The all-important step

**First off, if I normally comment on your blog and haven't lately, it isn't for lack of trying.  I've been having a heck of a time getting posts to load, and then half the time when I try and comment the comment page won't come up.  Not sure if Blogger is having issues again or what.  It doesn't happen on my phone, but I can only see the two most recent posts on my phone.  Grr.  Word Press is looking more and more appealing.**

This was a good weekend.  It really was, even though I'm currently stinging from a soul-confidence-crushing orienteering outing.  It was definitely a busy weekend, with some new experiences and lots of time spent outside.

Saturday's planned Frostbike MTB ride was cancelled due to icy conditions (even our landscaping was slippery, and the roads were like skating rinks), but the ride had been planned in concert with a Gateway Off-Road Cyclists workday on our local trails.  GORC builds and maintains mountain bike trails all over the region, and they apparently work their scheduled days no matter what.  I've had it in the back of my head that it would be good to go and "give back", plus I wanted to actually see/experience what goes into making a trail.  Between Team Rev and my tri club encouraging members to participate, I guess I finally got enough nudging. 

I'd gone back to sleep once the ride was called off, and when the alarm went off at 8, of course the first thing I did was hit snooze check Facebook.  Patrick had posted about getting ready for the workday.  He lives just a few blocks from me, so I commented asking for a ride.  All of the sudden I get a text saying, "I'm already there, but I'll come get you. Be ready."  Be ready? I was still in bed!  I texted back to tell him nevermind, but he was already on the way.  I put in my contacts, washed my face, and threw on some clothes.  Pretty sure he still had to wait a bit in the driveway.

There was a great turnout for the workday. All told, close to 40 people were out there working to add 1/2 mile of singletrack. 

Getting directions
At around 9, the guy in charge had us split up among the 5 crew leaders.  There were about 9 of us from the tri club, and they didn't need us all in one group, so I ended up with people I didn't know.  No big deal.  Then we had to get our tools.  The boss guy says, "OK, you'll need some doohickeys, some whatzits, and some thingamabobs."  Well, that's not exactly what he said, but that's pretty much what I got out of it.  I just looked at what the other guys were grabbing, took one of those, and followed them down the trail realizing that I had no idea what the hell I was doing and hoping they were patient.

Basically, our job was to rake away the leaf cover ("leaf litter") over our assigned section of the trail, which had been marked out with flagging.  It was a chilly morning (temps in the 20's), but I warmed up really quickly once I started working.

Raking in progress; you can see the rake-y thing we used.
In the background, you can see fellow blogger Scott who had the good luck to get to pull up brush/small trees.  Others used loppers to cut limbs back.  I got the chance to talk to a few of the guys while we worked.  John, our crew leader, asked what brought me out, and I basically told him what I said up above.  He said one of the reasons he volunteers is to kind of leave a legacy, that he can go to most any trail in the area and see a section he helped put in.  That's pretty cool, and I think the part we worked on will be kind of special to me because I helped, so I totally get what he means.

More progress
After we had our section all raked clear, John had me work with a guy in another group who was bench-cutting the trail.  I pulled away the dirt as he cut it from the trail.  Hardly skilled labor, though the trick was getting the dirt out of the way without getting in the way.  As we talked about riding and trails and stuff, it came up that I'd been at Berryman last weekend, and he asked if I was with the Team Virtus group ride and said he was going to their Cedar Cross race (stabbing me in the heart with yet another reminder that I'm going to miss a truly epic event).  Anyway, I assured him that it would be an amazing experience because those guys are the best.

All told, we put in about 3+ hours of work.  I'm clearly not used to manual labor, because I am sore today, but it was actually a lot of fun.  I liked meeting and talking to some new people as well as the friends I already knew out there, and I liked contributing to this sport I love more and more.  We were even provided lunch and I won a $10 gift certificate to our LBS.  Sweet!

Since I didn't get to ride as planned Saturday, no way was I missing Sunday's ride at Castlewood.  Well, until the alarm went off at 5:45 and it was cold and dark and if it wasn't for telling Amy that I'd be there I might just have turned off the alarm and gone back to bed.  But I didn't, and even though Amy ended up not going because she felt lousy, I had a really good time.  My legs felt a little meh about the whole thing on the first climb, but they stopped whining pretty soon.  I tried to focus on keeping a little more speed (semi-successful, still lots and lots of braking) and on riding with a little more finesse, especially lifting my front wheel over obstacles, since Patrick recently called me on basically just bulldozing through things (a little more successful than the speed thing).  And it was a good thing that I rode this morning, because it ended up being the highlight of my day.

I've been looking forward to this afternoon's orienteering meet for about a month.  Our last outing left me feeling cautiously optimistic about my navigational skills.  While Jeff did most of the mapwork for our first two meets, I managed the map for November's meet and we did pretty well, especially considering we had an 8 year old in tow.  Today was to be my first solo outing because, while Jeff likes orienteering, he loves football and wouldn't have considered skipping the playoffs.  I was ok with that.  I was looking forward to seeing how I could do on my own. 

I got there plenty early since I was coming from the bike ride and just did some reading for one of my classes while the people in charge were setting up. While I was waiting, I did get some helpful hints from Fran, one of the SLOC people helping with registration.  I'm going to put it in yellow so that if you couldn't care less about orienteering it's easy for you to skip over.

Clue sheet
OK, for those of you who are still with me, to find your way around you have your map, which is marked with the controls for you to find. You have your clue sheet, such as the one to the right. The clue sheet tells you what number will be on the control marker (so you know you have the right one); it will also give you clues as to where you'll find the control.  Then you have your passport, which is basically a piece of paper with a bunch of boxes on it.  Each control will have a unique punch at it; you punch the corresponding box to show that you were at that point.

So Fran showed me some things she does with her passport.  First, she writes the control number in the corresponding box.  Using the clue sheet in my picture, she'd write the number 150 in the #1 box.  That way, when she gets there she doesn't have to go digging for her clue sheet.  Also she notes the identifying features.  She uses packing tape to cover her passport.  On the back of it, she tapes the clue sheet so it's right there if she needs to refer to it.  Once both sides are covered with tape, she trims away excess tape and punches a hole in the card.  She attaches it to her wrist using a couple of rubber bands.  That way it's right there and can't get lost.

**Back to our regular scheduled programming**
I got to see my friends Melissa, Traci, and Todd. And I had to decide which course to conquer attempt.  There were three basic options: yellow, which was 3.1K and mostly on trails and roads; orange, which was 4K and mostly off-trail but on major handrails such as streambeds and ridgetops; and green (4.8K) / red (6.3K), which require "intricate navigation at times".

Now, a smart person might say Hmmmm...this is the first time I've done this on my own; maybe I'll start small.  I, however, was thinking about my semi-success at Meramec and opted for the green course.  I thought about red, after all, I'm a runner.  I can certainly handle 6.3K , even if it is off-trail and through rough terrain.  Thankfully, my hubris did have limits and I stuck with the shorter course

Like at Meramec, we had to copy the controls from a master map onto our own.  I did this carefully, then noted the control numbers on my passport and checked to make sure I knew what all the symbols meant.  Then it was time to get in line to take off.  Since the courses were point-to-point, you had to get each control in number order.  To make it easier to not follow others, start times are staggered.

When it was my time, I jogged out the door...and realized I had no idea where to go from there.  This, wait...that way....ummm, no, that's not it... If you picture the way heads turn from side to side in a tennis match, that's pretty much how I looked for the first couple of minutes.  I relaxed, really looked at the map, and figured out where I needed to go. 

One down, nine to go...
I wouldn't say I went straight to the first control, but I found it with a minimum of wandering.  Then, I navigated directly to the second one.  I was pretty shocked and pleased.  If I'd taken a few seconds to think about it, though, I might have realized that I hadn't expected it to be there at all.  Score one for dumb luck.

I wish I'd taken a little time to savor that second control more, because things went south from there.  Having shot a bearing and heading directly towards #3, I came out on a road.  The "road" was actually a trail, which made for additional confusion.  I thought I knew where I was on the map, but then realized I didn't and went looking for some kind of reference point I could match up to the map.  Thinking I knew where I was, I came across some people who kind of looked like they knew what they were doing.

"Do you mind if I ask where you think you are?" I asked.  When they told me, I had no idea how I could've gotten that off track.  I didn't really think they were right, but I still didn't know where I was, so I kept on going looking for a reference point.  Before long, the same people were coming back my way. "Don't listen to us; we were totally off track."

Finally! A something on the map!
I was really excited to come across these stones, as I'd seen a symbol for "small cemetery".  Now I sort of knew where I was.  Sort of.  Really, I doubt I'd ever have found #3 if a woman coming out of the woods hadn't told me that the paved path (which I was guessing as a road) was actually a trail on the map, and then she kind of sent me in the right direction.  Finally! Number 3! I felt confident that, now that I knew where I was, the next point would much better.

I was so wrong.

Going strictly by compass again, I did manage to get to the right neighborhood, though again, not when/where I thought I should.  Ahhh, hindsight!  The map showed #4 in the vicinity of a fenced-in area, and there was a fence.  Of course, this was also an area where it would have behooved me to pay closer attention to the course notes: "This is an old map. Deviations exist (e.g. fenced areas near control 4 are not as mapped)."  Still, if my compass skills had been better, this wouldn't have been nearly the issue that it was. 

I didn't think I was in the right area, but there was the fence.  There was the big pond that was on the map.  Just to make sure I wasn't in the right area, I went partway around the fence.  And then the other way.  Finding a road that was on the map, I went back the way I had come.  Then decided that couldn't be right.  I went back to where I'd started near the fence.  Since the clue sheet said re-entrant, I walked along something that was semi-reentrant-ish.  No luck.  Eventually I came across some ladies who'd already found 4 and told me I'd have to go partway around the fence (again!).  I went all the way around, fell coming down a creekside, and ran into another group who pointed the way towards the control.  Yeah, that's right, it took me TWO groups of Samaritans before I could find the stupid thing.

I was starting to get really frustrated by this point.  I knew what I was supposed to be doing, but it was going SO WRONG. Thinking back to an old post I'd read when my friend Bob had a rough outing and ended up just savoring the day and the park and the scenery, I tried really hard to channel that spirit.  It was really hard to keep a good attitude, though.  I think that's about the time I started whining on facebook:

Since the whole follow the compass straight to the next point thing wasn't working so well for me, I decided to try something different to get to #5.  Rather than go straight there, I shot a bearing to the trail; then I could follow the trail to a good known point, then follow a fence to #5.  It worked perfectly...until I left my known point (the end of the campground) in search of the fence.  I shot a bearing towards where it should be and walked and walked and walked.  I did have one fun moment where I had to climb over a gigantic fallen tree.  I had to boost myself up to it, then swing across and sliiiiide until my feet touched the ground again.  I was wishing I had a cameraman there to get that shot.

Once again, I wandered all over the place.  I finally came across a control, only to check the number and find out it was the wrong one. I think I ended up back at the same campground spot once and tried again with no luck.  Somehow I ended up at the other end of the campground and tried a different attack point with no luck.  I knew by this time there was no way I was clearing the course.  I was already over my 3 hour time limit.  I just really, really wanted to find #5 before heading back.  I found a trail on the map and tried following that to get me closer; I saw a control flag in the distance.  Could this be it?? Was I going to end my day with a minor success?

Nope.  It was the same wrong one I'd come across before.  That was it for me.  I was done.  I did run a little on the way back, trying to salvage some kind of benefit from the day; after all, I have a little race I'm supposed to be training for.  I think I was the last person in, which is saying something because there were a ton of people there today. 

Truly, it was an epic fail.  Looking at my Garmin tracks, it's quite clear I didn't have a clue what I was doing.

The arrows just show a little of my direction of travel
So remember the course description I posted above?  Of course you don't; I don't even remember it.  I'll remind us: my entire course was supposed to be about 4.8K, or just under 3 miles (if you're able to go point to point).  The 4 (of 10) controls I got, plus all of the wandering and searching for #5 came to 4.72 mi (or 7.6K).  So I went half again as far as the entire course, plus I didn't even get halfway finished. :-/

While I never freaked out in the woods, I was incredibly frustrated, and by the time I got back to the finish (or give-up) line, it was all I could do to turn in my passport and get to my car without crying.  I didn't think I'd be good today, but I didn't think I'd be that bad.  I felt utterly defeated.  I just got in the car and started driving; though I had google maps up with directions to my house, I missed about three different major turns and just kept resetting the directions from my new starting point.  I couldn't even find Qdoba when I stopped to grab something for a late lunch.  It was bad.

As I drove (and drove and drove), though, I thought.  I was so wrong on every point after the second.  I was never in the right place.  I thought back especially to #4.  It doesn't show up on my Garmin map, but there was a huge fenced-in area with a big pool/pond there.  I navigated right to the fenced-in area, but I was completely off-base as far as which way I thought I needed to go.  In fact, I was completely off-base on my headings for everything after the second point.  You probably noticed it on the map above.

As I thought about it, it began to dawn on me that I'd missed one very important step.  Here's how you (well, how I...maybe I know even less than I think I do), take a bearing so you know how to get from point to point on your map:

photo.JPG First, line up your compass from the point where you are (in this case, #2) to your destination (#3).  You can see the two points at the top edge of the compass. 

photo.JPGNext, line up the straight lines in the middle of the black circle with your North/South lines on your map. The red lines should be on the "north" side.

3 Now you're going to want to orient yourself so that the compass needle stays in the red box like the picture to the left shows.

4Hold your compass in front of you.  As long as the needle stays in the box, you're going in your chosen direction.  You can look ahead of you, find a landmark (maybe a big tree or a rock) in the line you're walking.  When you get to it, check your compass, find a new landmark, and go on ahead.

Easy, right?

I skipped the second step!!  I figured my direction of travel, but I just moved the housing so that the needle was in the red box rather than move it to a north-south orientation.  I must've just totally lucked out on the second control, because I used my compass completely wrong all day long.  Really, it's a miracle I found anything.

If you look at the picture below, you can see clearly how completely off-track I was every time.  It's kind of funny now that I know what happened.

The black shows what I did; clearly going in the wrong direction.  The blue shows what I thought I was doing.  Sad, sad.

And you know what's ironic?  Back in December, Abby posted all about finally learning how to take a bearing on the compass after a couple years of not even knowing you did such a thing.  And I commented that, at our last orienteering meet, this had all finally "clicked" for me.

Apparently someone shut the light off this time, but I think this may have been the mistake(s) that cements the knowledge for me.

I hope.  Geez.


  1. That sounds like such a great time. I think I would love it. Nothing says "Moms Gone Wild" like getting lost in the woods :) When I come for a visit, promise you'll take me!

  2. I bet you are dying to get out there again to affirm what you have figured out. You are already learning from your mistakes and so not giving up.

    Have a good week at school.

  3. That sucks that you didn't do very well, but I bet you won't make that mistake again. I have noticed a bit of a trend where I "call you out" on things, which I am not denying but you leave out the part where I give you helpful advice. People are going to think I am horrible. Keep up the good work!

  4. Oh sorry! I meant the call out as being helpful. It totally was! Call out/point out, I always appreciate that you tell me what I need to hear. I would hate for anybody to take that as you being a jerk or anything like that when me recognizing things like what you told ms is only going to make me a better biker.

  5. Playing in the woods sounds awesome! And great that you rolled your sleeves up and pitched in like that. Very cool. You'll have to read Abby's post today, btw!

    I too am having lots of issues commenting on some of my favorite blogger blogs. I'm sad about it!

    Finally, you won my book giveaway! Email me at

  6. yeah, the comment thing sucks. I am having SO much trouble.

    that sounds like the most frustrating day EVER. BUT! at least you figured out where your issues lie, and next time will SURELY be so much better! :)

  7. We have an active mountain bike group here and I always plan on helping with the trails but never do - bad.

    I think you're orienteering path looks way more interesting than the boring blue one.

  8. First of all, it's great you helped on the trails. Very cool.

    Secondly, it's even cooler that you tried the green course. I know you could have done the easier courses, but I'm pretty sure you wouldn't have learned as much.

    And lastly, I promise it will get better. I've made (and keep making) so many mistakes over the years. But you just gotta keep at it and keep getting better.

    Nice work, Kate!

  9. Sounds like lots of fun and good times. I love those red lines all over the place.

  10. Used to build trails, used to use to do some orienteering - used to be a a boy scout. Was fun to read your post.

  11. Good work with the GORC crew! I've done half-dozen or so workdays now, and I always enjoy it when I get to the 2 areas at Greensfelder where I helped with the trail.

    I need to try the orienteering thing sometime. It looks like fun!

  12. sound fun! (or scary.same thing)

  13. I love reading about your adventures - even the frustrating ones. Once spring comes and we don't have to fight weather, I definitely want to make it over towards St. L to join you. I've never ridden a trail or done orienteering. Is the best way to start just to jump in?

  14. OK, I'm the kind of person who always goes the wrong way in the mall. If my trails are not clearly marked --- not good. You have all my admiration! Looks like a blast!

  15. I have the same problems with yours is back to ok for me but others still same issues you described.

    I dont want to move my blog to WP and loose a bunch of people and start over....too lazy...

    Me I would get lost in the woods if the trail was not CLEARLY marked 100% for sure and I would also go in full anxiety mode!!
    that is because I am NOT SUPER anything ! :)

  16. It's better than you were making a simple early mistake than that you were just terrible at the whole thing, right?

  17. Whoa that is awesome! I feel I would have gotten hopelessly lost!!! Ditto about the comments, I have one computer that seems to work (besides my phone). My issue is with internet explorer... for a while I could read but not comment, now I can't do either.

  18. That was fun helping out on the GORC trail. I was sore the next day too and my thumbs are still sore (girly man hands :-)) from working that tree puller thing.

    Your orienteering does sound frustrating. Sorry if I chuckled at having trouble getting home with a gps :-). Looks like you are analyzing your mistakes so you can improve. You'll be a pro in no time with that kind of reflection.

  19. I just wanted to let you know - in case you ever get lost in the woods (which probably will not happen since you have a compass and know how to use it), I'll come in and get you out. You don't even have to call - I'll just know.

  20. Kate, you know I've been there :) Maybe we can practice together virtually so that we'll both knock the next course out of the park!

  21. Yeah but, you have a great piece of art work now. How cool would that be to hang on your wall!?!?!? :)

  22. LOL This reminds me of the wilderness survival class I took at U of O. We had a basic orienteering field trip and had to look everywhere for these landmarks, but had some trouble and got into some poison oak.
    Thank goodness for Garmins.

  23. Used to od this in Boy Scouts in Washington. Just not on MTB. Fun!

    Yes, I have noticed no comments from you lately. I was thinking my little ole nothing of a running blog had offended you in some way. miss you comments! :)

  24. That is not for me, maybe I am getting really older.
    As usual great pics.


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