My adventure to Birmingham, Alabama had two major missions: the first, to celebrate the first World Invitational Family Interhash, a brain child experiment by Larry STRAY DOG McDowell and, the second, to do battle with the weather, poison ivy and insects of southeast USA. This report addresses the first. Ragland is a wide place off the Interstate I-20 some 50+ miles east of Birmingham where STRAY DOG and his bride Qiu Rui PRINCESS hosted this “interhash” event. Of the 80 pre-registered harriers only 30 arrived for the three runs and Southern cuisine, karaoke show and talent show party.
The car travelers had survived the 12-hour trip from Chicago, 2-hours from Atlanta, 5-hours from Baton Rouge et alia. The airplane travelers arrived from Philadelphia, Salt Lake City, Seattle and the furthest from Addis Abba, Ethiopia. A few eager beavers arrived in time for a downtown Birmingham pub-crawl on Thursday night but the vast majority arrived on Friday. Those here early were treated to breakfast and lunch, a barbeque beef preparation on fresh hamburger bun with dill pickles…. seemed Southern to me. A few were assigned rooms, the single women had their own private air-conditioned trailer but most guests camped in tents on the expansive lawn overlooking the quarter mile wide Coosa River. The most impressive was the complex erected by TRIPOD, the Atlanta hasher, not nearly so young and so fast, whom we shall encounter later in this story; he and OUCH had some sort of a queen-sized bed raised above ground level in a 4-6 man tent with an adjoining solar-heated shower system plus patio with chairs and table.
The first running business of this Hash House Harriers (HHH) event began at 10:30 on Friday with a torchlight run. By this time, the dinner had settled. The participants had worked their way through a veritable mountain of spaghetti pasta sauced with some commercial very tomatoey concoction with some flecks of meat plus the garlic bread that received raves. The runners formed a circle in the driveway to be lectured by STRAY DOG about his trail marking conventions; his media of choice were baking flour and toilet tissue shards. He was off and running toward the river into the dark of night. LOW BLOW performed as the Religious Advisor du Jour leading the pack in a rendition of the Father Abraham song then the pack began walking after a 12-minute head start for the hare, STRAY DOG. The pack of hounds set off in hot pursuit. There were a couple of “checks” (i.e. trail decision points from which false trails and the true trail deviate) so the hounds scurried about aimlessly searching but not quite knocking over any of the tents. True trail was found leading up a neighbor’s quite steep hill by their residence then onto a macadam two-lane county road. A couple more checks teased to enter the jungle on either side of the road; but I was walking and so far back that I could not tell how many runners tested teases to discover the false trails. The true trail blazed forward turning right into a parking lot of a trailer home expanded/exploded into a truly local bar/dive. The Wild Man Bar should be an underground tourist attraction for how tacky it is, as well as for its absolute lack of attention to service, product selection and compliance with common codes of cleanliness. After a couple beverages, we carried with us what we hadn’t finished and returned to the starting point in the bed of a pickup truck.
Saturday began with a full Southern breakfast; the fare wasn’t fancy with frill, full flavors, sexy spices but was ample with scrambled eggs, pork sausage patties, succulent cantaloupe, assorted fruit juices, hot coffee and the lightest, most perfect biscuits I have eaten in the past thirty years. A big block on the Saturday agenda opened due to no families for the children’s games. Although this was billed as a “family” affair, no families showed; six families were registered from Ethiopia and Kenya but were unable to obtain immigration/tourist visas. During this time, PRINCESS mingled with the crowd and confirmed the registrations of the arriving local Magic City (Birmingham) HHH attendees; this woman, who is currently undergoing a full set of chemo treatments for cancer, performed magnificently and bravely for the entire weekend…what a hero!!
Running business number two began at 2:30 Saturday. STRAY DOG, again the hare, gave the pre-run instructions with a rather large repertoire of trail marking symbols. Midget Molester performed as the Religious Advisor du Jour leading the pack through introductions of each participant plus some gratuitous advertisements for his forthcoming HHH events:
Then the pack began walking after a 12-minute head start for the hare. From the McDowell Mansion, followed the driveway to the county road, to a check, breaking left through the jungle, following some of the same trail as the Friday night torchlight run to another narrow country road, shortly then check again; back into the jungle and scramble up through the brush to reach (what we call in the Pacific Northwest) a logging road. Here I am confused about the primary directions of north, south, east and west due to the lack of square mile gridding seen throughout the mid and western states.
Follow the logging road, then found a check where another small county macadam road intersected. After thorough checking to the left and to the right along the road, the consensus was to follow the logging road again. The strong, young athletic engineering professor from University of Alabama in Tuscaloosa, who attended the Isaag I. Stevens Elementary School a few blocks from my home in Seattle (small world!!), led the pack. Following along then we found a quarry on the left with an arrow directing all down into the quarry. The wary Midget stayed on top and watched and listened then followed the logging road forward soon drifting downhill. Yup! Sure enough, the runners followed a road from the quarry up to meet the logging road. BINGO a great shortcutting call!!! Follow the logging road more. The fast runners now in the front again and they found another arrow directing a sharp left turn into the dense jungle going down an intense and difficult slope. From down below the hashers called “ON ON” and more hashers followed going down and down. DANCING FOOL and another followed the logging road together, one in each tire track looking for hash marks. The wary Midget stayed on top and watched and listened then followed the logging road forward soon drifting downhill. Yup!! Sure enough, after more than a half-mile suddenly BINGO AGAIN white flour hash marks reappeared on the logging road and again forward. Fork appeared…..right was correct. A very long stretch of varying degrees of down but the footing very dangerous due to the loose rocks. An abandoned quarry, now lake, could be seen on the right. Next were a valley, a Coleman cooler and a LOW BLOW minding the beverage stop. Sweetness, cool even cold water as well as carbonated hop and sweet pops. I was for sure an hour into the run already and I knew there was more to go; the temperature was in the high 80s Fahrenheit and humidity close behind.
Pleasant visit and short chats with BLACK HOLE, a strong silent woman from Salt Lake City. Then back to follow electrical power lines up a small hill breaking left. I saw SADDLE SORE, slender fast 31-year old from Chicago, far up maybe a mile to the top of the power line hill; but the immediate trail went down to another macadam road and the long-short divider split. The divider is a choice for the runners to follow a longer or a shorter course to the conclusion and with the conclusion cold carbonated beverages….. soooo the Midget saw no need to be a hero (i.e. follow the sleek and the fleet) but chose the left turn for the short course and jogged along the highway looking for marks. After a quarter mile of no marks (Hash House Harriers conventions are to mark at LEAST every hundred yards), a pickup truck came up from behind and stopped, STRAY DOG instructed the Midget to turn around and go back to a small side driveway in order to follow the short course. Oooops, instructions followed and along a narrow almost one-lane dirt road following a series of four flour hash marks and then one toilet tissue hash sign. The road continued with puddles of varying widths and lengths but with no more hash marks. After encountering a mud puddle so wide and long that there seemed no way around it and after seeing no hash signs/marks/symbols for at least 500 double strides, then remembering years of HHH training, but most importantly remembering that the notorious dog himself is the author of the Global Trash Hash Bible with two chapters dedicated to trail marking disciplines, the Midget decided to go back and find where the trail must have diverted from the road.
Midget’s backtracking continued until OUCH and TRIPOD plus STRAY DOG, yes again in the truck, all met in the narrow tree-lined roadway. The Atlanta couple was following the short trail; STRAY DOG explained that the short trail was ahead; Midget cited the absence of marks. STRAY DOG, whose definitive tome on hashing conventions must now be updated for such circumstances, had found it convenient to abstain from marking the complete short course. The three of us followed to that really big puddle then bushwhacked around it for a bit further to find the ON-IN mark where the long course joined and then ended on the banks of the Coosa River. There awaiting us was ARTIFICIAL INSEMINATION sitting in a comfy lawn chair with her half-gallon bottle of Jim Beam, contemplating what laptop computer to buy as well as how she would be able to travel far and wide to even more major HHH events but, more importantly, guarding the Coleman coolers with ample bubbly beverages for really hot and tired long course runners. We COMPLETED the run!!! We returned by pick-up truck to McDowell Mansion for clean up and the celebration of a fine run.
Hash House Harrier events consist of at least three components: a bit of run, a bit of social and a bit of beer(s). For larger events, the bits become bigger. This was billed as an “interhash” which infers larger than average bits. This Saturday was the big day with the run definitely more that the torchlight run, the social bit started in later afternoon on the Coosa bank and continued full tilt upon return and the Budweiser and Bud Light kegs flowed freely. Yes, the grand finale dinner was Southern and much more than ample and good too. Saturday night dinner began with barbequed chicken hindquarters, perfectly cooked juicy and tender, liberally basted with a full-flavored tomato-based sauce not at all hot with capsicum. That morning about ten hashers had individually trimmed and cut two huge stockpots of large fresh green beans that were simply boiled. Added were jacket potatoes, i.e. baked potatoes as we call them here in the Colonies. Then came the half-inch charcoal-broiled, albeit medium-well to well-done, porterhouse steaks. Nobody wanted dessert. Everyone was now well fueled and well lubed ready for the evening’s festivities.
STRAY DOG, the host, opened the “circle”, i.e. the formal name of the social component of a Hash House Harriers event. He ceded control, but only occasionally, to the Religious Advisor du Jour, Midget Molester. All became aware that the Midget had not yet read, or at least had not remembered, chapter and verse of how the Global Trash Hash Bible defines, describes, directs the agenda and content of circles conducted at Global Trash “interhash” functions. Nevertheless he was able to dispatch the business at hand. One business issue was discussion of one specific event on the trail. YES, HASH, an Addis Abba construction company president, had taken her brand new Sharp hi-tech video camera and other gear with her on the run; she had taken the sharp left turn very steep down into the valley and somehow found herself lost and unable to find trail marking symbols when along comes Mike (with no nickname), president of a Baton Rouge, LA. emergency rescue team and fire protection training firm. Mike carries a rope around his waist on all runs, just in case; today was the case, YES, HASH was certain she still would have been staying in the jungle if he had not used the rope to help pull her up and out of the jungle. The audience reviewed the situation and awarded his new nickname, PUSSY ON A ROPE. Probably the key agendum of the circle was the run analysis; after significant claims, counter claims, charges and refutations, the audience voted with their voices according to a scale of zero for an absolute perfect run to four for a diabolical disaster. The Religious Advisor ruled a score of THREE and directed the hare, STRAY DOG, to consume three vessels rapidly in succession within a somewhat leisurely count of 10-9-8-……-0, then the remainder to be poured on his own head; there was no remainder ----- THANKS FOR THE RUN!!! The circle closed with a rousing rendition of Swing Low, Sweet Chariot.
Saturday night rocked on!! Karaoke show and talent show too!! From nearby Ashville arriving in a big black recent model Lincoln Town Car came the lovely principal of a “karaoke in the sticks” custom karaoke-on-wheels operation. She wasn’t ready for us but we were ready, fed and lubed for her. After PUSSY ON A ROPE was named, YES, HASH dumped a large glass of beer on one of the speakers. One by one the Hash Houses represented at this event came forward to contribute a song, joke, skit or anything as entertainment within this talent show. Salient samples include: “Ivory and Ebony” by TRIPOD (a black man) and LOW BLOW (white trash) from Fort Walton Beach Area HHH, “Johnny B. Good” by BLUE VELVET from Chahoochi HHH but the entire group awarded best performance to the 15+ minute dramatic recitation of “Eskimo Nell” by Midget Molester of Rain City HHH in Seattle. During a break in the course of these acts, recognition was bestowed upon the neighbors who had spent the afternoon and evening handling most of the catering obligations. They were rewarded with cold beverages and new nicknames suitable for roles they played, e.g. MEAT GLAZER for the head barbeque chef, FRIGHT LIGHTNING for arranging the delivery of export quality moonshine not yet hours aged, SOUTHERN EATING for the full-figured green beans chef and TAMPON ON for other catering assistance.
Sunday began with another full Southern breakfast however many were moving more slowly. Running business number three commenced at 10:30. Yes, again, the same hare; does he have a real life beyond the hash? The short trail wandered maybe a full half-mile. Down toward the Coosa River, to the right through more jungle with a couple new marking symbols he wanted to try including one that he had not explained, up a hill and then out to the road and back again. MR. BATOR of the Biloxi HHH was designated the Religious Advisor du Jour and as such presided over the “circle” business. The circle was sweet. The quiet RUMPLED FORESKIN of Montgomery HHH with his little kayak was called out for his tireless fishing and successful stocking of the newly constructed pond with many little and two medium catfish. Deserving extra special credit was DANCING FOOL of Liberty Bell HHH in Philadelphia for the ceaseless flurry of activity policing up the grounds, collecting aluminum to be resold to finance deserving hashers to Austin and even Windex-ing and re-Windex-ing windows. The circle was short and sweet but long enough to serve many many down-downs to the host/hare for all of his efforts!! We were and are very grateful.
The gratitude is strong but even stronger is the encouragement and wishes for and to PRINCESS in this the biggest battle of her life.
Grand Master Rain City HHH @ Seattle, USA
Bandung HHH2 Run #1000 Committee @ Indonesia
Interhash Goa 2002 Committee @ India
IH2006 Edmonton Bid Committee @ Canada
telephone to 1-(206)-324-6375