Barefoot Monologues

A Journey of the Sole


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Hey Everyone, I’m Back!! …….Hooray?

hellogif

Hi.

Yeah.

Well, that felt awkward. Writing on this blog again, after all this time letting the dust bunnies accumulate, feels pretty weird. It’s kinda like when you miss a class in college, and then you miss the next one too because you fell behind, and then you miss another because now you’re SUPER behind, and then when you finally show up again, you step through the door with a squinty face and that awkward smile that says “I know I’m an asshole for abandoning everyone, but yeah! I’m back!…..(pause)…Hooray?” and hope nobody throws a stapler at you.

It’s no secret I’ve taken a bit of a hiatus. And by that I mean a hiatus from writing on this blog, from ultrarunning, from racing, from reviewing stuff, even from my friends who still run a lot (sorry guys. But I’m back….hooray?). And the reason is simply that I’ve filled my days with other stuff. I still run sometimes, but I also surf a lot in the summer, go hiking, socialize, travel more, and take weight training classes. I’m just as active as before but I just haven’t written about it.

And then a good friend of mine, the author of socalrunnergal.com, nudged me during a recent dinner date: “I’m pretty disappointed in your blog lately, woman. Yours was one of the blogs I always loved reading, and you just abandoned it!” Well, this one’s for you, Kate: I’m finally training again.

I’m not sure what purpose this blog is going to serve me in the unforeseeable future, but I do know for certain that I like to write when I’m running. But the thing is that running, well – it serves a much different purpose for me now than it did in the past.

The last two years have brought some major changes to my life. My marriage ended in early 2014, which was both a huge surprise and an absolute inevitability. Since then I have experienced an insane-feeling mixture of deep sadness and intense happiness. I have learned so much about myself that at times, I am truly at a loss for how to apply what I’ve learned to my new life. I guess the easiest way to put it is that my reasons for doing the things I used to love doing…have changed. Or disappeared altogether. It’s been an eye-opening time.

For example, I used to run long distance because of loneliness and boredom. Back when I lived in New Hampshire and none of my friends were runners, a 3-4 hour long run was a nice thing to look forward to on the weekends. And it gave me a sense of community to write about it on my blog and know that other runners were reading it.

So what’s it like when your blog isn’t your only friend? Well, you just live your life instead of writing about it! You go on roadrtips and take snapshots for Instagram. You get a second dog. You take up a new sport you never tried before, like surfing, and realize you love it even more than running. You spend all your extra hours enjoying your significant other. But then again, you also miss out on getting to write that artful description of the time you chipped your tooth on a surfboard fin.

Truth is, I still love writing. Writing is like a favorite sweater that I never wear in the summer but relish the feeling of wearing it again when the cold months return. When I’m not writing I feel just a little bit lost. Or no, lost isn’t the right word really. More like…empty. Void. Wasted. Like, missing a train because you were too busy counting birds on the rail.

Also, I really do like to write about everything, not just about running, or barefoot running. I don’t even run barefoot anymore, although I probably still walk around enough without shoes on to qualify – just this summer a random dude at the gas station asked me why I could afford gas but not shoes. Ha! So I guess the other big reason this blog sat here for so long is because I didn’t know what to write in it if I wasn’t going to write about running. I felt like I needed to stay on topic here, yanno? Or at least keep it in the realm of physical activity. Perhaps I should have started another blog and forced myself to write short stories or something just to keep up on it, but the reality is I didn’t. I just let life take over.

So, speaking of staying on-topic: I’ve recently started to pick up running again. The winter waves are getting a bit big out here for an amateur like me to surf, so might as well do some other activity to pass the time until spring-suit weather is back. And running, well, it is just as meditative as surfing. So I’ve started training for the Carlsbad half marathon. It’s an easy race, it holds my time PR and I’ve run it twice already. This year, I want to PR again. This will be the first time I’ll ever train for a distance race using regular weight training classes as a supplement (2-3 times per week). Shit….it’s also going to be the first time I’ve ever trained for THIS particular race…period. So I’m thinking hey, I might have a chance.

I’m not exactly what you would call the “consistent” type (just ask my friends), but I like the idea of keeping a little journal with my thoughts and progress as I go through training. I think it’ll feel a lot different this time than it did in years past. I’m interested to compare.

This week was my first “official” training week, on my “training” program. Since I sold my running watch last year and started using the MapMyRun app on my phone to track runs, I thought I’d try their training program. My first “long run” was yesterday. It asked me to run for 45:00. That turned out to be 4.2 miles at a 10:47 pace. It’s not bad considering I haven’t been running consistently for nearly two years, but I do still run (mostly hash) and when I do, it’s usually between 4-6 miles so this didn’t feel like much of a long run. Still, I kept a spot-on pace the whole way and didn’t stop to walk at all, which has been a challenge for me lately. I’m looking forward to watching my pace improve over the course of training. Or more accurately, I pray it does.

Tomorrow my trainer calls for a “pace” run, which is the only kind of run I have never done, because I just don’t get how they work. I mean, running for intervals “at half marathon race pace, with ‘easy’ running in between” is quite a confusing feat when you only ever run one speed…..and that happens to be your half-marathon speed.

I’ve been sitting here asking myself: do I run extra slow that day and speed up to my regular pace during the one-minute “pace” intervals? Or do I go faster and just essentially do speed intervals? It’s a confusing mess of running semantics that even started a novelette-sized comment thread on my Facebook page today. I’m sure I’ll figure it out, but these are actually the kinds of things that keep me up at night when I’m running. And I realize that’s probably droll AF to everyone else, so….if you plan to keep reading this blog throughout my training, best of luck to you. You already deserve a medal for participation.

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A Place Called Home

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I am now approaching the eve of a full year spent living in San Diego, on the other side of the country from where my life began. I have been procrastinating this post for awhile now; partly because I’ve been keeping myself too busy to write (more on that later), but mostly because I wasn’t really sure what’s left to say on the subject without worrying that it’ll sounding braggy or trite. But I think I’ve finally come down from that surreal, vacation-like state of having first moved here, and I’ve had time to reflect on what this year has changed about me.

To be honest it doesn’t even feel like a whole year has passed. More like five or six months. A strange thing happens as we get older: the world just keeps spinning faster and the years fling by like boomerangs. Christmas, birthday, Summer, Autumn, Christmas. I remember being a kid and thinking how very long a year was. “Summer is right around the corner,” my Grammy would ponder, but to me it felt as if decades passed before swimsuit weather was upon us again.

Speaking of my Grammy, she lived here in San Diego once. She and my Grampa schlepped themselves west for promising work right after high school, along with my Grampa’s brother Pete and my aunt Pauline. They only stayed for a year, living for a time in the North Park area with my aunt Marion and her husband. It was tight living quarters for sure, but that was part of the family-centric culture back in the 50’s. Even though it was short lived, my grandmother definitely loved it. I know this because she told me so many stories about San Diego when I was a child that I think the soul of this place was permanently imprinted on me even back then.

Views of Lake San Marcos from the top of Double Peak, just ten minutes from my house.

Lake San Marcos from the top of Double Peak. My house may actually be in this photo.

This was apparent when I first vacationed here with Shawn in 2005 – and then kept finding excuses to come back. I knew it then as much as I know it now: this town, by the truest definition, is my home. For 33 years I existed in eastern New England, floundering a lot, finding friends and losing them again, moving from town to town. I looked hard between the forests and the cities for a place I could call mine. A town I would fall in love with. In 33 years I never found one. Finally I began to fancy myself a floater: I figured I must be just one of those people who prefers to be unbound to a particular place in favor of trying everywhere. I realize now I was just unsatisfied.

Unlike just about everyone I knew, I never retained a close-knit group of longtime friends who would drop by the house to borrow a cup of sugar or feed my cat while I was away. I had one or two very close friends whom I love like siblings, but because I moved all over the state we always seemed to be an hour’s drive away from each other. I’ve never been very close to family; both of my parents are deceased and my family of aunts, uncles and cousins are spread out all over New England. And frankly, our emotional distance is even wider than that. I’ve never felt I could count on anyone to be there for me the way I saw others could. I always thought it didn’t bother me, but I understand now that it really kind of did.

But you know, I think we all live our lives normalizing whatever is around us. Palm trees and year-round temperate weather is business as usual for a native Californian. But they were a far-off daydream to me, as I dug my car out of snowdrifts all winter long. A dream so big that I think part of me simply waited to begin living any actual life until I had a permanent tan and a back yard full of queen palms.

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The SoCal Sunset.

And so here I am. Home, and finally living my actual life. This place suits me like a soul mate. I now get to look out the windows of the loft I’ve made into my home-office at a landscape rife with southern Californian beauty. Rocky hills and mountains in the distance that make way for sun-struck glimpses of the great Pacific, hawks flying above, coyotes howling at night, and skies so wide and so blue that I finally understand what it’s like to feel miles of open space and the roundness of the earth as it curves away before my eyes. The mercury hardly ever rises so high that I need air conditioning, nor falls so low that I need to put socks on my bare feet. That perfect happy temperature and humidity level, which tends to elude New England for all but ten days per annum, is the absolute norm here. And so is the sunshine. Sunshine, which has ever been the perpetuator of my deepest personal happiness, couldn’t be more plentiful: it has rained only 6 or 7 times since we arrived.

The beach-sandy, easy-living culture of SoCal plays to all the best parts of my personality. All 70 miles of San Diego coastline is public turf, which means you can park anywhere and walk, run, swim, surf, kayak, paddle or relax on the beach all year round, any time of day or night and never have to be elbow-to-elbow with a bunch of annoying overly-tanned strangers. There are stretches of beach, and even an entire island, dedicated to San Diego’s love of dogs, and a large number of restaurants welcome our canine friends with spacious outdoor seating and plenty of doggy water bowls.

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A view of my neighborhood

San Diego is one of the largest hops-brewing cities in the world, housing over 100 breweries and microbreweries within the county lines. The city’s passion for beer has spurned some of the best hashing in the country as well, with something around 15 kennels of trail-running, beer-drinking Hash House Harriers, littering the earth with chalk symbols and baking flour dollops on just about every day of the week. People who become Hashers and Harriettes tend to be a lot like me: they are mostly educated, laid-back people with a love for good trails, fine beer and dirty jokes. Many of them with either no kids or grown kids, they are free to live the social lives they desire. They are athletic but not competitive, health-conscious but not militant. They tend to be quite comfortable within themselves, which makes for an exceptional (and exceptionally large, for me) network of friends and acquaintances who have kept me busy, entertained and running dozens of insanely awesome local trails for over eight months now (which explains my lack of time for blogging). Because of Hashing, I finally have the opportunity to gain that centralize social circle that has always eluded me in life.

Trails in Escondido

Trails in Escondido

And at least two-thirds of the people I have met here, hashers or not, are transplants like me. They have been equally drawn in by the magnetic pull of the SoCal life. It only figures that people who are bold enough to leave their original lives behind for something better tend to have a lot of other personality traits in common too. Because of this I find it much easier to be present in the friendships I have made, and I feel much more understood. Nobody here bugs me to have kids or to buy a home, or alienates me for my divergent choices. I no longer feel surrounded by complainers who hate their lives but are too lazy or cowardly to improve them. I sense more independence amongst these San Diegans: people play more active roles in their own lives and don’t seem as likely to expect from the world (or their parents) that morphine-drip of emotional and/or financial support that I saw so often back east.

I once heard the advice: “Live in New York City once, but leave before it makes you hard. Live in Southern California once, but leave before it makes you soft.” I used to worry that losing my east coast roots would bring forth the departure of my soul, my grit. But now I see that’s a completely bullshit notion. The only thing I have lost since I’ve moved out here is my bitterness: bitterness about the weather, about the traffic, about friends lost, about the insane cost of living and the life-sucking obligation to always settle for less than what I wanted. I don’t feel that way out here. I don’t feel poor like I did in New England, even though I make roughly the same amount of money. I don’t live in a crappy neighborhood because that’s all I can afford. Instead I live in a nice house in a quiet community, close to the beach and a few minutes from the nearest mountain views.

No, I have not lost my soul: instead I have introduced this soul to the joys I never knew I could afford or deserve. I have not lost my grit: instead I’ve applied it to more positive endeavors, like running for miles up mountains and learning how to stand on a surfboard (it’s much harder than it looks, by the way). I have learned that people desire different things in life and that there is just no good reason – not family, not a job, not fear – to relegate myself to a place or a lifestyle that’s less than what I ultimately desire. I only get one body and one finite period of time to live in it, and I’ve done myself a disservice to have even for a moment wasted it at the hands of my lesser obligations.

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A photo taken after my first surf lesson

As a result of this realization, I have come to no longer care what my distant family members think of my free-wheeling lifestyle. I don’t care how new parents feel about my rejection of the parenting life. It means less than zero to me whether other married couples think Shawn and I act married enough or spend an adequate amount of time participating in each other’s chosen pastimes. I don’t care if fellow runners think I drink too much beer or if fellow hashers think I run too many races. It took me 33 years, but my choices finally feel like they’re completely mine. I finally feel beautiful. I finally feel whole. I finally feel happy. And I mean really, honestly happy. And I don’t even give a shit if you don’t believe that. This is what it means to “find yourself”.

This, my friends, is what it feels like to find your home.


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Defiance {Prompted}

The following post is part of what I hope will be an ongoing writing exercise that my friend Kathy and I have decided to undertake together. We are currently choosing topics from a list of prompts that can be found here. I intend to use a varying array of writing styles and techniques, and to limit my editing. Therefore many of these posts may not look anything like the rest of the stuff I write on this blog. I’m okay with that, if you are. I invite those of you with blogs of your own to participate with us! But if you’re not into it that’s okay too. I’ll title these posts differently so they are easy to skip past if you wish to do so. And as always, thanks for reading!

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de·fi·ance [dih-fahy-uhns]
noun
1.
a daring or bold resistance to authority or to any opposing force.

2. open disregard; contempt (often followed by of): defiance of danger.
3. a challenge to meet in combat or in a contest.

On the whole of my life, I have never really done things the way that I was supposed to.

It all started when I was a baby. My father told me several times the story of my milk bottle. Whenever I had a bottle I would hold it in my left hand, and if he took it from me and put it into my right hand, I would switch it back every time. I defied him to change my left-handedness.

But I guess I never noticed my defiant streak until rather recently, as I’ve spent more time looking back on my life, and surveying the people I have chosen to surround myself with. I used to think that I was the obedient type, because I’m a nice person and I don’t really get into any trouble. But now I realize that even though I wasn’t a troublemaker, in very subtle ways I have always been as defiant as they come. And this defiance has led me to be headstrong, but also quite stable and independent in many very important ways.

When you’re a kid, being different from everyone else is a bad thing. Kids don’t really have enough perspective to find the value in differences: they see any all variation from their own likeness as an obvious negative. Well, come to think of it a lot of adults still think that way, always judging those around them for daring to do things differently. But this post isn’t about them.

As I think more and more about it, I realize I have always been kind of different from everybody else. Growing up, I was the only girl in my family with brown hair instead of blonde, and the only one who wanted to go outside and build forts instead of playing with Barbies or helping the adults cook in the kitchen. I was also the only girl in my grade who went to gymnastics class instead of joining the basketball team.  When all the kids wrote stories for a school-wide literary publication, I wrote a poem with an illustration. In a world full of teachers, nurses and electrical engineers, I got my degree in art.

As I’ve gotten older I’ve come to embrace my individuality. I feel that it helps me to know myself, and knowing myself has helped me to make decisions based on what I want, rather than what I’m supposed to want. For example, knowing that I don’t want to have children. That I don’t like the idea of owning the home I live in. That I prefer the west coast over the east. That I prefer to run barefoot. That I’d rather live in the mountains of North County than in the close, crowded downtown San Diego, where all my cool friends live. I support gay marriage, dig Paleo over Vegan, and would prefer to run with a bunch of obnoxious, tutu-wearing, beer-drinking Hash House Harriers over serious road marathoners, any day.

Historically, I’ve received a lot of flak for my individuality. People just don’t like it when you aren’t exactly like them. But even though I was nice about it, I’ve always remained defiant to the end: I don’t have to be like you, or your daughters or your sister or your last girlfriend or your best friend or the person whose job position I’m replacing. I only have to be me (so screw you).

These are all things I’ve learned about myself, on my own. Nobody influenced or told me to do these things. I don’t follow anyone, nor do I try to cut the first trails. I do what feels right for me, not for someone else. I don’t need anyone to agree with me in order to validate my choices. I just am who I am. I love this chick, and I defy anyone who would try to change her left-handedness.

 


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The Great Big Wild World of Hashers: It’s Not What You Think

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It’s been awhile since I’ve added posts to this blog. There’s a bit of irony to this fact, because it seems the busier I am the less time I devote to writing – but the more things I experience, the more I have to write about.

Well, what have I been doing with myself, you ask? True to form, I plan to answer that only in part, and I plan to do it in a very meandering, roundabout way. Starting with a conversation I had last night.

My cousin Alysa and I joined a Monday night running group sponsored by my friend Jon, who works for Merrell. I hadn’t seen him since the Raptor Ridge half marathon last fall, so we used part of the 4 mile trip to catch up.

Jon: So what have you been doing over the past few months?

Me: Well, I went through a brief running rut back in December, but then I picked it up again. And then more recently, I became a hasher.

Jon: So what…like, you smoke hash now?

Clearly, the popularity of the hash run isn’t as widespread as I originally thought. The reality of which has spurned this very post.

What is a hash, you ask? Well, first I’ll refer to Wikipedia for a history lesson:

Hashing originated in December 1938 in Kuala Lumpur, then in the Federated Malay States (now Malaysia), when a group of British colonial officers and expatriates began meeting on Monday evenings to run, in a fashion patterned after the traditional British paper chase or “hare and hounds”, to rid themselves of the excesses of the previous weekend. The original members included, Albert Stephen (A.S.) Ignatius “G” Gispert, Cecil Lee, Frederick “Horse” Thomson, Ronald “Torch” Bennett and John Woodrow. A. S. Gispert suggested the name “Hash House Harriers” after the Selangor Club Annex, where several of the original hashers happened to live, known as the “Hash House” where they also dined.

After the end of World War II in an attempt to organize the city of Kuala Lumpur, they were informed by the Registrar of Societies that as a “group,” they would require a constitution. Apart from the excitement of chasing the hare and finding the trail, harriers reaching the end of the trail would partake of beer, ginger beer and cigarettes.

The objectives of the Hash House Harriers as recorded on the club registration card dated 1950:

  • To promote physical fitness among our members
  • To get rid of weekend hangovers
  • To acquire a good thirst and to satisfy it in beer
  • To persuade the older members that they are not as old as they feel

At present, there are almost two thousand chapters in all parts of the world, with members distributing newsletters, directories, and magazines and organizing regional and world Hashing events. As of 2003, there are even two organized chapters operating in Antarctica.

Most chapters gather on a weekly or monthly basis, though some events occur sporadically, e.g., February 29th, Friday the 13th, Typhoon ‘T8‘ or a full moon.

At a hash, one or more members (“hares”) lay a trail, which is then followed by the remainder of the group (the “pack” or “hounds”). The trail periodically ends at a “check” and the pack must find where it begins again; often the trail includes false trails, short cuts, dead ends, back checks and splits. These features are designed to keep the pack together despite differences in fitness level or running speed, as front-runners are forced to slow down to find the “true” trail, allowing stragglers to catch up.

Members often describe their group as “a drinking club with a running problem,” indicating that the social element of an event is as important, if not more so, than any athleticism involved. Beer remains an integral part of a hash, though the balance between running and drinking differs between chapters, with some groups placing more focus on socialising and others on running.

Generally, hash events are open to the public and require no reservation or membership, but some may require a small fee, referred to as “hashcash”, to cover the costs incurred, such as food or drink.

The end of a trail is an opportunity to socialise, have a drink and observe any traditions of the individual chapter (see Traditions). When the hash officially ends, many members may continue socialising at an “on-after”, “on-down”, “on-on-on”, “apres”, or “hash bash”, an event held at a nearby house, pub, or restaurant.

In most chapters, the use of real names during an event is discouraged. Members are typically given a “hash name,” usually in deference to a particularly notorious escapade, a personality trait, or their physical appearance. In some chapters the name must be earned – that is, hashers are not named until they’ve done something outstanding, unusual, or stupid enough to warrant a name. In other chapters the process is more mechanical and hashers are named after completing a certain number of events (5-10 being the most common).

A few weeks ago, I joined the North County Hash House Harriers. Since then I have run with the group three times, and also attended an annual event with the larger San Diego Hash House Harriers, where they renamed their management group. I have not yet earned a hash nickname, but I am looking forward to finding out what it will be. And also a little scared.

I like being part of this hash group, the North County Hash House Harriers, or NCH3. I like it so much that I’ve even volunteered a chunk of my free time to designing their weekly newsletter. We have published one issue so far and it was met with a fair amount of appreciation, constructive criticism and good suggestions.

newsletter

Newly designed header of the hash newsletter.

And that’s all the really boring, above-the-board stuff. What I really like about the Hash Harriers is that they are a world-wide group of completely irreverent, politically incorrect, gutter-minded, disrespectful, beer worshiping, bushwhacking trail runners. They ignore fashion trends, make fun of each other, drink booze while exercising, and utilize completely inane terms like “on-in” and “down-downs.” After the runs are over, they call out those who have done stupid things to earn the Grand Master’s attention, and sing ridiculous, barbaric songs to each other. All while consuming at least one keg of beer together.

In other words, I absolutely love it and cannot wait until next Saturday.

Many of my readers (and a few estranged family members) might question my judgment for becoming part of such a group. Perhaps you’d ask why I’d let a bunch of almost-strangers make fun of me publicly and give me a trashy nickname, full of insult and sexual innuendo. You might want to know what kind of training I’m really getting with a running group that spends more time drinking together than running. You might even begin to question my own moral code (as short as it may be), running with a crew of folks who wear knee-socks with sayings on them and call themselves “hashers.”

The truth is, over the course of these few weeks I have met some of the most honest, open-minded, caring and considerate people imaginable. So what if they have names like “High Twattage” and “Anal Rose”?

All kidding aside, I recommend finding and joining a local Hash Harrier group (there’s probably one in your area). And here are 16 reasons why:

  1. It’s really refreshing to hang around an entire group of people who have quick wits and a wickedly good sense of humor.
  2. Hashes are a great example of social Darwinism: those without such a sense of humor typically won’t stick around (and from what I hear they usually leave shortly after their naming ceremony).
  3. There’s beer.
  4. The group is mostly made up of trail and ultra runners, so nobody bats an eye if you have to spit, snot-rocket, trip and fall, or make a trail-side pit stop (although they might bring it up later at the down-down).
  5. You don’t get assigned a hash name until the group knows you, which in a way is endearing and thoughtful (even if your name ends up being something like “Asian Orange”).
  6. Beer checks.
  7. Most groups run a different trail every time, so you get to experience a lot of new trails and see so much more of your local area than you probably would by yourself.
  8. Trail is planned ahead of time. You just have to follow it, sort of like a scavenger hunt. This way you can follow a cool trail without getting lost.
  9. You still might get lost.
  10. It’s a fantastic way to meet new people, especially if you’re new to an area. Or if you just hate all your friends and want to make new ones.
  11. It only costs a few bucks to run a great new trail, socialize with people and enjoy all the beer and food you want afterward.
  12. Lots of beer.
  13. Running in a large group like this is really good exercise, the kind you don’t feel like you’re doing. Instead of just running in a straight line up and down your street, you may be searching for the right trails, doubling back, traversing through heavy brush, climbing excessively steep hills, balancing on drainage pipes and jaywalking across busy roads. It’s the kind of stuff you probably did as a kid. Only with more beer.
  14. Boob checks.
  15. Hashers love dogs. People who love dogs are A-OK in my book.
  16. Being part of a hash group is like being part of a fraternity, only without all the hazing. Actually that’s not true, forget that. Once you’ve received a hash name, you become part of this network of thousands of people. You have instant credibility to other hashers all over the world. I mean, how many other social circles have that perk?

Those are just the reasons I can think of while writing this. Hashes are my greatest new find: they are a lot like your average running group, only with a little extra pomp-and-circumstance and a whole lot more beer.

Are you a “hasher” and love it? Have you never heard of such a thing and think it’s fantastic or horrible? Share your story/opinion/questions in the comments below! I would love to hear from you.