Finding their way around
A European sport makes its way to the Willamette Valley
By JOHN BUTTERWORTH
Paula Whipple likes keeping both mind and body in shape. That's why she enjoys the sport of orienteering.
"It's a mental challenge," Whipple explained. "Running gets kind of boring."
Not quite mountaineering, although the competition often includes mountains or hills, orienteering requires participants who start at staggered times to use a map and compass to find their way across a predetermined course, or not-so predetermined course depending on one's competition level. The sport grew popular in Europe and so far has gained in popularity along the East Coast of the United States, particularly in the New England states.
More than 600 days of orienteering events took place in the U.S. last year, according to the national club's Web site.
Sunday afternoon found 50 or so competitors wending their way around the Oregon State University campus, working against the clock to reach as many as 20 sites marked on a map where a punch mark on a participant's card proved they'd been to the site. The term competition could be used loosely for some runners.
"Some people are really competitive," said Jessica Rykken, another member of the local Oregon Cascade Orienteering Klubb (Scandinavian spelling). "But we have lots of people participate with their kids and families."
Almost as if on cue, one group passed the finish line moments later — complete with child in jogging stroller and large dog on a leash.
The Oregon Cascade Orienteering Klubb, or ORCA as they call themselves. has been organized for about a year, according to Rykken. They try to hold meets once a month, and usually get 30 to 50 people out to compete. The events are more typically held in open spaces such as Willamette, Chip Ross or Bald Hill parks. Some days the club holds training session for beginning orienteers.
Sunday's event at OSU put a different look to the competition in more than one way. The competition included a group of 10 students who had traveled from Umpqua Community College for the event. Additionally, given the fact that the courses and maps involved so many OSU buildings as landmarks, many people didn't use their compass for any other purpose than making sure they held the map in the right direction.
"I'd rather be out in the forest," said Whipple after cooling down from her finish. But the outdoor events have their own drawbacks — just from being able to see where the competition is and how they're doing. "In the woods, you can see other people looking at their maps and running, and that can be a distraction."
For Whipple and her husband, Jeff Watson, the meets provide opportunities to meet people from all around the world. Although injuries ("too much running") kept Watson sitting out Sunday's meet and keeping time at the finish line, the couple takes orienteering serious enough to not only travel to the East Coast to compete, but also to Europe.
"Jeff and I went to Sweden the summer before last and we hope to go back this summer," Whipple said.
For Rykken, orienteering seemed like a natural outgrowth of the running she'd been doing 20 years before in high school.
"I enjoyed running," she said. "I went orienteering once and got hooked.
John Butterworth covers environmental and rural Benton County issues and general assignments for the Gazette-Times. He can be reached at 758-9530 or email@example.com.