Orienteering 101

Orienteering 101
Weather wise, Saturday was one of those days that couldn’t make up its mind, freezing temps one moment and mild the next. Munchkin and I layered up and headed over to Waterfall Glen County Forest Preserve, for an introduction to orienteering. According to Wikipedia, “Orienteering is a family of sports that requires navigational skills using a map and compass to navigate from point to point in diverse and usually unfamiliar terrain, and normally moving at speed.” Sounds like fun, and both map-reading and compass skills are useful to know in this GPS-dominant world we live in.
When we got to the preserve, only 2 volunteers and the ranger greeted us, so it looked like the weather had chased the other registrants away. But with a rush and a push the stragglers arrived and it was time to begin. With map in hand and provided compass handy, we learned to orient ourselves to the North and then how to do it with the map.
The beginner orienteering course at Waterfall Glen is the only permanent course in the area. There is a more difficult course there as well, but it is being overhauled due to vandalism and neglect. The course we would follow featured 12 checkpoints and was about 2 kilometers long, definitely runnable.  Having some basic map-reading skills already, it seemed to me that the compass was superfluous, as trails were clearly marked – this was confirmed by one of the volunteers.
Orienteering 101
Munchkin is nothing if not extremely competitive, so he was eager to get going and be the first to finish, but alas we were relegated to third starters. As the first group jogged away, followed by a second group with a member that had done orienteering before, things did not look good for us. But, like the Energizer Bunny, Munchkin keeps going and going, and  he doesn’t give up unless things get really grim or he has a seven-year old typical meltdown. None of that today, though. We were off.
The first checkpoint came up much faster than I expected, which made me realize I’d have to adjust my estimates of distance between points. Munchkin asked that I draw the animals from each point, but I elected to write the 2 letter codes instead, already breathing heavily from our stint down the trail. By the second checkpoint, we had the group ahead of us in our sights, and it was all I could do to hold Munchkin back. By checkpoint 4 we had caught and passed the first group, and then it was our dust they chewed on for the remainder of the route. Well, not really – we ran so fast we left everyone far behind.
Even though I could tell where we needed to go based just on map reading alone, I tried to get some extra practice in by orienting us to the map via compass and finding the bearing for the next checkpoint. I probably did this 5-6 times, so it was a decent amount for such a short course.
It was a blast being in the woods with Munchkin, sprinting along, sometimes falling over tree roots, occasionally marveling at the depth of the mud on the trail. The checkpoints made convenient targets and it kept Munchkin moving forward. We saw sections of Waterfall Glen we’d never visited, which is always a good thing. Orienteering was a lot of fun and something I’ve wanted to do for a long time, so I’m glad I not only got to try it, but had such a great time with one of my kids as well.

6 thoughts on “Orienteering 101

  1. This sounds like such a great time. Jacob is way competitive, too. In fact, we're hopefully doing a local O meet on Saturday, and since it's the day before Skippo I only want to hike it (the only way Jeff will agree to go anymore, anyway). The boy is not pleased with the plan. “If we can't run it, what's the point?”

    Probably 80%+ of our races the nav is by terrain features, but the compass can really come in handy when you need it!

  2. This sounds really fun! I want to learn more about orienteering. I would love to do some sort of adventure where I get dropped off in the woods and have to find my way home. First, I need the skills! Ha ha!

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