Orienteering is like an outdoor treasure hunt with home as the prize.
BY HENRY MILLER
CORVALLIS -Welcome to the lost-and-found department of outdoor pastimes, an over-the-river-and-through-the-woods kind of experience.
"It's a wonderful sport for balancing the physical with the mental. It's an outdoor puzzle," said Mike Poulsen of Tigard.
Poulsen was among about 30 participants at the recent Foot-O orienteering meet at Avery Park on a gloriously sunny, warm day.
The Corvallis meet is one of more than a dozen such events, including an annual orienteering festival, held by the Columbia River Orienteering Club.
Rules for the game are relatively simple:
Participants are given a detailed map.
Using a compass to orient yourself at the starting point, and get your bearings during the ramble, you follow routes marked on the map to arrive at a series of orange-and-white checkpoint markers, called controls.
There, you use the punch to mark a card.
While orienteering is based on the honor system, each check station punch has a different pattern, Poulsen said.
After visiting all of the checkpoints -- or as many as you can find --you follow the map back to the start point.
"There's not much you need to get into the sport," Poulsen said. "A pair of shoes and a compass."
For hard-core competitors, it's a timed event.
For the bulk of the casual participants, it's a matter of getting to as many checkpoints as you can, then making it back to the start within the three-hour maximum time limit, before the search parties start looking for you.
"When you screw up, you can be out there a long time," Poulsen laughed. "I can spend three hours if I really screw up."
And those search parties?
"We first look in the parking lot for their car because a lot of people get tired and go home," he said.
Each participant carries a signaling whistle, and every map contains a "safety bearing" if you get hopelessly lost.
The sky's the limit for expert-level map-and-compass competitors.
At the regular meets, the course is five to 10 or 12 km (three to seven-plus miles) with as many as 25 checkpoints.
Then there is rogaine, meets that last six, 12, up to 24 hours covering vast expanses of terrain in which competitors use topographic maps and miners' helmet-style lights for night map and compass reading.
In a rogaine, nobody goes solo. Competition is in pairs or with teams of up to five members.
Scott Drumm of Portland, another participant at the Corvallis meet, said he got hooked about six years ago.
"I'm a hiker, and I love maps. I heard about it many years ago when I was studying Norwegian at the University of Oregon," he said.
Orienteering is huge in Scandinavian countries, Drumm explained. Major meets
can draw more than 10,000 spectators, as well as start-to-finish television
It took just one meet to get his navigational juices flowing.
"I like the personal challenge," he said. "I compete mostly
"You see things you never see, go places that you never go."
Head in that direction and you will hit a major trail or road.
There are a variety of routes offered at each orienteering meet, based on the ability level of the participants.
A beginner course is about 2 1/2 km (1 1/2 miles) with eight to 10 controls.
On all orienteering courses, legs between checkpoints are of varying lengths and a variety of terrains.
Routes are designed to skirt hazards, from deep stream crossings and dropoffs to patches of poison oak.
Among those getting ready to set out on the beginner's course was the Vanderbush family of Eugene: Dad, Dean; mom, Kuniko; and daughters Lahna, 11; Monica, 9; and Gina, 8.
"I tried it once, at school in Japan, as a school activity," Kuniko Vanderbush said. "I think it's something new, an experience for the family."
Then she laughed.
"Maybe for the kids to find the marks, it's like a treasure hunt," Kuniko Vanderbush said.
Dean Vanderbush said he was intrigued by the sport.
"I first saw it a year ago on 'Oregon Field Guide,' (an Oregon Public Broadcasting TV show). I didn't even know the general public could do it."
Intently studying her map, Lahna Vanderbush was having pre-meet butterflies.
"I'm pretty excited," she said. "I read maps, sometimes. But we don't use maps when we go hiking; we just stay on the trail."
For Monica Vanderbush, clutching a topographic map CD that she won at the pre-meet prize drawing, the object was simple. "You get to look around and stuff," she said.
The goals were similarly minimal for Jan and Pulelehua Kimball of Corvallis.
"We wanted to do something outside that was fun," Jan Kimball said.
"I don't think we're competing. We're just, hoping to get back here," Pulelehua Kimball laughed as both studied their maps at the starting line.
For intermediate-level orienteers, the course is four to fivekm (2.4 to three miles) with eight to 12 check stations.
Jeff Watson of Philomath, the director for the Corvallis meet with his wife, Paula Whipple, said orienteering can be highly addictive.
"I compete against other people, but what I like best is being out in the woods," he said. "It's a whole other world. You see animals, birds.
"I'm always trying to get better, get faster. I'm starting to catch the people that creamed me in the past."
Electronic Global Positioning System locators are not allowed in orienteering, but they are more of a handicap than a help, Watson said.
"A lot of people joke, 'Can I use GPS?' " he said. "In competition,
it can slow you down. You still have to read a map."
It's a sport in which the challenges grow with your ability level, Watson said.
Kuniko Vanderbush's description of orienteering as a "treasure hunt" is very apt, he said.
"It's fun, it's safe and you get to find 10 things instead of one," Watson laughed. "It's always gratifying to find something... and frustrating when you don't."
Henry Miller can be reached at (503) 399-6725 or hmiller@StatesmanJournal.