Thursday, February 19, 2009

A great Valentines weekend spent Orienteering

NTOA, North Texas Orienteering Association held a two day meet over the Valentine’s weekend. It was held at Clements Scout Ranch near Athens. Athens Texas, not that other Athens. Maybe there was an Orienteering meet there also, running up and down the acropolis in Greece. I didn’t see an acropolis at Clements Scout Ranch.

This event was a “B”, event. An “A” event was held at the same ranch last year. “A” events are national events, which even draw people from other countries. There are some fairly strict rules about how “A” and “B” meets are conducted. Such as, they pre-assign start times. Our fearless leader and I had requested that our three start times be grouped fairly close together on both days. We’d also requested they be about 10:30 each day. First start on day 1 is 10 AM, but on day 2, it is 9 AM. We were planning on the two hour one-way drive from home to the ranch each day, so didn’t need a 9 AM start on Sunday! Plus, our third person was new to this, and we wanted him to attend the beginners’ clinic. They posted the start times a few days before the event and I noticed our start times were grouped, but also very late on the first day and very early the second. Opposite of what we would have liked. The registrar was very accommodating and changed our times up. It was a bit hard, as he needed to have two minute intervals on the starts, but also six minutes between members of the same club, with NTOA being a “club”.

On Saturday, I picked up the other two people and drove down to Athens. We got there about 9:15 AM, perfect time. While Mr. G and I got our orienteering gear on, the new guy went over to the beginner’s clinic. We wandered over to the start area, stretched our old bones a bit and took the start. I was about four steps past the official start triangle, when I noticed a glaring omission from my map. I was attempting the Brown course. Brown is Orienteering-speak for a technically challenging, but short in distance, orienteering course. I’ve done Green, which is technical, but medium length, at this meet last year when it was an “A”, meet. Last year, I’d not spent two months doing physical therapy on my bad back! I’ve dropped back to Brown for this year.

What was the omission from the map? How about the North South lines! Those are used to take accurate compass bearings for when you need to follow a bearing between points. I paused for a moment, but then knew that if they were missing from my map, they would be missing from all the “brown” maps. Nothing to do but attempt to navigate without exact compass bearings. On the way to the first control point, I walked and just studied the map. I hit the first erosion area, turned right instead of left, and wandered away from the control. I noticed another person searching around the area also. He turned around and waved. I did a “thumb behind” me, showing him that I’d figured we went the wrong way. We chased each other to the first control. He took off after that and I didn’t see him again until the finish. We were in the same Brown, Male, +50 age class, so it was good that he moved out faster than I did.

What was especially amusing, was the lacking N/S lines. The course setter for this event is one of the most experianced orienteers around this area. He litterally wrote the book on it. We didn't give him too bad a time for leaving them off.

The second control was about my worst, taking 14 minutes. From the first, I had to jog along the lake, over the earth dam, then take a rough bearing (remember, no N/S lines!). The control was off in a water channel, but I hit into it at a thicket and didn’t see it. What I did see, was three deer! They took one look at me, and headed west to the lake. I was surprised, as there should have been at least 10 other orienteer’s thru that area ahead of me. While heading to the second control, a “Red” orienteer came over to me and had eyes as big as saucers. Those deer I spooked had run right past him! After that control, I had a great time. It was actually very good that the north/south lines were missing, as I had to slow down and pay careful attention to every land feature to complete the course. Looking over the day-1 results for the advanced courses, all of which were lacking the N/S lines, I’m surprised that very few people failed to finish the courses.

Day two, Mr G picked me up about 7:30 and we headed out for the two hour cruise to Athens. We arrived at 9:30, in perfect time to check our first day results, and get ready for our 10:20-something starts. My day two course had some long distances to cover, with 2.3 miles as the crow-flies, but only seven controls on it. This map, had the north-south lines! I started trying to jog on some of the trails I was using, but my shins were cramping up, so I had to just fast-walk most of it.

At the end of the day, I had a third place. The other two guys were in fourth and fifth place, very decent showings considering one of them was a first time orienteer.
The first place in my class, beat me by 15 minutes over the two days. He’s older than I am, but he is also Russian and his wife does the incredible map work for the club! Plus, she and he have been orienteering for many years. The second place, beat me by 14 minutes. I don't feel bad about that. He was winning his three Olympic gold medals, when I was two and six years old!

Considering the disaster I had the last time I went orienteering, it was a great weekend.

That photo, isn't my compass or hand or trail. I do have a base plate compass just like that. Several in fact. But I use a compass that fits on your thumb on the hand you hold your map in. That allows you to keep your compass and your thumb on your map, exactly where you are in the woods.

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