Sunday, 27 April 2014

MelBushO - Under The Flightpath

MelBushO season is here again, the first event being a 45 minute trip to the airport and the gentle slopes of Woodlands Park. If you get lost, look up and head for the roar of the jet engines. Sundays seem as busy as ever – is nothing sacred?

We navigate to orienteering registration and then retreat to prepare for action, Pat on the C course, me on the B. Paul tries to shame me onto the A course but I resist. He was right of course. These events are designed to be simple for newcomers and organisers. I will appreciate this in June when it is my turn to produce an event.

A benign area, electronic punching, a colour map and split start times. Proper orienteering at its best. I trot off down the track towards my first control, remembering this same leg from 2006, which was my first orienteering experience on Australian soil. What happened to those eight years? The fence appears on cue and I head up the hill to my second control. Is this getting steeper or am I getting older? Don't answer that. A path appears ahead – not what I was expecting at all. This map/compass/control is wrong. Later analysis of my gps trace shows none of these to be true. After thirty years of practice, I have lost the ability to follow a compass bearing. I turn left and find my control, heading off downhill as parrots overhead hurl vocal abuse.

I hesitate at control 3 in the low visibility but eventually trip over it and press on to 4. A woman walking her dog looks at me in alarm. Do I look that bad? Probably. The route to 5 then 6 follows the fence as the sun smiles down on me. A mob of kangaroos bounces away in alarm as I approach. A sentry hangs back to observe me but I avoid eye contact. It's a bit jungly and slower going near control 6 but soon I head off up the hill, following the red line towards my next challenge. A towering rock keeps me on course as I spot the flag long before my body can get me there. A fox charges across the open on a mazy defensive run. Over the hill and down the other side. I do like downhill finishes.

My watch measures the journey as 5.4km with 70 metres of climb in 40 minutes. The openness of the area means that I am able to redline most of the course. I'll settle for 7.4 mins/km. Now, if only I could run up hills, but I'm not a young man. Paul was right though - I could have done a bit more. Maybe the A course next time. Pat returns from her course in triumph, recent orienteering walkabouts on this area but a distant memory. As we change, we count the planes takeoff and land, then head home for lunch. A great morning out.

Tuesday, 22 April 2014

Easter Orienteering 2014

A long-awaited trip to New South Wales for Easter weekend means three forest events in three days. Much excitement after a diet of street events through the long hot summer. We arrived at Carwell's Labyrinth on Saturday and prepared to compete. Leg protection and sun protection applied, despite start times before 10am.

I set off with confidence to my first control, checking the compass on the way, only to find myself off-course and needing to relocate on the rocks below. Three minutes lost already! All went well after this to halfway round the course. I decided on taking the direct route between 10 and 11, which proved to be steep, rocky and difficult, culminating in a miss at the termite mound. Another two minutes lost. I normally like these hi-viz termite mounds, we could certainly do with some to aid our navigation in Victoria, although NSW can keep the termites. No more significant errors led to probably my best day of the weekend, with only six minutes of errors. 

Lessons learned? Well, I'm definitely too slow through the rough terrain. My time of 55 mins compares well to the top-10 time of 45mins, but I do need to perfect the technique of run-stop to read map-run. With such rough terrain, it is very difficult to read the map on the run, without tripping headlong. Sticks and stones may break my bones, and it's surprising they haven't.

The highlight of the day was the iced coffee after my run which was most welcome. Reviving and refreshing on a hot day. After coffee time, he headed for some retail therapy in Mudgee, an hour's drive away. We stopped for lunch overlooking the scenic Lake Windamere. It's easy to see how it got it's name, although the spelling gave rise to much discussion. In the supermarket, we saw a man still wearing his orienteering kit, complete with competitor's number. Either he was clutching a shopping list or he still had his map.

Sunday and Monday were essentially the same area so there was little contrast in terrain type, which would have been nice. An definite improvement would be a Friday championship sprint event, rather than the mishmash of elite-centric prologue courses.

very good video of the Monday event at Prosser's Reef, which gives a flavour of the weekend, can be found at

Tuesday, 1 April 2014

Never Trust a SatNav

A trip to Beechworth in the far north-east of the state, found us leaving our accommodation at some ungodly hour to make the trip down to the quaintly named town of Eldorado (pop 287) for Yarra Valley OC's event on the Kangaroo Crossing map. My satnav is extremely stupid however, and delivered us to a gated track in the middle of nowhere, such that we were obliged to reverse uphill for several kilometres. I would like to apologise publicly for the abuse which I hurled at the unfortunate navigational device during the next few tense minutes. Eldorado proved to be elusive, and just as we had declared it to be nothing more than a myth, it emerged from the early morning light to pave our way to the event assembly area.

My course, planned by the ever-experienced Ted, provided something of a shock when revealed to me, namely a long first leg diagonally across the map, with no obvious route. Go straight, or maybe round to the left, or round to the right? Hopping from one foot to the other, I eventually plumped for right, using a track and a rock slab to get me to the first control. Twenty minutes later I arrived. A few short legs were a welcome relief and then another long stretch back towards the start point. As before, I headed south-west towards a track but was persuaded by the confident progress of an orienteer ahead to abandon this plan and head up to the top of the spur before control 5. This was a mistake. Hoping to use open areas before my control to lead me into my flag, I became confused here and stopped short. Eventually I decided to go further but several minutes were lost.

6-7 proved to be my downfall. Following a careful bearing across the creek and up the hillside, I somehow got pushed off course and floundered about in low-visibility scrub until my ever-increasing circles technique, perfected over some years, led me to a dried-up gully with a flag in it. It was mine! However, 6 precious minutes had evaporated on what should have been a fairly easy task. How we like to provide problems of our own making!

All went well after, with a long downhill sequence into the finish. 75 minutes for 4.5km seemed profligate, but others suffered similarly and my result looked respectable at the end of the morning. I changed and went to assist the finish team on dibber download, which was a great way to put names to faces. I can report that the best runners all have two arms and legs, just like the rest of us.

A few hours later, we were in the car and heading back to Melbourne. Should you find a satnav in a bin in down-town Eldorado, I don't want it back.