This morning, Brent and I decided to shake off the rust and head down to Ridley Creek State Park for the last local orienteering event of the season.
We have only participated in a handful of DVOA (Delaware Valley Orienteering Association) meets this past year, and my results have been – to say the least – less than stellar.
Whereas my husband was born with the Santa Claus gene, I really have no innate navigational ability to speak of, and that becomes abundantly clear any time I try to venture onto an advanced orienteering course.
But today, I was bound and determined. I was going to embrace my inner-Santa, or die trying.
First things first, though – I wanted to find a better way to deal with the thick thorny brambles that inevitably come with off-trail travel in Pennsylvania. I had intended to get a new pair of lightweight hiking pants this fall – they provide far more protection than the running tights I typically wear during DVOA meets and adventure races – but I hadn’t gotten to it yet.
“You can wear my other ones,” said Brent.
“They’ll be way too big,” I responded.
“True. But if you roll them up and wear a belt, they’ll be better than nothing.”
He had a good point.
I pulled on the pants, got them sufficiently rolled and belted, and looked in the mirror.
“Well,” I said, “I look like M.C. Hammer.”
The Hammer-ness is actually minimized in this shot - but you get the idea...
But he was right – hammer-time or not, they were certainly better than nothing.
We got to the park and registered, and I headed out on the brown course – the shortest of the advanced distances.
Usually, I find myself woefully turned around as soon as I look at an orienteering map, and it takes me several minutes to get my bearings and slowly make my way to the first checkpoint, gripping my compass for dear life.
Not from today's meet, but representative of an o-map
This time, though, the route to CP 1 jumped out at me quickly, and I began the long run across the park to the first flag, on the far end of the map. I carefully followed the elevation contours and trail features, and made my way to the general vicinity with ease. But I misjudged a turn and inadvertently ended up at the wrong clearing, and wandered for a solid ten minutes before I was able to right myself.
I retraced my steps to the correct field, shot down a small trail, and turned off right where I wanted to be. A minute later, I was punching the CP and shouting in triumph.
Come on, Santa! Let’s go, Santa!
CP 2 came and went, and after a few extra minutes of wandering in search of CP 3, I ran into a friend and we got ourselves to the boulder atop the flag. I peered down from the small cliff, and saw one of these guys waiting for me:
Now it was time for some real fun. There is a wide creek that winds its way through the park that everyone out on an advanced courses was required to cross. We were told that it would be roughly ankle deep, so I was a little bit surprised to find myself up to my thighs as I waded across in the frigid water.
This shot is from a few winters ago, but the conditions were pretty similar today (same temperatures, minus the snow)
It was actually sort of refreshing…
I made it through CP’s 4 through 9 quickly, gaining confidence with each successive find.
There was only one to go. I was going to make it!
I thought that the shortest route from 9 to 10 was relatively straightforward. I just had to bushwhack over a peak and cross two trails. When I made it to the third trail, I would turn right and head straight down to the point.
Piece of cake, right?
I made it to the summit easily and crossed the first trail. I considered turning onto it and following it around to the third one – it was longer but safer – but decided to stick with my original plan.
What a mistake that was!
I made it another 50 meters before I found myself stuck in a nest of brambles six feet high and 30 meters around. No matter which way I turned, I was trapped by the finger-thick lines of thorns that seemed to grow out of the ground and then back in again.
I picked my way through the thicket for a solid 20 minutes, and when I finally made it out, I ran down the nearest trail only to discover that I was exactly where I began – at CP 9.
Utterly demoralized, I turned back around and took the (longer and safer) trail up and over the peak to CP 10, picking up speed as I went. I snagged the point and made it to the finish a few minutes later – my first official finish in the last few attempts.
“How did it go?” asked Brent, who ended up spraining his ankle on his way to the second CP and was sitting at the finish waiting for me. I rolled my eyes in frustration and walked over to the officials to sign out.
So did I find my inner-Santa? Probably not…
But maybe five years of following this guy around in the woods has finally begun to rub off on me…