It didn’t take much to convince me to try orienteering and adventure racing: I was inspired by the enthusiasm of friends Kristi and Michael who recently spent the weekend at my house. They and their two boys Evan and Lukas are members of Orienteering Ottawa and have competed in both Canada and the US. They (and Kristi through her blog!) made it sound really fun, so after they left, I registered for the “Navigation 101” 4 hour clinic through Don’t Get Lost, an orienteering club in the Hamilton/Niagara area. Several years ago my kids participated in the Don’t Get Lost 12-week Adventure Running Kids program, which I highly recommend! Here’s the Navigation 101 course description:
Learn the basics of map and compass skills in the first 2 hours of this clinic. Learn to read and understand maps, map legends and scales. Basic compass skills will be introduced, for map orientation and introductory bearings. Preparatory route selection and relocation techniques will be covered. The second half of the clinic introduces concepts and strategies for improving your basic navigation skills. Learn about handrails, catching features and attack points. Practice “aiming-off”, “attacking from above” and “contouring.” Learn about pace counting and distance judgment. Relocation techniques are practiced in the woods. Discover how planning ahead can help you stay on track. The role of the navigator is also presented.
On a more practical note, taking a navigation clinic would strengthen my very limited map and compass skills, so that when I’m backcountry camping I don’t have to rely only on my battery-powered GPS unit! I have been wanting to do a hands-on clinic for a few years now.
Of course the next (il)logical step was to sign myself up for an orienteering race – in the dark!
Spoiler alert: I am home typing this blog post, so I survived, didn’t get (too) lost in the dark, and even earned a few points!
I arrived at Kerncliff Park in Burlington for the X-League 30 minute race. Some might wonder, “What could possibly go wrong in 30 minutes?” I knew better. I checked in on arrival (with Meghan my instructor from the clinic), paid $5 (fundraiser for Don’t Get Lost adventure running athletes), picked up a map, and was able to orient myself and study the map to plan an approach before the race began. I was nervous, hoping that I wouldn’t get completely lost – at least we were required to carry a whistle! Next time I would probably arrive earlier to have a few more minutes to prepare. I also spotted Chris the other instructor.
At 6:55 PM there was a very short pre-race briefing, during which Meghan mentioned that the controls (checkpoints) were inside the circles on the map. She also told us to use the hole punch on our map at the controls to prove that we were there. By this point, it was dark out and everyone was wearing headlamps. With a countdown from 10, the race was on!
Given that this was my first race (in the dark no less), and you could attempt to do as few or as many of the controls as you wanted to in 30 minutes, I decided to go for only the “easy” ones, not the “intermediate”, “advanced” or “expert” ones. I planned to do #1, then #2, then #4, and if I made it that far, I would decide what to do. There were 11 in total. When the race started I wasn’t the only one running for #1 – there were 5-10 headlamps in front of me (this made it rather easy to find). Ditto for #2, but I did take a bearing with the compass and follow along on the map for both of them. From there I headed for #4, but couldn’t for the life of me find it. I did find a man – a parent volunteer for the kids doing their Adventure Running Kids program – who didn’t know if a control was there but did think there was one on the bridge. I hadn’t seen a bridge. I backtracked back up the hill, went down again to the little creek, and when I couldn’t find it still, decided to backtrack again, find the path and head for a different control. As I was out there, I also realized that I wasn’t holding the map the way I should have been, moving myself around the map rather than the map around me (to keep it oriented to always be facing the way it should be). It was then that I got mixed up and wasn’t sure where I was. But I found Chris, who was also turned around. We started looking for #6, but it turns out we weren’t where we thought we were, and given the time we had to give up and head back to the finish. We did eventually figure out where we were (it was mostly Chris!), and we reached the end approximately 3 minutes over the 30 minute cut-off (Meghan wrote our time down).
I had to calculate my points (before time penalties) and it was pretty easy – 25 points for #1 and 25 for #2. I wrote them on a sheet along with everyone else’s results (at least a couple of people got all controls!). With probably 30 points in penalties, I think I ended up with 20 points. Woohoo! I was in the positive. I could have ended up with 0, or not found a single control.
In talking to people afterwards, I realized my error at #4 – I was looking for the control under the number four on the map, not under the circle!!! I was assured that this was a rookie mistake that everyone makes. It was actually on the bridge that the man mentioned to me!
When I got home (I got home!) I realized that I hadn’t even looked at the scale on the map before I started running – another potential fatal flaw!
All in all I had fun, and was glad to have found Chris out there to find my way back. I learned how much harder it is to navigate at night in the dark, but how fun orienteering can be. I’d say there were about 30 people doing the race tonight, and I may have been the only brand new one. The people I spoke with were very friendly.
I am hoping to do another weeknight X-League race before the November 13 Raid the Hammer 12k adventure run, which I have signed up to do with my teammates Alasdair and Rebecca (ARK de Triumph triathlon relay team reunited as an orienteering team) – a first orienteering race for them (I’m now the expert – ha!). In the meantime, I’ll likely take my Kerncliff Park map and go back to try to find where the controls were tonight – they won’t be there, but I’ll get to practice my map reading skills!
I think I’m hooked.
[UPDATE: I might have finished in last place, but I actually got 30 points, not 20, with only 20 time fault penalties! There’s hope for me yet. Results here.]