Meramec Park Turkey-O

When I made my plans for the rest of the year back at the beginning of November, I had no idea my mom was going to switch our family Thanksgiving celebration to this Saturday.  Normally, that would be a relief for me because it would free us of one round of the holiday shuffle while still allowing us to see everybody, but this year it interfered with my plans to do the St. Louis Orienteering Club's Turkey-O.  I could've skipped it, but the orienteering meets are both good practice for me and a way to get my family involved in some of the things I'm doing. 

I pretty much weaselled Jeff into doing the first orienteering meet by branding it as a date night.  We took J with us for the second one after convincing him it would be fun ("It's like a treasure hunt! Only you don't get anything."), and he more or less thought it was fun for about the first half (45 minutes).  The Turkey-O was a 3-hour meet, so I was a little worried about how J would do, but when Jeff asked what we were going to do with him and I said, "Take him along," J piped up, "Yeah, I want to go!"  There was actually a 1.5 hour option, but since the drive was 2 hours each way, it seemed a little silly to do the short course.  We were taking a calculated risk, though; the long course would make us over 2 hours late for Thanksgiving, leaving a good possibility that all of the food would be gone.

We got to the park at about 9 a.m., and I had my first experience copying the controls (the markings that tell you where the places are that you need to find) from the master map onto our map. 

Finished product
There were 35 controls, so after I had them all marked on the map, J called out each number from the clue sheet while I checked the map to make sure we had them plotted.  Next, we went over the clues and wrote them on the map.  And then, we waited and visited with some familiar faces.  Chuck from ROCK Racing was there Lori and their son, as were Luke from Team Virtus, my friends Melissa and Scott, and lots of people wearing shirts from past adventure races.

Table full of friends
We had a general plan of attack for the first several controls, and once we hit the end of that we'd decide our next steps based on how much time we had remaining and how we were doing. Strategy was definitely required, for several reasons.  First, different controls were assigned different point values, ranging from 10 to 50.  Second, since we would be primarily hiking (one runner in recovery mode after last week's 30K, one non-runner, and one 8 year old), we were going to be very limited in how many controls we could get to.  Third, there was a steep penalty for missing the time cut-off: 10 points per minute.  Since we weren't going to be a high scoring team, we couldn't afford to lose any points.

When start time finally arrived, we took off at a jog.  We'd gone about 100 yards when J said, "I'm already tired!"  The sad thing was, so was I.  I was also having wardrobe issues, as I was trying out some new pants and they kept sliding down onto my hips. 

Maybe it wouldn't have been as awkward if I'd been wearing something as full-coverage as boxers.
Trying to avoid this look at all costs, I spent the beginning of the race doing a combination of hiking my pants up and pulling my shirt down.  It made for a fantastic run.  It was a huge relief once we were on our own in the woods and I didn't have to worry about offending anyone but my own family.

Already dogged by clothing struggles, I next realized that, though we'd decided which control to hit first, we'd neglected to talk about how to get to it from the road.  Now I was running (sort of), pulling up my pants, pulling down my shirt, and trying to look at the map.  I definitely needed an extra hand (or a belt).

J leading the way
We found the first control (#12 on the map below, a 10-pointer) pretty easily and then headed along a reentrant to the next one.  Although Jeff can take one look at the map and know where he's going, he was really good about letting me hold the map and try to navigate, and I got us to our next control (#32, a 30-pointer) successfully.

Closer view of map
Up to this point, both in this meet and the others we've done, we had navigated primarily by terrain features (roads, creeks, etc), but to get from #32 to #11 as planned we had to make a choice.  We could either hike back down to the road and go around, or we could go cross-country (shorter, as long as you go the right way, though potentially more difficult than walking down a road).  We opted for the cross-country route, which required breaking out the compass. 

Now, I know that ability with navigation and maps and such doesn't require testosterone, because my friend Melissa is a kickass navigator, but if Jeff's and Luke's and Chuck's brains move like the second hand of a clock, my map processing speed is more like the hour hand.  I had even just reread my map and compass book on the way to the meet! I knew that I knew how to use the compass to keep us on track, it just took me a while to remember the process.  Finally, it clicked, and we hiked almost directly to our next control.

Punching the passport
One really cool thing about this meet is that, despite the fact that we've been coming to Meramec State Park for 13 years together (in fact, our first date was a camping trip here) and Jeff has been coming here since he was a kid, everything we hiked Saturday was new to us.  We had a long hike from #11 to our next control (#34, if you're following along on the map).  To find this one, we followed a creek for quite a while.  It was easy as far as route-finding, but staying dry as we picked our way along the sides of the creek was a little trickier.

After he was smacked in the face by branches a couple of times, we learned that J couldn't follow closely behind me.  I was careful with any branches I pushed aside, but my pack kept catching onto others which would hit him.  Our backcountry route wasn't without its rewards, though.  We found a cool turtle shell along the way.

I've never seen one like this.  It reminded me a little of all the dead things at the Deuce.

He has a big smile on his face, but J wasn't too excited about holding it.
We found our next control just as the rain started to fall.  I had brought my waterproof jacket, but between the mild temperature (low 60's) and all the hiking, the rain actually felt pretty good.  We had another long hike up another creekbed to get to our next goal (#2).  This one wasn't too wet (other than the rain), but you had to be careful where you stepped because it was pretty rocky.

It seemed like we hiked forever, but eventually we got to control #2, a 50-pointer.

At this point, we were feeling pretty good.  We'd gone more or less straight to every single control with no problems.  In fact, Jeff even said something about how well we were doing, and then added, "I probably just jinxed us."  I laughed, but I wasn't worried.  The next control was a straight shot up the creekbed.  We'd gotten all these others; we were sure to find this one, too.

Yeah, we didn't find it, of course.

We must have hiked right past it, or right close to it.  When we got to the top of the hill and could see the road, we realized that we had missed it.  Unfortunately, right at that time D. called with some questions and issues about the rest of the day that, in my mind, had already been answered to at least two different people.  After a somewhat frustrating and annoying conversation, conducted through Jeff whose phone actually had a signal, we were kind of off our game.

This highlights an issue that I need to work on with my navigation.  I think I need to get better at paying attention to what the map shows along the way so that we have more clues that we're getting close (or going too far) besides finding/not finding the control. Well, that and maybe keeping track of distance covered.  The smart thing to do would've been to backtrack and see if we could pick up the control, but instead we headed onto the road.  Because we weren't sure if we'd gotten off track, we weren't completely sure where we were.  Rather than wander around aimlessly, we decided to take the road until we knew where we were.

Luckily, as we walked down the road, I spotted a control flag in the woods. Now, we at least knew where we were, but we had less than an hour to get back to the finish line before we started losing points.  We chose a route that would allow us to get two more controls on our trip back.  We had to take the trail until it crossed a creek, then head off through the woods.  I was ahead of my guys, and I loved listening to J tell Jeff what fun he was having and how he was going to bring his kids here some day.  :) When we got to the creek, though, we had a difference of opinion about which direction to go.  It wasn't a huge difference, but we didn't come across the control (we went Jeff's way). 

We didn't look too hard for it, though, because time was slipping away and we saw another racer run through the woods to our left and decided to follow him.  Well, follow his direction, anyway, we were way too slow to keep up.  Going that way, we came across another control, but it was the second one we were looking for (less points, boo).  If we'd had more time, we might have been able to backtrack to the other one, but now we were down to about 25 minutes, a pretty good hike back, and a tired little boy.

We got back onto the trail, which led us to an unpaved vehicle track.  This must be where the state park people store all the broken-down stuff, because we saw stacks of pallets and herds of old trash cans, among other things.

Where picnic tables go to die
We were definitely getting nervous about the time cut-off, but J kept up like a trooper. 

Yes, we trusted our 8 year old with our map and passport.  Briefly. :)

There was a powerline trail that was pretty much a straight shot to the finish line but promised to be much rougher going than the road. Being familiar with the park, though, we knew the road might be smoother, but it wasn't much flatter, so we opted for the powerline.  We took it all the way back to the road near the cave we had visited early on in the meet, and then we ran the rest of the way on the road.

For all that I'm the runner in the family, I was definitely struggling more than I expected to.  I don't know if it's the residual effects from last weekend's trail race or just the additional demands of hiking over hills like we did, but that last run was rough.  It was so cute, though.  J was holding my hand as we ran (which made it waaaay easier, as you can imagine), and he told me, "It's ok, you can do it, hang in there mommy."

I was wondering if I looked as bad as I felt, that my 2nd grader thought I needed the support, but I got my turn to encourage him as we got closer to the end.  Still holding hands, we were running across a parking lot when he said, "I'm going to need to walk soon."  "Come on," I told him, "Let's just make it to the road.  Stay're doing great."  After a brief walk break, he took our passport and ran it in to the finish.  We made it back with about two minutes to spare.

You can see J in the red jacket just about to round the corner.
It was a huge success all-around.  Rain or not, it was a fantastic day to be out in the woods.  J hung in there without any complaining at all for the entire three hours, and even better, was enthusiastic and excited about the whole thing.  I'm starting to see some real progress in my navigating ability (though I have a loooong way to go to even achieve mediocrity), we had a really great family day together....and there was even food left when we made it to my brother's for Thanksgiving dinner.

It was such a good day, in fact, that  it leads to the only "negative" about the whole thing.  When we first started doing the meets, I wanted to compete together because Jeff's help was my only chance to figure out where we were on the map.  My plan was always that, once I achieved some competence, we'd run the course separately.  I can't imagine missing out on that time together, though.  I could do it on my own now, but it's totally worth slowing least, until my kid's the one outrunning me on the course.

Which is probably coming sooner than I think.


  1. Sounds like a great day! Was there any food left?

  2. There was! I went back and added that part in. We actually called on the way back to make sure there was food. My cousin's boyfriend answered the phone and was kind of playing around about the answer. I have NO sense of humor about food when I'm hungry, so luckily for him he pretty quickly gave me the answer I wanted to hear. :)

  3. how cool!!! I wish you were my mom growing up! This looks like a great family day! I cannot believe you took that pic of the guy with his pants barely hanging...dont you love that stupid look? seriously....that cannot be comfortable!
    I would have been afraid of him hearing the the click of the camera and turning around!! :)

  4. Way to make me feel like a complete lazy bones....... Sounds like a lot of fun!

  5. This sounds like an incredible thing to be doing with your husband and son. Your son sounds like such a trooper! The whole thing sounds hard yet you all keep going back. You do so many things and I think you do them well. You have a lot of grit.

    I love J helping you at the end. I love that he wanted to go. I love that he is not inside playing video games.

    Too funny about the pants. I wore some new pants to the gym last week and I thought I was going to end up flashing everyone. I finally got them pulled up right I guess because the problem ended but it was pretty serious for awhile!

  6. I got outrun by an 8 year old at the Pie Run in Jeff City so I'm sure your day is coming. My daughter will be 8 in March (also a 2nd grader) and so far I can still outlast her, but not by much. Thinking about taking her to do another 5K with me in Columbia next weekend. Looked like great family time and totally worth "slowing down".

  7. That sounds like SO much fun. ANd I love that you made it a family thing.

  8. Looks like a great family day! Love the "hang in there mommy" encouragement. So cute!

    Congrats on getting better at navigating too. Now you just need Jeff to catch the endurance athlete bug.

  9. Brent has fantasies about starting our kid in orienteering early and making them world champions. I just hope that the kid gets his navigational genes, because with mine, he wouldn't have a chance.

  10. How much fun is that?! Love that J could hang in there and do it all with you. And also love the fact that you go to break some new ground out there. Way to go super-family!

  11. Wow you do some awesome things! I hope my kids someday are itching to go along on something like that!

  12. You always have the best experiences! I yelled at my kids to stop being so lazy all weekend, but they ignored me and when I went ballistic and started in on my "I'm the only one who dies anything around the house..." rampage, like I like to do, Brendan told me the leaves should not be raked and be left alone to work themselves into the soil. Smart-alec kid! Anyway, I'm so glad your son had such a great time, LOVE all the smiles on his cute little face!

  13. It sound like a lot of fun. I love that the whole family got involved. J is such a trooper for going. I dont think my boys would go at all. Love the pics. That is a great way to spend some quality time with the family.

  14. Great job at the race! I walked right by the very same CP, and I almost made it to the road before I turned back for it. It was down in a little pit, and I missed it by about 10 yards (and I didn't have any distractions).

    You guys tied for 34th out of 49 teams! Very cool.

    And it's waaaaay cool that J is liking it so much. You're making some amazing memories.

    It was great to meet you're son and hubby finally! See you at the next one.

  15. Yet another very cool adventure! What a fun family activity and of course you both rocked as usual.


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