In 1938, a group of British expatriates and military officers stationed in Kuala Lampur, Malaysia modified the schoolboys’ game “hare and hounds” to involve grown-up activities- namely the consumption of beer. They called the new game “hashing” and their group the “Hash House Harriers.” Today a Bloomington group carries on the hashing tradition.
After a three-mile trek through the woods surrounding the Indiana University golf course, the Blooming Fools Hash House Harriers finish a Saturday morning run at a parking lot on Bloomington’s East side. The veteran runners encircle the first-time hashers and serenade them, giving new words to Fintstones’ theme song.
Then, on cue, the newly initiated hashers chug plastic cups full of beer and dump the leftover foam on top of their heads.
John Branigan, who goes by the name white lightening when he’s hashing, founded the Blooming Fools in 1996.
“There was a hasher who had a name of Byte Lightning because he’s a computer guy and it was like byte, ‘b-y-t-e.’ And I was kind of his shadow, because I would try to keep up with him,” Branigan said. “He was a lot faster than I was anyway. But I tried to keep up with him. So, I kind of became White Lightning simply through default.”
Hashing works like this: a trail is laid out by one or two members of the group designated as “the hares.” They toss handfuls of flour on the ground to mark the path for the rest, or “the hounds.” But Branigan said the hares are clever, sometimes laying down false trails which lead to dead ends.
“When you come across a dash of flour and you know you’re on trail, you yell ‘on-on’ and if you come to a bad trail from your check, from an intersection, you yell ‘bad trail,’” Branigan explained.
The trail can lead anywhere; into the woods, across ravines, even through private property. And periodically, runners arrive at what’s known as the “beer check,” a spot where Branigan said everyone meets to momentarily gorge on beer and junk food.
Every new member of the Blooming Fools must earn his hash name. Branigan said after six hashes, the veterans pick a name for the new runners–names like “Hot n Juicy,” “Gender Bender” and “Son of Gucci.”
“You try to make it a little bit bawdy, but not so bawdy that you couldn’t tell your mother what your hash name was,” Branigan said. “There’s a woman who had a sneezing problem, she had an allergy problem and her hash name is gesundheit. I always thought that was kind of a clever name”
Branigan said there are thousands of people around the world spend their Saturday mornings this way.
“There are hashes all over the world. One of our hashers hashed in Iraq when he was stationed over there. And there’s actually a global inter-hash every year where people come from all over the world and descend upon some location and hash for a weekend,” Branigan said.
Hashing, it seems, brings people together. One example is the unlikely friendship between Patricia Sherfick and Alison Holen, who knew each other before joining the Blooming Fools but weren’t exactly friends.
Branigan said it’s the youthful nature of the event which makes for its lasting appeal.
“It’s a game really,” he said. “That’s what is. It’s like when you’re a kid and you run around and there aren’t any rules and you’re just playing outside. It’s like that when you’re an adult. Nobody wins. Nobody loses. It’s just fun.”