Orienteering offers a unique way to explore the woods

You will get lost. It’s part of orienteering, a race where you have to read the wavy contours of a map and navigate your way through natural terrain until you find a sacred “checkpoint”, then go in search of another.

You will be perplexed, looking at depressions in the earth and rocks, wondering where you have wandered off. Beginners can find their way in minutes. Experts will only need a few seconds. They developed that strong mind-map connection, says Thurston Miller of Granger, who got hooked on orienteering as a grad student in 1988 and now takes his wife and four kids to competitions around the Midwest. . The couple even led a 10-session sports class to 32 homeschooled kids in Granger last spring.

The fall season started last week. The sport is huge in Europe, says Miller, but there are orienteering clubs in every state where members will eagerly teach you. All ages participate, and families are especially welcome.

By the time Miller’s kids were 9 or 10, he had them read maps and lead the way as mom and dad followed, nudging their kids, “Do you see the rock? Do you see the telephone pole? ” They would even bring a lunch to enjoy halfway. “It’s not about winning,” Miller says. “It’s about being on the course.”

If a course is well laid out, he adds, the winner may not be the fittest or the best map reader. He is the one who uses both skills well.

Science teacher Amy Evans takes her students to the grounds of Milford Middle School, between Goshen and Warsaw, for an orienteering run in the fall and an adventure run in the spring. Yes, you will find orienteering elements in local adventure races. But you don’t need any special equipment for orienteering, she says. Just a decent set of walking/running shoes.

“Some will stay on the trails, some will bushwhack,” she says. “I’m a bushwhacker. I’ve been in the swamps longer than I should have. …I think I’ve caught poison ivy five times this summer.”

It is not mandatory. In fact, most clubs offer a 2-kilometer beginner course at their meets, with checkpoints near the trails, Miller says. More advanced runs venture off-trail and through terrain.

To get started in the sport, you just have to find a meeting and go there. Come early so you can ask questions. The race director will be happy to help newbies read the map, says Miller, who belongs to a few regional clubs and has served as race director. Indiana Crossroads Orienteering in central Indiana hosts a beginners clinic on basic map and compass skills before each meet.

No, you cannot use your smartphone or GPS. Just the map and a compass. Small, unobtrusive runs will allow you to study the map first, says Miller. In major competitions, runners only see the map when the race begins. And some races give you coordinates that you have to plot on a map yourself. Checkpoints have an electronic or physical stamp to prove you have reached the location.

A few orienteering races involve canoeing, mountain biking and cross-country skiing. Closest for skiing would be near Marquette, Michigan, and Minneapolis. And there are permanent orientation lessons within a few hours of driving, which are convenient for practicing on your own at any time. Miller warns that it’s possible for checkpoints to disappear, depending on how regularly the course is maintained.

Autumn maze, eagles

The first day of fall arrives on Tuesday, but the activities have already started. The same goes for the first hues of color, which are best found by water – think intimate settings like the boardwalk leading to a wetland at Spicer Lake Nature Preserve in New Carlisle or the small lakes in County Park. from TK Lawless to Vandalia.

Potato Creek State Park (with a large lake) in North Liberty mowed a path for its prairie maze. Ideal for children. Strollers with small wheels will struggle on the bumpy terrain since the high meadow is planted on a former cornfield. I posted a map of the maze on the Outdoor Adventures webpage.

Bald eagles have been seen at Potato Creek in recent weeks, and naturalist Tim Cordell tells me, “We expect them to be regular visitors over the next few months (until spring). … Eventually, a couple will stay and lay eggs. an egg. They did everything here except that.

Ospreys have started migrating south, but he says some are still in the park – and some may stay until November.

cyclo cross

RunUP Cyclocross’s annual four-race series begins next Sunday where anyone can race if they have a cyclocross or mountain bike. You’ll race on mountain bike trails, doing as many laps as possible in a 30, 45 or 60 minute race. In that order, they will start at 11 a.m., noon, and 1 p.m. There’s always homemade food, like chili, to eat afterwards. Helmets are mandatory. The schedule is Sept. 28 at Madeline Bertrand County Park, Niles; October 12 at Kindleberger Park in Parchment, Michigan; October 26 at TK Lawless County Park in Vandalia and November 2 at Bendix Woods County Park in New Carlisle.

It costs $20 for one run and $5 for a second run on the same day. Arrive early to register, pay, and take a practice ride. Find RunUP Cyclocross on Facebook for updates.


How about a beautiful and epic 100-mile ATV ride on ATV trails and roads between Potato Creek State Park in North Liberty, Bendix Woods County Park in New Carlisle, and Rum Village Park in South Bend? Or a 50 kilometer course between Potato Creek and Rum Village?

Do either on a Saturday in the NIMBA Tour, which the Northern Indiana Mountain Bike Association uses to show off the trails it maintains in the parks. The ride will begin at 10:00 a.m. from Potato Creek. Food and drink will be provided at the parks on the course. A celebration will follow. The cost is $45 (or $35 if you are a member). Register on nimba-bike.org

Outdoor Adventures author Joseph Dits is at www.southbendtribune.com/outdooradventures, 574-235-6158, @SBToutdoors, [email protected] and www.facebook.com/sbtoutdooradventures.

Milford Middle School student Mason Gray checks the checkpoint during an orienteering near the school.  (Photo provided/AMY EVANS)

• Indiana Crossroads Orienteering: indyo.org. Based in central Indiana. Clinic for beginners before each competition. The club’s schedule is also tied to fixtures in Ohio and Kentucky.

• Southern Michigan Orienteering Club: michigano.org

• Chicago Area Orienteering Club: chicago-orienteering.org

• The Cincinnati Orienteering Club will host a youth training day with classroom and outdoor sessions on November 29 in Oxford, Ohio. Monitor location and details at ocin.org/schedule/schedule.html.

• United States Orienteering: us.orienteering.org. Click “club info” to find clubs across the United States

• attackpoint.org: online community for almost anything orienteering related.

• Yankee Springs Recreation Area south of Grand Rapids, Michigan. The map is available from the Southern Michigan Orienteering Club. Send a $6 check to SMOC at Mark Voit, 1774 Spring Lake Dr., Okemos, MI 48864.

• Morgan Monroe State Forest in Martinsville, Ind. Map at in.gov/dnr/forestry/4816.htm

• Hoosier National Forest at Story, southwest of Nashville, Ind. Call 866-302-4173 for a map.

Found at southbendtribune.com/outdooradventures:

• Three videos show you what orienteering looks like for families and expert runners, including mountain biking and ski racing.

• Please share your photos of early fall colors – and any ideas for enjoying the colors – with Outdoor Adventures via Facebook, Twitter or email. Let’s follow the fall together!

• Ride Indiana riders posted photos of their stop with military vets at the University of Notre Dame on Facebook.

Dino J. Dotson