Jogging While Intoxicated

Just in time for the worst storm in recorded history, Unreal catches up to Hash House Harriers, the drinking club with a running problem

One minute Unreal is standing in a 39-person circle on Menard Street in Soulard trying to learn a strange new language in which symbols for terms like "Beer Near" and "Whichy Way" will appear on the paved trail ahead and point us toward the finish line of the Big Hump Hash House Harriers' weekly run.

Next thing we know, water's pouring out the tops of our sneakers and vicious winds have tossed us into the fray of pitcher-passing among the Hashers at the Cat's Meow bar.

Beer Stop — the refueling at the run's halfway mark — is well under way.

Any port in a storm: Big Hump neophyte Just Jerry leads 
the pack
Jennifer Silverberg
Any port in a storm: Big Hump neophyte Just Jerry leads the pack
Suck My Bag shares an intimate moment with Just Susan 
(to be known henceforth as Do My Butt).
Jennifer Silverberg
Suck My Bag shares an intimate moment with Just Susan (to be known henceforth as Do My Butt).

The severest St. Louis storm in memory has proved no match for this roving, middle-aged frat party.

The Big Hump is like an underground battalion of foot soldiers whose mission consists of ridding the world of sobriety every Wednesday night. Each week they gather to guzzle a few brewskies, then set off on a two- to four-mile run. From south county to St. Charles, north city to the east side, they slog down paved and wooded trails, ditches — even cemeteries and sewers. But the path, which is set by a pair of runners who get a head start, only reveals itself as the run progresses.

The idea is to have no idea where you're going, and to burn a few hundred calories in order to consume a few thousand. Include a few dirty jokes and bawdy songs, and the evening, by all accounts, is a rousing success.

This is no local oddity, no masked marketing ploy by the hometown makers of the world's best-selling beer to (further) boost sales. No, the Big Hump is one of three local and well over a thousand worldwide chapters of Hash House Harriers: also known as "the drinking club with a running problem."

Once the pastime of British colonials, these days Hash Houses cull from all walks of life, and the Big Hump is no exception. It boasts a rotating cast of roughly 70 Hashers: doctors, consultants, engineers, military personnel and stay-at-home moms, ranging in age from 21 to 70.

Some have run marathons. Others never ran two paces before joining the club. What they share is an affinity for crude humor. What they covet is the warm, fuzzy feeling of belonging to something.

No stranger to running, Unreal found it difficult to resist the Big Hump's recent invitation to peer inside their little cult for Hash #557.

But long before the storms hit, the danger in this adventure showed itself from the get-go.

First comes the e-mail from a woman known as Viper Snatch — hashers use Hash Names (more on that later) — with a few tips. "We have plenty of beer and water, but if you drink something else, feel free to bring that along. I'm a big wine drinker, so I bring my own bottle."

There's more: "A couple pointers: Don't wear new tennis shoes or you will have to drink a beer out of them, and don't wear white underwear — we occasionally do 'undie checks.'"

Then there's the weather. The forecast for Wednesday, July 19, calls for a high of 99 degrees and a heat index pushing 115. A call to Viper Snatch Tuesday night is reassuring, however. "Don't worry," she says. "I walk half the way, because I fell last year and I'm still recuping from surgery. We've got all kinds of people. We even have a guy in a wheelchair."

Oh yeah.

Midday Wednesday Viper Snatch (who has sixteen previous runs under her sports bra) reports that she warned everyone to be on their best behavior for the benefit of the visiting ironist (that would be we). "I told them no peeing on each other, and blow jobs only on the side of the trail. I also said to drink a lot of water beforehand, because we don't want to be puking in front of you. That would leave a bad impression."

At this Viper Snatch laughs. Evidently puking is a rite of passage.

Two hours before departure, Unreal briefly surfs over to the Big Hump's Web site (www.big-hump.com). The revelers are meticulous record keepers, compiling all kinds of stats and posting notes on future outings as well as recapping every run.

Take this rambling dispatch from Hash #551 on June 7:

Along with the excellent weather, we had an excellent turnout including 6 virgins. As was noted: "We have more virgins than the senior prom!" We can thank Viper Snatch for deflowering two virgins, Suck My Bag for two and Just Barb, two; once again, right along the lines of the score card at senior prom....

Due to the large contingent of virgins the hare gave a very detailed chalk talk which unfortunately still missed some of the markings which eventually showed up on trail. After our grope shot, the pack splintered into runners, walkers and auto hashers....

The three groups eventually found the beer stop in an industrial parking lot. We were progressing smoothly until one of the workers looked out the loading dock door and decided we needed to take our party elsewhere....

The increasingly fragmented pack gradually found its way back to the on-in. Several of the group couldn't resist the temptation of running past a small liquor store without sampling some of the stock. Who could blame them? ...Unlike the previous week, we completed circle without police interruption. We swung low and moved the festivities across the street to Hooter's. Blonds, blonds and more blonds. I haven't seen so much bleach damage since I worked in a Laundromat.

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