The WildeBeat

The audio journal about getting into the wilderness.


The WildeBeat edition 152 & 153: Getting Oriented

This is a supplementary transcript of our audio program. CLICK HERE to listen to the original program, and see the associated show notes.

You'll win this race by getting lost, least, because it's all about your navigation skills. This edition of The WildeBeat; Getting Oriented.

[Intro Music & SFX; 0:07.6 and under]

News from the Wildebeat, the audio journal about getting into the wilderness.

This is a combined version of program numbers one fifty two and one fifty three.

I'm Steve Sergeant.

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STEVE: On the list of things you should always take into the wilderness, a map and compass always ranks high. That's great advice, but it doesn't help much if you don't know how to use them. One of the best ways to develop your navigation skills is to participate in the sport of orienteering.

GARY KRAGHT: Everybody... learns how to navigate better and learns how to map-read better and learns how to make decisions better because that's what the sport is all about; you learn it by doing.

STEVE: Gary Kraght is the vice president for club services of the United States Orienteering Federation.

GARY KRAGHT: I've always considered myself to be a decent navigator, but when I started orienteering that went to another level. I became a much better navigator to the point where several years after I started orienteering, I went on a backpacking trip with my brother, and he ...commented how whenever we left camp, he could always be sure that we'd get back to camp because he was with an orienteer.

STEVE: I met Gary at an orienteering meet in China Camp State Park. The park is a thousand-foot high mountain ridge on a peninsula that juts into San Francisco Bay. It's covered by oak forests and dry grasslands. There's thick undergrowth of chaparral and poison oak in some places, and dry stream beds in others.

GARY KRAGHT: It's basically running through the woods with map and compass; and it's sport that's about a hundred years old — got started in the Scandinavian countries, both Norway and Sweden take credit for it and they fight each other over which one gets credit; and the sport is a highly competitive sport on an international level.

GARY KRAGHT: Let me go through all of the levels beginning at the white level, that's the beginner level course and you can expect to go completely along trails or dirt roads, that type of thing... you still have to read your map, you have to ...make your decisions on what your routes are going to be just like any other orienteering course.

GARY KRAGHT: The orange intermediate level; and that's where you really start to get off trail; you go cross country a lot. The controls themselves are on generally easy-to-find features or easier-to-find features — they're not subtle; but orange is challenging for most people, even experienced hikers, experienced backpackers until they get their navigation skills up because you are going cross country a lot, and you really have to read the map very carefully and pay attention.

GARY KRAGHT: And then there are a number of levels of advanced courses that are the same technically, they only differ in terms of length, and from shortest to longest; and in the United States we have brown, green, red, and blue.

GARY KRAGHT: For beginners we have a beginner's clinic, and the beginner's clinic is not long and involved; it takes ten or fifteen minutes to get through, ...but you'll get a basic map familiarity, basic compass familiarity, and the rules of the road of how to orienteer; but the main learning process goes on by actually doing it, by actually getting out on orienteering courses and proving that you can do it, and ...getting better.

STEVE: Like Gary said, if you're a beginner, you'll want to take a beginner's clinic. Scott Aster teaches these clinics for the Bay Area Orienteering Club.

SCOTT ASTER: We get people who are not at all in shape and who are scared of the wilderness, who come out because somebody dragged them out there; and I have to first reassure them that they're not going to get eaten by a wildlife or and get hopelessly lost and get out there; and we have the opposite, we have some adventure racers who are big on road racing — people who think they can just race through a course and they get hopelessly lost because they have no clue what they're doing as far as navigation;

SCOTT ASTER: So my task is to try to get all these disparate people together and teach them enough and convince them that they have the skills to complete the beginner level course, fact, the couch potatoes who come from the city out here first time are usually the most receptive to my clinics [laughter] because they realize that they really do need to know what they're doing out here.

STEVE: I recorded Scott teaching one of his beginner's clinics, first thing in the morning.

SCOTT ASTER: [wind] Well, welcome to China Camp, everybody. My name's Scott, I'm with the Bay Area Orienteering Club; [wind dies] and [wind] you're here at an orienteering meet today, and what I'm going to try to do is give you enough information to figure out what you're doing out there to successfully complete a course.

SCOTT ASTER: [wind dies] What I want to start out with -- nobody here's -- have you orienteered before? [No.] No. Great, we've got all first-timers. I like to describe orienteering as a treasure hunt, and in this case it's a treasure hunt out in the woods. In a nutshell what you're trying to do is look for markers out there, visit each marker and get back to the finish line; and to do that you have three tools... You'll have your map and your map's going to have your course on it;'re going to be looking for markers that are in the middle of these circles on the map that are drawn with numbers next to 'em -- like one, two, three, four -- in the middle of each of these circles you're going to find a bag like this.

SCOTT ASTER: Now we don't hide these, so if you navigate to the middle of the circle, it's going to be hanging anywhere from two to four feet off the ground, it should be in plain view, but you'll see it there. [clanking of tools] Now to help you find these markers, you've got the map which shows a lot of detail on it, you'll also have printed on a corner of what we call a clue sheet, which tells you what feature the control is on. If you look at number one here it says, "Distinctive tree, west side." Now "distinctive tree" usually means it's either like a big tree around a whole bunch of small trees, or say it's a tall Redwood in the middle of a bunch of Oak trees -- something distinctive and unusual. It can be in the middle of a forest, so don't just look for like a tree out in a meadow, but something very distinct.

SCOTT ASTER: Now, the most fun thing about orienteering that I like is the fact that it's not a course race where you follow a route. How you get from Point A to Point B is completely up to you, which I think is great...

SCOTT ASTER: ...Everybody, when you register each group that goes out gets one of these finger sticks. It's actually got a small computer chip in the tip; and what [wind stops] you do is on each of these bags will be one of these boxes with a little hole in it; and what you'll do to prove that you've been there is you'll come and you'll put your finger stick in it [beep], and you hear that beep? That means that it recorded your time.

SCOTT ASTER: Once it's beeped that's recorded your exact time as to when you were at that control, and you'll go to each control location, [beep] punch and beep, [beep] punch and beep -- that records that you've been there. When you finish you come back to this blue tent where you download, you stick it in another hole, it downloads all your information to a computer and it prints out your splits to the second, so it you know it took you exactly seven minutes and twenty-five seconds to get from three to four.

SCOTT ASTER: ...So what you're doing, you got your map, you're looking for a bag like this. You're going to punch in the control [beep], and then on to the next one...

SCOTT ASTER:'re going to be mostly on trails or roads. You don't need to use a compass. If you'd like to use a compass I can, after we're done here, I'd be happy to explain how to shoot a bearing; it's remarkably simple, if you don't know how. People are intimidated by compasses... I started orienteering with the club and somebody shows me how to shoot a bearing and say, "That's all there is to it." It's amazing... but you don't need a compass on the beginner courses because it's going to be detailed map reading, so pay attention to the map; all the trail junctions, the road junctions.

SCOTT ASTER: ...Now the idea is have fun... You'll see some people wearing fancy outfits with gaiters and special spiked running shoes, and they're competitive... Three-fourths people who come to these meets walk their courses, and they're just enjoying the the chance to [wind] get out, get some exercise, and the added challenge of finding these markers.

SCOTT ASTER: ...Take it easy, especially the first two controls. Go at your own pace, take as long as you like... Most courses, to be honest, take people between one and two hours.

SCOTT ASTER: ...So get out there- ...Whenever you're ready you start over at the starting line; you start whenever you want to; [wind] and just get in by two o'clock; and if you- anybody has any other questions, I'll be happy to answer 'em.

STEVE: There's about a hundred people around me in this picnic area. This is the headquarters of the orienteering meet. Terri Ferrah, a member of the Bay Area Orienteering Club since 2001, is setting up the check-in booth.

STEVE: So how does this work... for people to track their progress through the course?

TERRI FERRAH: And then, what's really fun is people can compare their times with their peers; and not only can they compare how long it took them to do the entire course, but they can compare splits.

STEVE: Tyler Atherton, from San Jose, California, is at the starting point for the white-level, a beginner course, with his Boy Scout troop.

STEVE: Okay, Tyler. And tell me what you're about to do.

TYLER ATHERTON: You use the lines on the map. And different symbols and the circles.

STEVE: Have you done this before?


STEVE: What Tyler calls boxes, are actually orange and white triangular tubes made of nylon fabric. These hang from tall metal stakes; the e-punch electronic boxes are mounted on top. Mikkel Conradi, from San Francisco, designed this course.

MIKKEL CONRADI: I think we started around eight a.m. and and we took until five p.m. to get everything out.

STEVE: Erin Majors from Roseville, California, is an experienced orienteer. She ran one of the courses Mikkel set up.

STEVE: Tell me about the course you just went on.

ERIN MAJORS: It was yellow. It was one of the advanced beginner courses, so it's out in the woods a little bit off trail, a little bit on trail. Good challenge... I don't exercise on a super-regular basis, so anything with hills is a challenge so I think those are the ones that stick out in my mind are the ones where you look up, and you see the control, you look at your map, you think you know where you're going, you go all the way up, and you look, and it's the wrong one; and then there's one that another one and you go, "Oh, that must be it"; you check your map to double-check, you go over, you look at that one, and that one's not the right one either; so then third time's a charm, and then you find it, but by then you're pretty tired, so -- it's fun.

STEVE: Tell me about what you did that brought you to this ...what activities did you do beforehand that brought you to orienteering?

ERIN MAJORS: It's kind of like a big Easter egg hunt for kids.

STEVE: Tyler Atherton came back to talk to me after finishing his course.

STEVE: Can you talk me through what happened along there. What'd you find?

TYLER ATHERTON: Well, the first time we thought we found a box, it was actually marker seven, then we went and found no- mark number one, which is rather easy to find -- it was right off the trail. Mark number two was easy all the way 'til five, but then six we had trouble finding it. It- we were by the road, which wasn't a very good place, since it- since it was really far from it; and once we found it, we ran back to number seven; then once we found number seven we worked together to find number eight; then we had our fastest friend -- I took his pack and he sprinted toward the finish line.

STEVE: Alright. And so you guys all worked together finding these?

TYLER ATHERTON; Yes, we did.

STEVE: And do you think you could do it all by yourself next time?

TYLER ATHERTON: I bet I could.

DANA KOONTZ: I went on the intermediate orange course and it- it's my first experience with orienteering.

STEVE: Dana Koontz is from Larkspur, California.

DANA KOONTZ: The first few controls were in relatively open areas and so you'd take a look at the map and try to compare the features on the map to the features that you see; and then you take off and run really hard and then you stop and you look around again, and then pick up the next C.P.

You want to make it difficult enough that people feel like it is a challenge...

STEVE: Mikkel Conradi.

MIKKEL CONRADI: ... and some people will make some mistakes, and that's okay, but it also needs to be fair and nothing should so difficult or so different from what the map reads that people come back and they're upset... and I'm happy to say that this year nobody found a control to be too hard.

DANA KOONTZ: It takes you places that you wouldn't think to go necessarily; and if you want to get out of your normal box of running around in the gym or running around in the tennis court and really enjoy California and all that it has to offer, it's a it's a great opportunity to do that.

STEVE: For some people, map and compass navigation in just a little too low-tech. Bob Cooley, from Pleasanton, California, set up a radio orienteering course.

BOB COOLEY: these transmitters are putting out fifty milliwatts... So they can be heard for miles.

STEVE: do the participants in this work from a printed map or do they strictly work by hunting the radios?

BOB COOLEY: They use an orienteering map to help them know where the hills are, where the brush is, where the where the best trails are, but the transmitters aren't marked on the map; the map is just help 'em proceed through the- through the wilderness. They have to find the transmitters purely the... directional antennas.

STEVE: So would you call this harder or easier than the map and compass orienteering?

BOB COOLEY: It's harder because you have to do all the map and compass orienteering at the same time you have to do all the signal analysis; and it's it's twice as much work that you have to do in the same amount of time while you're running through the forest tripping over things.

STEVE: Jim Fish from Castro Valley, California, competed on the radio orienteering course.

JIM FISH: Yeah, so there's five transmitters out there. Each one transmits one minute. You're trying to get to it as quick as you can obviously before that signal changes; and me last year I I had to stop and just wait until my signal came around again to keep going in the same direction... but I was out there for quite awhile last year. I'm going to see if I can do better this year.

STEVE: Gary Kraght, a former president of the United States Orienteering Federation, sees something for everyone in orienteering.

GARY KRAGHT: It's a very safe environment, a structured and safe environment to push yourself... to practice your navigation skills and push yourself... to learn more and to do better.

STEVE: Do you have experiences with an orienteering group? We'd like you to share them with our community, and we always want to hear your thoughts about anything else we do on the Wildebeat. You can call our toll free comment line at 866-590-7373, or e-mail us at comments at WildeBeat dot net. You can find links to more information about getting involved in orienteering, see pictures from the event, and download an an extended high-quality stereo version of both parts of this show, from our web site.

STEVE: WildeBeat members can download a recording of Scott Aster's entire clinic from our WildeBeat Insider web page.

STEVE: As a free, listener-supported service, we depend on you to help support our work. You can help by making a tax-deductible membership donation to our project. Membership levels start at sixteen dollars a year, and full membership is forty eight. For a limited time, become a WildeBeat member and get a weekend's worth of meals from Alpine Aire foods, books from Wilderness Press, access to bonus audio content, and more, as thank you gifts.

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Our official website is WWW dot WILDEBEAT (that's W-I-L-D-E-B-E-A-T) dot NET. If we helped you get into the wilderness, could you help us do the same for others? Just click on our support link and become a member. The WildeBeat is produced by Steve Sergeant, with help from Jean Higham and Kate Taylor, as a nonprofit educational project of Earth Island Institute.

This has been The WildeBeat, combined program numbers one fifty two and one fifty three. Thank you for listening.

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Next time -- other people's wilderness.

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