Hashing draws spirited crowd

All for naughty

Paul Shultz, aka No-Name-Paul, heard someone yell, "Hounds away!" and quickly tossed a water bottle to a friend.

It was time for the 30 people gathered outside Augusta's Backyard Tavern to stop drinking pitchers of beer and start chasing "hares," two members who had run ahead into the woods. The group plunged into the "shiggy" -- that's brush and briars -- armed with whistles and plastic mugs and looked for the trail.

The Peach Fuzz Hash House Harriers is Augusta's "drinking club with a running problem." The club usually meets twice a week to socialize, drink, and run a noncompetitive race, or "hash."

The game, and the vocabulary that comes with it, doesn't make sense right away, but that's OK. Newcomers can just follow the crowd for a while.

"It took me about six runs to start making sense of what happened," Shultz said.

Hashing is an international pastime based on the old British children's game of hares and hounds. The "hares" run 10 minutes ahead and mark the trail with flour. The hounds follow in chase, blowing whistles to aid teammates each time a new mark is found.

"It's like a tailgate party mixed with a cross-country race," said longtime member Stacy Atkins, aka O Bozo Where Art Thou.

Some of the marks point out the direction of the trail; others misdirect and the group must work together to solve the riddle. There are also "naughty" marks, where one must stop and perform a bawdy ritual act or sing a song filled with off-color words and gestures. That makes this game adults-only recreation.

Finding correct trails leads to rewards of beer-filled cups and, eventually, an end-of-trail celebration. After six runs, new members get a special trail name -- usually tending toward the vulgar -- and must use it in place of their real name while on a hash.

"If you get easily offended, you're not going to like it," Atkins said. "The idea is to desensitize you to the façade of things. We make fun of you ,and then you get over it. You face your demons."

Atkins, for example, was named O Bozo Where Art Thou because his friends thought he could sometimes be too serious and philosophical.

Tim Saari said hashing is for people who like to have fun and not necessarily be confined by the rules of polite society.

"We can let loose and just be ourselves," he said.

Hashing also gives people who travel a way to find quick camaraderie, said Anthony Liutkus.

"At least one-sixth of hashers are military," he said. "We're like a group of friends that are waiting here for them."

To the uninitiated, hashing can look odd and draws its share of misunderstandings. During a run conducted over Masters Week, the group's hare placed a flour mark outside an IHOP restaurant. When questioned about it, the spirited runner joked it was anthrax and got arrested. That was a foolish mistake, Atkins said.

"Sometimes you can be so involved in the run, you just think everyone is with you," he said.