This part is written so that those who have not heard of orienteering would get a feel on what it is. If you already know this, you may skip reading this part.
I would use the following analogy to describe orienteering: it is like a treasure hunt with a map. The map has all the locations of treasures marked. Your goal is to find the treasures as soon as possible, since other people also have the same map and compete with you. In actual orienteering, these treasure locations are called “control points”. You will not see treasures in these control points, but you have to prove yourself to be there by some kind of check-in (e.g. punch on a record paper at the control point, or use some electronic card system). After that, you will try to go to another control point as fast as possible.
Orienteering, therefore, is a race that requires both physical and mental skills. Since orienteering is usually organized in forest areas, and an orienteering race course is usually between 2 to 9 km, one has to equip with physical skills on how to run long distance in a cross-country style. Yet, orienteers also need to know how to read map and know where they are in the map, which takes mental skills.
Orienteering is very different to scavenger hunt. In a scavenger hunt, you are only given the names of locations to go but you may not know where it is, not to mention that you also need to pick up something that is location independent. On the other hand in orienteering, the locations marked on the map provide you specific goal to reach. The goal is to find a route between control points that uses the least time. In most orienteering events, the order of control points to be visited is fixed, so the rule of the game boils down to “who can run the fastest and choose the fastest route”.
A typical orienteering event can take as little as 15 minutes to finish, or as long as 3 hours, depending on the course length and people experience. Therefore, an orienteering is not similar to hiking and camping at all, which usually take days to do. Orienteering is more like a race.
2. The event
This orienteering event was organized 3 days after I came back to the U.S. Therefore, my jet lag was still not fully adjusted at that time. I was in Hong Kong and there were 13 hours time difference. I was with another friend, Tony, to participate in this event. We took a 2-hour bus ride to Chicago and then took several forms of public transportations to get there. There was a story on the way to the location of the event, but I will mention this later. It was a clear and nice day to do orienteering.
At the event center, we waited on the line to pay, get the map, and get the e-punches. The event center is the place where you pay and get the map. The event center in Chicago is also usually where the orienteering race starts and finishes. The e-punch allows the runner to prove that he/she has visited the correct control points. I also had a new compass that is specifically used for orienteering. It is a thumb compass and I can hold the map and the compass with the same hand. Thanks to Jessica for helping me to find one! It is really useful.
This event is a score-O, which means that the runner had a time limit to collect as many points from control points as possible. It is not required to obtain all the control points and, in fact, the course is set such that obtaining all the controls is a very difficult task to do. Being late would incur serious penalty of point deduction. In this event, we signed up for 75-minute time limit. There were 30 control points, with points from 1 to 3. Controls with higher points are usually hard to find or far away from the start/finish point. For each minute of being late, a 2 point deduction was incurred.
The map is shown below (hopefully it is clear enough to read). I also draw my route on the map. The split time is also attached. Note that the start/end point is marked by two concentric circles (finish) plus a triangle (start). All controls with numbers in the 30s have 1 point, 40s and 50s have 2 points, and 60s and 70s have 3 points.
6/6/2010 Score-O event in Country Lane. My route is indicated on the map. (Note: I would be willing to remove this picture if posting this infringes copyright
My split time for 6/6/2010 event in Country Lane
This was my first time to do score-O inside a forest. Moreover, I was in a jet lag mode. Therefore, I planned not to run too much and tried to visit as many closer points as possible. Since this event was more casual than formal competition, we were allowed to read the map before we started. After I read the map for a minute, I decided to not take any points across the road (control 63, 64, 66) because 1) they are too far away 2) according to the event center, directly crossing the road is not allowed, and there are only two crossing points: 1) the major trail near control 52 (north crossing) and 2) a water tunnel near control 64 (south crossing). To cross the south crossing, the feet must get wet. I think there is a lot of hassle to cross the road, so I prefer forgetting those controls.
Another two controls: 68 and 69 were too far north for me to get there, so I forgot those points, either. Therefore, I would miss many 3-point controls.
The rest of the controls were fair game to me. My plan was to try to sweep all the points in the south side of the map, seeing that most of the controls were there. Then I went north up to control 52. Then, I can use the major trail to get to the northwest side of the map (e.g. control 53, 67, 70). If I had time, I could also go to the southwest side of the map (e.g. control 42, 43, 57). I also had backup plan if time ran short. The trail after control 52 should be easy to identify to get me back to the start/finish (approximately control 52 -> 53 -> 38->finish).
All of the above took me about 20 seconds to figure out. In the other 2 minutes I was thinking in what order I should visit the points. Since I was able to completely execute my plan on the south side of the map, you may look at my split time to find out what order I used to visit the controls. In the end, I did not have time to visit the northwest and southwest side of the map. I also missed control 51, which I intended to visit before I got to control 53.
Reviewing my result, I knew that I got lost from control 31 to control 44. I ran to a small water channel and realized that I ran too far east from the control 44. Then, I was greedy with the control 64, the 3-point control on the other side of the road. Thinking that the control was just next to the road, it might not hurt to get the 3 points. Yet, the crossing area was really an underground water channel. Since I did not want my shoes wet, I removed my shoes and socks and ran across the water with bare feet. Then, I found that I spent significantly amount of time to find the control with bare feet. If I forgot about this control and spent the time on other controls on the north or northwest, perhaps I could get more points.
Near control 52, I found that I had less than 20 minutes left. Seeing that I had some difficulty in finding this control, I skipped it and ran straight to control 53. However, after control 53, I felt that I might have some time to get control 60, a 3-pointer. Two minutes before the allowed time, I also got control 35 that was near the start/finish. Therefore, I perhaps could do a little bit more in the last 20 minutes.
Before Tony and I started, we were debating whether we should sweep the controls clockwise (start at southwest side first) or counterclockwise (start at south side first), since we chose different approach. At the end, I did not have enough information to say which way was better, since Tony did orienteering casually. I would provide the following link on how others do the course. The software is RouteGadget and it may need some time to learn how to use it. Yet, it did describe how other people did the course.
I enjoyed the course overall and I was satisfied that I could come back on time. Other than the mistakes that I mentioned before, I thought I did well when the day time was still felt like a nighttime. Yet, this orienteering did help me to adjust the local time faster.
How we got to the event center and how we left
It was the first time in my life to sit in a police car to the place that we would like to go. Our original plan was to take the bus to a major road (LaGrange Road, US-45) and then got off and walked another 2 miles. However, the bus did not stop at the expected place and the bus kept running until it stopped about 5 miles from where we were going. Unless we called a cab, we would have to walk a very long way to the event center. Then, we saw some police cars stopped at a parking lot, so we thought about asking them to give us a ride. They were nice and gave a ride, so I had the experience in sitting inside the police car. Sitting at the back of the police car was actually quite uncomfortable, since the seats were hard.
After the event, a guy was willing to take us to Chicago train station, so going back to downtown was relatively easy.
Looks like I had to reconsider if I should get a car.