After my dismal compass showing two weeks ago, I was determined to end the year on a high note.
Last weekend, Laurie, Brent, and I traveled down to Delaware for the final orienteering meet of the season (well, really, Bill dropped Laurie off in Delaware on their way back from Maryland and then she spent an hour on the trails making her way to the registration area, but eventually we all found each other).
The initial plan was for Laurie and me to run the intermediate course individually and then, if we were feeling inspired, to team up to take on the shortest advanced course.
Brent brought a book.
When we arrived, though, I’d been sick for 48 hours (with the cold that won’t die) and Brent and I had spent the previous day running and biking around in the woods in preparation for the 24-hour race we’re planning. I didn’t think I had two runs in me.
Before the start, Brent gave me a quick refresher on compass bearings. “The problem,” he told me, “is that you’re combining map orientation, which on its own is really important, and compass orientation, also really important on its own. But they don’t work so well when you mix them up.”
Five minutes and a few practice plots later, I was pretty sure I had it down.
Laurie and I each signed up for intermediate Orange course and walked over to the start, but at the last minute, as we waited in line behind the piles of boyscouts getting ready to set out on Orange, we made a snap decision. We were going for broke. Forget about intermediate. We were going to tackle the advanced Brown course – together.
We got two maps and one punch and when the ding sounded, we beelined into the woods. (Or walked very carefully until we figured out where we were and where we wanted to go).
Unlike last week, from the minute I looked at the course, I could see the lines and contours and features. I could read the terrain and visualize the route from Point A to Point B. I folded my map into a small square as Brent had suggested, focusing just on our immediate section, and set off.
Laurie and I didn’t come up with a plan ahead of time, but after I took the lead on the first point, she picked up the scent for the second, and we leapfrogged each other for the rest of the morning, always checking to make sure we agreed with the other’s sense of direction.
The first two compass bearings we needed to take were due north, so we didn’t realize until the third that I had forgotten the final step of the process: turn the dial so that the north arrows line up and then follow the bigger arrow on the top of the compass. Oops.
I knew that the third one couldn’t be right because it didn’t line up at all with where we were on the map. When Laurie asked me for the degree number and I, for the third time that morning, told her zero, she looked over and realized what was up.
It turned out that I was a master at the maps and Laurie was a wiz on the compass. We made a great team.
We worked our way smoothly from one point to the next with striking ease. I never questioned where we were going or how we’d chosen to get there.
“Next time we should run a course with Brent,” Laurie said somewhere between CPs 5 and 6. “But where he lets us do all the nav and then offers feedback at the end.”
“The thing is,” I said, “I’ve done that a couple times and it’s always gone well. I seem to be just fine when I’m talking myself through it.”
“Problem solved,” Laurie responded. “Just talk your way through it when you’re out on your own, too.”
“And I bet that would solve my other biggest problem, too – getting distracted by other people. One look at the crazy girl talking to herself in the woods and they’d steer clear!”
We found the towpath en route to CP 7 and it was all I could do to restrain myself from doing a little dance. Instead, I ran down the trail yelling in triumph,
“We’re doing so well! I’m so proud of us! We’re doing so well!”
Clearly I’m great at stealth.
Four points later, Laurie and I sprinted into the finish, both still trying to figure out how we managed to stay un-lost the entire time.
All in all, I think we more than redeemed ourselves from the previous week – now if we can only replicate it next season!