Local runners "Rear Admiral" and "Sherpa" warm-up at North Mountain Park before the Annual Crab Hash on Sunday.



FRONTPAGE IMAGE: Runners of the annual crab hash make their way past the first check point at North Mountain Park Sunday afternoon.

Eight years ago, a woman who now goes by the name "Pinefresh Beaver" was walking home late on New Year's Eve feeling blue, when another woman, sporting a ballerina skirt and a headlamp, ran by. She threw some flour on the ground to mark her path for those behind her and kept on running.

Two weeks later, "Pinefresh" joined the group for a run and found what she calls "a community that I'm always welcome to." On Sunday afternoon, "Pinefresh" could be seen scampering through the streets of Ashland, decked out in a lime green dress over her running gear, electric blue sunglasses and a clamshell bikini top in honor of the Hash House Harrier's annual crab fest.

Members of the Hash House Harriers, or hashers for short, gather every other week for what one yet-to-be-named hasher calls a "scavenger hunt for adults."

The hashers are a group of professionals, college students, retired folk and everyone in between who refuse to grow up just for the afternoon. They run through the mud instead of around it, play dress-up, give each other absurd nicknames, and, oh yes, drink beer before, during and after the run. In some circles, they call themselves "the drinking club with the running problem."

Hashing history

Hash House Harriers began in 1938 with a group of British expatriates in Malaysia who frequently gathered at the "hash house," (named for its mediocre food), looking for a way to entertain themselves after hours. They adopted the old children's game, Hares and Hounds, in which a pack of "hounds" chase a few "hares," following the trail they leave behind. Seventy years later, the club has more than 1,000 chapters across the globe.

Once members are initiated with a hasher name, they can fit right in with any club around the world, as long as they're ready for the ever-changing rules.

"The rules are, there are no rules," said hasher "Does Brown" who has been running with the Ashland club for five years. "There are well-established traditions which are frequently broken."

In Ashland, tradition holds that runs begin with a warm-up song and dance. On Sunday, a tune about a button-factory worker had hashers pushing imaginary buttons with both hands, feet and even their heads. After "Rear Admiral" offered a quick blessing for the beer, trails and the shortcuts he was bound to take, the hares were off. A few minutes later, the pack followed, winding through neighborhoods, empty lots and up into the hills above Lithia Park, with only a few wrong turns in between. Walking is perfectly acceptable, as is inviting curious onlookers to join in the fun or "de-shorting" the hares if they are caught.

After refueling on beer and bottled water midway through the run, the hashers headed down the hill and after a few more twists and turns, eventually to the "on-in," usually a member's home, where the real party starts and reporters are banned.

Staying Secret

Some hashers stick to their nicknames because it adds to the feel of a secret society, they said, and others to protect their professional reputations. The group is not without its critics for the drinking and general political incorrectness during the on-ins and the entire run, but members emphasize it is all in good fun.

"It's not just a drinking club," said "Wonder Down Under," a hare and host of Sunday's on-in. "We do have several non-drinking members it's a social environment."

The hashers are a welcoming bunch, with newcomers and visiting hashers received readily no matter what their background. If anyone ever gets lost on the trail, a search party is sent to find the wayward hasher.

Something keeps the hashers coming back week after week through mud, thorns, sun and sleet &

and it's got to be more than the beer.

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