of Australia. P.D. discovered Hashing in San Francisco and is the group’s informal leader and Svengali. He comes over and announces the hash will start about fifteen minutes late today. He’s got to go back and pick up Prancer who’s still left in the field.
“Prancer is waist deep in the swamp out there,” P.D. says. “We’re going to have to cut out half the trail today.” This pleases everyone now that the rain is starting to come down and it keeps getting colder. The plane takes off with a loud burst and in seconds is completely out of sight. Jager pulls a sweat jacket from his truck.
P.D. leaves and returns a few minutes later with Prancer who doesn’t disappoint. His clothes are marred with streaks of mud and clearly wet from roaming in the woods checking out trail. P.D. and Prancer will lay trail for the hashers today. They’ll take off ahead of the runners laying trail markers with flour and chalk marked with discarded pieces of drywall. The marks are left on concrete and asphalt along with piles of flour placed on grass and trees.
Hashers run along the side of the road, through woods, anywhere, looking for these markers which lay out a trail to a cooler of beer. Sometimes the markers lead to false trails and the hashers must go back a ways to start again at the most recent checkpoint. Depending on the length of the trail determines how many beer checkpoints there will be.
“We’re a running club with a drinking problem,” Flash Me First maintains. That’s the Hash’s unofficial motto. Flash Me First and Jagermonster founded the Wrightsville Beach Hash House Harriers Club last fall. The two have been friends for many years and were introduced to hashing in Charlottesville, Virginia.
The club is essentially a running outfit. But at the core it’s about comradeship. And drinking beer. The group of friends meets casually, most really strangers at first. It’s an informal club, no real rules or competition. The goal is to run, drink beers and have fun. They meet once a week, have done so since last fall, and someone serves as a hare who lays trail for the runners to follow. The person, or persons, who lay trail, are called hares and the hashers are the runners who follow the trail to seek the hares and the beer.
“It’s about the camaraderie,” Jagermonster says. “There’s no competition between anybody.”
He’s correct. Anyone is welcome. The club is newly formed and is on its fourteenth hash run. New members to the group found out about the Wrightsville Beach Hash Harriers, WBH3 for short, through the group’s Yahoo group.
Hash runs can have trails through the woods, through neighborhoods or can occur downtown. The tenth hash run was a pub crawl with hashers solving riddles to find where to go to each bar. The clues range in variety. For instance the clues for finding the Blue Post bar, involve ‘opposite of orange and gazette.’ Other clues are entrenched in friendships, things only certain hashers might know. Another clue to a bar involved the 2 a.m. stop sign. One hasher knew that as the stop outside the Reel Café where at 2 a.m. a person could stand and look around for someone to take home.
It’s a tradition that predates World War II. The story goes, in one telling or another, that British expatriates in the land that is now Malaysia held the first Hash run. These men would meet at a local eatery whose food wasn’t all that good, the Hash House, and having little to do away from home; the expatriates began hosting Hash runs. The men took the place of hunting hounds used to seek rabbits who in turn took the place of hunting beer. Necessity is the mother of invention it has been said. Today there are more than 1500 Hash clubs worldwide.
It’s a simple combination of beer drinking, camaraderie and the thrill of the hunt that echoes the childhood sport of playing in the woods or playing army. The modern Hash club has its own ‘rules’ and traditions. The WBH3 have about eighteen members so far and usually run every Saturday.
“Because of NFL on Sundays,” Flash Me First says. “But we normally run on Sundays.”
Hashers don’t go by their given name, referring to one another by their Hash name. Having a Hash name is a typical ice breaker upon meeting new Hashers, learning of its origin. The names have origin in something personal or an incident as a Hasher.
“A Hasher can go anywhere in the world where there’s a Hash club and instantly have friends,” Flash Me First says about Hashing, not as a fraternity but as an affinity for shared aims. It’s an instant understanding, a coherent connection between strangers, through exercise, social means and a little drinking.
Hashers new to the club are usually referred to as No-F*!@#ing Hash Name ________ until they have attended five runs and then are ceremoniously given a Hash name. By that fifth run enough is deduced about the person to where they are christened after an informal Q & A session. The names are anywhere from comical to unsavory but always welcoming.
Jagermonster got his name years ago from working in a bar in which there was a sign that read: Don’t give Cody Jager.
“I used to drink it a lot,” Jagermonster says.
There have been runners who have shown up and joined and never known other Hashers real names. The group is comprised of people from all walks of life and professions.
In January the WBH3 held its first naming on the ninth run in Shallotte. The run began on the side of Kay Todd Road. Hashers parked their cars and set down a cooler. Newcomers, Sideshow Jesus, a young twenty-one year Golf student from Myrtle Beach arrived in addition to Hard-On and her dog, Roscoe. Another newcomer, Eric, arrived early. He found out about the WBH3 from the Internet as did Sideshow. Today would be Eric’s first Hash run.
Jagermonster and Flash Me First laid trail that Saturday afternoon through an area adjacent to construction, an overpass and woods untouched by construction machines. The location was diverse and provided a vibrant trail to follow. There were open fields and man made dirt mounds twenty feet off the ground. But it was also a day filled with drizzling rain and a crushed wood trail.
Hashers moved onto the field, light green grass with dirt drifts in the distance. The trail led then to an area littered with crushed limbs and soft and muddy dirt. Hard-On’s dog, Roscoe, ran freely, sniffing and tugging everything in sight.
Jager and Flash Me First hid in the distance watching Hashers following the trail, a little mystified as to why they were having so much trouble. For nearly thirty minutes the Hashers moved around in the same area. Eventually they picked up on that Roscoe was eating the trail markers denoted by mounds of flour left by Jager and Flash Me. After that, things began to move along a lot smoother.
Hashers moved through high grass and rough shrubbery garnering wet shoes and pants and more than a few scratches. Running trail is about small risk and reward. The trail is not without its tricks. After the first trail marker is found the Hasher shouts ‘On One’ and when the second is found, “On Two.” However, the trail can be a false trail, denoted by three lines of flour, appearing like a large claw mark. Hence, the Hasher turns around to find the check point and start in another direction. Checkpoints serve as a marker to keep Hashers from having to return to the original starting point. After three markers the trail is considered ‘True Trail’ and safe to continue following.
The Shallotte trail began in a wide open field, tracked through mangled woods where numerous limbs lay under everyone’s feet. The grey limbs cracked and popped underneath each step, sounding like popcorn popping for as long as the Hashers traveled. After a lengthy stretch through shrubbery lined with fallen trees and prickly vines the trail opened up at railroad tracks. It was a protracted walk from there. From the first beer check there were beer cans and water bottles to carry back to discard. Sideshow carried the back pack full of empty beer cans. They rattled and clanked against one another inside, providing a backdrop of primitive orchestra. The trail finished with a run down train tracks meeting back with the hares near an overpass where they stood with a cooler of beer and food.
Today was to be the first naming as No f@#!*ing Hash Name Jane would be named for completing five runs.
Everyone gathered around and cracked open beers. The hares joked with the runners about getting lost on the trail, watching in amusement. Explanations ranged from having trouble seeing the markers amongst the light sand in the field to the dog eating marker piles.
“Walking through the tree limbs was difficult,” Sideshow says.
“Yeah, some people were slowing us down too,” Eric says, making a gesture to Jane.
“Hey, you were the one prancing out there,” Jane says.
Jager’s eyes light up. “What’s this?” he says smiling. Jane explains that Eric was running along in a strange manner and referred to it a prancing.
“Okay, take off down the trail Eric,” Jager says. “Were gonna discuss this. You’re getting named today.”
“But it’s my first run,” Eric says.
“Doesn’t matter. A Hasher can get named on the first run if they do something that warrants it,” Jager says. “Something weird, trail violation.”
Eric moves away from the group and takes Roscoe with him. Jager asks again what happened on the trail and the group laughs. Eric is one of those instantly likeable persons, quick to poke fun at himself and easy going. It is decided by the Hashers that his name will be Prancer in honor of the man’s running technique. Eric returns and a circle is formed around who is ceremoniously asked questions about things only the Hashers know about her, ranging from the bawdy to silly. After the questioning ends Jane leaves and the group decides on her name. One suggestion is based on her profession in the health industry; others are based on nothing other than inanity. Upon returning to the group, both she and Eric receive their Hash names, Prancer and Twat Knot, and are doused with flour and beer.
The Hashers are running down North Kerr near the airport looking for markers but the rain is making them harder to see and find. There are a few false trails to contend with and then the group is on track. The trail leads them through a tucked away trailer park off North Kerr. There are numerous signs warning about illegal dumping, that camera supervision is underway.
The looks and stares from people are always the same when it comes to running a trail through a neighborhood. People may look out their windows confused or in their yards the same way. The Hashers just smile, wave or say hello. They have to keep running, staying on trail.
The trail leads through construction refuse behind a neighborhood. There are large sections of piping laying about construction equipment. Large fenced in yards stretch along and it seems every yard has a dog or dogs. There is a large symphony of canines barking at the runners, one of which, No F#@!*ing Hash Name Emily, sometimes called Backslider, for sleeping late and missing Hash runs, has brought her dog Rochester. The neighborhood dogs are torn between barking at the runners and her Rochester.
Eventually the trail spills into another neighborhood and at the end is Prancer and Penile Dementia, holding red beer cups – but no beer cooler. It seems the trail is not over yet. There’s a beer check symbol scrawled on the pavement. Jager takes off towards a field to find the beer. No luck. Another Hasher, Arapaho, runs up the street. Still, no luck. There’s only one way left to go.
The remaining Hashers take off in the last direction. It winds on, then left and ends at a two story house built on an incline. There’s an arrow marker pointing up the driveway. But there’s no one around. Someone pulls up in a silver Rodeo and gets out.
“You looking for beer?” he asks. Someone on the second floor of the house waves the Hashers on. “Come in the back yard,” the man says.
Down the street P.D. and Prancer are walking up. The Hashers wait and they all enter the backyard through a tall fence. There’s a familiar dog, Roscoe.
“You may know whose house this is,” P.D. says. The backyard porch is high above the yard and a gathering of people standing around talking and drinking beer from red cups. There’s a cover tent set up and keg of beer on ice. The back door opens and Hard On steps out. She’s dressed up a little and says hello to the fellow hashers she met a few weeks ago.
It’s her birthday and she and her husband are having a housewarming party. They just recently bought the house the hashers have ended up at.
The Hashers gather around and close out the day’s trail run with a few toasts and a few songs. The songs naturally all surround their lyrics around the group’s activities and precocious nature to not grow up. They are built around familiar melodies, such as The Beatles’ ‘Yesterday.’
Yesterday, all my muscles seemed to feel okay/Now my body doesn’t work today/Oh I went hashing yesterday/Bloodshot eyes and my tongue is twice its normal size/It’s at times like this I realize/Hashing isn’t all that wise.
What the group is doing is fairly simple, what psychologists suggest we all do in some way, stay social, build ongoing and lasting friendships. The group is in the midst of building a tradition, a simple bonding between new friends from all walks of life.