Monday, 13 October 2014

Dartmoor Long-O 2014

Last year I entered an event that was completely beyond the limits of my general orienteering ability. This year, the two-day event which is run jointly by clubs in the Quantocks and Devon, was taking place in Dartmoor. Over the last year it is safe to say that I have developed absolutely no further navigational competence, but I was only down the road on my holidays so it seemed like a no-brainer.

I roped in/guilt-tripped a vaguely willing friend, Holly, on the proviso that it would be a really fun event to do as a pair. On the first day, Holly would be two weeks away from walking down the aisle and I was made to promise that there would definitely be no leg breaking or any activity that would result in wearing a cast on her wedding day. I agreed to the promise 87% and signed her up.


On arrival at the event HQ, I was recognised immediately from last year. Hopefully that was due to my highly memorable name rather than my memorably shoddy performance. I knew I'd picked the right partner when we did our pre-event kit checks and Holly, like me, had brought along Jaffa Cakes as her main food source.

Tussocks do a marvellous job of hiding
enormous holes.
Despite a morning of horrendous rain, Dartmoor greeted us with sunshine and we ambled joyfully to the start where we critically observed the attire of our fellow competitors whilst munching a Jaffa Cake. When we reached the front of the queue, we picked up a map (read: Holly grabbed the map and wouldn't let me touch it for the rest of the day) and made a vague plan.

Day one is a score event. You have a certain amount of time to gather as many controls as you can but your controls are not allowed to decline in value (i.e. you can't get one worth 10 points after you've collected one worth 30). We headed for the nearest 10 to start us off. I tried to explain how it is usually easier to stick to paths as much as possible but in all her enthusiasm, Holly fancied taking the direct route.

We headed straight into a hilly field of ankle-turning tussocks and whilst my long-legged gazelle partner leapt across airily I lost not only my footing but also, briefly, my sense of humour. It didn't last long, we were in the vicinity of the control. At least, we convinced ourselves and each other that we were. This ended up being the theme of both days. Regular quotes included, "I feel that it is definitely here somewhere" and "We must be right on it". We did not find the first 10, so we sacked it off and headed South for a 30-pointer.

Pretty certain there's a control in there somewhere. You go, Holly..
We were determined to locate the 30-pointer. Despite, again, being "right on it", we spent 15 minutes searching in a trench before I took a closer look at the map and realised we were too far west by about 500m. We finally got ourselves in the right place and in a brilliant stroke of luck, another pair were in the same spot and had just found it for us. One hour and fifty two minutes in, we had picked up our first control.

With one in the bag we were on a roll, we then STUCK TO THE PATHS and found the next control with ease, then another. By this time though we were quite far south and I was panicking about getting back under time. I have made the error of being late back before and when you are somebody that doesn't score very highly in the first place, I know how embarrassing it is when your time penalty puts you into minus points.

On reflection that evening, we decided that our plan of attack would be to move a little more slowly, and try to be a lot more accurate. This plan went wrong from the start. After stopping to get important self-timer trig point photos, we made a massive error. We found a control, but it was the wrong one. Then we spent a teensy bit too long looking in entirely the wrong place for the correct one.

"Yep. Definitely a sheep."
The third control evaded us for a short while.  I moved up to high ground and couldn't believe it, "I can see it! Right on the edge of the marsh!". Holly took the knee, whipped out the monocular and informed me I was looking at a sheep with an orange number sprayed on it.

Thankfully it was another glorious, sunny day in Dartmoor and so we didn't stress ourselves too much with the actual orienteering or really any of the task in hand. If all we achieved was a day in the fresh air, that would be okay. Mostly, that is what we achieved.

The fourth control was a manned control point and just as we arrived we overheard the two blokes pondering about where we might be. We proudly announced our arrival and they seemed very relieved that we were safe. We had taken quite a long time to get there. After finding the next control, which was nearby, we decided we had little to no chance of successfully making it around before the cut-off. Instead of embarrassing ourselves trying, we trekked back, via a pub for a quick cuppa.

The general success rate probably wasn't much higher than last year's attempt, but the added bonus of some excellent company and some astoundingly brilliant Dartmoor weather made the weekend very worthwhile.
We were taking ourselves very seriously..

Can't wait to see the organiser's faces when I go for third time lucky next year.



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