Orienteering adventure

“Are you sure you don’t want someone to go with you?”

Adam Williams – Kamloops This Week

I should have known I was in trouble from the way she said it – something ­to the effect of, “Are you sure you don’t want someone to go with you?”

Jackie Bonn, president of the Sage Orienteering and Rogaining Club, had a look on her face I should have picked up on, a blend of amusement and concern.

I was unfazed, though, standing in front of her with my clean and shiny Nike shoes, my Lululemon track pants and a confused look on my face as I held a map and compass in my hands.

She kept referring to me as “the reporter,” which should have been an indication I might be in over my head.

“I’ll be fine!” I said, looking around at the 20 other people who showed up for the event on a chilly Sunday morning.

After all, I’m an athlete, I thought. Doesn’t she know I just ran the 10K in the CFJC Boogie? I can do anything!

I grabbed some tips on the whole orienteering thing from a few of the others milling around the Kenna Cartwright Park parking lot – use the map and the compass, find the checkpoints, insert your little tracking button into the station to record your time and follow along to the finish line.

One man described orienteering as “cunning running.”

Great! I thought. It’s like a big Easter egg hunt! I rock at Easter egg hunts!

(My eight-year-old cousins learned that lesson on the holiday in April. Though they had tears streaming down their faces at the end, they knew my basketful of eggs just meant I was a superior talent. Better luck next year, kids.)

Bonn sent me with another orienteer (yes, I already considered myself part of the family) to find the start line. Before I knew it, I was out on my own. I was orienteering! It sounded so exciting. I was doing the short map, a 2.3-kilometre course with eight checkpoints, which I was told should take between 30 and 45 minutes to complete.

“I was a scout as a kid. I’ve been camping before. This is going to be a piece of cake,” I said to myself as I plugged my tracking button into the station labelled “Start.”

I set off at a light jog en route to the first station, which the map and compass said was due north, about 250 metres away. I climbed a hill, ran around a corner and there, right in front of me, was the first station, a white and orange marker to the left of the path.

Piece of cake. It took me just two minutes and 43 seconds to find the first of eight stations.

I imagined myself running into the parking lot a short while later to shocked looks from club members.

I headed east, as the map indicated the next station was in that direction, and soon veered south into the trees to find the next marker. Maybe it was my growing ego, or the fact I learned how to use a compass all of 10 minutes before, but that’s when my expert orienteering skills began to unravel.

“The next marker should be around this hill here, just a little bit farther,” I said aloud, my breath growing ragged as I climbed ever-steeper hills.

“Yes, just by this tree here.”

Wait. There isn’t supposed to be a power line over my head. Where did that thing come from? I kept walking and found myself on a path 300 metres past where the checkpoint should have been.

I backtracked and tried again. And again. And again.

I fell down, was assaulted by tree branches and was soon covered in mud from head to toe.

My brand-new camera, which I had brought along to keep a visual record of my excursion, hung around my neck like a noose each time I fell. Along with my pride, the park claimed a new lens cap from me in those first few minutes.

After what felt like an eternity, I saw another white and orange marker at the crest of a hill I’d walked by at least 10 times in my period of disorientation. I climbed up to it, ready to plug in my button and move on to a new area of the park, one that I might actually be able to find on the map.

The number on the checkpoint was wrong.

My frustration boiled over as I looked again at my map, not that it was doing me any good at this point. I had inadvertently stumbled on one of the other courses at Kenna that day and stood there looking like a fool as other competitors ran by me.

I backtracked and tried again. On what felt like my 15th attempt of the afternoon – because yes, it was now afternoon – I found the second station.

I plugged in my tracking button and moved on to No. 3.

It had taken me 43 minutes to find that second checkpoint.

With my ego handily in check, I continued. After walking past it a few times, I found checkpoint No. 3 – 10 minutes. I moved on to checkpoints four, five and six and started to figure the whole thing out – apparently, checking the map regularly helps. Using the compass more than once every 20 minutes is also key.

My times between stations improved, I felt less disoriented and, dare I say it, I was even having fun.

Before I knew it, I was strolling into the parking lot, having just checked into stations seven (which some smart aleck put at the top of what felt like Mount Everest) and eight. It was time learn the outcome of my first experience orienteering.

Seventy-nine minutes and 32 seconds – so much for impressing all the competition.

Despite walking in circles for nearly 40 minutes that day, along with the crushing realization I would have failed miserably as a contestant on the show Mantracker, orienteering was a hell of a lot of fun.

I came out of the forest that Sunday, filthy from head to toe and sore, but with a giant smile on my face. I had done it! I found the eight markers! It was the joy of the Easter egg hunt all over again – without the crying children.

As I got into my car, I thought about taking part in the next event – the Sage Stomp, this Victoria Day long weekend, on Saturday, May 17, and Sunday, May 18. After all, I’m practically an expert now.


However, if my foray into orienteering is any indication, maybe taking a partner wouldn’t be such a bad idea next time.