ABOVE ALL, ORIENTEERS PERSEVERE RUNNING, MAP-READING COMBINE IN ONE SPORT
Free Press (MI)
Maarit Karki is the kind of person you want along when your four-wheel-drive truck bogs down a half-mile from the nearest two-track.
Six inches of black water covers another six of black muck on this trail in the Highland State Recreation Area, but she's chugging along like a locomotive, map and compass in hand and a determined look on her face.
Karki, a physical therapist at St. Joseph Mercy Hospital in Ann Arbor, is orienteering, a sport that combines cross- country running, map-reading and an utter disregard for the weather.
On this Sunday, Southern Michigan Orienteering Club runners are using maps and clues to find 23 locations -- called control points -- that have been hidden in woods, fields and swamps by the meet's directors, Dave Bailey and Jude Halloran.
At each site is a paper punch that the orienteers use to mark their score sheets.
The control points are set across several hundred acres. Each is worth 1-23 points; the farthest points are worth the most. Competitors -- individuals and teams -- have 90 minutes to find as many as possible, and there are penalties for getting back late.
Some meets require orienteers to find every control point, and the winner is the one who does it fastest.
There are courses for beginners, intermediates and experts.
Each runner gets a detailed topographic map showing contour lines, paths, lakes, swamps and buildings. There are numerous routes to each control point and several topographic marks to help locate it.
It's up to the orienteers to decide how to get there. The shortest route might go through a swamp. Another might require climbing a hill. A third might lead through featureless woods with no landmarks. That's where map and compass skills come in.
"Here, the woods all look alike," said Bailey, who used to live in rock-strewn New England. "If you're 50 yards off, you can hunt for a long time."
Doug Cox of Ann Arbor and daughter Heather, 8, are walking a trail churned up by horses, looking for a control point by a fallen tree. Last year, Cox said, the two disagreed over which route through a swamp was best.
"I said, 'Fine, have it your way. But I'm not going there,' and I left him," Heather said.
Dad followed his father-knows-best plan and stepped waist- deep into a bog.
A European import
Orienteering is big in Europe, and many of Michigan's top practitioners are European academics at the state universities.
Arne Nikolstad, for example, is a political scientist from Norway spending a year at the University of Michigan. Most Norwegian cities have several clubs that compete year-round, he said.
Orienteers don't need much equipment. The basics are a compass, running shoes with good traction, and clothes that minimize scratches from branches and thorns.
Beyond the basics, some orienteers use one-piece suits of breathable nylon (easily washed out and dried for multiday meets), shoes with cleats and knobs on the bottom, and thumb compasses that stay stable while jogging.
Bailey said events can be held using virtually any conveyance -- mountain bikes, cross-country skis, canoes.
Back on the course, the Lansing area team of Joe Cleary, Grant Johnson and Matt Thompson are pushing through heavy, rain-soaked underbrush in their search for control No. 16.
"We're going for the high-point controls," said Cleary, who is sweating in the 60-degree temperatures and mist. "We figure anything double-digit is worth going after."
The strategy works; Cleary, Johnson and Thompson easily win the Highland meet with 93 points, despite finding only six controls. Anyone who went after the controls in 1-2-3 order would have needed 14 to beat them.
There are four more SMOC events scheduled in the Ann Arbor area: Oct. 21, Silver Lake, Pinckney Recreation Area (Greg Lee, 930-9783, 6-9 p.m. daily); Oct. 24, Mill Lake (Paul Shank, 1-517-339-9159, 8-8 daily); Nov. 7, Portage Lake (Bill Luitje, 769-7820, 8-10 p.m. weekdays); Dec. 5, Bird Hills (Mary Joscelyn, 995-1842, 9-9 daily). Beginners are welcome. Maps cost $1-$3, and compasses can be rented. All events are noon-3. For information, write the Southern Michigan Orienteering Club, 2677 Wayside Drive, Ann Arbor 48103.
Zach Henderson, 11, left, and Evan Pelc, 9, of Rochester
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