Monday, 7 January 2008

Orienteering: yay, woo, etc... or, to put it another way: O-a-blog™ (HH, Nomansland Common; MV, Epsom and Ashtead Commons)

I was getting worried that I had de facto given up orienteering. I managed one event in September (LOK's rather fun Ally Pally event [should be in a frame, sorry] - just a little park-O yet irresistible because so close to home) but since then I have not been once. Work, health, the news job, family, music, stress etc have all somehow overcome my (usually quite strong) desire to go orienteering and with each event I missed I felt more concerned that it was getting harder to go back.

(Note to self: actually this last idea - 'harder to go back' - is dangerous b*ll*cks and you know it. Kindly recall this the next time the issue comes up. Thank you.)

Finally, though, I have fought back through the er er maelstrom of er er stuff and, greatly encouraged by my family (bless 'em), have done not one but two events this weekend. I am very, very pleased indeed. I am also wrecked and can hardly walk today but ho hum.

Naturally my performances were not good. I came quite near last (but not last!) in a short-green-ish sprint at the Happy Herts event on Saturday at Nomansland Common. Let's face it, something with a word like "sprint" in it is never really going to be my strong suit and I am currently amazingly fat and unfit even by my standards. However it was so good to be orienteering again, and the place is nice and it was a very pleasant sunny morning so I had a great time. It's a quite small area and the navigation needed was precise, even fiddly, and a good turn of speed would have been useful but hey. I even went to the social afterwards and had mince pies and so on. I felt a bit fish-out-of-water as most people were in family groups or long-established friendship groups, and I am a bit abnormally socialized for a situation like that, but some of the people there are really very nice and considerate and went out their way to include me in conversation. I take my hat off especially to Graham P who is either preternaturally nice, or ditto well-brought-up, or both, and who chatted happily to me for ages as if oblivious of the fact that I am a boring and ignorant old person, especially where orienteering is concerned.

Yesterday was a very nice Mole Valley event at Epsom and Ashtead Commons. I did Green, which is what I often aim for nowadays, and had a wonderful time. It was very muddy in places and very brambly in others but it was an absolutely upliftingly beautiful crisp cold sunny morning in a gorgeous location. Much of the course was in semi-open ground with bracken and occasional trees, mostly deciduous or (worryingly) dead so there was a fantastic green/brown/silver thing going on with a stunning blue sky overhead. I almost wished I had a camera, though I would not really want to slow myself down any more! I made some devastatingly stupid route choices and lumbered round on a lot less than full throttle, but came not too far down the bottom third out of sixty so I do not feel disgraced. One or two controls were really hard to find (note to self or to people looking at it on RouteGadget - 6 in particular) in a way that made me wonder if it was quite kosher but I know so little about procedure that I would not like to hazard a guess. I note, in fact, that I did find even the worrying ones, by dint of very careful navigation (and some luck), so maybe I shouldn't be griping as I've proved it works! Certainly one or two were a notch harder than usual, though, I would say. But I take my hat off to MVOC for the great course, organization etc - all really very good indeed.

It was quite a trek to get down there but I was really delighted that I had made it. It was a great pleasure to be out in such a nice place with such classically fabulous English winter weather and I am very pleased that I did not miss it. I now need to resolve to keep this (and indeed me) going.

Update: I searched on terms like "Ashtead Epsom common dead trees" and it appears that I should not be concerned, but rather celebrating the biodiversity it brings. There's lots of interesting stuff online about the management of this area. I still do not (perhaps just because I haven't yet found the right document) understand why I was seeing so many dead trees - it seemed disproportionate compared with what you see elsewhere - but nowhere that I have seen are people talking about it as a problem so I assume that it's normal and that it's my expectations that are skewed. (It wouldn't be the first time.)

Update 2: oops the bracken is bad, it turns out, and I am not supposed to like it. It limits biodiversity and shades out other species. Or maybe it shades out other species and limits biodiversity. Or something. (Jabnaas.) I wish I had known that while I was enjoying charging around in it yesterday. Bad bracken, bad bad Vogel. Tsk.

Update 3: I was a bit miffed yesterday when another competitor, wearing a shirt which to me very clearly implied that she should have known better, told me the location of a control which I was approaching - number 7 on the map to which I linked earlier. This was a nice control, on a little hill by a path triangle, and I was maybe about 10m away from it when she came blasting out of it at impressive speed (she is, as they say, fit). I'd seen her on the way in and at other controls and knew she was good and probably right, and in any case I knew where I was going. I stood aside to let her through the gap we were approaching from opposite sides and as she went through she said "it's round to your left". I assume that this was meant kindly, in thanks for getting out of her way, and I certainly wouldn't have wanted to say anything negative to her, but to be honest with you I wish she'd left it or just smiled at me. I had, after all, managed the rest of the course and even the half kilometre or so into that control from its predecessor, so it's not like I was necessarily in desperate and immediate need of help. No doubt I do look like a clueless old twit when orienteering, but even so. The whole point, or a very large part of it as it seems to me, is to find these things yourself, and the buzz you get when you do so is considerable. Having someone else help you when you're hopelessly lost and a beginner is perhaps one thing, though really I still think my pride (such little as it is) would require me to try to sort it out for myself; but to be told when you are almost on top of the control just seems a little silly. Like I say I am sure it was meant nicely and at worst was thoughtless (in a fairly pure and non-pejorative sense), but I'd still rather find it, yea unto the last metre of confusion and bramble scratches and tripping over and what have you. I am not furious nor deeply offended over this, just slightly engrumped and a touch bemused. Hmmm.

Update 4: let's end on a more positive note. Last night I got out my Orienteering Box - where I somewhat-OCD-ishly (or is it OCAD-ishly? - arf! - falls off chair laughing at own very bad joke) keep all my maps and results. I updated the three events I've done during this "orienteering year" which I suppose is (or feels to me) roughly coterminous with the academic year. This means that each map is marked with the date (it's not always on the map or obvious) the course I did (ditto, ish) and where I came (my place out of n starters). I have also attached the printout you get at the event (with your individual timings and maybe where you were placed at the time of printing), plus the control descriptions if they aren't on the map. The fact is that I deeply love doing this. I now have a collection going right back to that first Southdowns 3-in-1 event in (I think) 2003: it's reasonably complete: in fact to be truthful I am pretty sure it is complete; I just didn't want to sound that nerdy. It's in chronological order, newest on top, so as you burrow down you are going back in time through my orienteering, ah, career. I just sit there sometimes and browse through them, reminiscing about good or bad runs or lovely places, tricky controls, maybe even things that went well. From looking at the map I even just sometimes sit and remember stuff like how it was finding the place at all, were David or Mum or kids or other family there, or how wet I got, or did Daisy come, or whether I had coffee with me or was there a cafe, or what. I'm reconstructing the whole thing like a little personalized documentary film for an audience of one. Is this very very sad? Tell you what, I don't really mind if it is: I just love it anyway. It's like a treasure box. Large grin. Vogel out.

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