It’s amazing how one wrong turn can change everything! Saturday was to be my 2nd time doing an orienteering race with Alasdair and our friend Rebecca, after last fall’s Raid the Hammer. We arrived at Ball’s Falls Conservation Area in Jordan, Ontario for race kit pick-up, where we each got a t-shirt, a package of oatmeal, race instructions, 3 race maps and a waterproof map cover, and then a race bib and SI timing chip for our team.
We chose to do the “half” raid, meaning that we would have 3 hours to get from the start location (which we would get to by school bus) to the finish at Ball’s Falls, while finding 11 mandatory controls and as many optional ones as we wanted to. Miss a mandatory control and 15 minutes is added to your time.
We estimated based on previous races (Raid the Hammer, the Snowshoe Raid and the S.T.A.R.S. War snowshoe race) that we should be able to cover 10 km within the 3 hours. I pulled out a piece of string, and set out to map our route based on a new technique that I learned in the Don’t Get Lost Next program for adults – based on the scale of the map(s), figure out the length of string that we could run, and then lay it out on the map(s) on our proposed route, allowing us to figure out exactly how many of the optional controls we should try for!
We decided that we would not look for the 4 controls in the E=MC squared section (must have been hard for Alasdair to give up on these, given his love of math and physics!), nor the 5 in the slopestyle section. To get points in any one of these sections, you had to find all the controls in that section. Instead, we decided to start with control 1, then proceed with 2 to 5, skip the optional Bermuda triangle, do 6 to 8, find dogbone controls if we had time (3 pairs of controls that had to be done sequentially, but you do 1, 2, 3 or none of the pairs), 9, 10, one or more of the 6 controls in the matrix section if we had time (we doubted that we would), then 11 and finally the finish. We highlighted our route on our maps, and were ready to go!
We headed to the bus as the rain began, and drove the short distance to the race start. The forecast was for a high of 22 degrees Celsius, so rain wasn’t a problem!
In chatting with a few teams before the race, we knew that we wouldn’t be the only team heading straight for control 1. We were shocked though when the race began and we were the only team to turn around and run along the road to get to control 1, while every other team headed into the woods. The road route looked shorter to us, and we had verified with the race organizers before the race that we were allowed to take that route. It was not a surprise to us that we were the first ones to arrive at control 1, but we were still amazed! It took us less than 5 minutes to find the control, while the other teams who headed there first took 9, 16 and 17 minutes.
We took off for the next section, which was a tricky one in which 6 circles were drawn on the map, but we would find only 3 controls here (numbers 2, 3, and 4). We guessed that the race organizers would be sneaky, and wouldn’t put the control at the first circle. We didn’t find anything where the control would be had it been placed there, but we were confident in our navigation, and moved on to the next circle on the map. We were running through brambles and getting all scratched up, but we didn’t see a soul or hear anyone either. Again, there was nothing at the second circle. Had we been less confident, we likely would have spent much longer looking for a control that wasn’t there. It was at the third circle that we spotted control 2, which required us to climb a rocky wet section.
Control 3 was at the next circle, and then control 4 was at the 6th and last circle! We were feeling pretty good as a team, having found every control quite quickly, and we still hadn’t been overtaken by other teams. By 47:30 (elapsed race time), we had found 5 controls, and things were going great! It was here that we made our fatal error! With every other control, we took a bearing, and even if we ran on a trail, we paid attention to the bearing. For some reason, we looked at the map, and thought it would be easy to just run the trail to control 6. We didn’t take a bearing. We followed the trails on the map, running through some very thick gooey mud, and eventually turning right and following the trail… only it took way longer than we thought it should to get to control 6, and before long, we realized we weren’t where we thought we were. It took us a full 56 minutes to get from control 5 to 6, including us scratching our heads and trying to figure out where we went wrong, backtracking, taking a different route and looking for a different creek, and finally deciding to just go west and hope we hit the creek. It was around this point that we finally saw another team – running in a direction we didn’t want to go. We figured that we must have accidentally ended up in the Bermuda triangle section!! According to the race instructions, “Rumour has it that some teams have entered and never been seen again. The map has been simplified. We got rid of all those things that get in the way: trails, vegetation, boulders. Who needs them!” It was then that we realized the trail we turned right onto wasn’t the one we wanted (we turned too soon), that others had been removed from the map, and we forgot that little detail until too late!!! Heading west, we saw another team, and then we heard and finally spotted the creek, and knew that we had found ourselves!! I spotted control 6 across the creek, and we all breathed a collective sigh of relief.
We arrived at control 6 at the same time as another team, and from that point until the end, we were never too far from another team. It really was great in the first 47 minutes when we were all alone in the woods!
The next two controls, 7 and 8, were straightforward to find. We reached the dogbone section, and decided to go for 1A and 1B (had to be done in sequence, in that order, with no other controls in between). We very quickly found 1A, but then we realized that we probably didn’t have time to get 1B – it was a little too far. So, we scrapped that plan and went for 2A, which was very close to a pretty stream. We figured that we could head for 2B and then from there 9, which would mean that we didn’t earn any points for 1A.Finding 9 involved a tricky descent to the bottom of a waterfall. We opted to cross the water on top of the waterfall, and climb down the other side. Some teams descended on the near side, which was steeper and potentially more treacherous! They slid down on their bums.
After 9 we were able to run much of the approximately 900 m along the Bruce Trail to the aid station. It was here that I found my favourite candy coated chocolate Easter eggs, which were in a milk jug and just calling my name! It was the first food I’d had all race. Yum! There was no gear check (we were carrying some mandatory gear, such as a first aid kit, whistle, etc.), so we weren’t there long. I did have a quick cup of gatorade, and off we went again.
The route to control 10 was very pretty, along a fast flowing creek and more of the Bruce Trail. We ran and ran and ran some more, then started wondering if we had overshot the staircase to climb the escarpment. We knew there would be a second staircase if we missed the first, and really we wouldn’t lose time. But time was running out and we weren’t sure we would make it within the 3 hour time limit. Then we spotted the staircase, and we knew we would finish in time! We slowly climbed the steep stairs. It wasn’t long before we found control 10, then with less than 10 minutes left, we decided to just run to the finish and to scrap finding controls within the matrix section. It was a section where teammates could split up (for most of the race course, you have to be a maximum of 25 m away from your teammates), but we were all happy to just finish! We climbed a hill to control 11, ran to the finish, and we were done! We had covered 11 km.
After changing into dry clothes, we enjoyed the post-race BBQ!
Had we not messed up on control 6, we likely could have found all 3 dogbones, and likely a control or two in the matrix section. We figure that we wasted at least 30 minutes on control 6.
In any case, we had tons of fun and overall were pleased with how our race went! I’m feeling much more confident in my navigation, and a couple of times Alasdair and Rebecca had to tell me to wait for them.
Such fun. Can’t wait for the next team race!
Results (found here)
Points: 50 (Points were only awarded for optional controls. Dogbones were worth 50 each. We didn’t realize this before the race, but it wouldn’t have changed our approach.)
Placing: 13/17 co-ed teams
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