Monday, 30 September 2013

Quantock Long-O Day 2

After an evening of being highly amused by my Day 1 garmin data and seeing just how much time I spent looking around for controls, I awoke ready and raring to do better on Day 2. I would be attempting the long line course, which was apparently 18.7kms and involved finding the controls in number order. I figured, even if I went fairly slowly, I'd probably be looking at about 3 hours. How wrong I was.

The "start line" (... the stick) 
I  got off to a flying start and was very chuffed with myself as I navigated accurately and quickly to the first four controls. Then it all went a bit wrong; I ran quickly down a good forest path to a road and over a bridge that led back into the forest. I thought I'd try to take a short-cut to number five and, in a moment of madness, decided to clamber up what can only really be described as a woodland cliff. There is a possibility that this was the worst decision I have ever made. Once I'd begun, going back down was too dangerous. Gripping any branch I could find, I clawed the soft ground, rarely avoiding handfuls of holly leaves and brambles. I grabbed wildly at the trees as I ascended, hugging the trunks for support. I arrived at the footpath, a sweaty, dirty mess and asserted that from now on, I would just stick to the paths.

I started heading for a path junction but my vertical journey had left me a bit disoriented and I was not exactly where I thought I was. I ran up and down a few times trying to figure out what on earth I'd done wrong before giving up and going back to the bridge I'd started from in the first place. One hour after finding number 4, I made it to the general vicinity of number 5. I made it there just in time to see a fellow orienteer taking a his life into his own hands as he took a (pretty unsuccessful) short-cut across a ravine. Since I was all sensible now, I sacrificed the extra 80m and went around.

One of the things that makes orienteering so challenging is the micro-navigation. I knew I was within 20 metres of the control, but I was in the middle of thigh-high gorse and was having a sense of humour failure. A pair of blokes in questionably-coloured lycra were my saviours as they gave me a little wave and a nod, they'd found it. I'm not really sure what the etiquette is in orienteering, and whether or not this was the norm or if they were doing me a favour but either way I was very relieved to get past this one.

After the five fail I got back on track and ticked off 6, 7 and 8 without any bother. It is worth noting however, that at number 8 I had been out for 2 hours and 9 minutes and had travelled a grand total of about 7 miles (with around 1500ft of elevation gain). Number 9 was a bit further away and I definitely chose a good route: a stunning forest path with glimpses of the valley below. The track steepened and I veered off left down a vague path. As I tried to keep running downhill but kept holding myself back from gaining too much speed and falling over, my knee gave up. I slowed right down and limped to the bottom of the hill. I made it to the road and tried to get a jog on again but it was no good, I had one very unhappy knee.

Conveniently, I came across a bench. I plonked myself down, tucked into a cereal bar and thought about what I should do. As so many of the controls were further out on the map, I decided it was time to call it a day, but thought I'd go back via 9 anyway. It was a long slog up a hill and when I got to the area where number 9 was, I realised there was absolutely no chance as it was going to involve another death-defying descent on a dodgy knee. I opted instead for a slow plod back to the start!

Despite appearances (i.e. Day 1 being run out of a van and the start line of Day 2 being signified by a stick), the organisation of this event was incredible and the effort that goes into it must be enormous. I was hugely impressed by the small team and how smoothly the whole thing ran.

 My main conclusion of the weekend is that orienteers are a different breed. Under the gaiters and ronhills and - some might say - slightly geeky exterior, they are a primal being for whom marsh, gorse and rivers are no obstacle. I thought I was a pretty adventurous type but it's going to take some practice to get up to scratch! 

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