This past weekend's rogaine was a very interesting experience in many ways, and when I say "interesting" I mean that in a very positive way. I had some ideas about what I might be getting into, but there was a lot of unknown. About the organization. About the terrain and course. About the competition. About the long night (13.5 hours). About how the team collectively and I individually would hold up, physically, mentally, psychologically.
-- The organization. The rogaine was hosted by an outfit called Odyssey Adventure Sports
and its main man, Ronny Angell. The guy is great. His attitude seemed to be, what can I do for you. Always friendly, always helpful, never seemed to be stressed, even though he had started to hang controls at 1 pm Friday, had been out all night in a wicked storm, managed only a few hours sleep during a lull on Saturday night, and was still together and friendly and just fun to talk to. We spent a bunch of time talking to him before, during, and after the rogaine; we were interested in all the stuff he did, he wanted to know more about the world of orienteering and rogaine. The guy is special.
And they had arranged to use a park building, heated, bathrooms, tables and chairs to use for plotting points. Very very nice.
-- The terrain. Ridge and valley terrain, with very serious ridges and very serious valleys, and a lot of very steep and very slippery slopes in between. The slopes were made even more slippery by the fresh coating of oak leaves and also by the remnants of the heavy rain in the previous 24 hours. A big concern in choosing routes was to avoid slopes that you might not be able to get up or that might be seriously dangerous trying to get down.
It wasn't too rocky, but there were cliffs in places (not marked on the map, of course), and sometimes in places where the contours weren't even that close together on the map.
Another concern was the reentrants, often very sharply V-shaped, steep enough sides that your only choice was to walk right along the bottom where the footing was a mix of rocks, deep piles of leaves, and pools of water. You'd try to stay up the side a little, but sometimes you just couldn't.
The forest. In some places it was wide open and beautiful. In some places, usually on the flatter ridgetops, sort of annoying because of some sort of huckleberry scrub (which you could get through, it just wasn't much fun). And some places there was mountain laurel, almost always passable but, of course, almost always always a pain in the ass. Except for one time, crawling up a very steep slope out of a reentrant where a control was, only making it by hanging onto the sturdy stems of the laurel bushes, and not really bother by the laurel itself because we were all on our bellies. But, also, not many prickers, just a little young pine, no poison ivy.
As with any rogaine, thick vegetation wasn't mapped, so you never knew what you might run into.
Did I say it was steep?
-- The course. I was wondering if it would stay in the state park, which seemed way too small an area for a decent rogaine, or venture out into adjoining national forest. It was hunting season for a variety of things and Ronny was told to keep all the controls in the state park where hunting was limited to just certain days each year (it had been closed Tuesday through Thursday last week for a hunt). That's also why we started at 4pm Saturday, so we wouldn't be near the edge of the park until dark, just in case any hunters had strayed in.
I asked how long the course was if someone wanted to get them all, and Ronny guessed about 35 miles (on the optimum route) and 10,000 feet of climb. Didn't seem like so much, but I didn't say so. Did he expect anyone to get them all? Yes, if someone ran pretty well and navigated pretty well. He hadn't tried to make that impossible, but it also wouldn't be easy.
And, of course, the controls would all be in the right place.
Except for the ones the friend put out, though that didn't bother us because we never started that quadrant.
But the ones Ronny put ought all were absolutely right. Because, remember, we knew where to look for them because he gave us the UTM coordinates, as opposed to giving us a map with a bunch of circles on it. If we plotted them wrong, our fault. If the map was shaky, we just had to deal with it. But the controls were where they were supposed to be.
The quadrant system was an interesting idea. It made it into a set of 4 separate mini-rogaines. It made it more sociable, come back every few hours to get your next set of UTM coordinates, resupply, change clothes and batteries if needed, see how the competition was doing. I had my doubts in advance, but it seemed to work really well.
-- The competition. I imagined lots of people showing up. I also imagined us being the only team. As it turned out, there were 12 teams in the 24-hour, and another 12 teams in the 8-hour that ran during the day on Sunday. A pleasant number. What was really surprising was that we were the only 4-person team, there was one coed 2-person team, and then there were 10 solo teams, all guys. These guys must be good I thought.
I turned out one of them was, he cleaned the course with some time to spare. Never talked to him. I did have nice chats with a couple of guys who were getting maybe half to two-thirds of the controls in each section. They seemed a little chagrined to find out that they were getting beaten quite handily by an old guy and three women, none of whom were doing any running, though that all disappeared when they found out how many decades we had been orienteering.
-- The long night. It was long. It was dark, but not totally dark because there was a full moon and just scattered clouds. It was very cold. It was very windy. It snowed a little. It was a whole lot of fun.
-- The team. Well, now the important part. Take four strong-willed individuals, figuratively chain them together for a 24-hour event, and wait to see how long before social graces disappear and the knives come out. What would one guess -- after a couple of hours? Middle of the night? During the long second day? Hell, even before we started? The possibilities were, depending on one's point of view, intriguing or frightening. Would long-term friendships be destroyed in the course of one short weekend?
And the result? For those looking for some real fireworks, sorry to disappoint you, but things were pretty mellow. The closest we came to a little excitement was heading off on the start of our third quadrant, the NE, at about 4 am, heading for #9, discussing where to cross the stream. And I was saying what I thought we should do, and it made no sense to Peggy, and she made some comments that made no sense to me, and we went back and forth two or three times until Barb was heard to threaten to call a time out and send us to our rooms. At which point we figured out that we weren't talking about the same place on the map. And moved on.
I lost a number of 3-1 votes. I dealt with it. :-)
Physically Kissy probably hard the hardest time, just at the end when a muscle or two started seriously misbehaving and going downhill was very painful. Barb had a couple of blisters, Peggy a couple of sore muscles but not terrible. I had a sore left hip all the time, but a little ibuprofin kept it under control, and I was always falling down. So everyone suffered a bit but nobody quit.
Mentally, I think everyone managed pretty well. No one fell asleep. Everyone seemed pretty sharp all the time. We didn't start doing stupid things. Not that I would expect that, given my teammates. And the orienteering was pretty good.
Psychologically, I also think everyone managed well, though perhaps I should only speak for myself. I went into it with no competitive aspirations. My hopes were for a good personal experience with the team. My anxieties were to a smaller extent the usual challenges of night orienteering, and to a much larger extent, that the team wouldn't mesh. My plan was to do everything possible to avoid being a jerk.
And I ended up having a really good time. I enjoyed leading sometimes. I enjoyed following lots of times. I enjoyed being partially responsible but far from totally responsible. I enjoyed seeing how people responded to the various challenges. I enjoyed some very good conversations. I even enjoyed the pleasure they took in outvoting me 3-1 so many times.
I'd guess the only thing I did not enjoy was the falls, and more falls, and still more falls, but I wasn't the only one. And we all covered more than a trivial distance of steep downhills on our butts. It was just plain steep.
And I would do it again. Very gladly.
I'll post our routes in a while....