Pontiac Lake Recreation Area (PLRA)

Sunday May 16, 2004
Meet Director - Bill Pelletier
"Hardest course I ever tried," proclaimed 2nd-place Green runner David Ives several times, himself a frequent high finisher on Red/Green courses at SMOC meets.  Others similarly attested to the challenge of the courses, especially the Advanced ones.  I deliberately made the 4 advanced courses as navigationally difficult as possible, believing that advanced orienteers would love the mental challenges involved, and the animated discussions of various controls at the Finish area validated this thesis.

It was a great day for Orienteering with beautiful weather, very challenging courses, and a good turnout of 112 people (orienteers and meet workers).  The vegetation and wild flowers were beautiful.  There were many fauna sightings, mostly fowl, but Dennis Elston, one of SMOC's veteran Green runners, reported seeing a coyote just north of the erosion gully control (HH: Blue9, Red8, Green8, Brown8) at the south end of the course.

To see pictures of the PLRA O-meet, click here, where Noah Pelletier, the official meet photographer, has uploaded 48 candid pictures he took at the meet.  Those I recognized in the pictures included Lester Mok, Dennis Elston, Rick Waldo, Rich Matthei, Geoff & David Skelton, Roddy Wares, Mary Joscelyn, Al Newman, Pat Murad, John & Sue Danielson, Bill Luitje, Tom Lee, David Ives, Mike Keating, Greg Lukas, the 4 Pelletier boys, and myself.

This report summarizes the courses, includes some course analysis and evaluation, recognizes the many meet helpers, and concludes with a tabulation of the results.

This meet offered a full suite of 7 courses from White to Blue.  I believe this was the first time SMOC offered Blue and Brown courses at a club-level meet. The 22 advanced runners were spread out over 4 courses (Blue, Red, Green, Brown) instead of 2, with about half of those who normally run Red electing to try Blue, so there was less head-to-head competition than usual. 

Red was a subset of the 21-control Blue course.  Neither Green nor Brown was a subset or superset of any other course.  Roughly, Red cut out the N loop of Blue; Green excised the SW, NE, & N Blue loops; Brown cut out the SE, NE, & N Blue loops.  Red: Blue controls 2-16, 20.  Green: Blue 1-5, Green6, Blue 8-15, Orange2 (on the creek) for routing purposes, Blue21.  Brown: Blue 2-9,14,15, Orange2, Blue21.  A total of 32 controls were hung for the 7 courses.  There were 5 single-course controls: Blue17, Blue18, Green6, Orange3, White1.

The Blue course  (9.33 km, 21 controls) had 6 starts and 2 finishers (Finish% = 33%).  One of SMOC's own elite orienteers, Rick Waldo, charged to victory on Blue in 2:25:20.  Greg Lukas finished 2nd at 4:19:30.  Rick was one of the first out on the courses with the result that he essentially vetted Blue.  He lost about 10 minutes searching for one control which had been blown down.  This was the one originally hung a week early in a shallow, stony re-entrant about 500 m south of the main lake (XH: Blue14, Red13, Green13, Brown9).  He finally found it partially obscured on the ground in the re-entrant.  I, as well as all the advanced runners, who were behind Rick on the course, thank Rick for re-hanging it.

The Red course (7.50 km, 16 controls) had 7 starts and 2 finishers (Finish% = 29%).  SMOC's 1994 US Champion, Al Newman, won Red with an impressive 2:05:50.  Bill Luitje, President of SMOC and frequent high finisher at club meets, finished 2nd at 2:32:45.

The Green course (5.74 km, 16 controls) had 8 starts and 6 finishers (Finish% = 75%).  SMOC's 1997 US Women's Champion, Roddy Wares, outpaced all her competition to win with a commendable 1:59:40.  David Ives was not far behind at 2:13:40.  Pat Murad finished a strong third at 2:34:45.

The Brown course (4.60 km, 12 controls) had 1 start and 1 finisher (Finish% = 100%).  Mike Ryan aced Brown with a time of 2:49:30.

The Orange course (4.41 km, 10 controls) was the most popular choice of the day with 16 starts (35 people) and 6 finishers (Finish% = 38%).  Jeremy Matthei, son of veteran SMOC member Rich Matthei, raced through the course in 1:22:30 to seize first place.

The Yellow course (3.14 km, 9 controls) had 13 starts (30 people) and 9 finishers (Finish% = 69%).  Mark Hill zoomed around the course in 1:02:05 to earn the win.
The White course (2.48 km, 6 controls) had 7 starts (18 people) and 6 finishers (Finish% = 86%).  The Ed Hawkinson family came in first at 0:46:10.  They were the only ones to complete any of the courses in under an hour.

In my opinion, hard Advanced courses are more fun and are less common than moderate-level-difficulty advanced courses.  Therefore I tried to design difficult advanced courses for this meet.  I purposefully tried to place many Advanced controls in navigationally challenging terrain, and I tried to set controls which forced orienteers to read the topography in order to locate a control and optimize routes.  Based on discussions at the Finish area among returning orienteers, I believe these course design goals were accomplished.

The controls were all correctly placed, but one of the advanced controls generated some mild complaints.  This control (ZU: Blue11, Red10, Green10) was in a small overgrown re-entrant north of a steep earth bank on the southeast side of the course.  The way I expected the control to be attacked was to locate the steep earth bank from the open area to the east (fairly easy) and follow the top of the bank north down into the re-entrant.  At least one runner did this with little trouble.  Others attacked directly from the clear area to the east.  Those who approached from the west through thick vegetation had the most difficulty finding the control.  The feedback was that although the control was properly placed, it wasn't a distinct enough location with sufficient information on the map to enable one to easily navigate directly to it.  Some felt it was a "bingo" control.

Here is my thinking on this control.  I needed a routing control in this general area to prevent the previous control (TB: the water control) from being a dog-leg.  My original site choice for this routing control was in a thicket in a depression about 125 m NW of the overgrown re-entrant site.  However, in scouting the area I decided this site was too easy for an advanced control and the thicket was too dense and large, and I opted for the re-entrant site.  The relatively small size of the control feature (re-entrant) and the many possible approaches to it, some easy, some difficult, added to the interest of this control site in my opinion.  It is true that the map detail was hard to read near the control, and the vegetation could have been better mapped.  I should have cut out some of control circle to aid map readability.  I agree that the control was not easy, but I'm not ready to concede that the site was not appropriate for an advanced control.  Maybe upon further reflection or more input from other more experienced orienteers I will change my mind.

The heavy vegetation was a complicating factor for some controls which had all been scouted before the vegetation leafed out in the last week.  For example, the pit control (HA: Blue3, Red2, Green3, Brown2) looked good (white on map and field) when scouted several weeks previously, but when I hung it the day before the meet and after the course maps had already been printed, we discovered that the leafy vines and brambles were quite thick.  Of course it was too late to make changes at that point.  This vegetation explosion caused several of the advanced controls to be "greener" than originally anticipated.

One of the Orange controls (HN: Orange3) may have been too difficult for Orange.  This control was on the east bank of the marsh which was south of the main lake.  Several runners expressed frustration at not being able to find the marsh despite spending up to 2 hours criss-crossing back and forth.  The way I expected runners to find it from Orange2 on the stream was to head south, skirting the rugged terrain to the west, and then follow the ridge southwest till within sight of the marsh.  But maybe this was too much to expect from Orange.  Even though Orange3 was located on a fairly large feature, there was no nearby linear catching feature.  This control was probably what Lew Kidder, SMOC's Meet Coordinator, calls a "greenish-orange" control.  It was too easy a placement for an advanced
control, but too hard for intermediate orienteers. 

Another aspect of Orange, which may have added to its difficulty for some, was that the hardest of the 10 Orange controls (#s 3,4,5) were fairly early in the course.  It probably would have been better to run Orange the other direction so that more easy controls would come first to build confidence before being faced with the more challenging ones in the latter half of the course.

I think that, with the possible exception of Orange, the difficulty level of the courses was about right.  The low completion rate of 6/16 = 38% for Orange indicates that it was either too hard or most Orange runners should have chosen Yellow instead.  I think this was due primarily to Orange3; the other Orange controls were well within reason for an Intermediate-level course.

The 2 Beginner courses, White and Yellow, with a completion rate of 15/20 = 75% were about right with some very easy controls and one slightly harder on each course to provide interest (ZZ: White6 on N shore of lake, and TL: Yellow2 on E bank of little pond).  As with Orange, it probably would have been better to put Yellow2 near the end of the course instead of second.

I do not think it is possible to make an advanced course too hard, as long as the course length is within the prescribed limits.  The 4 Advanced courses for this meet were navigationally comparable with distance being the key discriminant.  The solid completion rate of 7/9 = 78% for the 2 shorter courses (Green & Brown) compared with the low completion rate of 4/13 = 31% for the 2 longer ones (Blue & Red) suggests that the main difference was length.  I think most who could not finish Blue or Red would have finished Green or Brown.

Many, many people assisted with this meet.  I could not have managed without so much capable and willing help.  First, I want to thank my son Daniel (13) for spending 6 full days with me out in the woods beginning in March scouting control sites, designing courses, updating the PLRA O-map, and hanging controls.  Of all my helpers, Daniel put the most time and effort into this meet, and he has developed into an excellent orienteer.
Lew Kidder assisted with getting the appropriate permissions from the PLRA park administration.  Pat Murad helped greatly by making a special trip to give me control flags the week before the meet so that I could start hanging them.

Daniel P set out water and hung the final flags the morning of the meet.  Stephen Pelletier (18) managed the registration table and map sales with help from his brothers Noah (15) and Joseph (11).

Rich Matthei and Daniel P helped direct cars for parking.  Noah P, Joseph P, and Rich Matthei helped put out signs. 

Special thanks to Noah Pelletier for photographing the meet.  To see his pictures click here.

I want to thank Lester Mok for providing on-site Beginner Instruction classes.  I heard many comments from people expressing appreciation for his insightful guidance.  Lester has done this for years at dozens of meets, and it's a tremendous help to meet directors to know that this important job is in dependable hands.  Lester is returning to Hong Kong and will be sorely missed at future SMOC meets.

At the end of the meet I especially appreciated all the help people gave collecting controls.  Bill Luitje, Dennis Elston, Rick Waldo, Rich Matthei, Mike Keating, Tom Lee, Lester Mok, and Daniel Pelletier all helped with this task.  David Ives helped pack up the club's meet supplies and pick up signs.  

To all these helpers, I extend thanks on behalf of myself and all the meet participants.  If I inadvertently overlooked someone, please accept my apologies and thanks from all of us.

Finally, I'd like to thank everyone for their meet participation, including for remembering to check out with the Starter and to check in when finished.  As far as I know, no one forgot to do this.


BLUE - 9.33 km, 21 controls

1. Rick Waldo


2. Greg Lukas


    Brian Gialk


    Tom Lee


    Dick West


    Matt Middleton




RED - 7.50 km, 16 controls

1. Al Newman


2. Bill Luitje


    Matt Johns


    Tina Thompson


    Joe Thompson


    Scott Anderson


    Josh Pearson




GREEN - 5.74 km, 16 controls

1. Roddy Wares


2. David Ives


3. Pat Murad


4. Chuck Newman


5. Dennis Elston


6. Lester Mok


    Mike Keating


    Yosse Zekic




BROWN - 4.60 km, 12 controls

1. Mike Ryan




ORANGE - 4.41 km, 10 controls

1. Jeremy Matthei


2. Robert & Diane Dutton


3. Mike Wood & Kevin Pillsbury


4. Rich Matthei


5. Deforest Eveland


6. Mark Pompetzki, Nancy McMahon


    Binkert (2) & Heckemeyer


    Matt Bradley


    Kevin Gearin, Dave Brunner


    Amy Frysinger (3)


    Floyd Walters, Susan Jimenez


    Sonya Talwalken, Dominic Baffo


    Finger family (4)


    David Kelley group (5)


    Jodi Wiley, Amanda Weirich


    Mike & Pat Villemure




YELLOW - 3.14 km, 9 controls

1. Mark Hill


2. Mark Chappell-Lakin


3. Mary Joscelyn


4. Fiona Hein, Nick, Isaac Sienkowski


5. Joe Van (3)


6. Kevin Weldon (3)


7. David Herzig


8. David & Judy Weld


9. Steve Rossner, Brian Halliwill


    Cavallaro family (4)


    Rosalind Standriff, Laurie Robinson


    Ann Carter (3) (due to minor injury)


    Sharen, Les, Jen Howard




WHITE - 2.48 km, 6 controls

1. Ed Hawkinson family (4)


2. Arvid Tronnes


3. Cheryl Goodwin, Erin


4. Patrick McNeal, 2 kids


5. Geoff Skelton, David


6. Nick Lucas family (5)


    Iovtcho Tzourov


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