A barrage of colorful, angst-ridden metaphors filled my mind as I trudged across roughly 8 inches of fresh snow atop Auke Lake on a balmy 23-degree day with a pack of nine other runners.
After crisscrossing miles through the greater Auke Bay area, following a cryptic trail marked with blue-dyed flour, all I could think of was catching the bastards who were setting the pseudo-scavenger hunt. These "hares," if caught, would have to suffer the traditional hash penalty of drinking beer in their underwear.
And then my mood lightened, as cheers of "beer near" echoed across the frozen expanse. The 10 of us stumbled across a bright blue "BN" highlighted against the snow, nearby sat a plastic bag containing several aptly chilled Miller High Life cans. While sharing the refreshing bounty over a much-needed respite in our quest, I came to the realization that the hares would not be drinking in their underwear this day.
Such is the fickle existence of a Juneau Hash House Harrier out for a winter fun run.
Juneau is seeing a resurgence of "hashing," an internationally recognized social endeavor combining noncompetitive running with beer drinking. With the revival of the storied Juneau Hash House Harriers and the recent creation of the Rain Country Hash House Harriers, hashing in the capital seems to be back on the map.
While by no means an expert on hashing, or running for that matter, I reluctantly joined my first hash run roughly five years ago after vehemently and repeatedly refusing the invitation to go run and drink beer at the same time. After witnessing firsthand the bizarre rituals, humor and camaraderie inspired by hashing, I was hooked. Hashing is much more than just a "drinking club with a running problem," as it's been called.
The exact beginning of the worldwide phenomenon remains somewhat sketchy, but legend has it that hashing first blossomed as an informal club of British civil servants in 1930s' Kuala Lumpur (in present day Malaysia). To combat hangovers they had earned over the weekend, the bachelors met on Monday evenings to run trails through the city that were marked by pieces of paper.
The local registrar of societies apparently approached the group, requesting that it create a formal constitution. One hashing Web site says the name Hash House Harriers emerged out of a nickname for a social hotspot in Kuala Lumpur called the Selangor Club Chambers that the bachelors would frequent. The spot was called the "Hash House" for its "unimaginative, monotonous food."
After a break in the social activities due to World War II, hashing in Kuala Lumpur began again with renewed vigor roughly a year after the fighting stopped. A 1950 registration card for the group reportedly listed the club's goals as: "to promote physical fitness among our members," "to get rid of weekend hangovers," "to acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer," and "to persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel."
The general goals of Hash House Harriers across the globe remain similar nearly 50 years later, however, individual rituals and hashing specifics can vary between cities and nations. Some groups emphasize the running, others the social nuances, while some simply enjoy paying homage to "nectar," the hashing term for beer. Hash "kennels" speckle the globe, from Anchorage to New York City, from New Zealand to Nigeria, from Thailand to Turkey, and dozens of countries in between.
The Juneau Hash House Harriers' runs have varied in complexity over the years, depending primarily on the hares orchestrating the events. But the club has remained a steady mix of challenging trails, stirred with loosely followed rituals, and shaken with gracious amounts of libations.
The recent run I participated in, which was hosted by the Juneau Hash House Harriers, is a prime example of the debauchery-fueled revelry shared with thousands of hashers across the world. The 21-and-over crowd performed semi-secret rituals, wore flashy costumes, used politically incorrect hash names for their fellow runners, and sang sexually explicit jingles - all while weaving through the frigid corners of Auke Bay.
The respite shared on Auke Lake didn't last as long as I would have hoped, and to my chagrin the hares toured us through several more miles of Auke Bay before we arrived at our secret final destination, which is known in the hasher's lexicon as the "on home."
But as the closing rituals came to an end and feeling returned to my extremities, I was grateful for the apparent revival of a social event that generates many smiles during a time of year in Juneau when we need all that we can get.
I'm just hoping the next hash provides me with a greater workout for my elbows than the last one provided for my rusty legs.
Eric Morrison can be reached at 523-2269 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.