Photos: Devin Ream
It was approximately 90 degrees at 6 p.m., and I was about to Hash for the first time. “On, on!” the Hashers shouted together, as they began to jog down Martin street in South Eugene. Reluctantly, and without explanation, I began to follow. I hadn’t been ready to jog today. I had eaten a horrible breakfast, an even worse lunch, and definitely hadn’t drank enough water to balance the amount of sweat I had already perspired in the early evening heat. On top of that, I wasn’t sure how the Pabst Blue Ribbon I had just guzzled, or the shot of Moonshine I’d imbibed, was going to sit while I climbed the Ridgeline trail toward Dillard Road
Nevertheless, I climbed. While my stomach churned with beer and Moonshine, sweat poured profusely from my face and body. I took a glance back at my photographer Devin Ream, his face mostly pale. After hearing his labored breaths, I thought he was going to die right there on the side of the hill. I asked him if he was alright. He replied that he was not, but that he would continue despite it. By the time we made it to the first beer check, I was already exhausted.
Yet, without even asking if I was thirsty, a Hasher who goes by the Hash-Tag Beef Up and Fuck tossed me another PBR. Drinking it was nearly as challenging as the first leg of the Hash had been. My body fought violently against the foam and carbonation. I struggled to keep from gagging. While I caught my breath between gulps of cheap, lukewarm beer, I tried to recall how exactly I had gotten myself into this predicament.
The previous Wednesday, I met with Todd Bosworth, co-founder of the running group who also goes by his Hash-Tag Hugh Mungus Butt-Hicky. The group call themselves the Eugene Hash House Harriers.
Though Bosworth helped establish the Eugene kennel in 1991, the history of the Hash House Harriers is a story 76 years in the making that spans the globe.
The story goes that two Brits and a Spaniard formed a Monday evening running group in 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, as a means of working off the weekend’s hangover. According to the Hash House’s official history, the name the expatriated civil servants chose derived from the location where they met: The Selangor Club Chambers, nicknamed the ‘Hash House’ for its “unimaginative, monotonous food.” Namely, the corned beef hash.
The founding members took the basic rules of a 17th century British running game called ‘Hares and Hounds,’ and combined it with another running game from the South China Sea nation. This combination led to a running-chase challenge that incorporates a trail of flour, drinking beer, obscene nicknames, and singing and socializing into a ridiculous, yet fun alternative for adults who care less about competitive running, and more about making the exercise as absurdly entertaining as possible. “For me, it started when I read an article in the Wall Street Journal in 1990,” Bosworth says. The author of the article, Hilary Stout, described a running group in New York City that would meet on Fridays after work, run for a bit, then meet up at a bar for drinks. “So, I thought, ‘Well, I’m a runner, and I know a lot of runners in Eugene; that sounds like a really cool thing to do.’” Then, after meeting a retired Foreign Service officer who had been living in Kuala Lumpur, Bosworth was formally introduced to the worldwide practice of Hashing.
Hashing is considerably less orthodox than your basic jog around the block, as I was quick to learn. The first thing I recognized as being wildly different from any athletic endeavor I’d undertaken before was the mass consumption of beer. When I arrived at the meeting place for that initial Hash, I encountered ten Hashers drinking at the pre-lube at the back of a hatchback SUV.
The Hashers who chose to partake were pilfering two coolers full of Ninkasi (the kennel’s official sponsor) and PBR. Once the Hash begins, the objective is to find the next beer check. Along the way, the Hashers will encounter obstacles marked as symbols made of flour or chalk on the ground. These markings are explained prior to the Hash during the Chalk-Talk. Hasher’s jargon is extensive, vulgar, and rife with adult humor. “It’s like a scavenger hunt,” says The Scrotunator.
“A scavenger hunt for beer!” And he’s not wrong. The breaks taken during the Hash are solely for an opportunity to drink even more beer. However, it’s important to understand that there is no requirement to drink. In fact, there are a number of Hashers who prefer not to drink at all, though they are the minority. Also important to understand is that a Hash has no winners, per se. “It’s not a race,” Bosworth says.
“A lot of the time, you’re standing around trying to figure out which way the trail goes, or waiting for someone to get back and say, ‘It doesn’t go that way.’” A popular description of Hashing by non-Hashers is that they’re a drinking group with a running problem. So, if you’re looking for an opportunity to drink socially but have no interest in raising your heart rate, Hashing might not be for you.
When I finally made it back to where the Hash originally started on Martin Street, I found Devin waiting for me, camera in hand. The lucky bastard had gotten a ride back from the first beer check with one of the Hashers. Winded, nauseated, buzzed, and experiencing a rapid, on-coming headache as a result of dehydration, I joined Devin and the Hashers for the end-of-Hash ceremony called Religion.
More drinking, singing, and merriment ensued. Sacred vessels (a ceremoniously bedazzled bed pan and an old bugle) were filled with beer and upended, body parts were liberally exposed, bad jokes and even worse songs were shared, but good times were had by all. I hadn’t arrived that day expecting anything more than a quick interview and a handshake or two. However, after Hashing for nearly three hours, Devin and I were officially accepted into the kennel. As explained to me by Always Wet Pussy, “Eugene is now your Mother Hash.”
I’ve participated in four Hashes since then, and every one has been a little different. Sometimes costumes are worn, sometimes Jell-O shots are part of the beverage options; after my birthday, they even made a cake of me by smashing eggs over my head, covering me with flour and beer, and then singing me the oddest version of Happy Birthday I’ve ever heard.
But one thing that never changes — never happens any differently — is the welcoming of virgins (first time Hashers). The Eugene Hash House Harriers are an eclectic group of people from all walks of life. Be they vice presidents, civil engineers, schoolteachers, UO staff members, software developers, or writers and photographers for university publications, all are welcome to join the Hash. All you need is half a mind.