Orienteering in Florida

Early in 2014 Derick and I decided that 2015 would be the year we would go to Florida and have 3 weeks away.

Whenever we go away for a non-orienteering holiday I always check to see whether there is an event on near to where we are staying and this trip was no different.

I found the Florida Orienteering clubs website (floridaorienteering.org) and had a look at their permanent courses. Two were near to where we planned to stay for the first 2 weeks - Moss Park and Kelly Park - but then I noticed that they had an event scheduled for the weekend after we arrived - 13th June. Looked up the location and discovered it was around an hour and a half's drive from where we were staying.

I emailed the contact on the website to enquire whether full leg covering was required and what timing devices would be in use. His response was a little strange to say the least 'I do not think the shiggy will be bad enough to resort to long pants' - shiggy??? Bridget Jones knickers!!!!

I then received a further email from the planner Bob Putnam who suggested that lower leg covering might be useful and directed me to google 'Saw Palmetto'. He also warned that the temperatures would be 80 to 90 degrees F and 100% humidity so to bring plenty of water, bug spray and lunch.

We recovered well from the flight out to Florida and as the date approached for the event I began to feel apprehensive as we had absolutely no idea what the terrain would be like so we decided to take a drive out to Kelly Park and have a run around the permanent course.

The day before the Florida Orienteering event we drove to Kelly Park, parked in a huge and pretty deserted car park, got kitted up then - where is the start??? After a short period of milling about the car park we eventually realised that we had to go out of the park, cross the road and climb over a fence marked 'No Trespassers' and go up a path a short distance.

To cut to the chase we both had a hard and interesting jog around strange Floridian woodland and emerged the worse for wear and covered in spider's webs (and in my case with the associated HUGE spider's still along for the ride).

By the time we made it back to the car park it was full of happy Americans setting up barbeques and wandering around with huge inflatable inner tubes. The guidebook had said to take swimwear so we donned our costumes and followed the Americans to find a lovely swimming hole!!! Not as we would have expected - there were lifeguards and no alligators!

On the day of the Florida Orienteering event at Little-Big Econ State Forest East we made an early start and arrived around 10.15am. The weather was brilliant sunshine and the humidity was already high. The event was based at a lovely covered picnic area. I met Ray (who had mentioned my underwear and warned me of shiggy) and Bob the planner. There followed a short discussion on course lengths and technical difficulty (not sure that is what they would call that in the US butů.) and Derick decided to do the Blue course (6.9km) and I did the Red (5.6km). There was an interesting map note - 'Gator at control 41'.

I decided to get on with it leaving Derick jogging around warming up.

Control 1 - straightforward, attack point was the gap in the dark green bit.

Control 2 - my plan was to hit the denser undergrowth on the other side of the creek and follow it around. This plan did not work well. I struggled to jump across the creek, which looked deep and full of gators (!) but finally got across without being dragged in and digested. The undergrowth was less distinct than I thought so I blundered about on the edge of the clearing for a bit (Derick jogged past me at this point). Finally I made it to the path to the North of Control 2 and then went North where there was a gathering of other runners all looking at their maps in that reassuring bewildered way. Unbeknown to me - this was the infamous Control number 41 of the Gator fame. I eventually relocated and then headed South locating Derick who was also looking for the same control - he led me into it.

For Control 3 I decided to head North West - missed the track and found myself fighting through more spider's webs and sharp painful palm trees until I located a pond. The pond enabled me to relocate with some accuracy and I fought my way back to the path. At that point I made the executive decision to take paths as much as possible for the rest of the course. Then I followed the curved path to the junction with the North/South path, turned left and started counting my paces (Derick jogged past me going the other way), my attack point was the pond on the left - turned right and went straight to Control 3.

Control 4 - my brain died - went up to the main cross roads and for some reason went straight on - realised my error when I got to the big boggy area but I couldn't be bothered to turn round so I wandered off through the bushes on a compass bearing and went straight to the control!!!!!

Control 5 - I followed the winding track northwards, tracked around the veg boundary and then took a compass bearing towards the thickets.

5 to 6 - I took the path route but it was a bit exposed and sweltering hot. Attack point was the boggy bit on the left - missed that and wandered about in the white forest bit until I realised, relocated, backtracked and found the control.

To 7 was a piece of cake, followed the fence to the small bit of wood then looped around it and checked the control. Collected a Floridian orienteer names Will at this point who was my bodyguard for the next few controls.

8 - compass bearing to the veg boundary then found the thicket.

To get to 9 I planned to follow the path around the large bog and use the path junction as the attack point. As I reached the veg boundary into the big area of bog I could hear voices calling out to each other then Derick popped out of the undergrowth and asked whether I knew were we were. I did but clearly he didn't. I helped him to relocate and then we both (together with Will) followed the veg boundary to the path and then in to the control.

My attack point for 10 was the path 'Y' junction so I decided to run around the path. Further but I was hot, tired and carrying about a dozen spiders of various sizes (all degrees of BIG) so I stuck with the plan. When I got to the attack point I could see a lovely little dingly dell of sunshine in the woods and there was control 10.

To get out of 10 I followed the gully to the East, got on the path and followed that to 11 and from there to the finish was a short run through some grassland (think Little House on the Prairie).

Results: I was 1st out of 6 on the Red in 112.07 having run 9.33km. Derick was 4th out of 12 on the Blue in 134.16. Timing was manual and the controls had pin punches so I have no split times. I also found out that the Red and the Blue were identical up until control number 9 then the Blue course had a few extra controls before coming back round to the finish. This explained why I kept coming across Derick on the course.

I got back to the car, stretched, changed, met lots of people who had been out in the woods with me and had some lunch. Eventually Derick limped in to the finish looking like he had been standing in a dirty shower for 2 hours.

I had a lovely time chatting with other runners discussing our respective routes to various controls etc. but Derick didn't join me for lunch. When I went back to the car I found him lying on the back seat with the air-con on full blast with his left foot elevated. It transpired that he fell in a hole and twisted his ankle on the way to control number 3 but carried on, as it didn't seem too bad. The further he got the worse the ankle got until by the time he finished it was a huge black egg on the side of his foot.

To conclude, we had a brilliant time experiencing Orienteering Florida style. The heat was stifling and I will try to remember that when we are running in rain, sleet and snow (as forecast for this winter). The spider's webs and gators made it even more fun than usual.

RED course map:

BLUE course map: