November 1, 2022

Halloween at Grayback Gulch


The orienteering spirit was alive and well, but the Halloween spirit a bit less so. One bright exception was Christy Morris who took the prize of best costume as a bubble gum machine. Sadly, Christy's competition was meager with Bob Didesse stealing second place with his tye-die shirt, claiming to be a 'hippie'. We were fortunate to have a beautiful warm, dry fall day at Grayback Gulch. 

In national orienteering meets, or A-meets, course categories are color coded with white and yellow being advanced beginner courses and assigned to young age groups. Orange is a course category that is intermediate in navigation, but physically more challenging (eg, for older kids), while Brown is navigationally advanced but physically less difficult than orange (eg, for older adults). At CTOC, I believe John Murray developed the Sport course category cater to our large number of members wanting the best of those two worlds - slightly easier than advanced navigation and slightly easier than advanced physical challenges. Short of time and thinking that the venue didn't suit a long Advanced course, I elected to offer only three courses -- Begineer, Sport, and Advanced. The end result was that the Sport category failed in both of those goals -- falling on the advanced side for navigation as well as the advanced side of physicality. Fortunately, the large contingent of Sport competitors mostly consisted of people with the experience and physical toughness to persevere. And, also fortunate, our one newcomer Chaitanya was a quick study. 

The Beginner controls all included treat bags for some of our younger participants. Some of those were shared by the Sport and Advanced courses. I learned at pickup time that it's not just our younger participants who like treats since all of those shared controls had no treats remaining (in contrast to the beginner only controls).  

The beginner competition was close with the first two teams coming in just a minute apart and third place just a few minutes behind. In the Sport category, times were spread across the board as some participants took the competition to heart and others took a little more leisurely wander to enjoy the day. It was great fun for me seeing some very large teams hammering their way in at breakneck speed. 

In the Advanced course, I am calling Kirsten's 2:12 and Karin's 2:15 "too close to call" (a tie). I intended to award them both a little time reduction for my mistakes (explained below), but having already known their times did not believe I could do so without bias. I suspect John also deserves some extra credit for some way that I led him astray (though I was out picking up controls when he finished, so was spared any complaints). I might suggest that if he chooses to take on an Advanced course, that a "warm up" of hour and a half could be problematic. 

Not being familiar with some of the terrain I was planning for the Advanced course and being out of town in the time preceding the event, I chose to be relatively conservative in control placement, choosing locations I believed would be robust against control misplacement. This was to the dismay of at Karin who wasn't happy about a few hilltops in sequence. However, I am also always looking for things that are interesting or new to me in the terrain. I identified this feature on the map (#16). It was a relatively unique pattern of contour lines with a clearing. We are all used to seeing reantrants (usually v-shaped. pointing uphill), spurs (usually u-shaped, pointing downhill), hilltops (circles), ridges (ovals), and valleys (few/wide contours), but this appeared as a large flat area on what otherwise appeared as a spur (or a shallow spur transitioning to a shallow re-entrant, which I called a terrace, which may or may not be correct). A bit unsure, I asked my weekend companion (Katrina, who is better at these things than me) to confirm my interpretation and affirm my confidence that I would be able to distinguish the location and setting the control.

Fast forward to Saturday setting controls. I am traveling opposite the direction of the course (from control #17 to control #16). After already setting most of the controls (and cautiously approaching each from a direction of confidence) and beginning to suffer from a bit of hunger and thirst, I opt to 'follow the contours' to my elusive 'terrace' so I do not have to expend energy going up and down. After traveling what I perceived to be very far and running into a bit of dense overgrowth, I am certain that I must have traveled far enough, but still am not seeing my obvious feature. I finally come across a bit of a clearing and a bit of a flat area (see below) and being, tired, hungry, and thirsty, convince myself it is correct and continue on my way. 

Come Sunday morning, I am feeling less confident and add to my course notes to tell all Advanced competitors (who can handle a little uncertainty) that I am not confident of the control placement. Unfortunately, Karin heads off without me being able to provide this nugget (and thus my desire to award her a time reduction bonus). Kirsten's time reduction bonus was because I accidentally picked up her last control out from under her while she was still on the course. 

On picking up the controls (and traveling in the same direction as the course route this time), I decided to find my elusive terrace. Here it is (perhaps not of interest to those who ran the advanced course, but I thought some Sport competitors might be interested in comparing the photo to the map):

It is a bit more obvious in person, but you can see in these pictures (both taken facing up the hill or NE) that the correct location is more clearly flat (and a larger flat area, matching the map). So, now I know what this pattern of contour lines looks like 'in the real world' and I also know that I am quite bad at estimating my distance following contour lines. And reminded that following contour lines often means traveling a much longer distance than pointing oneself straight toward the next control.

I hope everyone had fun. I know I enjoyed the zen of setting (with my hardy companion Penny) and retrieving course controls. Thanks to Innes for helping me carry heavy things! And for supporting my need for some quiet lonely zen in the woods time. Hope to see you all again next time!


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