y running friend Susan and I were hoping to do some kind of run on New Year's Day. She was going to Central Park to do some running and watch the fireworks on New Year's Eve, and I would be home quietly celebrating with my wife. The strategy was, she would call me on New Year's Day when she was up and about and we would meet for some kind of run. Instead, she called me about noon the day before saying she got an email that there would be a New Year's Day Hash at 3:00 in the afternoon and would I like to do it with her? It was to meet at in Washington Heights, a favorite of ours, so I said "sure".
o what's a Hash? I had never done one (Susan had done a couple), but I knew it's a run where you follow a course (unknown in advance) marked on the sidewalk with various arrows and other symbols, and — if you don't get lost — end up at a bar. They are organized by clubs of a group called the Hash House Harriers aka HHH (variously described as "a running group with a drinking problem" or "a drinking group with a running problem") and you can apparently find one to join in most major cities of the world. Sounds like fun. See this: , and you'll find out more than you want to know.
Susan ran up from home (show off) and arrived about 5 minutes late and I arrived at Coogan's by subway about 10 minutes late. There was no one on the street so we thought we had missed the start and would never find the course or catch up with the pack. But when we peeked into Coogan's, we saw about 20 folks hanging out at the bar, apparently "hydrating" prior to the hash run.
Finally, about 3:30 we moved outside and the "Hare" explained a few fundamentals. First off, all the runners are called the "hounds", and the hounds follow the trail left by the Hare — simple! There's also the "Hash Cash" who collects the money at the destination bar to pay for the food and drinks, but we wouldn't meet him till we got there.
The Hare had drawn some of the direction signs we needed to look for on the sidewalk in chalk (everyone knew all this except newcomers like me). There was an arrow and that was pretty easy to "get". Then there was a circle with a cross in it. That's called a "check" and it means the course can go any which-a-way from that point. When you see that you're supposed to split up and look for possible trails. I figured if you found an arrow, you're good, but later I found that there are false trails. You need 3 arrows in a row to determine you've found the "true trail". When you do find the true trail you yell "ON, ON!" and the mob group collects itself and follows. They're supposed to extend a line through the next arrow, letting the latecomers arriving at the "check" know which trail is the true trail.
There were also some special symbols, such as when you need to cross a dangerous road (which advice, I noticed, the group largely ignored) or that there is beer near, a fluid replacement station ahead. And the best one is at the end: The words "ON, IN" inside a circle. That means you're done — go in and have a drink (it always ends at a bar). This one also started at a bar (see the banner picture at the top), which, I'm sure you'll agree, gives it a nice symmetry.
There was one other direction symbol that caught my attention, It was a two headed arrow with a "C" and an "E" by the arrow heads. Susan had mentioned that the hounds are subdivided into "chickens" and "eagles" and anyone can chose which group to be in. The eagles get to run a longer run (typically 2 or 3 miles extra). The two headed arrow is where the eagles go off one way and the chickens (that was us) go the other way. The two groups rejoin at some point along the trail.
Now you might say you "get" the idea of a Hare leaving a trail, and some hounds trying to follow that trail, but having hounds divided into a bunch of chickens and eagles is a bit of a stretch, metaphorically speaking. Well, I think so too, but I didn't make this stuff up — I'm just a virgin chicken-hound, so WHATEVER!
nd we're off! I was expecting some one to say "go" or "on, on" or something, but when the guy stopped talking, all the hounds simply took off like so many bats out of hell to follow the trail. We went south a few blocks, then west to Riverside Park. We followed a path down the hill under the highways and eventually over the tracks and ended up on the Hudson River shore line.
Susan and I were somewhere in the back half of the pack (but by no means last) which is good, since you can follow along as the faster hounds "sniff" out the trail, but it's bad if you fall so far behind that you lose site of the pack. But the "check" points (of which I recall there were 3) provide an opportunity to catch up to the pack (this is a "feature", not a "bug").
Then we headed north under the GWB, up the hill, across the highway, onto 181st Street and up the stairs (yes, stairs!) to Pinehurst Avenue and eventually headed north and into Bennett Park.
If you've followed along on the map and know a little about this area, you will realize we were running up and down hills, big time. In fact, the 1 mile stretch from the shore near the GWB (a little above sea level), to Bennett Park (the highest point in Manhattan at 265.05 ft. above sea level) has the most elevation gain in one contiguous stretch in all of Manhattan! And with an average grade of around 5%, it is mucho steep! (see the elevation chart below.) Remember all the speedy hounds who took off at the start and left us standing there with our mouths open? Well guess what? A number of them died like dogs hounds on this long steep hill as we wise old harriers just trotted on by them. After all, we had climbed this hill umpteen times.
We left Bennett Park and continued along Pinehurst Avenue and Cabrini Boulevard towards Inwood Hill Park (home of the Cloisters). Along this section a side trip took us back down to the edge of the highway to an old structure from the 1920s where we had some "fluid replacements". Water? No. Beer? No. Bloody Marys? YES! Hey, it was New Year's Day and many of us (not me) needed something to counteract the previous night's revels! Then it was back up to Inwood Hill Park and around the Cloisters.
At last it was "all down hill from here" as we took the path that steeply switch-backed down to Riverside Drive ("Riverside Drive, way up here?" Yes, an old disconnected section that pre-dates the highway). Then it was east to Broadway (remember Broadway?) and south for a few blocks. Suddenly I noticed the pack in front of us had disappeared. We crossed Arden Street and there on the sidewalk was that much anticipated direction, ON IN!
N, IN! We entered a small Irish bar on upper Broadway, , (known to the locals as the best dive bar in Washington Heights) and the rest of our group trickled in and joined the crowd recovering from the run (re-hydrating — but of course!)
But wait a minute, what ever happened to the eagles? They went their own way after only a few blocks and we hadn't seen them since. The volunteer at the Bloody Mary station said they hadn't gotten there yet, and all of us chickens beat them to the "ON IN". Usually they are the faster runners and even though they run longer, they often, so I'm told, beat the slower chickens to the finish. Maybe they all got lost and they're still out there. I guess we'll never know.
Unfortunately, Susan and I both had commitments and couldn't stay for what would probably turn out to be the central activity of the hash — I think the time they would spend at the bar was longer than the time spent running the hash. But we didn't just go home — we took a short cut and jogged back to Coogan's for just one beer (each). We both agreed this was just a terrific way to start the New Year. But if we ever do a hash again, we'll have to plan to stay after the run for the "full monty".