Often described as a running club with an alcohol problem, the “sport” of hashing—a race that incorporates beer stops along the way—is now an underground hit. Bottoms up!
THE HASHERS are pissed. Eight of us, in Lycra and ratty running shoes, are standing on a traffic island outside the entrance to the Clarendon Metro station, in Arlington, Virginia. It’s 33 degrees out. Rain is beating down, and we’re wishing it was a few degrees colder so it’d be dry snow instead of wet slop. The holdup is that 15 stragglers are still getting sloshed in Liberty Tavern, today’s meeting spot. Off the curb to the right is a hasher nicknamed Doc Cock, who is moving crates of beer around the back of a beat-up cargo van. He’s the only sober one, and he’ll meet us mid-trail with the van, full of more beer to chug. To lighten the mood, the crew breaks into song: Why are we waiting? Could be fornicating. Why are we waiting so fucking long!?
This is the White House Hash House Harriers (WH4), a D.C.–based club of like-minded individuals who run together but drink along the way. Think of it as an endorphin-laced version of a bar crawl, in which everybody pokes fun at everybody.
“Hashing gives people an outlet to be more laid-back and free than in their daily lives,” says a young woman with the hashing name Penis Fly Trap (PFT), one of WH4’s co-leaders. “That may mean cursing or flashing, but mainly it’s being authentic. And a little juvenile.”
As we sing, the stragglers begin to trickle in, and the leaders, including PFT and ICHY— short for I Cunt Hear You—step forward. Nicknames of hashers relate back to some inglorious misdeed. ICHY got hers for casually stealing police tape roped around some kind of crime scene; when an officer shouted at her, she pretended to be deaf. Soon enough, Close Your Eyes and Hope for the Breast bounds up the long stretch of sidewalk, too. Breast’s powerful frame is topped off with a rugby helmet. A bag of lime-green chalk powder dangles from his belt. Breast is one of today’s hares, the folks who plan and mark the course. He was out this morning with some of that green chalk, tagging Arlington’s streets and sidewalks.
But unknown to us, another D.C.-area hash house had run through Arlington this morning, too, and one of their trails had been marked in the same green chalk, tangling the two courses.
“I’m gonna get called out for this,” Breast says. “Just watch. I’ll get a beer poured over my head, or have to sing some song.”
WH4 runs every Sunday in D.C. but never the same course. The “races” are in the three- to 10-mile range, across roads, in parks, and through the occasional monument. Today, more than 25 people have showed up, a mix of men and women who range in age from their 20s to a lifelong hasher in his 60s who worked at the Pentagon. One woman, who says she works for the government, holds her hand over her face to block my view. Two more hashers ask to be kept out of photographs and won’t even tell me their hash monikers, let alone their real names. Many of D.C.’s hashers are diplomats, ambassadors, and other government black-tie types who don’t want their employer to know they’re in an obscene running club that drinks all day.
“It’s a weird, quirky subculture, and as with any subculture, it can be misjudged,” PFT says.
Hashing began in 1938 with British colonials in what is now Malaysia; they loosely based the sport, if you can call it that, on fox-hunting. The idea was to improvise a course so these Brits could sweat out the previous evening’s booze with the promise of more beer at the end, at a restaurant called the Hash House. In the 1970s, hashing started to spread across the globe. There’s no accurate record of how many people do it, because it’s decentralized, but hashing chapters are still on the rise. In the 1980s, there were a few dozen chapters worldwide. Today there are about 2,000. Most large American cities have at least one hash house.
During the hash, runners pause halfway through to meet the beer van for more booze. Along the way, there are lewd drinking songs and lewd sex songs, and brief bits of occasional nudity. Nobody knows the route they’re about to follow except for the hares who laid down clues in flour or chalk. It’s designed to keep people bunched up, because those in the lead are constantly looking for the next clue. Which is exactly how every WH4 run plays out.
“Virgins! Up front!” PFT howls upon starting in downtown Arlington, calling out all newbies.
Two people from upstate New York step forward, as do two from Atlanta. I move forward, too, and the five of us step into a circle of people, who sing us a song about getting us drunk and putting stuff up our asses. Bestowed upon me in revelry and generous grace is the honorific title Men’s Urinal, for the magazine that sent me here.
“If you want to run, go fast,” PFT says; then she nods her purple hair toward Breast, who’s practically already vanishing.
So I take off, sailing over a curb into the street, then through three lanes of bumper-to-bumper cars and onto the next sidewalk. On the tail end of the runners, I bound through quaint residential areas and then through a flooded gravel courtyard. The line of runners weaves through foot traffic that retreats out of the way with deer-in-the-headlights looks. Rain runs down my face and into my eyes so relentlessly that it makes no sense to keep clearing them. For 15 minutes I run as fast as I can. Roads are crossed in two steps. Blasts from a tin whistle tell me somebody has found a clue, and I sprint toward the noise.
“Go back!” somebody yells.
WH4 is one of the hash houses that lays false clues. You follow one mark, two marks, and then find nothing or a “fuck you” mark that means you need to retrace your steps and look for the correct fork.
We go like this for an hour, running and slowing to a crawl as we fan out to look for clues and running once more, and then break for a mid-trail drink at the beer van. Then we go for another hour. As we all share drinks again at the end of the trail, before heading to the post-race bar, people call out grievances that are mostly ways to have fun at others’ expense. “It happens if somebody tries to show off, or if they talk too much, or if somebody feels like making something up to get someone else in trouble,” Breast says. Like if you wear nice new shoes, they’ll pour beer over your head. Some have to sing, most are forced to drink, all are insulted. Breast gets called into the lineup, and they sing him a song about how shitty his trail was, and he drinks as punishment. Somebody calls out a guy named How Much Wood Could a Woodfuck Fuck if a Woodfuck Could Fuck Wood for having an annoyingly long name. At the end of the hazing, we head for Summers Restaurant, which is, most importantly, also a bar.
Pitchers of beer land on the tables and are chased by straight whiskies, Jack-and-Cokes, and some ginger ale concoction I’ve never seen. For all its sadistic delight in political incorrectness, hashing ropes in a crazy variety of people. Today’s group includes young fathers and mothers, two gay couples, a conservative gun enthusiast, and obvious liberals.
“That’s the best part of hashing,” says Fingergrgrgrgrgr, a married guy in his 30s. “You get all kinds.”
We ran three miles today, which is short. Most are twice as long. But every hash ends at a bar like this, friends drinking off the last hours of the weekend before they have to wake up Monday morning and put on suits or cashier’s uniforms—at least until the next Sunday.
“We’re all equals here,” says Stapler, another hasher. “It doesn’t matter what you do for a living, how much money you make, or what you do in your private life. You can’t ‘win’ the hash, because it’s not a competition. But everyone wins because there’s beer at the end.”