John and I ran the Black course at the Athens orienteering meet last weekend, my first chance to try a long O-course (John and a few of our friends had run it in previous years). Point-to-point it was 17 km, 41 controls. I decided to try taking direct bearings for the most part, for Barkley training. Both to practice pace count and direction, and also to experience more vegetation than I might if I used my usual strategy of trying to optimize my speed.
As soon as we took off in a mass start with about 20 people, I got all competitive and considered abandoning my "direct bearing" strategy. I had already qualified it in a couple ways - I would go around most water features and I wouldn't go a long way through the woods parallel to a perfectly good trail nearby.
After the first couple controls, John and I ended up in the lead. At about the same time, the course veered away from useful trails for the most part. I reverted back to taking bearings and that started working quite well. Some of the time I'd use a road to get to an attack point and then take a direct line the rest of the way, or I'd take a bearing to a large feature near the control and fine-tune the nav from there.
The woods were mostly wide-open so we could see a long way ahead (and the contours around) and that helped this strategy work. There was plenty of vegetation to work through, lots of little vines and little logs and a few thorns, but it was spread around everywhere so there wasn't a whole lot of incentive to try going around to avoid it. And it wasn't too bad, just enough to get a bit of practice running through the trees.
John took off across a wide field to #7 and was gone from my sight on the way to #8. I was surprised to see him again at #12, then his speed took him ahead again for the next 4 controls. I made a silly error following a powerline, overshooting a drainage by a couple hundred meters because I had expected a side road to be more obvious. When I finally got back in the direction of #17 I thought I heard someone running through the woods away from it.
On the way to #19 I saw John running way ahead of me. He says he waved but apparently I look at my map or my feet a lot so I didn't see that. Leaving #19 I passed John who was heading back to the control.
As I approached #20 down in a small creek, I was startled to hear a bunch of rustling. I stopped in my tracks as a large black pig jumped up out of a pile of leaves. The pig looked around frantically and then took off in a rush, running directly away from me. Whoa, that was cool! Especially the "running away from me" part!
I nabbed a couple more points on the northern map, then took a trail/road to get back to the southern section. As I was walking and eating honey chews and moving my punch cards and maps around, I expected John to come running past but there was no sign of him.
Down on the other half of the course, other folks were going about their normal orienteering day, running in different directions around the Boy Scout camp. I hit several controls in quick succession, then ran west for a ways to get to the final piece of the map. A water refill for my bottle (yay more water!), then it was off to the "little ditch" section.
I did some odd nav to #30 when I decided to aim for the lake and then figure out where I was. Except there was a lot of brush along the shore and it was hard to see anything. So much for that idea. Just as I was wondering exactly how much trouble I'd gotten myself into, I spotted the inlet I was looking for, and #30 was just up from there. Phew, disaster averted.
I slightly overshot #32, again because I was looking for a less-than-obvious side road. I had gotten used to not finding the faint trails, but couldn't figure why I wasn't seeing the larger ones. The succession of ditches between #33 and 34 was fun, steep little jump-downs and climb-ups.
Just a couple more controls around camp, a huge fence to go around (it was ringing a shooting range so it makes sense that this would be one of the fences too big to consider climbing), a couple buildings, then I was running to the finish. First one back, 3 hours and 11 minutes. Sweet!
I had just enough time to get the camera to capture John running in a few minutes later:
He wasn't so excited about his performance, but I thought 2nd place was pretty good.
Somewhere along the way I tangled with a vine and took home a small scratch. Scratches are normal on our legs, not so normal in this location (I didn't even know I had this until someone mentioned it at the finish):
Later that evening we also ran the Night-O for another 16 controls (rogaine style) around camp and down in the little ditch section. I tested out a new flashlight and it worked well. My legs were tight at the start but happily they loosened up and I was able to run well for another hour. A half-decent route selection and no major issues apparently was enough for another win. Unexpected, but I'll take it!
NTOA put on an excellent event last weekend, glad we drove over to try it out.