A map, a compass, a set of lungs and a pair of legs. Few sports offer a better combination of smarts, sweat and strategy than orienteering.
As I sprinted along a trail in Pacific Spirit Park Sunday morning, I realized little else had ever engaged my body and brain like such a choose-your-own-adventure race. Also known as keeping your eyes on the orange prize, orienteering tasks racers with locating controls, the bright orange markers attached to small electronic and paper-punch tools to record their achievement of knowing exactly where they are in the wilderness.
The Greater Vancouver Orienteering Club held its first race of the winter season, the Pacific Spirit Park Score-O this weekend. Snow dusted the trees and the sun was shining. It was a beautiful January morning to run around in the woods.
Orienteering always appealed to me because it's trail running that takes you off the trail. In a public park and dense rain forest, however, organizers keep controls close to marked paths and discourage racers from bushwhacking. A Score-O tracks points based on the total number of controls a racer reaches within a time limit. For a beginner like me, it was ideal.
Map in hand, compass strapped to my thumb, I saw a coloured, topographical map of a place I thought I knew. Once I committed to a route and quieted my thinking to little more than, "Left at next junction," or, "Cross trail, first right," the process was mechanical and my reward meditative. I pushed ahead at a fast clip, legs and arms pumping as I searched almost mindlessly for landmarks and gauged distances. Then, my senses did something really strange. I could focus on the few inches where each footfall landed but could still take in everything around me, overhead and to my periphery. With my primitive hunt-and-gather blinders on, I still smiled at dog walkers.
Oh, did I mention I'm competitive? I made one (huge) mistake and missed two controls that cost me a second-place finish among the women. I can't wait to do it again. Louise Oram, the Canadian national champion, was one of only two racers to reach all 30 controls in two hours. In one hour, I reached eight.
The club trains regularly Wednesday evening and schedules races monthly. For more information, visit gvoc.whyjustrun.ca.