Lost looking for something to do? Get Oriented with a sport for everyone

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Orienteering compasses. Wikimedia.
By Mark D. Goodwin

While orienteering, choosing your own adventure has never been easier. Truly a sport for anybody, one can complete a course at their own pace, and at no cost. Some choose a leisurely afternoon jaunt with the grandparents or young ones. Others take the activity much more seriously and complete the courses as fast as they can, sometimes even competing in regional and national-level events.

“I’m nearing 70 this year, and I only race against myself,” said Jim Siscel, membership and permanent course coordinator for Cascade Orienteering Club (COC). “Depending on the park, I’ll have a time I want to meet or beat. But it becomes very competitive among the younger members of our club.”
Course marker.
Photo by Jim Siscel.

The sport, also called rogaining, involves navigating a course of established landmarks, called “controls,” typically in a heavily wooded area. Controls range widely, from natural formations (boulders, dried riverbeds, berms and mounds), to manmade (signposts, flags, or markers). They are usually highlighted by the international symbol for orienteering: a simple two-tone orange and white flag, or painted post, divided diagonally.

Map with controls marked.
Courtesy COC.
Shoreline has two courses: Hamlin Park, adjacent to Shorecrest High School, as well as a larger run at Shoreview Park near Shoreline Community College. The courses, and nearly all of the courses in the greater Seattle area, were plotted and created by Boy Scout troops.

Orienteering seems to be catching on in the area. According to Siscel, COC was recognized as one of the larger and more active groups recognized by the national organization, Orienteering USA. “Our group consists of about 300 members year-to-year, but we usually add a couple each year,” he said.

There is even a youth group run by COC called the Washington Scholastic Orienteering League. “You only need a team of three to enter,” Siscel said.

Checking the map.
Photo by Bob Forgrave.
COC has had little to no trouble with area governments, neighborhoods, or parks departments. “Our people are some of the lowest impact users of park property,” Siscel said. Indeed, orienteers have a keen interest in keeping the parks in as good of condition as possible, so they can use them again in the future.

“I just started [this] winter because it seemed like a fun, and free, way to get outdoors,” said freelance software designer Fred Neeland, 32, of Shoreline. “I found the maps online one day, and decided to give it a try.”

Neeland doesn’t always have time to get out to the mountains for hiking, but enjoys walks through the woods. “I already have hiking boots and a rain jacket,” he said. “[I] print a map, and that’s all I really need to get around Hamlin and feel like I’ve seen the whole park.”

Neeland is not what you’d call an ideal athlete, but is trying to become more active. “I hate staying in one place on a treadmill, and I don’t want to pay for fitness clubs,” he laments.  “I’m proud that I’ve been shaving down my time [on the] Hamlin Park course each time.” 
Punching in at control.
Photo by Bob Forgrave

In his decades of orienteering, Siscel says he hasn’t really seen any serious safety concerns, “Maybe the occasional twisted ankle.” Other than that, the only issues one might encounter while orienteering would be the same for those on a simple hike through the woods: off-leash dogs, distracted iPod-wearing joggers, loose dirt or rocks, etc. Siscel recommends simply staying aware of your surroundings.

When asked if he sees himself competing someday, Neeland said, “Oh, we’ll see. I’m just getting used to the idea. I’ve looked at some other courses online, but I haven’t even bought a compass yet.”

A compass probably isn’t necessary in a park like Hamlin, according to Siscel, but for the much larger Shoreview Park near Shoreline Community College it might be a good idea.

“It kind of reminds me of [the first-person-shooter videogame franchise] Halo,” Neeland said when describing idea of competitive orienteering. “If you added paintballing to the mix, it would be a lot like some of the game types where you are racing against other players from checkpoint to checkpoint.”

To download the map for Hamlin Park, and several other courses (again for free), visit the COC website.

Upcoming events from the COC website:
Wed, Jun 15 - 5pm-7pm - Big Finn Hill - SAMM Summer Series #2, Kenmore, WA
Wed, Jul 13 - 5pm-7pm - Robinswood Park - SAMM Summer Series #3, Bellevue, WA

Mark D Goodwin is a student in the University of Washington Department of Communication News Laboratory and is interning with the ShorelineAreaNews.

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