Talking About Trail

I’ve been thinking about the three basic trail configurations available to hares: A-to-A, A-to-A+, and A-to-B.  If you’re a hasher you know what all that means.  In case you aren’t, here are some short definitions:

  • A-to-A: a trail that starts and ends at the same place.
  • A-to-A+: a trail that ends near the start.
  • A-to-B: a point-to-point trail.

My first ten years of hashing, in Honolulu and Okinawa, involved A-to-A and A-to-A+ trails.  Honolulu HHH trails always returned to the start; Okinawa HHH trails always ended within a quarter of a mile of the start.

For hares, the advantage of laying an A-to-A or A-to-A+ trail is logistical: you don’t have to transport beer, snacks, and hash bags from one place to another, and you don’t have to worry about getting hashers back to the start after the circle.  For the pack, the advantage of this type of trail is that it’s hard to get lost.  On an A-to-A trail, you know exactly where you’re going (and you can cut back at any time if you’re lazy); on an A-to-A+ trail, even if you manage to get lost you can still find the end without too much trouble.  Oh, and all your stuff . . . your warm clothes, your dry shoes, your car . . . is at or very near the end.

As a hare, the disadvantage of laying an out-and-back trail is the possibility of getting caught by shortcutters.  You can run away from the start and stay ahead of the pack, but at some point you have to start circling back, and that’s where they’ll nab you.  There are really only two ways to lay an out-and-back course without getting caught: 1) be lucky; 2) cheat.

Luck involves setting a circular trail so wide in diameter that shortcutters would have to be able to predict which direction your circle will take, then divine exactly where you’ll be on the return leg.  The trouble with luck?  Shortcutters get lucky too.

Cheating involves pre-laying portions of your trail.  I’m sorry, hashers, there’s just no way to say that politely.  If you really really don’t want to get caught, and you want to lay any sort of out-and-back trail, you’re going to have to pre-lay part of it.  Usually, hares pre-lay the far side of the circle.  This allows them to live-lay the start and the end, cutting out the section they already marked.

Hashers who come from groups with a live-hare tradition generally don’t approve of hares pre-laying.  Hashers who come from groups with a strong shortcutting tradition absolutely hate pre-laying.  They want to catch hares; that’s why they short-cut!  Not that this means much to hares, who almost universally pre-lay, with varying degrees of stealth and secrecy.

A few hares, though, are hard core.  They are the hares who, when they’re not haring, are shortcutters who live to catch hares.  When these harriers and harriettes lay trail, they lay it live with no pre-laying.  They are the hares who gave us the A-to-B trail. Good runners, their survival technique is to take off and go, blitzing straight ahead for for five to seven miles.  Then they stop.  And where they stop, that’s the end.

As far as hares are concerned, the advantage of A-to-B trails is not getting caught.  Who can shortcut a straight line?  As for the pack, the advantage is the unpredictability of the trail, not knowing where you’re going until you get there.  Doesn’t sound like much, but for some hashers that’s exciting.

The disadvantage of A-to-B trails, for hares, is figuring out how to transport everything the hash needs for the circle . . . beer, snacks, and bags . . . from the start to the end, and doing it while the pack’s still on trail so that it’s all there waiting for them, then getting all that stuff . . . plus the hashers themselves, often 30 or more people . . . back to the start when the circle’s over, so that hashers can retrieve their cars and drive to on-afters.  And that ain’t easy.

The disadvantage of A-to-B trails, for the pack, is almost the same: how do you get back to your car if you need to leave the circle early?  Do you walk or run?  Even if the hares have a car at the end (they usually do), they can only take a few hashers back for cars, so you might have to wait until the first (or even second) carload returns with more cars before there’s room for you . . . and then you get hashers who take the first ride back to the start but don’t come back to transport other hashers, the selfish bastards, and there’s always a few of those, but’s that’s the subject of a future rant.

Worldwide, hashes are divided about fifty-fifty in terms of whether their hares lay trail live or dead.  Dead-hare hashes almost always set A-to-A or A-to-A+ trails.  Live-hare hashes set all types of trail: mostly A-to-A and A-to-A+, occasionally A-to-B.

On the whole, as a hare and as a member of the pack, I prefer A-to-A and A-to-A+ trails.  So do most hashers, I think.

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