Orienteering requires a map, compass and clues

Normally my walks in the woods are rather insane hikes on whatever path I or my companions choose. I take photos of interesting trees or winter leaves that have refused to fall, which I later turn into drawings.

In short, pleasant outings that solicit the muscles rather than the brain cells.

Sunday I had to think about where I was going and what I was doing. If it weren’t for my colleague Victoria Freile, the perfectly suited outdoor writer for the Democrat and Chronicle, I might still be somewhere in Mendon Ponds Park, looking for the orange and white beacons on the orientation course.

Freile and I attended the Rochester Orienteering Club’s free Winterfest event. We are both newbies to this style of brain hiking. Been there a few times with a friend who has a knack for finding the markers, officially known as controls. But I haven’t done orienteering in a few years and this, like any skill, is degrading uselessly.

But I got a crash course on Sunday morning and I was confident. Freile and I opted for the Level 2 course, having to find at least five of the 12 checks in any order. Depending on our skills, we could expand this to 10 checks in any order.

We had our adventurous spirits. We had our compasses. We had our cards.

But we didn’t have the clue sheet to help us find the commands.

We didn’t realize it until we came across a mother-daughter duo. The pair were on another course, but they had the cheat sheet that described the immediate vicinity of the check.

No wonder we missed the first control we were looking for. At least that’s our excuse, and we’re sticking to it.

Once we finally found one control by matching the terrain we were seeing to the representations on the map, we – OK mostly Freile – navigated to four more in fairly quick succession. She mostly relied on the map as I tried to follow the instructions given to me to orient the map and then follow the line of travel on the compass.

Luckily for both of us, it was winter and there were no leaves to obscure the view.

Our fault, as we have seen (besides not following the clues), was our impatience. As journalists, we have to think on our feet. We have more experience getting our bearings at a news event than in the woods.

We hit five checkpoints and reached the finish line in 77 minutes.

Not bad. Considering we had no idea.

Dino J. Dotson