Orienteering

I opened my eyes and spoke to my cat. “So what do you reckon Mr Mittens,” (yes, really), “Clay Bank West, or seek redemption on Dale Town Moor?”. Mr Mittens yawned luxuriously as if to suggest there was a Third Way that involved staying in bed and going back to sleep. I compromised. Orienteering gave me a bit more time in bed, plus, I had demons to banish.

It was a gorgeous frosty morning in Boltby Forest and I hung my car keys on the dartboard, and filled in the ‘Lone Traveller form’, which always sounds gloriously ominous. I got onto the starting blocks, was given the nod, and off I sped. And for once, surprisingly, sped is what I did. One by one I ticked off the controls, usually finding they were where I expected them to be. My confidence increased and soon it was time to leave the forest and step out onto the moor.

Currently Eighteenth.

Well what a difference a day makes. As opposed to a night. You can actually see stuff. You can see for ever. The daylight was remarkably forgiving in as much that, when you arrived at the control and found it wasn’t there because it was a Gnat’s whisker to one side, the daylight smiled on you and pointed you in the right direction rather than letting you plough blindly on into the abyss.

A couple of minor errors and a bucketful of over-cautiousness later and I was finished. Not Bad. It felt like a good run. I checked my printout. Eighteenth our of Eighteen so far (why don’t they just put LAST). But by the end of the day I was 32nd out of 36. There’s hope for me yet.

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North-East night orienteering championships

It’s a constant source of bafflement to me just quite how rubbish I am at Orienteering. It’s certainly not, as the phrase goes, through want of trying. I could talk to you endlessley and, yes, knowledgeably, of handrails, pacing, relocating, attack points and what have you, and yet, and yet …

So there we were, trundling down the A19, me and 3 fellow Northern Navigators towards Thirsk for the North East Night Orienteering Championships. I had weeks of night orienteering practice under my belt from our regular Thursday night training sessions at Low Burnhall and I’ve orienteered in the dark before, and knew what enormous fun it could be. Oh yes. I asked my fellow faster orienteering travellers what tips they might have for the evening ahead. The answers came quick, fast, and concise. Pacing, Accurate Compass Bearings, and there’d be lots of negative features. Ah yes, negative features. I nodded in what I hoped was an intelligent manner but as it was already dark, my self-conscious nodding was totally wasted on all present. “So, what’s a negative feature, then?”. Well, apparently it’s a hole in the ground. Or a ditch, or a depression, or a pit. Or, a hole.

Soon we were parked, registered, and carrying a large jug of soup and some buns along a track towards the start. 15 minutes later, at the Start, we transferred the soup jug to the Starters and one by one, we made our way into the pitch blackness. I went first, but it wasn’t long before I was being passed by later starters. Sometimes I knew who they were, but only because I recognised their Petzls.

It was really really hard. I tried to tell myself that I was enjoying myself but there was far too much luck and not enough judgement, skill or confidence in my finding of the controls. Out of the forest and onto the moor. What were the choices here? Solid compass bearings and pacing. And when you got to where the control should be, and it wasn’t there, what could you do? Re-locate, identify a new attack point, take a fresh bearing, calculate pacing, and try again. But in the middle of a moor, with the mist down, and no features, where did you relocate to?

I checked the map for control 9. It was in oh guess what, a bloody pit. Who knew? I took a bearing, checked, worked out my pacing, and thought, let’s go for it. I went for it, but it had gone. I stood where Control 9 should be, but it defied me by being somewhere else. In the right place probably. I looked at my watch and realised that there was no way I was going to get round the remainder of course before it closed in an hour’s time. In a sudden flash I realised how I could solve this dilemma.

Once the decision was made it was a simple matter to find a path that took me all the way to the finish. I shrugged off the “Well Done’s” and admitted that I bailed. They said “Well done anyway!”. They were very kind! In orienteering one missed control is an automatic disqualification, so why miss one when you can miss 8, that’s what I say. It was first time I’ve ever given up in an orienteering competition.

Back to the registration area, where hot soup with a swirl of cream was on offer and I was slightly reassured to discover that even the good guys had struggled. Big time. Orienteers far faster and more skilled than me had overshot, relocated and got quite lost. Not as lost as me though. They’d completed the course and finished, including David Aspin who is usually on the other side of a camera taking so many of the great photos that often appear on our website. I heard the organiser ask one competitor whether he’d be back tomorrow to which he replied that he’d be at one of Dave Parry’s races. Clay Bank West. I’d fully intended to be back on Sunday for more orienteering but right now a nice uncomplicated fell race sounded quite attractive.

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October Odyessey

I’ve not written of my orienteering adventures of late. You’d be forgiven for thinking that for someone who orienteers as much as I do that I spend all my spare time polishing my trophies and admiring my medals. But I seem to have had ever such a run of bad luck. It seems to have started about the time I got back into orienteering a few years ago and unfortunately has continued right up to and including the October Odyssey.

to the Start

When the satnav chucked me off the A1 early because of a road closure I found myself looking out the window at a lot of muddy runners being jettisoned out of Newcastle Racecourse, which I realised later was the Stampede in full flow. Some time later I’d arrived at Druridge Bay, found the Start, and was being asked if I had a whistle. Indeed I had a whistle, and a compass, and stuff. And then I started.

clear

I’m an old hand. I know the temptation to sprint away with a determined and knowledgeable expression on one’s face is always a mistake, and consulting the map and finding out where you are is usually a good pre-requisite. I held my nerve, walked slowly from the Start, looked at the map, and worked out where I was. I seemed to be next to a sand dune. Good, good. Now, if I went over this sand dune, I’d get to a flattish bit, then there’d be another sand dune. A bit bigger than the first one. Then there’d be a Clearly Visible Path, with a junction, ah yes, it was all fitting into place. Up over this bit, and the control would be just, over, there. Nope, that wasn’t my control. So where was my control? Behind that sand dune? Or maybe next to this sand dune. Or perhaps in this bunker, beside, well, sand dunes certainly seemed to be involved. The wonderful thing about the sand dunes, was there were so many to choose from. Well this was fun. Sixteen Minutes and 39 seconds later, and almost a phenomenal 200 metres from the Start, I found CONTROL ONE.

Sand and Burdock

This was impressive. Even by my own exacting standards I had excelled myself this time. I wasn’t even out of earshot of the Start and could still hear occasional shouts and cheers as competitors launched themselves into the dunes.

I dibbed and dazedly wandered on. A quick calculation that involved multiplying the number of controls by sixteen and a bit minutes made me think that if I didn’t get my act together it’d be dark by the time I finished. The main features seemed to involve dunes; big dunes, small dunes, weird shaped dunes, and pretty dunes. I was becoming weary of dunes. I looked for some nice linear feature that I could handrail along. Nothing but dunes.

Burdock

But, hang on, there was a nice handrail. I couldn’t be sure, but I think it was called the North Sea. I jogged along the beach for a bit only to be met by a big dug bounding the other way, followed close behind my Mike and Dawn Metcalfe from Durham Fell Runners. Despite realising that I was losing valuable seconds that could make all the difference on the podium between first and last, I stopped for a chat and posed for some photos that demonstrated the remarkable propagation properties of Arctium sp. I mean, your really have got to admire those burdock bad-boys. They’d survive a nuclear blast I’m sure. When they want to get their seed dispersed, they’ll stick to anything. I’m sure there are new plants now growing in my washing machine.

Some time later I crossed the finish line and accepted my printout without a glance. You’d be forgiven for thinking that I was hacked off and demoralised, because that was exactly what I was. Last again. Quite generously last. And I never wanted to see another sand dune in my life.

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Petzl Lake District Mountain Trial

I’m not normally nervous for races. But there are a few that cause me a few flutters. Top of the list is the Lake District Mountain Trial, which I did for the first time last year. The LDMT is an intriguing event. They don’t tell you where the start is until two weeks before the event. And then you don’t know where you’re going until you cross the start line and they hand you a map. Wherever you’re going it’s probably going to involve about 15-20 miles and 8000-10000 feet of climb. Roughly.

this is the view from the Borrowdale Gates Hotel – 3 miles from race HQ – the night before

Last year I finished. Just inside the checkpoint cutoff times. I’d vowed to be fitter and brighter this year for the 60th running of the event, but I felt neither fit, nor bright. Or confident. And the weather was foul. Last night it was lovely, but this morning it was manky.

Roberta dropped me off at the start and I went to registration. Kit Check, which was thorough, had been moved indoors, seeing as how it was tipping down outside. My bum bag and rucksack were pretty light, mainly because I had all my wet weather gear on. The rain looked as if it was in no mood to stop anytime soon. My number was ticked, and I got registered. I collected my dibber, which they prefer to attach to your wrist themselves, and I pinned my number to my vest. I checked and rechecked my kit and waited. My Start Time was 0853. Then an announcement was made that the Start would be deferred for 30 minutes. Great. Another 30 minutes to be nervous.

Saturday Evening, first hints of cloud

I wandered around and bumped into the runner who was in front of me at last week’s Grisedale Horseshoe. He was doing the medium course, as he felt the long ‘classic’ course was too much. This wasn’t helping my confidence, although we would in fact be running on shortened courses due to the weather. So the Classic dropped from 18 miles and 9500 feet of climb to 14 miles and 4800 feet off climb. Sounds quite easy when put like that. I went back into the youth hostel and sat in the dining room. Andy Blacket and Duncan Archer from DFR showed up and I chatted to them for a bit, but mostly I just sat, nervously, waiting for my start.

Just after 9AM a lady walked into the room. She spread her hands and without preamble announced, “It’s off, it’s off. Spread the message.”. And that was it.

This was a whole new experience for me. Not only was I nervous, I was also ready to go. Kit checked, dibber on, number on, mentally and psychologically ready to. I looked around the room and most people were pretty subdued. A bit of nervous laughter and relief here and there, but I think most of us were mentally ready for whatever was out there. I was still feeling nervy, even though the race was cancelled. Very strange sensation.

Sunday Afternoon

You can read the organisers’ explanation for the last minute cancellation on the LDMT website. They really had a thankless task and that must have been a tough decision to make, but I don’t think they had any choice. I’m massively disappointed not to have competed but it’s clear that the decision to cancel was the right one. I still haven’t opened the special edition bottle of beer brewed for this year. It just doesn’t seem right. It’s such a shame that the 60th anniversary of this great event should end like this, but that’s racing.

Cleveland Survival

It was good to see a big turn-out for the 30th running of the Cleveland Survival especially given the uncertain weather. While many events were being cancelled the Cleveland Mountain Rescue website drily observed that the weather for Saturday looked ‘interesting’.

Omit clip points 7 8 9

The weather wasn’t too bad in the sheltered village of Swainby as we were started in little clusters some time between 9 and 10 am. My tactics were slightly different to last year; I didn’t bother marking any checkpoints on my old paper OS map of North York Moors (West) knowing that there’d be bags of time to do it on the hoof.

What a difference a year makes

As it was, navigation was very easy. Too easy. As many of us discovered as we switched off and followed the crowd. On the way to the third control I followed a bold track that sold itself as the green dotted line on my map. It eventually became apparent it wasn’t and a bit of off-piste correction was required to get back on course. Not one to learn from my mistakes I followed the herd to the next control and it became clear that many of us were indulging in collective navigational laziness and a couple of unnecessary barbed-wire fences later I decided it was time to start paying attention.

Head House

The organisers had cleverly designed the course to be on alternating sides of a large folding paper map on a windy day and being used to small waterproof orienteering maps that I could shove down my pants I was struggling with the billowing paperwork. Perched outside in the pouring rain, trying to make myself a sail, I floated upwards to the exposed checkpoint of Swainby Shooting House on Rye Head. The traverse from there across Whorton and Black Moor to the next check point at Head House was barren and exposed. I’ve been out in some pretty wild conditions and had everything from hurty knees to hurty nadgers, but today I had a hurty face. I felt I was being sandblasted with hailstones as I jogged steadily across the moorland track.

Snowy Selfie

The 4×4 bristling with antenna appeared like something out of Ice Station Zebra as I checked in and moved on to Chop Gate and some hot chocolate. Very Swaledale. From here there was a long jog to Cold Moor Cote, then up onto the Cleveland Way. Ho ho! I’d wondered if this might happen. I realised at once who the ‘other’ runners were, but some Hardmoors and some Survivalists were, I think, slightly confused. Our checkpoints were easy to spot; they usually involved macho 4×4’s and big aerials, the Hardmoors checkpoints were far less ostentatious and went on, one assumes, all the way to Helmsley. This didn’t stop me utilizing both race’s checkpoints and nicking a Hardmoors Jelly Baby or two.

In the end I got so diverted, literally, with the Hardmoors event, taking photos and recognising runners, that I missed my turn. I suddenly realised that I had gone way beyond the turn-off for my final control and once more had to take a detour through the heather. Before long I was back in Swainby and having a nice plate of chilli while the Hardmoors guys and gals still had another 30 miles or so to go. It made my (shortened) 22 miler seem a bit pathetic. Still, I was quite happy as I’d not managed to get the training in that I’d have liked and I wasn’t feeling too bad. My time was slower than last year but my position was the same. 55th!

Hot Chocolate at Chop Gate

It’s a real pity that two years on the go that this race has clashed with the last Cross-Country of the season – I don’t know if this happens every year. But if you ever fancy a run with a bit of map reading then this is an event to consider. Navigation is straightforward, and it is a very sociable event. In fact it’s fair to say that solo runners like myself are in a minority; most people tend to walk or run round in chatty groups. If you like Swaledale, you’d almost certainly like the Cleveland Survival.

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