Have you ever been curious about something so you read about it, bookmark websites and even go and check it out? That is how I have been with the sport of Orienteering. I get curious about most sports that have running in them. With my love of trail running orienteering seemed a natural sport to do.
I picked up a book at a book sale for 25 cents a few year back. Admittedly I have only skimmed the pages rather than reading it. I've had the local Chicago area club's website bookmarked and even printed off the event schedules last two years. In 2009 I was running the trail in a DuPage Forest Preserve and an O was being staged. I stood around near the start/finish area watching and was intrigued. Runners would register, receive a map, study the map and then head off into the woods. There was all types; young-old, fit-not so fit, fast-slow. I wasn't carrying any cash so could not sign up and join in the fun.
Almost 18 months later I found myself on the starting line at a Chicago O in Palos. Fellow CHUG Deanna had signed up for the event and formed a team of four people. Deanna is a multi-silent queen. You can find her doing triathlons, mountain biking, road biking, road running, trail running, distances from 5k to 50 mile, adventure racing and even a number of O. I was just happy to be part of the adventure. Joining us was Sarah who did her first O the week before and Ben who like me was a newbie. Unlike me Ben and Sarah win ultra races and Deanna finishes 50ks a few time zones ahead of me. Could I keep up or would I get left behind and lost on some unknown Palos Swallow Cliffs trails.
I say unknown trails even though I run at Swallow Cliffs a lot I stick to the map limestone yellow trail as a rule. The yellow trail forms a 8.5 mile oval loop around the forest but there are many dirt trails leading off the main trail. None of these are open to bikes or horses and so are not marked on the forest preserve maps but they can be found on the O maps.
After checking in and picking up our maps we attended the beginner clinic that is available to all that would like to attend. A lot of what was said didn't make sense but with Deanna helping explain to her team we figured we would be OK. Sarah was given task of being keeper of our electronic e-punch. At each control there is an electronic "box" to "punch". We would have to move from control to control and attempt to "clear" all ten on the orange course. The orange course is classified as intermediate; they recommend you start on white or yellow. Deanna figured we was all experience trail runners so could handle it.
We check the map and head of down a single track trail that in the summer as to be impassable due to overgrowth. This joined up with the yellow trail after a short distance but the control which is close is across a minor bushwhack next to a marsh. We find it, punch the e-punch and head back to the yellow trail. Control two looks easy to find on the map and was relatively so.
Control 3 would be the fun one. Checking the map we had a ravine or two in front off us to cross. There are trails that skirt around the trails for many extra miles but we decided to be adventurous and head down and up the ravine. It was tough going with fallen leaves filling the gully's we transversed down and then a steep climb up the other side sometimes on all fours. The other side we joined a single track trail and headed towards the control. We spotted it on the other side of another ravine with steep climb down and up. Ben and Sarah went for it as we then had to remain on the trail side for the next control. They made it look easy and made the control quickly but it was the wrong control. We was in the wrong place. Once back together on the trail side we realized when we had exited the originally ravine too soon and should have hiked more northwards then turned west before climbing. Quickest way to get back on track was across the ravine. Ben, Sarah and Deanna went for it. Using my first piece of map reading I decided to run the trail that looped around to the west then east and I soon caught them just as they reached the correct control. This too was up a big hill with the exit back to the trail on top of the hill so we climbed up punched number 3. That was definitely our longest time before controls but we were not the only team to suffer on number three.
To reach number 4 Deanna used her great compass skills and got us there via the woods. I was impressed. The next few controls came fairly each to find with some good group map reading. As newbies were starting to pick up how to do this sport and at the same time we was enjoying this new sport. Most the latter controls seemed to be close to trails which at times we followed or would cut across the landscape using the map feature. Guessing after number 3 the rest seemed very easy and it wasn't until we got to number 10 that we almost got lost by missing a trail head. Looking at the map now I think we might have circled around the marsh edge and found the control but we got it quick and then headed for home. Punch out and collected our time print off.
It was slow and I am not sure the published results are correct but we all had fun and thanks to the team doing it has a hike I kept up with Team CHUG. I think orienteering would make great events for training for some of the tougher ultras including McNaughton (IL), Clinton Lake and Dances with Dirt not so much with the map reading but due to training on the hilly ravines type trails with lots of up and downs. Wonder how Barkley is!!!
The Chicago Orienteering club has one more club event in December. That one is a slightly different format but I might decided to have a go at it. In 2011 I intend to do many more of these Os. I'd like to do some solo ones but also want to do another with Team CHUG.
Thanks Deanna for the idea and running with it. I had a great time in the woods with you. Thanks to Ben and Sarah for letting me hanging with you champions. Good times