I just spent the weekend at orienteering training camp and I can honestly say that slowly but surely I am getting a little better at this sport. Getting better is of course all relative, but right now I am pleased that even though I still made some pretty stupid mistakes, I was always able to recover. When you make a mistake in orienteering it isn’t just a case of having to adjust your pace like you would in a road race when you start out too fast (is there anyone who hasn’t made that mistake multiple times?). In orienteering that mistake usually means you are in the woods somewhere and you really have no idea where. Using your map and compass you have to figure out where you are and where you need to be. Sounds simple right? The fact is when you are in woods that you do not know this is no easy task. But I can at least say it is getting a little easier.
Until I started orienteering I had never used a compass. I spent my first couple of years in Ottawa spending my weekends hiking, mostly in Gatineau Park, sometimes heading to the States and enjoying the Adirondacks. I looked at park maps and was able to follow the trail systems. I also never hiked alone so there was always someone who knew where they were going. While orienteering I am often alone and I am more likely to be off-trail than on.
Learning to use a compass correctly has been a challenge for me. To me, the main purpose of the compass was to find North. While I have used the term “find my bearings” countless times, I had never actually had to take a bearing. Have I ever mentioned my spatial sense and sense of direction just aren’t the greatest? Thankfully now, if I make sure my compass is lined up properly on my map, and if I make sure I adjust the housing to the North lines on the map, and if I remember to line up the North needle to its place in the house, I can actually take a correct bearing and use it to get me through the woods to my next control. For anyone who thinks that sounds easy, keep in mind you have to traverse uneven and wooded land. There could be a marsh, a cliff or an extreme elevation change between you and the next control while following your bearing. If you look at the map below, my proudest moment was making it from control 9 through 12, successfully using my compass bearings!
We spent Saturday morning in Foley Conservation Park near Westport. Our first training session involved practicing longer distances. The group of us, which included people from Hamilton, Montreal and the United States, had courses to choose at the intermediate, advanced or competitive level. Needless to say I did not join those latter groups. Luke and I decided to work together on this course. I couldn’t help but think how many parents get to participate with their children in their sport? We had a very enjoyable course together, working our way through successfully and in a reasonable time. I admit I don’t do a lot of running at this stage when going through the woods. This is largely because I know I will fall flat on my face. I also tend to overshoot the controls (flags) and then get stuck backtracking. But I consider navigating the uneven ground and different elevation changes as great cross training for my running.
My biggest mistake on Saturday morning? Forgetting to put on a hat. It was extremely hot out but I figured I wouldn’t need it in the shade of the trees. No sizzling pavement without shade to be done here! I hadn’t thought though of the deer flies. I spent a large portion of my time peeling them off my scalp where they had buried themselves in my hair. Even Luke was a little grossed out.
Saturday afternoon was urban sprint training. This is an entirely different type of orienteering and it is exactly what the name implies. We met at the campus of Queen’s University in Kingston and spent our time sprinting from control to control, all located in an urban setting. I still made lots of mistakes, most notably forgetting to turn my map when I made a turn, causing me to run in the completely wrong direction after leaving a control. My road running legs definitely enjoyed this one, you can kind of think of it as a way of fartlek training in disguise. Since we finished up at the university track, I took advantage and dragged Evan with me to do a lap. I finished my lap in a pace just under 4 minutes/km. I have always said distance, not sprinting is my thing, but I am definitely managing to get a little faster, even on tired legs.
Sunday morning was back to the woods, despite the rain and cold temperatures. Thank goodness for the Boy Scouts who had a fire going near our start line. My fingers were numb and we hadn’t even started. The
cool cold single digit weather made for good orienteering, though the morning rain made things a little slippery. I managed one wipe out on a wet rock, another wipeout had me land in a bit of poison ivy. We will see if that has any lasting effect in the next couple of days.
By the end we were wet, cold, muddy and very pleasantly tired. I am so pleased to have discovered this sport and even more excited that it is something that all four of us can take part in. I know as a parent we are supposed to want to do anything for our kids, but to be brutally honest, the thought of hanging out in cold hockey arenas or on the sidelines of soccer games just doesn’t appeal to me. In this sport, even when we do our courses individually, we can debrief at the end and discuss all of our tactics and of course our mistakes (that last part would be my contribution to the discussion). And I am immensely proud of my kids. They right now have skills that many , maybe most, adults do not have. They don’t need GPS. They race around in an area they do not know and find their way to where they are supposed to be. When they are lost, they figure out some way to get back on track. They are not afraid of being out there on there own and while they may get frustrated at times they do not get overwhelmed. They have both learned that to find their way takes a calm demeanor and clear thinking. Sounds like a pretty good life lesson, doesn’t it?