Forget light and low-carb beers. "Ultra Wimp" and his beer-drinking pals have a better method for fighting fat: They run while they drink beer.
Wimp and his buddies belong to the local branch of the Hash House Harriers, a global group of rule-breaking recreationists who combine running, orienteering, beer drinking and a kids' game of tag into adult sport. "We call ourselves 'a drinking group with a running problem,'" explains Wimp.
As "hare raiser" for the Denver hashers, Wimp designates the "hare" responsible for laying the complicated trail for each week's race. Using flour, the hare leaves a series of arrows and marks that denote "checks" (where the route changes direction), false trails, double-backs and other clues for the "hounds" to follow. The result is a sixty- to ninety-minute course through city streets, suburbs, forests, parks and extraneous "shiggy" -- mud, ditches, streams, fences, sewer drains and other obstacles -- as the runners track down not just the hare, but the real object of a hasher's affections. "The beer -- that's the reason we're here," Wimp says. "The whole point of the hash is to get to where the beer is."
Hash House Harriers
Not a Restaurant
But there's beer along the way, too. During each hash, the participants -- a mix of die-hard runners, casual joggers and walkers -- gather at assorted "beer checks" to knock back a few budget brews before hitting the trail again.
The hare can mark the course the night before or set it "live," as Wimp does, with just a fifteen-minute jump on his pursuers. "People know I lay a good trail," boasts Wimp, a retired Army officer and twenty-year hashing veteran.
Getting too competitive on the trail is a hashing crime, one of many offenses that can earn the miscreant the "penalty" of having to consume more beer at the end of the race. "If you try to win, you have to chug a beer," Wimp says. "Front-running bastards" also have to chug, as do losers, athletes who show up in clothes bearing running logos or anyone who calls a hash a "race." Notes Wimp: "You use the R-word on trail, you have to chug a beer for that. If you wear new running shoes, you have to drink beer out of them."
Hashing traces its roots back to the late nineteenth century and the game of Paper Chase (also known as Hounds and Hares) played by English schoolchildren, a knockoff of the fox hunts enjoyed by the upper crust. In the 1930s, British businessmen and soldiers stationed in Malaysia resurrected the game; they celebrated the conclusion of each chase at a Kuala Lumpur pub affectionately known as the "hash house." Although hashing fell out of favor during WWII, the practice was resurrected after the war and soon went worldwide.
Local hasher "Chuck E. Cheeks" ("as in butt cheeks," he says) estimates that 1,600 groups participate in hashing today; many are based in university towns or major cities where an Australian or British embassy houses hash-lovers. But Cheeks has done his bit for global hashing, too. A military policeman in the U.S. Air Force, he's been hashing since 1990 and has put together courses in Asia, Europe and the Middle East. When he was stationed in Qatar during the war in Iraq, he helped organize a hash of British, Australian and American runners on a U.S. base in Doha (complete with moonshine for quaffing).
When he isn't spreading the joys of hashing across the planet, Cheeks serves as the Denver hashers' "Grand Masturbator," which means he's charged with being "the leader of the mismanagement" and "keeping a tight rein on total chaos."
Colorful titles are a hashing tradition. According to Cheeks, the practice of giving out nicknames dates back to the sport's early days, when British officers weren't permitted to fraternize with enlisted underlings. To avoid getting busted, the officers adopted aliases.
But today's hashers enjoy their anonymity, too. "A lot of people come here to blow off steam," Cheeks explains. "They might have government jobs or be teachers, and they're prim and proper during the day. We won't know anything about them until we see they're running for re-election or something."
Nicknames often emerge from the "circle" at the conclusion of each hash, when practitioners gather for "down-downs" and to quaff penalty beers. Monikers depend on "how deep we are into the keg," Cheeks says, and what a person does on the job or on the trail. For example, a local dentist in his group owns the handle "Spit," while a woman who fell into a campfire at an off-trail event was dubbed "Ash Hole."
"You have to be a little thick-skinned," says "Knee Deep in Brown Stuff," a local AIDS researcher and the "Grand Mattress" of local hashers, who became a hash fiend after taking part in a Boulder event ten years ago. "You can be politically incorrect, with the understanding that it's not offensive." But your beer-downing talent is just as important as your ability to take a joke. "Beer is king," she notes. "And people who don't drink have a hard time with this."
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Some groups will make exceptions for those who don't drink beer on the course or at "on afters," the post-hash get-togethers. Wimp insists that his outfit has standards: "If somebody gets blotto, we make sure they get taken care of." The old days of "down-downs" of full beers are over, he says, adding "but whatever you don't drink, you have to pour on your head."
Still, the camaraderie of the sport can be more intoxicating than a cold brew. "It's like belonging to a fraternity or sorority," Wimp says of his group, which includes both the high-powered and the unemployed, conservatives and liberals, carnivores and vegans, serious runners and serious drinkers. "The attraction is that so many different people from different walks of life can do things together without getting into a tiff. You get in a political argument, you have to chug a beer."
Many hashers spend time together off the trail. And the culture of hashing calls for helping visiting enthusiasts with rides to and from the airport, jobs and support. "No matter where in the world you go, you have friends," Cheeks says. "And after a run, we go carbo-loading with beer and barbecue."
Cheeks's most recent hash took place in Pennsylvania, where he'd gone for his grandmother's funeral. After the service, he got in touch with hashers in the Harrisburg and Hershey areas. "I hardly knew these people at all," he says. "They had a real quick ceremony for my grandma, we chugged a beer, and then we went out and did a run."