Schnickelfritz and I participated in our third O meet this past weekend. As the weather gets cooler and the vegetation dies down, the events move from municipal parks to the big state parks. Up to now we've just been covering 100 acres or so, today's event was held on over 1800 acres. More controls were hidden off the paths then on, the changes in elevation were much steeper and more frequent.
We began the day with a new training class for junior orienteers. Fritz and three other boys learned tips for better navigation with the detailed maps. A "catching feature" is some object or formation located past the control you are seeking. If you reach it--say, a bridge, you know you need to turn around to keep looking for your target. A "handrail" is a feature that you can follow to guide you in the direction of the control you are seeking--perhaps a fence line or the ridge of a hill. The map the boys studied was a mini course laid oud by their coach. When asked if they wanted to navigate together or by themselves all the boys chose the latter, even my Schnickelfritz. Now the last time my little adventurer wanted to leave me behind in the dust was last year when we explored the Bathtub cave. He was the first (after our guide) to disappear down the hole and the first to scramble out again. There was only one way in or out so I knew he couldn't get lost. Now I was putting my faith in God and a seven- year-old's ability to read a map.
The coach gave each boy a two minute headstart before sending the next in line. Fritz was going last and was really raring at the bit. He must have asked "Can I go now?" five times in those two minutes. I stuffed a whistle in his pocket in case of emergency and was still praying he'd decide he really wanted me to go with him. When he had the green light, he tore up the trail, rounded a bend, and was lost to sight. The coach waited another two minutes before he and I started up the path. We were going to shadow the boys and collect the tape used in place of regular control markers. Somewhere up ahead I heard a voice "Mama, I found the first control!" After the third control we left the trail and started up a dry creek bed. My initial reaction was fear that he was just running up the trail so fast he would miss the turn, but then I caught a flash of red shirt scrambling over a fallen tree. I had to give him credit--the boy can read a map.
We caught up with Fritz on two occasions as our long legs and the coach's familiarity with the course allowed us to travel faster. In both cases Fritz begged for another two minute lead. He was determined to do this on his own. He managed to find 12 of the 14 controls on his own and passed one of the older boys (who had fallen and scraped his knees). When he reached the finish line, my little adventurer was ready for anything. The real event was starting in 30 minutes and Fritz informed me we were going to find all 24 controls because he was "full of energy!"
This time we'd be competing as a team and I wasn't sure I was so full of energy. I began trying to lighten my load as much as possible. Rather than carry around a clunky bunch of keys, I only needed the one to unlock the car. I took a familiar key off the ring and hid the rest in the car. Did you notice I said "a" and not "the" key? When I tried to unlock the car to get a highlighter pen for marking the map I realized I had removed the house key, not the own for the car. Instead of using our 30 minutes to plan our course I spent it borrowing other folks' cell phones trying to reach the Toolman to come with a spare key. He was evidently working with a leaf blower and hearing protection and missed my call. I left messages for him and then Fritz and I joined the others for a mass start. I figured it would take at least an hour for Toolman to get the message and come to the park so we might as well keep busy while we waited for him.
Remember that energetic little man I spoke of just a paragraph ago. After six controls and two miles he wasn't quite so energetic. "My legs are burning!" , "I'm exhausted!" and the ultimate sign of fatigue "I'm going to take a nap when we get home!" We managed two more controls before nature called to Schnickelfritz and it was the type that boys can't do off the side of the path. We headed back to the finish line and the bathrooms. Fritz was at first disappointed at our score, the smallest we've gotten so far. But I reminded him how much more territory we were covering. In the past two events we only found half of the total controls. This time we found 8 of the 10 required for the short course we were running. That's quite an improvement if you look at it percentage-wise.
We've got two weeks to build up our endurance before the next event.