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  • Writer's pictureChris Toepker

First Ever: Orienteering

Updated: May 15, 2020

This last week I got introduced to some resident Bad Asses (sorry for the language!), but these guys are really out there Doing It. Just last fall they did one of the toughest races around (

In turn, they introduced me to Orienteering, and there was an event yesterday. I was excited to try my hand and upgrade my skills. The event is run by Florida Orienteering, and to my surprise it was a big event. There are a bunch of local schools and Jr. ROTC groups not just participating, but competing. Happily, there was also a wide group of others, including families and casual folks just out for the morning.

Me? Well, it was my first one ever. I really felt like I had no idea! In the end, I dove in, learned a lot and found my baseline. Next time – I’ll go for time and difficulty.

This time? The group had super simple, around the parking lot courses, for the super young, super new or super timid. I decided I could probably do more than that, but when the registrar told me the upper end “might get you wet,” well, I demurred. I took the course a couple notches down, which aimed for three miles (5K, as the crow flies) but took to heart the warning: “You’ll probably do about double that, actually.” Of course, the distance didn’t bother me. Wandering around in a strange wood did. I mean, haven’t these people ever heard fairy tales?!

So, properly registered, I took my tracker and map, pulled out my pace beads and compass and headed out. The start was easy enough: right at the trailhead. A gimme – terrific! Still, pretty immediately they throw a gotcha’ ‘atcha. The trail dumps out into a three-way crossing, and you quickly have to read the lay of the land, the direction, take a bearing and keep going. Happily, the maps are pretty well marked. Not just a standard topo, but with relatively updated and details. For example, the main trail from the three-way gotcha was marked with deep ruts through the topo indicated uphill. Bingo!

The next post was on that main trail and from there, it was time for the cross country. Slipping across wilds to the next trail (sounds exciting, but it was really only a few 10s of meters!), then heading for post four. Which, truth be told, I never found! If I had been racing, I would have been DQ’d. This was just exploratory, don’t forget.

A GPS track of me looking for Post Four
Post Four: where are you?!

Still, I spent around 45 minutes looking for that marker. It was a relief coming alongside some ROTC types who also couldn’t find it. I was fixed on the map-marked dense underbrush, but could not figure out *which* one the course might relate to. I explored a number of them! Interestingly, things like root stock and deadfall and depressions are marked on the map, which I kept thinking, “surely *this* is it!” Nope. Additionally, there was a “passable rock wall,” noted and at a certain pointed I asked my compatriots: “have you seen that? I mean, I haven’t seen one…in the whole state!” Which at least got a laugh. Then, I doubled back to the bigger trail, found another rutted bit and took a bearing from there. I am pretty sure I was in the right neighborhood, but the same ROTC folks were still tromping around too. So! That was enough for me. On to number five


It was another gotcha, being just off the trail at a cross roads again. The trick here was it was dangling on the leeward side, hidden so you had to pass it and then come back. I figure something like that was going on at number four. Don’t you? Number 6 was similar, so not worth noting.

GPS track of me hitting posts 7, 8, 9
Bingo! Straight shots, cross country

Numbers seven, eight and nine were the most fun. They demanded cross country, and I’m happy to say I took a bearing, calculated the distance (about 500 meters for each) and just wandered off, ultimately striking them each with pretty minimal miss. At "1" at the right, that's where I found post six, then wandered through some thickets, took a second bearing and found the marker next to a woodpecker eaten old stump! From there, I took a bearing, checked it crossing the trail, then stuck out again (at "2") and then on to posts eight and nine.

It’s pretty cool to be in the middle of the woods, not see a single familiar feature and not feel lost at all. Of course, it helps to once in a while see others…whether eager young cadets or grandparents with kids and grandkids…out doing the same thing.

In the end it was a five mile jaunt, taking most of the morning. Terrible pace, but a great mental addition to the physical stuff. Can’t wait to do more!

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