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WCOC A Meet -- Day 1
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[After writing about my recent orienteering and reviewing the official results, I hesitated to post. It seems vainglorious for the worst orienteer in the woods to blather on about the experience. However, I suppose I'm not the only person who loves doing something he's terrible at and I think it is good to give yourself permission to do such things, not to cut yourself off from activities you enjoy simply because you can't master them. As long as you aren't laboring under any pretenses, that is. Then too, someone just beginning to orienteer, and discouraged by their results, might take some encouragement from reading this.]

My first orienteering of the year was the Western Connecticut Orienteering Club's "A" meet. In recent years, my distance from any local club and a bad back have kept me from attending a reasonable number of meets or doing any physical training, but I still enjoy being out in the woods, navigating by map, however slowly and inexpertly. Plus, there is always the possibility that I may finally learn something about orienteering technique I never managed to grasp while running as fast as I could through overly familiar parks, back when I discovered the sport. At least that's the long range plan.

When last seen in an O suit, I was stumbling out of the glaciated terrain at Mendon Ponds Park in Rochester, NY, dead last, despite my having run in dozens of local meets there, and my "competing" on Orange, a step below my Green "A" course. I did not take it as a good omen seeing a rooster strolling about the lawn upon my arrival at Osbornedale Park in Connecticut. Except that it was walking and still had its head, the chicken reminded me too much of my usual orienteering methods.

The park is small but practically all open woods and complicated rock features and lent itself perfectly to the first day's short course format. The majority of my controls were boulders of one sort or another so it was very much a matter of searching for a boulder amid boulder groups, cliffs, rock faces and stony ground, not to mention stone walls. I had spent time during the winter reading O blogs from elite orienteers Mike Eglinski and Randy Hall and studying the maps and routes posted by them and by all-time American great orienteer Peter Gagarin. (Here are the the maps and Peter's courses. )

Looking at their maps, I realized that due partly to timidity borne from lack of confidence, practice and poor physical conditioning, I had essentially stopped orienteering and had begun to mostly wander about on trails with little thought for anything aside from enjoying the woods and not getting lost. My idea was to eschew trails for once. A short course, in a park surrounded by residential streets, at a time of year when lack of vegetation makes it easy to see the terrain, seemed an excellent place to start. The informal start procedure employed also helped since the somewhat complicated manner in which orienteering races are typically begun at "A" meets doesn't do my nerves any good.

I won't bore you with details. My progress was painfully slow. It is one thing to recognize, on a map, reentrants, hills, subtle depressions and scattered cliffs that might look like a blazed trail to an expert orienteer. It is another thing entirely to see those mapped features in the big reality of the woods. Ah, but spotting the first brilliant red O flag of the year perched by a black boulder on a hillside covered with brown leaves....of course, once I'd stopped to admire it I had to continue looking for the correct control.

I did manage to stick to my plan and to keep the controls in front of me -- rather than the old run past and look behind myself technique -- and barely saw a path. Unfortunately this included the path the last control was on, which I inexplicably crossed without noticing, as if costing myself ten minutes at that point made any difference.

It would be nice to report a resounding triumph. Unfortunately, I don't seem to be living out a TV Movie of the Week. The reality is I took longer on the short course than I should've taken to do a regular course, and finished nearly last in my Orange Open category. Still, I finished almost last while actually orienteering. Something I hadn't done for a long time, if ever. And there was always Day 2.

More tomorrow....

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