It's best if this story begins with an explanation. "Hashing," the verb that describes the favored pursuit of the World Hash House Harriers, generally involves a three-mile run, lots of cheap beer, copious raunchy jokes and, ultimately, camaraderie—though not necessarily in that order.
"So there's going to be vomit all over the bosque tomorrow?" my friend Tony asks after I explain what I'll be doing that Saturday.
"Umm," I say, which is really all I know.
Years ago, I once hashed in El Salvador, where a group of British and American expatriates had the habit of spending the occasional Saturday running through a forest in search of caches of the local brew, Pilsener. It was fun, if potentially sickening (you had to drink the beers as you came upon them), and when I found hashing groups in Albuquerque and Santa Fe, I was thrilled—and terrified.
On your first hash run, you're considered a "virgin." Pro: You don't have to pay the $5 beer fee. Con: You may or may not be hazed mercilessly.
So Tony's out; he hates running and would really hate being hazed. That leaves Amy, an athletic, up-for-anything medical student.
"Beer and running? I'm in!" she squeals when I explain the premise.
We suit up—shorts, T-shirts, running shoes—and head to the pre-hash meeting place, a bar on Albuquerque's west side.
Most people are already drinking, so Amy and I split a PBR and do some stretches. Outside, the sky is darkening.
A muscular, bespectacled man introduces himself as Princess Albert (experienced hashers have nicknames; virgins and relative
newcomers don't) and launches into a series of rapid-fire instructions.
We're told to follow little piles of chalk left by "hares," who lay a trail—along with a host of false trails—with a cooler of beer to mark its endpoint.
It's raining by the time we set off. The more ambitious hashers—a couple of chiseled guys in Vibrams—go first, but they quickly succumb to a false trail. (The walkers lag behind and have the benefit of never getting lost; they just follow the "pack" once we find our way.)
Soon, we're deep in the bosque. We've crossed marshy acequias more times than I can remember, crawled through thickets of Russian olive—fortunately, you win points for "blood on trail"—and surprised a few cows.
Finally, we come to the mighty Rio Grande. It's wide and tranquil, and the rain gives everything a misty, Portlandesque look.
"The beer is on the other side!" somebody yells, and a cheer erupts.
The beer is not on the other side.
The beer, we learn—after another episode of false trails, scratched thighs and socks full of mud—is in the river, on a small, brushy island. We stand in the shallow water, drinking Milwaukee's Best and passing around a bag of Cheez Doodles, while Princess Albert conducts a raunchy naming ceremony for a hasher (in his other life, a lawyer) who's put in his time.
The hasher in question fields a series of inappropriately sexual questions. He responds in kind and mostly (we assume) in jest.
That's the thing about hashing: Unless you're among the virgins, who are treated with cautious deference, you will be teased. You will be interviewed about embarrassing, mostly sexual subjects. But it's all in fun, and when a circle of hashers starts chanting for you to drink Beast out of an upside-down toilet plunger, they're totally fine with it if you substitute water. (This honor is reserved for the most experienced hashers, one of whom—nicknamed Double Barrel Cougar Bagger—brought his poor mother along. Everyone felt sorry for her, and he paid the price.) And while nearly everything has a sexual undertone, Princess assures me it's meaningless.
"This is not a swinging club," he says. "We are a drinking club with a running problem."
Albuquerque hashers gather for runs every Saturday in summer and every other in winter. At a recent full moon evening hash, 50 people turned out, but it's usually 20-40. The Santa Fe club meets less frequently, Princess tells me.
Hashing—begun in 1938 by bored British soldiers stationed in Malaysia—now takes place in 185 countries worldwide, and while the general idea is the same everywhere, each group, or "kennel," has its own peculiar traditions, Princess says.
I'd tell you all about them, but I wouldn't want you to lose your virginity.