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Why I’m Giving Up on Checkbacks

When I lay trail, my inclination has always been to stay away from tricky stuff, to keep things simple. Two, maybe three checks per trail, no more than two BTs per check. And that’s about it. Of course I don’t always honor my own inclinations, and every now and then I’ll lay a checkback.


Not all hashers are familiar with checkbacks, and not every hare uses them. The idea is to lay a section of trail that looks like the continuation of the trail you’ve been laying. You’ve picked out a turn point, but you keep laying flour beyond that point, basically straight on from the direction you’d taken up to that point. As you go you count your marks, and when you think you’ve gone far enough you whip out your chalk and write CB 6, as in the photo above, meaning “go back six marks and look for trail going off in another direction.” It’s one of many ways to slow down a fast pack.

Here’s the problem I have with checkbacks: almost every time I lay one it causes problems for the pack. Sometimes they don’t count right and go back either too far or not far enough. More often, though, they don’t see the CB and wind up running right past it.

Last Sunday I hared a bicycle hash. I decided to lay a fairly long checkback. I passed the side street where true trail was going to go and continued straight on, tossing down flour ten times. Shortly after making the tenth mark I jumped off my bike and wrote CB 11 on the street with chalk (in our hash, the CB itself counts as one of the marks). Then I rode back to the side street and started laying trail again, this time in the direction I wanted trail to go. That was my one trick for the first half of the trail … I planned to lay another checkback on the second half of the trail, about two miles past the beer check.

So I finished laying the first half of the trail and arrived at the beer check, where I waited. And waited. And waited some more. Finally part of the pack rode in and I got an earful. When it was all sorted out, what had happened was they’d ridden past the CB 11. Not one of them had seen it. They wound up riding through neighborhoods for about 20 minutes before luckily picking up trail again, and then only because one of them made a lucky guess as to where the beer check was.

I went ahead and laid the second checkback, this one a bit shorter, between the beer check and the on-in, being careful to write CB 9 in really large letters. My second CB was a success. It was on top of the only steep hill in the neighborhood, and everyone rode all the way to the top, saw it, cursed me and the day I was born, and rode back down the hill while counting marks back to where trail turned off. Good but not good enough … a 50% success rate just doesn’t cut it.

Here’s the deal. If the pack misses a BT or YBF and runs past it, eventually they figure out they’re not on powder and do the smart thing: double back to the last check and try another direction. If the pack misses a check back, what do they do then? There’s no last check to run back to. CBs are, in that way, just a little too tricky, a little too high-risk. Maybe other hares have better luck with them, but every time I try to use them I wind up screwing the pack.

And I don’t like to screw the pack. The idea, at least as far as I’m concerned, is to slow the pack down a little so they don’t catch me, not get them hopelessly lost. Checks and BTs should be more than enough to slow the FRBs down. Next time I hare I’m going to pay more attention to my inner voice. When it says “Don’t be so tricky,” I’ll listen.

As of today, checkbacks are no longer in my bag of tricks.

© 2013, Flying Booger. All rights reserved.

About Flying Booger  Hash House Harrier, man about town.


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