They are a drinking club that runs, and they’ve got comrades around the world. They are the Whitehorse Hash House Harriers (WH4).
The original Hash House Harriers got their start in Malaysia just before World War II, combating boredom among British troops. Now, there are nearly 2,000 “kennels” around the world – including the one in Whitehorse.
And everyone goes by a nickname.
“Nicknames on the hash are called ‘hash handles’ – as opposed to your ‘nerd names,'” explains Softwood, the WH4’s co-founder.
Softwood got the Whitehorse kennel going in 2007.
“A woman up here asked me if I knew anything about this hashing thing,” Softwood says. “I’d lived in South East Asia, so I’d heard of it.”
His partner in crime left the group to raise a family, but Softwood continued to organize events. The runs are modelled on a British paper chase, where a “hare” runs ahead while the “hounds” chase them.
To throw the pack off their scent, hares leave distractions on the trail, usually in the form of beer.
“But you never really know what you’ll find on the trail,” says Softwood. “Once, someone left a bottle of Baby Duck in the winter. And Fireball is popular.”
The hare is in charge of picking the secret location of a run.
“You never know what the hare will do,” Softwood says. “We’ve bussed people across town and they run back – an A to B run. Sometimes we do a live run where hares only leave 15 minutes ahead of the pack.
“Once I and a friend only had a five-minute head start,” Softwood says. “We’re pretty quick, but we still planned ahead. I almost got caught, but luckily I had a 6-pack of beer in my backpack –that slowed them down!”
While fleet-footed, hares are also supposed to try and keep the pack chasing them together.
“This is so that walkers can catch up and everyone finishes at the same time,” Softwood says. “It’s a social club: no racing allowed.
“Traditionally, you’ll also have an FRB – a Front Running Bastard – with a horn who calls the pack on. But we broke the horn and we haven’t gotten around to getting a new one.”
This relaxed mentality is typical of the hashers, who are a pretty anti-establishment group. Even so, they follow worldwide traditions. Monday, for example, is the usual “hashing” night, and at 7 p.m. anywhere between three and 30 people will meet at the secret location.
By October, this means they are usually running with headlamps. Once the snow comes, the traditional flour trail markings are not effective either.
“Sometimes we’ll put a bit of cherry Kool-Aid in the flour or use Cheesies to mark the trail,” says Softwood. “The problem with Cheesies is that dogs tend to eat them. Then you get lost.”
They still head out in full-blown winter, but they take it a bit easier – they’re not crazy.
“We only go about once a month in the winter,” says Softwood. “And the beer checks are pretty short.”
Wintertime is when they do their annual charity Red Dress Run to raise money and awareness around prostate cancer during the Movember campaign.
“Last year it was about -30°C, so that was a bit of a challenge,” says Softwood. “But my dress is pretty big, so I can wear warm clothes underneath.”
To join the HHH, your best bet is to know a hasher who can bring you as a guest.
While Softwood says anonymity is treasured in the group – “hash handles are used to protect the innocent!” – it is still relatively easy to spot a hasher:
“We’re usually a pretty ragtag looking bunch, in hash shirts and kilts.”
And they might be swerving a bit on the trail too.