Craving outdoor time? Here’s a super fun way to challenge your brain and body while discovering new places!

With COVID-19 resulting in the cancellation of events and races left, right and centre, the orienteering community has found a way to keep people active in the outdoors!

If you’re looking for a super fun way to challenge your brain and body while discovering new places, keep reading!

Bayfront Park, Hamilton.

Orienteering is an activity for everyone – walkers, runners, kids, families, seniors, and uber-competitive high performance athletes. You don’t need any special skills!

Pre-COVID-19, people would meet at a specific location at a specific time, register, get a map, plan their route, chat with others, and then take part in a race, in urban areas, forests, and in secluded wilderness areas (on foot, bike, canoe, etc.). Clearly this isn’t possible during COVID-19 restrictions.

Instead, clubs like Don’t Get Lost and Orienteering Ottawa have switched gears, offering orienteering opportunities for people to do on their own schedule, solo or as a family, as long as you have a smartphone or a smart watch.

Racing along the Bruce Trail

If you live in proximity to Hamilton/Burlington, Oakville, Guelph, Kitchener-Waterloo, Niagara, London and Barrie, Don’t Get Lost has orienteering opportunities for you! (I can’t speak to the events run by Orienteering Ottawa, as I live too far away to have taken part.)

Pretty waterfall along the course.

Don’t Get Lost X-league

I have been participating in X-league races for a few years now, and am thankful that races are still possible COVID-19 style. The premise is simple.

  • You register online.
  • You print the map at home.
  • You download the MapRun F app.
  • You go to the map start/finish location on your own with your map (no compass required!).
  • You walk or run the course on a mix of city streets and parks and trails within the allotted time limit (usually 40-60 minutes), while the MapRun F app does it’s thing in the background. COVID-19 style, there’s no orange/white flag to find. Your phone will beep when you’ve “found” the control.
  • You instantly see your results.
  • You go home.
  • If you want, you can connect with others in a Facebook group.

You can’t even get lost, because you can look on the app to see where you are if you’re not sure. Another bonus – these races are very inexpensive! Some are FREE to try right now!

If you’re into all things data, you can look at the results of everyone who did the race. You can see:

  • route taken
  • time taken
  • distance run
  • points earned

You can even see everyone moving in “real time” – i.e. as if everyone started at the same time, their dots move and you can see who went where and how quickly. Below is a snapshot of the animation showing everyone moving at once. You can watch a snapshot of just your route, or of any combination of people.

You can even see if anyone ran off the map. Below, you’ll see someone went for a long swim (!) and someone else ran across the railroad tracks (!). Both very unlikely – probably GPS confusion!

To learn more, check out the X-league page for all the details!

These races are a great way to try orienteering for the very first time, or to keep working on your navigation skills.

In addition to X-league races, Don’t Get Lost is also holding a few other races this summer. You can check them out on their website.

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Race report: Raid the Hammer 2019

This year’s Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer was to be my first time doing the “full” Raid – in previous years, I have always done the “half”. It was also the first time that Rebecca and I would race with Heidi (in preparation for Wilderness Traverse 2020). However, Rebecca was sick on race morning, so our team of 3 became a team of 2, which meant we weren’t able to do the full Raid and be included in the official results. We had two options: 1) full Raid (unranked), or 2) half Raid (ranked). We chose #1!

We picked up our race maps at St. Ann Catholic Elementary School in Hamilton (3 of 4 maps – one would be given out during the race), and planned our route. Given that I ran the Happy Trails The Beav 25k trail race the day before, we planned to run as smart a race as we could, nailing the navigation to make up for my tired legs!

Pre-race with Heidi.

Map 1

Matrix

When the race began, Heidi and I took off in different directions. In the Matrix, teammates could stick together or split up to find the 10 checkpoints (A to I). This section could be done at the beginning of the race, at the end of the race, or a mix of the two. We planned to do it at the beginning. We decided that Heidi would do the 4 controls north of Wilson Street, and I would do the 6 to the south, with slightly less running. At these checkpoints, we had to answer a question about the feature that was there (e.g. number on hydro pole, name of person on bench). With the exception of the first one, where I ended up on the wrong side of the creek to start with, I found all of these easily. No compass was required. I was hoping to beat Heidi to our meeting point so that I could rest briefly, but she beat me by less than a minute!

After running along the Bruce Trail over Highway 403, we were onto map 2.

Maps 1 and 2 (of 4).

Map 2

Game of Thorns (CP1 to CP2)

In this section, we needed our compass, and an ability to scour a forest for “a distinct tree”. We found the controls, but none of the trees jumped out at us!

Blackout (CP3 to CP8)

In this section, trails were removed from the map, but we were able to use some anyway to find the controls. Our navigation continued to be bang on!

Maps 3 and 4 (of 4).

Map 3

Gnarly Run and Photo Shoot (CP9)

It was a 3k run along the Bruce Trail to Sherman Falls, where we would be photographed with our teammates (instead of inserting our SI stick into an SI reader).

A very springy bridge, which felt super wonky when 2 people ran on it at the same time!
At Sherman Falls.

Dundas Valley Traverse I (CP10 to CP11)

From here we headed into the Dundas Valley Conservation Area, where we found CP10 and then CP11 (the aid station). We each had to show that we were carrying a whistle and an emergency blanket, and then we were given map 4. We grabbed some of the snacks at the aid station, and then studied the map briefly to decide which 5 of the 7 controls we wanted to get.

Map 4

Scramble (CP12 to CP 18)

We opted for 18 and then 15, which were just off a main trail down steep hills. From there we ran along trails for a short while before crossing a log over a creek. While we managed to stay dry, we found out after the race that at least one person went for an unintentional swim here!

We climbed yet another steep hill to find 14 – in fact, this entire map involved lots of ups and downs. My tired legs were slow on the uphills!

From the time we hit 17 until almost the end of the race, we kept running into the same team at the controls, though we would choose different routes and yet still arrive almost at the same time.

After control 12 we looked for the least steep part of the hill to climb down to the creek, and then climbed up the hills on the other side. We then followed a trail all the way back to the aid station. We handed in our hand-punched map, ate some more aid station goodies, and then went back to map 3.

Map 3 (continued)

Dundas Valley Traverse II (CP20 to 24)

To get to CP 20, we opted to run a longer distance along trails, because bushwhacking directly there would have involved significant ups and downs, and more potential to get lost. From there, we again set out on trails, but planned to bushwhack a couple of times on our way to CP 21, down a steep hill, through a creek, up the steep bank on the other side, and then later, following a contour line and keeping a creek in sight. It worked!

Then it was a trail run to the “brawn” or “brain” section, where we had to choose which CP22 to do (climb all the way up the hill for an easy to find control, or half way up for a harder to find one). We chose the latter.

At this point, we knew that we had just 2 more controls to find before a 2k run to the finish line.

After CP23, we spotted the race photographer at CP24, and then it was a final push to the finish line!

Heidi making sure I’m still with her!
At this point, I had covered 51k in about the last 28 hours.
Just a 2k run left!

Unfortunately, the 2k run back was a net uphill. My legs were pretty tired at this point, 26k into the race, so I had to take some walking breaks!

But after 5 hours, 2 minutes and 55 seconds, Heidi and I crossed the finish line! We had covered 28k, and 1400m of elevation gain.

Post-race!

We worked really well together, and our navigation was near perfect! It was super fun! I’m looking forward to racing with Heidi again. And look out Tree Huggers, we’re coming for you!!

Our race route – 28k through Ancaster.

After the race, it was time for some well deserved food! Yum!

Delicious post-race food from Johnny Blonde food truck.

Race results:

  • Time: 5:02:55
  • Placing: Unranked, since we were a team of 2, but had we been a team of 3 females, we would have been 2nd! Woot!

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Race report: Snowshoe Raid 2019

This year’s Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid became a Spike Raid when there wasn’t enough snow to warrant snowshoes. It was disappointing, but my race partner Rebecca and I were keen to try our Kahtoola microspikes with trail running shoes for the first time, so all was not lost! And it’s not as if it wasn’t cold enough for snow – at the start of the race, it was -20C or colder with the wind chill. Brrr! I filled my water bottle with boiling water in hopes that it wouldn’t freeze up during the race (it worked, but the water was ice cold by the end).

After spending the night at a local Airbnb, we arrived at Blue Mountain (ski resort) with plenty of time to pick up our race maps and instructions and plan our route. We received 1 map each, but learned that 1 hour into the 3 hour race, we could pick up a new map at the aid station, which would include the original checkpoints plus additional ones. This made route planning a little trickier, because while we knew that the 2nd map would include 500 extra points (the original had 1,150), we had no idea where the new checkpoints would be.

All checkpoints were either green (25 points), blue (50 points), black (75 points) or double black (100 points) depending on level of difficulty. Each team of 2 would have to start with an approximately 1k uphill climb to the first checkpoint, after which they could go in search of as few or as many checkpoints as they wished, in any order. In addition, there was a “matrix” section of the map, an area with 5 checkpoints in it, where teammates could split up to find them faster (you proved you found the checkpoint by using a manual punch to put holes in your map, as opposed to using an electronic chip for the rest of the race).

After the pre-race briefing, we all headed to the school buses that were waiting to take us to the start line, from where we would enter the Loree Forest, which surrounded Blue Mountain on the east, west and south sides.

When the race began, we started running, but our pace slowed as the hill got steeper, and we joined a long line of people walking up a narrowing path. There was a bit of a bottleneck, but I’m not sure I would have gone any faster without anyone in front of me, at least not until we got to the top, where some maneuvering around people and trees was required. Rebecca and I headed off to find a double black and two black controls, which we found, but it took longer than we expected it to – it was hillier than we anticipated. And boy was it ever hilly! To add to the fun, for some reason my compass was not working properly. The needle was jumping all over the place, which I’m assuming was the cold temperature wreaking havoc. Rebecca’s didn’t seem much better. Thankfully, we didn’t need them much!

Next we headed into the matrix section, where we split up. Rebecca was to do 2 controls, me the remaining 3, and then we would meet at the aid station within the matrix.

On the Bruce Trail.

While running along the Bruce Trail at one point, a friend was running towards me when he did the gentlemanly thing and stepped off the hard packed snow to the side so I could pass by. What neither of us knew was that there was quite a drop, and he fell. He was fine, and as usual ended up kicking our butts. Thanks Chris. 🙂

Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost

When I reached the aid station, I didn’t see Rebecca, so I grabbed myself a cup of hot chocolate – just what I needed to warm up my lower lip so that I could speak properly again! There were also cookies and donuts, but I just had a few of Rebecca’s M&Ms when she turned up. We got our new maps, took a couple of minutes to discuss the new controls and slightly alter our route, and then headed out. We didn’t want to stop for long – we were getting cold!

We stuck to our original plan to head to the east from the matrix, but added a new blue control that wasn’t on the original map. We did a lot of trail running versus bushwhacking during this race, but we did have some stellar navigation using a big hill (no compass!) as our reference point in this section. Yay us.

Given the elapsed time, we knew we couldn’t go any further away from the finish at this point, so we started heading to the finish line, grabbing another black on our way. We decided that the last few controls near the finish – which we were planning to do “if we had time” (we never have time!) – were probably out of reach. However, with about 12 minutes to go we were running along a road seeing people coming out of the trees, and realized that one of the controls was actually very close to us. We decided that even if going for it put us slightly overtime, it would be worth it.

From there we ran to the finish, getting there with just under 2 minutes to spare (the penalty was -30 points per minute over the 3 hours). We ended up with 650 points.

In talking to others after the race, I realized that our race strategy might not have been the best. The first two controls we went for (after the mandatory first one) were pretty far for what they were worth. We might have earned more points trying to find more controls of lower value that weren’t so far away. As well, when we got the second map, we could have headed west instead of east, where there was a cluster of 3 blacks close together.

In any case, it was a fun race! We are always learning.

At the finish there was more hot chocolate and sweet treats, and buses waiting to take teams back to Blue Mountain, where we were provided with a hot lunch. After the awards, we headed home!

Note: I loved the Kahtoola microspikes. I even forgot that I was wearing them. I also loved my new waterproof socks, which kept my feet warm and toasty.

  • Time: 2:58:23
  • Female teams (not master females): 6/13
  • All teams: 52/110
Pretty sunset on the way home

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Race report: Raid the Hammer Half Raid 2018

In the days leading up to this race, I had no idea I’d be criss-crossing a half-pipe multiple times with a chilly creek crossing in the middle! But how would I? The race location is top secret until race day (though I did try my best to piece together the picture teasers as they were posted on Facebook). A last minute change meant that our team of 3 became a team of 2 for this year’s Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer Adventure Race. This would be our 3rd time doing the race, and on home soil to boot! At registration we were each given 2 maps and a sheet of race instructions, which set out everything we needed to know about the race. We would pick up a 3rd map out on the race course. This was a point to point race with 3 distinct sections:
  1. a matrix, where team members could split up to find the 6 checkpoints faster, which could be found in any order;
  2. 12 mandatory checkpoints found in order from 1 to 12; and
  3. a matrix, where team members could again split up to find the 4 checkpoints, and in any order.
As this race was held on Remembrance Day, we had a moment of silence before boarding busses to the start line. From the Veterans Affairs Canada website:

Every year on November 11, Canadians pause in a silent moment of remembrance for the men and women who have served, and continue to serve our country during times of war, conflict and peace. We honour those who fought for Canada in the First World War (1914-1918), the Second World War (1939-1945), and the Korean War (1950-1953), as well as those who have served since then. More than 2.3 million Canadians have served our country in this way, and more than 118,000 have died. They gave their lives and their futures so that we may live in peace.

The race began at Hidden Valley Park in Burlington, a small park with a couple of playgrounds and some trails in the woods. Earlier this fall, I saw salmon swimming upstream in the creek that runs through the park.
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Pre-race.
On Patrick’s countdown, the race began! Rebecca and I had decided to split up in the matrix, with her doing a little more running for 3 checkpoints that we thought would be easier to find (D, E, F). It turns out they were all pretty easy, partly because we were never the only ones searching for them, but also because the park is so small and the navigation just wasn’t too difficult. IMG_7536 I found my 3, then ran to a pavilion to wait for Rebecca so we could show our punched maps to Patrick, proving that we had been to each checkpoint. We punched checkpoint 1 (at the pavilion), then headed for the road that would take us onto the second map. This next part of the race course required us to cross Grindstone Creek in between each checkpoint. Between checkpoints 1 and 2 we used a bridge, but after that, we bit the bullet and got wet feet. And boy was the water ever cold!!! We learned that indecision after a creek crossing was a bad thing – that’s when our feet froze. As long as we kept moving, they warmed up pretty quickly!
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The thick blue line is the creek, and the thin brown lines are contour lines showing elevation gain. The closer they are together, the steeper the terrain. The thick pink lines show the shortest distance between 2 checkpoints.
Also in this section were hills, hills and more hills! From a checkpoint high on a hill, we would descend, cross the creek, then climb a hill on the other side.
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One of many icy cold creek crossings.
At checkpoint 6 there was an aid station with sweet and salty goodies, and a gear check, where we had to show that we were carrying an emergency blanket.
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Along Grindstone Creek – heading for the aid station/gear check.
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Descending once again, heading for checkpoint 7.
After checkpoint 9 there were no more creek crossings. At checkpoint 10, which was just before we crossed the railroad tracks and entered Black’s Forest (the trails south of Walmart and Grindstone Way in Waterdown), we received the 3rd map, which we needed to get back to the high school.
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The only checkpoint we arrived at with no one else around.
There are tons of trails in this area, but they don’t necessarily go the way you want to go. We did a lot of trail hopping to get from 10 to 11, 11 to 12, and then 12 to 13. After this point, we could split up again and find the 4 remaining checkpoints. I know this part of Waterdown very well, so I only needed to look once on the map to see where the checkpoints were, then didn’t need to look again (I knew the spots). These checkpoints had questions that we had to answer, rather than inserting our SI card into a chip reader. For example, one asked for the last name of Charlotte, whose name was on a park bench. When I reached my 2nd and last control in this section, I encountered another woman at the same hydro pole trying to answer the same question. “Final digit on the power pole (5485)” shouldn’t be that hard. But it was a multiple choice question, and the number we saw on the pole wasn’t an option on the sheet. We figured it was a typo, and headed back to the high school. Sadly, we later found out that we were looking at the wrong pole! We had been looking at 54856, when we should have been looking at the pole across the street, 54855! This meant a 15 minute time penalty for our team. Rebecca had no trouble with her checkpoints, and was waiting for me at the high school. We punched the finish line checkpoint, and headed inside to download our results onto the Don’t Get Lost computer. In 3:31:53 we covered a little over 17k, and found all of the checkpoints.
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Post-race: I’m trying to show the burrs and twig in my hair.
We enjoyed a hot lunch from a food truck, included in our race entry fee. Despite my mess up on the last checkpoint, we had a great race! My legs were slightly tired from my 25k race the day before (!) but held up better than I expected! We’ll be back – next year, the full Raid! Race results for team Define Lost:
  • Time: 3:31:53 (25:45 behind race winners)
  • Placing: 4/6 teams of 2 females
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Race report: Raid the City 2018 (brand new urban orienteering race)

This year Don’t Get Lost added a new race to their calendar, Raid the City, a 3-hour urban orienteering race with a twist in the city of Hamilton! Here’s how it differed from other orienteering races:Screen Shot 2018-08-06 at 4.04.58 PM

Just like in other races, checkpoints varied in point value depending on their difficulty (in general, checkpoints that are further away or harder to access are worth more points).

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Two maps, and one apple to keep them from blowing away.

It was completely up to individual teams to decide which checkpoints they wanted to go for. After registering and getting our two maps, Alasdair and I made our plan. We decided to go for all of the black (difficult) and double black (expert) checkpoints, as well as all the blue (intermediate) ones if we had time. We didn’t think we’d go for any green (easy) ones, except our first checkpoint on the way to our first blue.

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Ready to go!

After a short pre-race meeting, we were off!

While checkpoints were marked on the two race maps, the Goose Chase app had additional information about each one (e.g. plaque about X, or Gate 1 at Tim Horton field). There was also a picture of the spot we were looking for – which was also what our own pictures should look like, with at least one team member (with race bib visible) in it!

We quickly found our first checkpoint – a plaque in a park – but I didn’t realize until we got to our second checkpoint that taking a picture isn’t enough – you actually have to submit it as well!

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Second checkpoint we found, but first one where I successfully submitted a picture as proof! [Fail on the “race bib visible”.]

The rest of the race saw us visiting checkpoints at Tim Horton Field, Gage Park, the Chedoke Radial Trail, Auchmar Mansion, another historical plaque, a park at the top of the Jolley Cut, the Bruce Trail, and the Dundurn Stairs. We did really well on the navigation, only backtracking once when we overshot a wood wall along the Chedoke Radial Trail.

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“Oskee wee wee!” When we reached this checkpoint just after Craig and his teammate from Get Out There Magazine, we watched them videotape themselves doing the Ticat cheer!
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Along the Chedoke Radial Trail.
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Top of the Jolley Cut on Hamilton mountain.

To get up the Hamilton Mountain, we climbed the 500 step Wentworth Stairs. What a climb!

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That white squiggly on the rock to my right was key to this checkpoint.

It was after the checkpoint along the Bruce Trail on top of the escarpment that Alasdair and I didn’t agree on where we should go next. My running pace was slowing, I had been fighting a side stitch, and I knew that if we went to the final double black diamond checkpoint at the top of the Dundurn Stairs (which was to the West, while the finish was to the South-East), we would be late and would lose points (20 points per minute late). Alasdair was sure I could make it, and even if we went over the 3 hours, it would still be worth it to get the 150 points. I was convinced that we would lose those points and then some, but agreed to try.

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No more stair climbing! Luckily, we were descending at this point, down the Dundurn Stairs.

At the base of the Dundurn Stairs, we only had time to head straight back to the finish. My side stitch got worse, so we had to take some walk breaks. Alasdair underestimated the distance from the base of the stairs to the finish – it was nearly 6km of straight running!

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Heading for the finish line.

We ended up being 20 minutes late, meaning that we lost 400 of our 1,040 points, finishing in 23rd place out of 32 teams with just 640 points – we ran 22.15 km! Instead of earning 150 points for that last checkpoint, we lost 400. Had we not gone for it, we may have been able to find other ones on our way back to the finish line.

At the finish line, Patrick (one of the race organizers) asked us how it went. “We’re still married!” was Alasdair’s response.

During the race, I checked a couple of times how we were doing relative to the other teams. At one point, we were in 11th place. For a while, we were in 7th place. It was fun to see how we were doing. Of course, the app didn’t know we were going to be so late…

Turns out only one team finished after we did!

This race was super fun, and I highly recommend it. It’s great for those who are new to orienteering, because you don’t need to know how to use a compass. You can look for checkpoints that are close to the start/finish, and run (or walk!) only as far or as long as you want to. You definitely don’t need to cover 22k!

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Race report: Don’t Get Lost Knockout Adventure Run

“Did you meet a vampire out there?” I was asked at the end of the race. You can never predict what’s going to happen when you’re out in the woods orienteering! The Don’t Get Lost Knockout Adventure Run in Stoney Creek was a 2-hour race in which you could find as many – or as few – of the controls as you wanted to, but with a twist! There were 2 race maps, with only the first map given to racers before the race began. This meant that strategy would be very important – we were told during the pre-race briefing that the second map would have about 65% of the available points. There were 2 spots on the course where you could pick up the second map, but you had to hand over your first map when you did so – in other words, if you didn’t find all the controls on the first map, and later wanted to look for them, you couldn’t! The other key detail was that you could only pick up the second map from 10:15 to 10:45 at one location (the race started at 10 AM), and from 10:55 to 11:45 AM at the other location. How would it all play out? I talked to other racers before the race and we all had different strategies for maximizing our points. Time would tell who had the best plan.
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Last minute route planning. [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
Both maps had a mixture of green (25 points), blue (50 points), black diamond/difficult (75 points), and double black diamond/expert (100 points) controls. The race began, and I set out for the south west corner of the map. There were 3 distinct clusters of controls on this map, and I was hoping to be able to clear it (find all the controls) within 1 hour, so that I would still have 1 hour to find as many controls as I could on the second map. I wasn’t the only one heading for this area of the map, so I ended up in a group of people running for the closest control. I found all 4 in this section (3 greens and one black diamond), then headed for the middle area of the map. Some people skipped the first section I did since 3 of them were of low point value, and instead headed for the middle or upper sections.
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Where to next? [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
The middle section included 5 green controls, none of which took too long to find. The upper part of the map had 3 blue and 1 double black diamond control. I had done an X-league race here before, so was a little familiar with the area – I think this helped! After finding these 4 controls, I headed for the closest pickup location for the second map. Unfortunately, I didn’t realize how quickly I had cleared the map (my very first time doing so!), and when I arrived at the parking lot, I had to wait 12 minutes to get the map! I could have run to the other location, and maybe should have, but wondered if I’d really save any time by running there and back (I would have had to run back because the rest of the controls were on the other side of the parking lot.). So instead I chatted with other racers as we waited for the maps to arrive! It was here that I met David, another racer. Once we got our second maps, we headed off together. We skipped a cluster of 5 controls on the way out – I figured if I had time at the end, I would go for some of them. Instead, I wanted to head for the furthest away controls, which were also worth the most points. We quickly found 6 and 7, then descended the escarpment to find 8. We ran toward the Red Hill Parkway, jumping a creek and climbing a hill to find 10. We then crossed under the Red Hill Parkway, found the two double black diamond controls, and then crossed back over to find two more black diamonds. At that point, we had to climb the escarpment again to head back to the finish. I wasn’t sure whether I would have time to get any of the controls we had left near the end. We did get an easy green after climbing the escarpment, but by the time we got to the cluster of controls, I only went for one of them. David headed for another one but quickly changed his mind. We reached the finish line with 12 minutes to spare – we should have gone for at least one of the remaining 4 controls! I didn’t realize how quickly we would reach the finish line. Nevertheless, I found 23 of the 27 controls, which was a great result for me!
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Done! [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
It was once I went back into the gym that many people pointed out my war wound! I don’t even know when it happened. It looked worse than it was – the cut was actually quite small.
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War wound. [Photo by Don’t Get Lost]
A couple of the women who placed ahead of me skipped the 4 controls that I did at the beginning of the race on the first map, and instead ended up getting more controls on the second map, which were worth more points – so, their strategy was better! However, they cleared the second map with time to spare, but couldn’t go find those 4 controls – had they cleared the first map, they may still have cleared the second one and likely placed higher. Who knows! Strategy was definitely key! Race results
  • Time: 1:48:43
  • Points: 1175
  • Placing (open women): 5/13
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Race report: Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid (orienteering race) 2018

With an 80 cm base of snow in the Blue Mountain area a few days before the Don’t Get Lost Snowshoe Raid was set to be held, it looked like we were in store for perfect snowshoeing conditions! And then, just two days before the race a serious thaw had many of us wondering whether there would be any snow left at all! The night before the race, an email from the race organizers clarified things: snowshoes recommended! Phew. On race morning, we awoke to a temperature of -24C with the windchill. I didn’t want to be cold (in particular at higher, exposed elevations), but didn’t want to be overdressed either (in lower forested areas). I settled on 3 layers on the bottom (plus gaiters), 4 on the top, a balaclava, a toque, gloves and shells. I debated wearing ski goggles! I also carried an extra pair of socks, extra pair of gloves, a fleece sweater, and toe warmers, just in case! I arrived at Blue Mountain with my friend and teammate Rebecca (team “Define Lost”), to find another friend (Kim) very happy to see me. Her teammate and son was sick and unable to race, and since you can’t race alone in the Snowshoe Raid, she asked to join our team. With the blessing of the race organizers, we became a team of 3.
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Kim, Rebecca and I planning our race strategy. 
We were to be bussed to the start line at Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, and then would have 3 hours to find as many of the controls as possible. There were no mandatory controls, but if you went into the “matrix” and found controls in this part of the map, you had to go to the aid station to prove that you found them (by showing the holes punched on your map – there were manual hole punches at these controls). The controls were scored as follows: 25 points for green, 50 for blue, 75 for black, 100 for double black, and 150 for you’re crazy and no way am I going there! We used highlighters to mark our intended route, and decided that at checkpoint 50 we would do a time check and see what we still had time to do. After the pre-race briefing and a last pitstop, we headed to the busses, dropping a bag off so that it would be waiting for us at the race finish (warm layers, if needed). The bus ride lasted around 20 minutes. It was very shortly after we arrived (I was debating whether I would pee on the side of the road as many of the guys were doing!) when there was an announcement: the race would be starting in 4 minutes! I didn’t even have my snowshoes on. I quickly got myself organized, and the race began! Scan 54Scan 56 At first it was a snowshoe walk, as we all had to follow the same trail for a while. Eventually, people spread out and we could run.
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Me on the far left.
Our plan was to go for controls 52, 53, 54, 55, 44, 50, 42, 40 (if it looked like we could cross the creek, which we were warned pre-race was a flowing creek because of the thaw), and then if we had time, we would enter the matrix, doing 33, 32, the aid station, 39 and then the finish. We weren’t sure how much we would be able to run, and how much walking we would do. At times, the snow didn’t hold our weight and we sunk down a foot or more. In these sections I ran less, worried that I would hurt myself. On packed down trails it was easy to run. We found 52 (green) quite easily, but struggled to find 53 (double black) and ended up overshooting it. Our bearing must have been off. When we hadn’t found it where we expected to, we kept going (maybe over the next hill!), but we really were’t sure whether we had gone too far left of it, or too far right. When we reached a snowmobile trail, we realized what we had done (we had gone too far right), and instead went for 54 (blue). Knowing exactly where we were then, and planning to head back toward 53 anyway en route to 55, we tried again, and found it (just before we got there, we were heading up a hill when down the hill comes Barb, who very often wins her age category – “that’s a good sign!” we said, and we were right!). There is such satisfaction in finding something that you have struggled to find! I hate giving up on controls. One thing that’s interesting about snowshoe orienteering is that you can see which way other people went… but they may have been just as lost as you, or walking randomly in hopes of finding something that matches the map. And the trails… oh, the trails… what would be easy to find in the summer may be impossible to spot in the winter! If no one has walked on a trail recently, you may have no idea where it is. At Pretty River Valley Provincial Park, the snowmobile trail was easy to spot, but the tiny trails? Not so much. Since we couldn’t rely on the trails being visible, we used pace counting to figure out how far we had gone. Next up was control 55 (blue), which we found easily. At 44 (black diamond), the sun was peeking through the forest making it very pretty! It was when I started ascending the hill to 50 (blue) that I realized I had a problem! I was walking on two big mounds of ice built up under the metal grips of my snowshoes (the toe crampons). I couldn’t grip the ground, and was just sliding down the hill. It was a very steep climb. I whacked my snowshoe against a tree many times before I dislodged the ice, but had trouble with the second. Eventually, I got it. Given the temperature (cold!) I wasn’t expecting ice build-up. We descended the hill, and checking the time, knew that we wouldn’t have time to do the controls in the matrix. 39 (green) wasn’t in the matrix, but from the road, it would involve a significant climb – it was “green” only if you were in the matrix and following a trail – so we skipped it. We headed for 42 (blue), which was easy to find because all we had to do was run along the road looking for a creek – since it was flowing, it was quite obvious! We followed the creek uphill until we found the control. IMG_0776 We were doubtful that we had time to go for control 40, but I figured we should try it. Rebecca had in her head that we still had 3k to run to the finish, when in fact it was 1.5. When she realized her error, she agreed that we had time to go for it. Kim decided to head to the finish, so Rebecca and I headed into the woods. We got about 10 metres in when we found the wide (6 feet?) flowing creek, and knew there was no way we were crossing it. We didn’t have time to run up and down the creek looking for a safe crossing spot (a guy there said they had tried to find a spot), so instead we headed for the finish!
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Rebecca and I approaching the finish line.
We crossed the finish line in 2:52:11, with a total of 400 points. Had we been over the allotted 3 hours, we would have lost 30 points per minute. After grabbing some hot chocolate and ginger cookies, and grabbing my backpack with extra clothes (which I didn’t need at that point), I made my way to the busses for the ride back to Blue Mountain, where a hot lunch was waiting for us. I was relieved that my clothing choices worked out well – I had chilly fingers at the very start, but otherwise I was comfy! I had fun racing with Rebecca and Kim. With the exception of control 53, we didn’t have trouble finding anything. The race was super well organized. I highly recommend it! Results
  • Time: 2:52:11
  • Points: 400
  • Placing out of all teams: 58/101
  • Placing out of female teams: 11/19
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Race report: Raid the Ham 2017

I don’t think I’ve ever paid so much attention to outdoor Christmas decorations in my life!

On a Thursday night in December at -9 degrees Celsius (feeling colder with the wind) I set out with my daughter and our friends to participate in the Raid the Ham orienteering race in Westdale (part of Hamilton, Ontario), a holiday-themed race doubling as a fundraiser for the Don’t Get Lost junior athletes.

This race was open to everyone, even beginner-level navigators. Before looking at the map, you had to predict your finishing time based only on the length of the course (there were 2 to choose from: “short” at 2.2 km and “long” at 4.8 km). We didn’t know how many checkpoints there would be, just that at each one there wouldn’t be a flag – instead, we would have to answer a question about holiday decorations. I decided to do the short course, and predicted a (ridiculously long) time of 47 minutes. We were not allowed to run with any timing devices, but if we arrived at the finish earlier than we thought we would, we could stand around and not punch the finish control right away.

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The girls writing their predicted times.

We were able to look at our maps shortly before the race started. All of the 10 checkpoints on the short course were on city streets (nothing in parks, along trails or in the woods), so it was very easy to navigate using just the map (no compass required). We had to do the checkpoints in order from 1 to 10, and fill in our answers as we went along (pencils and pens were provided!).

When the race started, I took off running in search of the 1st checkpoint, which would be at house #48 on a nameless street (see below for a picture of the questions we had to answer). The question was “What is in the front yard?”, and the answer was a snowman. I wrote that down and kept running. Apologies for the chicken scratch. It was so cold that I didn’t want to stop for long to write, and my pencil wasn’t working very well!

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When I got to #3, I realized that I was way ahead of schedule (it would never take me 47 minutes!), so I commented to the 2 people near me that I was running so fast I could stop to take a picture. Emil responded that I had time for a nap (or maybe it was a coffee!).

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This was the holiday decoration at checkpoint 5, the one that nearly caused the end of me… well, not exactly.

In any case, I kept running, and eventually my fingers warmed up! It was somewhere around checkpoint 5 that I realized I was no longer wearing the (borrowed) SI stick on my finger, the timing device that would record my time. “Oh no!” I thought. “I’m in trouble now.” (These things are expensive!!!) Do I keep running? Do I go back? Where would it be? Would someone have seen it and picked it up? Thankfully, I remembered almost immediately that to take the picture at checkpoint 3, I took my glove off! And when I took my glove off, the SI stick probably fell off my gloved finger! So, I retraced my steps, and 10m or so away from the polar bear, I spotted the SI stick on the sidewalk in the snow! PHEW!

I found the rest of the checkpoints, but figured #8 must have been a trick (“How many trees have lights?” I found none.). Checkpoint number 10 resulted in a few seconds of confusion as I misread the clue and was looking for a red window rather than red letters hanging in the window!

When I reached the finish, I decided I was way too early to punch in, so I waited a bit, but then punched. I figured there was no way I would have the closest guess!

Another runner (Courtney) asked if anyone was interested in doing some of the long course while waiting for everyone else to finish, so I went along with her and we did the first 5 checkpoints of the 15 on that course (some of the ones we didn’t do were ones we had actually done on the short course). We only had a problem with the 5th, and only because the house was #250 not #150 as was marked on the map. This was also the house with an “unseasonable item” on the porch (a pumpkin!).

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Clearly I was writing in shorthand for #1 – or something! 

When I returned to the finish (again), most if not everyone was back. It wasn’t long before Meghan announced the winner, who was just 16 seconds off his predicted time. I was curious to see how far off I was, so I asked Meghan, but my time didn’t show up on the computer. I punched the finish again (instead of the download!) and overwrote my original time. With my new, longer time, I ended up being 4 minutes and 14 seconds longer than I predicted. Had my original finishing time been captured, I would have been way further off!

This was a really fun race, and totally doable for newbie orienteers! Thanks Don’t Get Lost for another great night.

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Ailish and I at the finish.

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Race report: Don’t Get Lost Icebreaker Adventure Run

Was I the only one thinking of the Norwegian story The Three Billy Goats Gruff during the Don’t Get Lost Icebreaker Adventure Run? While crossing the many bridges in the “Trolling for Trolls” section of the course, I was relieved to know that the troll had long ago “disappeared under the rushing water, never to be seen again”. 

Before the 2 hour race began, I marked out my planned route with an orange highlighter, which might not have been the best choice of colour (keep reading). All controls were optional – you could go for as few or as many as you liked. They ranged from easy green ones (20 points) to intermediate blue ones (40 points), to advanced black diamonds (75 points) and expert double black diamonds (150 points).

I decided that I wouldn’t go for the dog bone controls this time (a dog bone is 2 controls that have to be done in sequence), despite them being worth quite a lot when you factor in the bonus for getting the dog bone (in addition to the points for the individual controls). Instead, I decided that after the “Killer K”, an approximately 1 km run to an optional control that you had to do first if you did it at all, I would tackle all of the controls in the golf course.

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Anne, Ailish and I pre-race. [Photo courtesy of Barb C]
My first 3 controls would be the same ones as my daughter Ailish was going for, but after that we would split up. And we would do just the first control with our friend Anne.

If I had time after the golf course section, I would tackle the “Deck the Corridor” part of the map, which was essentially an unmarked path that you had to follow to find 3 unmarked controls (see map below).

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There were a few other interesting ideas for controls in this race: “Nav4Rav4” could only be found between 10:30 and 11 AM, “Whiteout” had features on the map near it removed to make it more challenging, and “Trolling for Trolls” entailed 4 bridges and 8 controls under them, but you had to find the 2 that were “real” controls and not “dummies” (i.e. you needed the ones with the computer units within them, meaning that you had to visit each one until you found the 2 right ones).

At 10:15 AM the race began!

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We’re off and running! [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
No navigation was required for my 1st or 2nd controls, because I wasn’t at the front of the pack! But after that, my map (and eventually compass) was needed. When Ailish and I split up, I headed for the “Whiteout” control, following a creek (or where there would be water had it been spring) right to the control.

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Ailish on one of the bridges of the “Trolling for Trolls” section of the course. [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
Next I headed for the bridges of the “Trolling for Trolls” section. I approached it from the east, checking underneath one end of bridge D (no troll there!), running up and across the bridge, checking under the other end, and then heading for bridge C. After checking one end, I heard some kids say that the control at the other end was a dummy, but I felt that it would be cheating  if I didn’t check it out for myself, so I did, and they were right. At bridge B I debated stepping on the rocks in the creek to cross over to the other side, but I suspected that the gap between the rocks was too large and I would fall into the cold water, so I scrapped that idea and headed back for the bridge. I found one of the real controls at bridge B, and the last one at bridge A. I tried 7 of 8 locations to find the 2 controls!

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Running while looking at the map works less well in the middle of a forest. [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
I found 6 more controls easily before heading for the first one that was in the woods away from the golf course. Looking at my map a few days after the race, I noticed that I hadn’t followed my own plan because the orange highlighter wasn’t obvious – I missed 2 easy controls that I had planned to get.

When I was in the woods heading to #31, I ran into my daughter, who had given up finding it. We searched for it for a while, certain that we knew where we were, and unsure why we couldn’t find it. I was determined to find it, given that it was a black diamond and worth 75 points. But the longer it took, the less sense it made to keep trying. After 30 minutes, we gave up. After the race, I chatted with two 2nd place finishers who did find the control (Heidi and Barb), and learned from them how I could approach a similar control in the future. Lessons learned: you might not be where you think you are, go for the easiest approach, use the road or buildings.

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What confusion looking for control #31 looked like.

I found 2 more controls easily, then debated trying to find the Deck the Corridor controls, but I was doubtful that I had the time to follow an unmarked path while rushed, and even more so when a fellow competitor (Oliver) pointed out how far he thought the loop was. So instead I headed for one end of a dog bone and found that, running into my friends John and Kristin in the process.

I thought that I might have time to do one more control, but didn’t want to go over the 2 hour limit, so I scrapped that idea and headed for the last control and then the finish line. Running up the hill to the finish I asked Barb if she had found #31, and she told me to run for the finish (never give up, you never know when someone in your age group might be just behind you) and then we could talk about #31! Since she finished 2nd in her category, I should clearly listen to Barb’s advice!

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Nearing the finish line. [Photo courtesy of Don’t Get Lost]
In the end I covered 10.3 km and finished in 1:53:05, with a total of 790 points, which put me 15th out of 22 women in the open age group. My race went really well except for that darn #31! The weather was fantastic for an early December race.

After the race, I ran into Oliver, who jokingly said that he would have done the Deck the Corridor with me had I gone for it. Next time Oliver!

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Still smiling after the race.

It was great to see so many kids out racing with or without their parents, as the Adventure Running Kids ARKFest marking the end of the 12-week fall session was happening at the same time.

Even after the race was done it was hard leaving without having found #31. I really should have just gone back to look for it!

Can’t wait for the next race! My strategy: use a different coloured highlighter, go for the dog bones, and if I can’t find the control, approach it from a different angle!

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Race report: Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer Adventure Race

Blame it on the fallen leaves!

This year was to be my second time participating in the Don’t Get Lost Raid the Hammer Adventure Run, again with my teammates Rebecca and Alasdair. We arrived at Ancaster High School for the “Half Raid” just before the “Full Raid” participants headed to the buses to be taken to the starting point. We registered, got our maps, t-shirts, and an SI stick, and grabbed a table in the cafeteria to read the course description and plan our route.

This would be a point to point race, in which we were bussed to the start at Christie Lake Conservation Area, and had to make our way back to Ancaster High School, while finding a number of checkpoints along the way. The fastest team would win, since all checkpoints were of equal value, and there were no optional additional checkpoints to find. At one point in the race we would have to find 3 of 6 checkpoints in an area, and in another, 1 of 3. There was some strategizing involved here, but unlike some other orienteering races where checkpoints are worth different point values, and you might choose to go for the higher value checkpoints even if you will exceed the allotted race time and incur penalties (because you’ll gain more points than you’ll lose), that approach wasn’t an option for this race.

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On the bus to the start line.

After the pre-race briefing, we took a short bus ride to Christie Lake Conservation Area.

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Ready to start!

And then, on Meghan’s shout of “GOOOOOOOOOOO!” we were off. In this first part of the race, the “Scramble”, we had to find 3 of the 6 checkpoints in any order we wanted. We headed for #3, along with the majority of the 50+ teams. Ditto for #4. We then went for #6, when the majority seemed to go for #5. That was our first mistake. We missed the trail for #6, turned around, and while running back looking for the trail, lots of people who had just found #5 passed us running the other way. We found the tiny trail, not very visible due to fallen leaves, and found #6.

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#6 – on Christie Lake

Checkpoint #7 was the first one that all teams had to find. Then it was the “Gnarly Run I” trail run (2k?) to #8. I decided early on that this course would favour strong runners (as opposed to strong navigators), as the navigation was minimal. In the “Run DMC” section, after finding checkpoint #8 (at a trail junction), we had to go to either #9 or #10 or #11. Before the race, we planned to go to #9, the closest one to #8, but it would involve a bit of off trail navigation. However, when the time came to actually look for the checkpoint, we couldn’t decide where to leave the trail and start bushwhacking. A spectator said to us that in the time we spent discussing our approach to #9, we could have been to #10 and back! So we scrapped the plan for #9 and headed for #10, which involved no navigation and instead was a simple 800m trail run. Mistake #2 was the time lost in this section. We punched #8 again (as required), then started the “Gnarly Run II” section, a 1.5k run to Governor’s Road.

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Route choices matter.//Team members may not agree.//So where do we go?// [Photo credit: Don’t Get Lost]
We passed a pond on the right side that I used to visit as a kid with my family – we called it the “Frog Pond”.

After checkpoint #12, we headed for #13, which was the aid station. We punched the control, but opted not to stop at the aid station, since we had all the water and snacks we needed. We did discuss quickly whether we should stop in, in case it was mandatory and there was a gear check, but we decided not to.

To reach #14, we could either run along a trail which would take us away from the checkpoint and then back to it, or bushwhack a much shorter distance across a creek and up a steep hill. During our pre-race planning, we opted for the trail run. When we reached the point at which we would bushwhack if we wanted to, we looked at the creek, agreed that we didn’t want wet feet and that the climb looked steep, and kept running! However, one of the junior teams did the bushwhack and beat us there.

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[Photo credit: Don’t Get Lost]
We easily found checkpoint #15 at the top of a very steep hill, at which point we were passed by one of the “Full Raid” teams. Sigh. It was after leaving #15 that we somehow took the wrong trail, and before long, the terrain in front of us didn’t match what we were expecting on the map. Turns out we went the wrong way and had to backtrack. Mistake #3.

It was quite a distance to #16, the last checkpoint before the finish. And yet again, we ran past a small trail, likely invisible due to fallen leaves!

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[Photo credit: Don’t Get Lost]
It meant that we climbed up the last steep hill – further along than we should have – up to the grass, ran along the grass to where we thought the checkpoint would be (at which point the photographer said to us, “Try to get along team!”), had to climb down the hill to the checkpoint, and then back up the same hill! Mistake #4.

From there it was an easy run along the grass to the high school, where we could see the finish line from far away. In the end we crossed the finish line at 2:23:02,  and ended up 34/52 half raid teams (excluding the junior teams, who were in a separate category). We had covered 15km.

We enjoyed the post race snacks (smarties!) and free lunch from the food trucks (Johnny Blonde and 50 Pesos).

Such a great race! Next year, I’m hoping to do the Full Raid!

Remember that aid station that we didn’t stop at? Well, at Adventure Running Kids a couple of days later (where I volunteer as a group leader) I found out from Meghan that at some point during the race, the aid station volunteers were in contact with her to say that 2 teams had yet to check in at the aid station – including Kyra. Meghan said not to worry, that she was looking at me at that moment eating my lunch! Oops!!!

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