The Great Outdoors
For a silly fun good time, let's go hashing
“You’re going to have to show some skin,” said the first runner who greeted me in the Walgreens parking lot.
I tucked the midriff of my shirt into my collar cheerleader style, and my hosts nodded in approval, directing me to a fit-looking gal in full NFL pads who took my $5. The men around her chatted causally in skirts, muumuus and one particularly dashing French maid’s outfit. It was Halloween, and as I surveyed the crowd of about 30 drag-clad people ranging from college kids to senior citizens, it became clear I’d picked a special night to introduce myself to hashing.
A hash is what would happen if you printed out the directions to a scavenger hunt, a pub crawl and a 5k, got them mixed up and did all three at the same time. As an affable middle-aged man in a dress explained to me, it works as follows: People check the schedule or call 71-dial-hash to find an event. Ahead of time, a couple people known as hares use chalk or blotches of flour to mark a trail. Some trails lead to dead ends, and different marks tell the runners whether they are on the right track. There’s usually a break for adult-beverages in the middle, and the trail always leads to beer at the end.
With that in mind, I settled in at the rear of the pack as it took off in the general direction of the first mark. The more ambitious runners dashed ahead, yelling signals about the location of the trail that relayed back through the stream of hashers. Most courses are between 2.5 and 5 miles long, with participants running or walking at their own pace. “Shiggy” trails, in the parlance of the sport, can take hashers through swamps, over fences, into the woods and across any strange landscape the hare’s twisted imagination can conjure. Others, like the one I was on, simply wind through the back streets of an interesting neighborhood.
“It’s a way to get exercise and enjoy the sights of Houston you wouldn’t ever see,” said Laura Johnson, a young computer professional who hashes with her husband Troy.
Sure enough, the trail took us through side streets I’d never explored. I wandered through the edges of a historic district, gazed at an inflatable pumpkin in the second-floor living room of a glass-walled townhouse and pondered the neighborhood’s gentrification.
After sucking down a few cups of tequila-spiked Jell-O, though, my mind was no longer on architecture.
A couple miles in, we stopped for the “shot check” beside a fountain on Hyde Park Boulevard. The joviality of our group grew as we managed to find the last mile of the course and reach the keg of Saint Arnold awaiting in someone’s back yard. It was beautiful. Friends and strangers, men and women, marathon runners and slackers like me all enjoying each other’s company, united by nothing more than the desire for a good time and maybe a little cardio. Soon the revelers gathered in a circle to sing bawdy songs and accuse each other of silly transgressions, all of which resulted in the guilty party finishing his or her beer.
Since its beginnings in colonial Malaysia, hashing has flourished and waned over the decades, but it retains a devoted following in cities all over the world. The Houston Hash House Harriers offer several events each week, varying in terrain and length. They assured me the cross dressing is a once-a-year thing, and the group organizes more traditional group runs as well. There are even bike hashes.
So the next time you’re bored, ask yourself these questions: Do you like beer? Do you like to meet interesting people? Do you have a tolerance for exercise and dirty jokes?
If so, then hashing might just be for you.