The sheets rustling woke me before I heard him mutter, “Need to leave in 30-40 minutes.” He got up like it was no big deal. ‘Don’t fight it” I encouraged myself, just get up and go. Once you’re up, you don’t dread it as much as you do while you’re still snuggled in the warm nest of sheets. I heard him put the dogs out and made myself get up and get it over with. Just like always, the anticipation of getting up was way worse than the actual getting up. I dressed quickly in Capri style sweats, and a long sleeved athletic type shirt. I threw on my light hikers and wandered to the kitchen. I felt a bit of nerves twittering about inside because frankly,  it’s been years since we’ve gone to an O meet. For the uninitiated, an O meet is an orienteering meet. Orienteering is not really an American staple sport. In fact, most of my friends just cock their heads a bit sideways and look at me when I say it. The sport is quite big in Europe and even in Canada where there are events just about every weekend!

The Thinking Sport
The Thinking Sport
So, what exactly is orienteering? They call it the “thinking sport.” Well, it’s a sort of Easter egg hunt, a scavenger hunt of sorts where you use clues (which are points on a map) and your compass, the old fashioned kind, you know the one you hold in your hand with magnetic north and all that, not the app. You are given a “point sheet” which is where you’ll prove you found all the points by punching a corresponding spot on your sheet with a special hole puncher. Each point has one hanging from it, and they punch unique patterns on your card. To be truthful, it’s been more than 10 years since my hubs and I participated. I really don’t remember much about how to use the compass. Two months post knee surgery had me doubting my sanity anyway. It’s all out in brush, off road/trail and not smooth sidewalk style hiking. I love it, don’t get me wrong, but I’ve not hiked since surgery. We chose to sign up for the “map hike” the non-competitive division where it’s not against the rules to run the course together. Run, well, we weren’t even gonna run.
Because we were running, not literally, though most people do run between points, the intermediate level course, we knew we could expect to have to bushwhack (pretty much like it sounds, going cross country through the bushes and, in Texas, the cactus) at least a little and we’d have to really search for some of the points. I quickly realized how soft and out of adventure racing mentality I’d strayed. I showed up in knit sweat pants like a newb. Not only would they, and boy did they, catch on every thing with thorns (which is damned near everything), but because they were cute Capri style, my ankles were bare and vulnerable. My knit top was no help either. Did I bring a hat to bully through the branches? Why no, I did not. I did, however, have the forethought to bring sunglasses, but before I pat myself too hard on the back, I always bring sunglasses… Texas, duh. I’d forgotten that even in the shade of a stand of cedar trees and undergrowth that sunglasses will protect your eyes from all those nasty branches and twigs and bugs. Prepared was I? No. However, mentally, I’m stubborn and I do like to finish what I start battle torn and bloody or not… recently operated on knee screaming, or not.
The first point seemed really close, and it was, but it was at the bottom of a cliff face (had to figure out how to get down there with a gimpy knee without dying) and to use the terrain clues, bend of the creek etc… to find your way to the point. It didn’t hurt that those obnoxious and noisy teenagers found it right before we did and helpfully yelled to their friends. We were going that way, and would have found it, but their antics kind of annoyed me. They were

A lovely view
A lovely view

doing the competitive part. They just told all their competitors where to find the first point and took a bit of fun out of it for us. My hubby is a great navigator, he’s got the luck of the Irish motherland, but he’s also just damned good at it. I tend to get distracted by bugs, heart shaped cactus, cool rocks, plants and annoying teenagers, so as you can imagine, I let him lead. It’s definitely not a bad view in and of itself walking behind, just saying.

Back when we were in our adventure racing hey day, and navigation is part of the race, sometimes for miles and miles and miles and hours upon hours, we’d sometimes hear teams find a point and were so grateful. But, because we were strong navigators, we made up time during that part of the course. (I’m not a fast mountain biker, we’d lose time during that part). I was not much of a runner either during the navigation/orienteering sections, but hubs could really take us straight from point to point. We’d come up with code words, because when you’re out in the wilderness, think 1000s of acres, you have to spread out to find the little orange flags when you know you’re close. So that we wouldn’t tip off other teams that might be in the vicinity, we’d come up with code words or phrases. Maybe it would be the word cactus, I could exclaim, “Ha! Another heart shaped cactus!” or we’d ask if everyone was drinking water. When we’d hear the code phrase, we knew our point was found and we’d head toward the person who’d said it. The night races were always interesting because we could come to the top of a hill, and look for other teams headlights in the dark. Man, those were some adventurous times! I’m grinning with the memories!
Did You Miss the Point?
Did You Miss the Point?

Like most other races, we kept seeing the same groups. It amused me no end the constant chatter and the youthful exuberance with which those kids would set out for the next point. They’d take off running in the direction that one of them would think the point was. Hubs would study the map (no hurry) and grin as they took off so quickly in the wrong direction. We’d set out in our methodical hiking and a few minutes later, we’d hear them coming up behind us, or listen to their confusion in the trees. I think it always surprised them that the old folks kept ending up at the points at the same time because we were obviously slow. At one point, we arrived seconds after a particularly cocky 17 year old boy. He, had called out that he’d found the point, as we walked up and his buddies all came running. After glancing at us he said, “I guess I was one of the only ones to actually find this point.” Oh, how I wanted to laugh and put him in his place, but I decided not to tell him we’d been doing this sort of thing (and way more adventurous things to boot) while he was still in nappies, but damn, that sounded geezer, so I resorted to my “oh, we’re gonna kick his little cocky ass in this thing” mentality.

My knee was fairly good the first couple of miles, really. I tried not to limp, but by mile 3 or so, and in and out of the creek, I decided, the hubs would be doing the climbing and fun stuff on his own. I would stick to the banks for the creek, or the trails as he’d do the real work. He noticed my limp, asked if I was okay and knew that I was in stubborn Suzie, “finish this thing” mode and there was no talking me off the trail. We love being out there, fun objective, or no objective. I love how the trails are so ripe for make-out moments. Just being out there together, it’s just a happy place, a good place for both of us. So glad that some things never change.
His skills as a navigator have not changed either. It gave me great pleasure to run into cocky teenager way down the trail and have him ask, “Are you looking for number 9?” We said that yes, we were on the hunt. He and his one remaining comrade seemed confused and took off, once again in the wrong direction. We very quietly found the point about 50 yards opposite and quietly went on our way. An hour later, many points and miles later, they met us on the trail. “Did you ever find number 9?” I did not cackle or even laugh and point, not in real life, though I was doing those things (and more) in my head. We explained that we had indeed found that point and told them where they’d gone wrong. They never found it! They had to skip it all together. Bawhahaha. Thanks mother Karma! I never said that I was a mature adult, and I doubt I’ll ever make that claim.
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A wee bit over 2 hours and 3.78 miles at Walnut Creek Park in Austin, Texas

We finished up and were in our car and gone before those two made it to the finish line. I hope they made it out and had fun because it really is a cool thing for young people to be doing. I just wish the ROTC leaders would teach them some strategy and etiquette. The hubs and I enjoyed our morning and I loved hearing him say in the car, “that was good to get out and do some of the things we used to do. Our things.” Yes, you Irish orienteering stud, it was! Indeed! Knee is up, bring on the ice.

Click here to find out more about orienteering in Austin. For more info about orienteering elsewhere in the U.S. or to find a club near you, click here.
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