Sunday, November 7, 2010

Orienteering: Meramec State Park

An new month means a new orienteering meet and at the largest venue so far--Meramec State Park.  Once again there was a MOJO (Missouri Junior Orienteers) training before the main event.  Today's lesson was on contour lines on the map.  It's easy to tell where the terrain is steep because the lines are closer together.  We also got some clues how to tell which way is uphill and which is down.  The easiest clue is to search for water--on our map the obvious water was the Meramec river.  Closer examination revealed the think blue lines marking creeks emptying into the river.  Since water travels down, we knew the creeks represented the low points on the map and heading toward creeks would be downhill.  Contour lines that form small circles or ovals probably represent the tops of hills, at least in Missouri that's a good probability. 

There were two training exercises this morning as well.  In the first, ten maps were placed on a picnic table, each marked with only the starting point and one control.  The kids were allowed to study the maps as long as needed, but they had to leave the maps on the table and find the controls based on their memory.  This reinforced last month's lesson on using catching features and handrails to hone in on the target area.   Schnickelfritz found a few on his own and then asked me to accompany him as the controls  were further away from our picnic table base.  I wasn't much help in finding the day-glo colored pieces of tape.  At one point we knew the control was located on a switchback on the trail but I started looking one whole turn too soon.  Fritz kept going on the trail and found the control tied around a small sapling.  He also spent the rest of the morning saying "I told you so," to his Mama.

The next exercise was a line course.  The map had a very specific path drawn in red, but no contols were marked.  If the path showed we were supposed to leave the trail and walk around a boulder then we might find a control that wasn't visible before.  We weren't told where the controls were or how many to find.  As we found them we had to remember the letter written on the tape and where they were located (I wished I had brought a pen with me).  As it was we had to walk the path, watch for pink tape, and repeat over and over the letters from the controls we had found and a description of where they were located.  Control M or W was on a boulder, control B was at the base of a impassible rock face, control T was near a man-made object, etc. 

Then it was time to gather for the main event.  The 70 degree weather had brought out a lot of new faces--there were at least two Boy Scout troops and members of the St. Louis Adventurers club.  There were grandparents and families with toddlers in backpacks.  Registration and marking controls on the maps took over an hour.   There were five courses to choose from:  white being the shortest and easiest and the others being longer, more change in elevation, more deviations from marked trails, etc.  We chose the yellow level,  still a beginner course but slightly longer.

Up til now all the events we had attended had a set time limit in which to find as many controls as possible.  Today we  only had nine controls to locate and the winner would be determined by the shortest time.  The teams and individuals took off at two minute intervals from the starting point.  Right away I knew we could gain on our competition because the Boy Scouts just in front of us veered way off course to the left and they were all walking.  When Fritz and I got the signal we trotted (since this was one of the few areas of open ground) to the right and immediately found our first control.  More importantly, we reached the trail head before the troop.

At control #3 we met three boys catching their breath--another group of scouts.  These boys had to have left at least four minutes before us and as Fritz and I started down the trail, they realized we had passed them.  One did ask politely if we were going to be walking of running.  When I answered "Walking" they asked to pass us as they wanted to run.  Their strategy misfired because when we reached Control #4, they were still there catching their breath again.   While Fritz descended into the pit to punch our control card, the boys sprinted down the trail to gain some ground on us again.  This was unfortunate; had they consulted their map they would have realized that the course left the trail here and cut through the woods, crossed a stream, and went to the base of a rock face on the other side.  I don't know if the boys realized their error on their own or heard Fritz and I crunching leaves and twigs first but soon they were on our tail again.  We reached the rock face together and were enjoying a sip from the water jugs left there when the boys heard the other part of their troop walking on the the trail.  They were determined to stay out of sight from these boys lest they give them a clue where the next control was hidden.  We decided to travel together down the creek-bed, which was almost entirely dry.  One boy did manage to slip and get his pants wet.

We continued together to the eighth control--at the mouth of a cave.  Fritz wanted to explore the cave, but I pointed out this was a timed race.  With one control to go, any alliance was broken.  One Scout said he knew where the last control was and the three older boys headed toward the river.  He may have seen a control but he failed to remember that there were five courses going on at once and it might not be a control for our yellow course.  Fritz and I consulted the map again and ran along the roadside to found  Control #9 on a ledge five feet off the ground.  I boosted him up to punch our card.  As I prepared to help him down the three boys arrived--again they were following us, not their map.  I knew we were going to have the briefest of leads.  Fritz and I sprinted towards the finish line 250 meters away.   I handed him the control card and told him to run ahead.  I have to give him credit--he looked behind twice to see the older boy gaining, but he never gave up and ran all the way to the outreaching hand of the scorer.   We finished the course in 34 minutes.

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