Daniel Boone and I are soul mates. Every time I participate in one of Cascade Orienteering Club’s races in some heavily wooded park in the Puget Sound area, I know exactly how he felt. And it was no different this past Saturday when I walked off the Putney Woods course on Whidbey Island in frustration after having failed to complete the circuit because of the ninth (of 12) marker.
It’s great to know even the legends can get confused out in the woods. I was able to get back in my warm car and pound the steering wheel. I can’t imagine how Daniel Boone pulled off his ventures into the Appalachian Mountains. I even have my reliable compass, my detailed map, and my trusty whistle around my neck in case I really get lost. No idea what Boone had for his Plan B.
Orienteering has been called a “thinking man’s sport.” Maybe that’s why I struggle almost every time I have set off to complete these roughly 5 kilometer (as the crow flies) battles of brains and conditioning. I’m not the best at analyzing the landscape and the corresponding map. I guess too often. And I get bull-headed, convinced I am in the right spot and that the flag marker is just around here…. Somewhere. I just know it is!
Then 30 minutes goes by because I refuse to admit that I’m confused. Or lost.
Orienteering is a humbling sport. Many times I have walked off the course in absolute frustration- right in the middle of my desperate search for a particularly difficult-to-find marker. At those moments, I’m usually having a dialogue with myself about how much of an idiot I am. And the conversation is often laced with far too many expletives.
Yet, when I get home and begin analyzing the results, the miscues, as well as the great stretches that I had as I hacked through salal bushes and hopped over fallen trees, I realize just how much fun this is. I realize how, if I could just minimize the mistakes, I could really get good at this sport. I realize how addicting this sport can be.
It’s at that point that I’m struck by the similarities between orienteering and golf. Both thrive on man’s pursuit of excellence. Both force men and women to face their weaknesses and figure out how to minimize the impact of those weaknesses.
But, make no mistake about it; orienteering ain’t no plush round of golf at the cushy country club. There are no golf carts in orienteering. Or mowed fairways. There's no one pulling up on the 11th marker offering a cold beverage. There is no jovial interaction with other members of your foursome. Heck, there aren’t even any foursomes. It’s just one man against everyone else in an attempt to get done as quickly as possible.
Perhaps there are some other vague similarities. Like in golf, orienteering has a staggered start, every couple minutes another person grabs the map, gets oriented, and then takes off in pursuit of the first hole…. ehhh, marker.
And, like in golf, there are obstacles and hazards in the way as one works toward the next destination point. But the "rough" in orienteering often results in blood running down the legs from multiple cuts. In fact, each step in that heavy undergrowth is a leap of blind faith.
And the markers (the equivalent of golf’s small hole on the green) are often near impossible to see.
That’s the challenge that keeps enticing me back, year after year after year.
It’s the paradox of both orienteering and golf- we love it and hate it at the same time.
Truth be told, I lived in my own version of Bill Murray’s “Groundhog Day” time warp today as I attempted in vain to complete the course at Putney Woods (that does sound like an exclusive golf and country club, doesn’t it?)--- it was something that I had experienced so many times.
Don’t be concerned about my mental health, though. I’ll keep going until I’m too lame to be able to go out there and run through the woods like I did today on Whidbey Island. This really is fun.
And even when I’m not able to bushwhack through terrain listed as “forest: difficult to run (20-60%), fight (<20%),” maybe I could get a golf cart from down at Pacific Power Batteries, convert it to a 4X4, and keep doing this sport of orienteering into my nineties. It wouldn’t be asking too much to have the beverage girl come around, too, would it?
Want to try it?
If any of this sport sounds appealing, the next Cascade Orienteering Club contest takes place in our own backyard -- Lord’s Hill in Monroe -- this coming Saturday. It’s the annual Bog Slog and there are different levels of difficulty for the entire family.
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