Booze your own trail

By HermineBloom

An empty Bank of America parking lot on Clybourn Avenue feels oddly cinematic on a temperate Tuesday evening. Harsh lights from inside the building illuminate a group of 20 eager people clad in gym shorts and tennis shoes standing in a giant circle, playfully fidgeting and chuckling with their neighbors. But when a bearded man at the self-proclaimed head of the circle breaks open a bag of flour, the crowd suddenly falls intensely quiet.

“My name is Robert, also known as ‘Who’s Your Daddy?’ and I’m one of your hares for the evening!” his voice bellows while he dumps flour onto the concrete in the shape of arrows, which creates another stir in the group.

“There will be three arrows after your first check!” he exclaims, speaking of the flour sprinkled on city streets marking which direction to run.

“On, on!” the group erupts in unison with a military-type obedience.

Robert Bogie, 47, explains there will be a two-way split at the freeway, what specific markers to watch out for and eventually what bar (what some see as the most integral point of discussion) to reconvene in upon completion of the run. The group, which is perhaps excessively giggling and chatting as a result of leaving Lakeview bar The Pitch, 2142 N. Clybourn Ave., across the street only minutes prior, finally gets its

chance to speak.

One by one, the hashers, or participants, rattle off their individual nicknames in a loud, rehearsed manner. Much of this practice resembles an improvisational skit rather than a tradition dating back to 1937 that exists on every continent of the world.

With as much enthusiasm as the participants exhibited when they were first addressed by their leader, or hare, for the evening, all of them start jogging to the first intersection, as jovial and carefree as one would expect before embarking on a five-mile run.

To call the Chicago Hash House Harriers merely a co-ed, glorified fraternity would be doing it a great disservice. One of about 2,000 kennels across the world, the international social running club, with its quirky name-calling paired with a special fondness for beer, is certainly multifaceted.

“It’s a cross between a frat party, an Easter egg hunt and a road race,” the aforementioned hare, or Bogie, said of how to define the hash harriers.

Virtually every participant will agree that one of the organization’s greatest appeals stems from every city having its own group.

Simply put, Bogie said he wanted to meet new people after moving from Pittsburgh to Chicago in 2007, which is the sole reason he laced up his shoes and prepared his liver for his first run.

“That’s one of the great things, the camaraderie,” said 47-year-old Tim VanderWoude, or “Bubbles,” who has been hashing for one year. “You could never have been in this country or this city before and show up, meet a group of 20 new people and have 20 brand new friends.”

Hashing originated in 1937 in Kuala Lumpur, capital city of the Federated Malay States, or what’s known as Malaysia today. A group of British colonial officers and expatriates decided to run in an effort to rid themselves of their hangovers, modeling the group after the British Paper Chase, or “Hare and Hounds.”

Today, chapters in most metropolitan cities contain 20–100 members who gather weekly, monthly or bi-yearly for large regional events or more intimate, local group outings like the one at The Pitch on Sept. 20.

The Chicago Hash Harriers is just one of seven hashing groups in Chicago. Others include, but are not limited to, Thirsty Thursdays, Second City Hash House Harriers and Chicago Fool Moon Hash. However, no one group is more official or established than another, VanderWoude said, which he describes as “mismanagement.”

“To call anything we do organized is flat out lying,” VanderWoude said. “Yes there are some people who take more time and effort to make sure people know where to show up and what to do, but generally it’s very loosely organized.”

Each member earns his or her nickname in the beginning stages of his or her hashing careers.

“They’ll ask you where you were born, what’s your sign, what’s your favorite barn animal, what’s your favorite food group to masturbate with,” VanderWoude said. “But people usually have an idea in mind.”

Hashing nicknames, as well as the numerous terms involved, seem complex to someone who’s unfamiliar, so its mission is often misunderstood.

“One of the biggest misconceptions is that everybody thinks you start out and you all race to get to the next beer stop,” VanderWoude said. “In reality, we’re all trying to help each other get to the trail so we all get to the next beer stop quickly. A lot of people think we know where we’re going and we all follow each other, but it’s not always the case.”

The event on Sept. 20 was one of a smaller caliber. In essence, the group convenes at a pre-decided bar. The trail is the route runners are supposed to run in order to hit the flour marks, which have been pre-determined by the hares. Hares, or the one or two people whose turn it is to lay the trail for the night, lead the group.

First, they host chalk talk, where the hashers stand in a circle and listen for the directions, including where to run.

Sometimes the hares will create what’s called a dead trail, which means they would have already put flour in specific locations along their trail before the run occurs. Other times, they will leave 15 minutes prior to the rest of the hashers and put the flour down quickly, which is called a live trail.

Hares can choose to incorporate checks, indicating the trail could go in any direction, in which case scouts, or chosen runners, would be sent out to look for where the trail picks up again. This idea keeps the whole pack together, which VanderWoude said is an important aspect of why they run in the first place.

Daniel Roesler, known as “Vote4Pedro” in the Chicago House Harriers group, hails from Houston. He said he first heard of hashing three or four years ago from a former roommate originally from Indonesia who had participated there.

“I was looking for an activity that would be a lot of fun, and I’m not really that competitive,” Roesler said.

After everyone arrives at the beer stop, or the final destination, most of the real socializing occurs, Roesler said, which could be considered the incentive to run.

“You have something called circle,” he said. “Circle is where you can call people out for doing something stupid on trail or calling people out for organizing a bad trail or something like that.”

Much of the time, the hashers sing crude songs at circle and agree upon nicknames for the runners at the bar, such as “Bubbles” or “Vote4Pedro”.

VanderWoude joined The Chicago Hash House Harriers in an effort to restart his social life after a divorce. Now, the group accounts for 50 percent of his social life, he said. He began hashing in his hometown of Milwaukee with the Waukesha House Harriers and expressed loyalty. In Chicago, he said he’s come across far more “racists,” which doesn’t align with the group’s mission.

“We have a higher percentage of hashers who will jog or even walk the trails in Milwaukee,” VanderWoude said. “Here we have a higher percentage of people who will run the trails. They’re called ‘racists.’ They like to run their race to win it. It’s usually considered a bad thing.”

However, sprinting isn’t frowned upon as long as the hashers wait for the rest of the slower runners at the markers.

Roesler, for example, said he’s training for a marathon. He treats the hash runs as a speed run, where he will sprint to each check and relax while waiting for the others until they reach him.

Former Navy reservist Mike Wahlman, or “Boner Malfunction” in the hashing community, has hashed in Jacksonville, Fla., California and the Middle East.

Wahlman explained many people in the military, as well as traveling business people, are drawn to the hashing community due to its wide-spread practice.

“It’s one thing that helps people in the army and navy have some sort of semblance of normalcy and fun in their lives,” said Wahlman, who began hashing in 2005 after his roommate recommended the organization. “In some sort of major city like Chicago, you get a lot of people who are just business people, teachers or who might just happen upon it. It’s unique because you can develop relationships with people you normally wouldn’t meet or hang out with.”