NY Times article on orienteering (not really very interesting)

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April 27, 2000

Going Into the Web to Get Out of the Woods By MICHAEL POLLAK ow to find yourself? No, this is not about existential navel-gazing, religion, talk shows or get-a-life books by people with initials after their names. This is about just plain being lost, preferably in the woods by one's own choice, and the fun of finding one's way out. People who like this sort of thing may not rival Oprah's audience in numbers, but judging from the orienteering clubs and information on the Web, they are just as enthusiastic.

"Orienteering is the sport of navigation with map and compass," begins the home page of the United States Orienteering Federation (www.us.orienteering.org). The International Orienteering Federation (www.orienteering.org) describes the sport even more succinctly as "running while playing chess."

The national federation's Web site takes a viewer step by step through a color-coded orienteering trail map. There are teacher guides and special pages for children. The federation site also has links to its 71 member clubs and estimated 8,000 to 10,000 members, plus Canadian clubs and the international federation.

There are also pages for specialties: ski, canoe, horseback and mountain bike orienteering and Trail-O, a form of orienteering for wheelchair users and other disabled people that emphasizes precise map reading over speed. (Anne Braggins, a Briton who heads the International Orienteering Federation's Trail-O Committee, has a site at dialspace.dial.pipex.com/vision/trailo.)

And there is rogaining, which is named for its founders and has nothing to do with hair but everything to do with endurance and speed: finding as many checkpoints as possible in a given time. There are online links to supply shops; orienteering maps are different from the more familiar government topographic maps (which, by the way, are available online at www.topozone.com).

There's something deceptive about a map and a compass. These tools may be neglected until they are badly needed, which is the wrong time to get an education.

"If I had to name the one thing that is the hardest for most people, I would say it is learning to trust the map and the compass, and realizing that this trust may often mean that your perception of where you thought you were traveling is wrong," said Jonathan D. Nash, director of media relations for the federation, in an e-mail note.

There are other common mistakes besides not believing your map and compass, Mr. Nash wrote. One is "making a 180" -- setting your compass upside down, with the wrong end of the needle pointing north, and charging off in the exact opposite direction.

Orienteering, Mr. Nash wrote, got its big push in the United States in the 1970's from two transplanted Scandinavians. Fittingly, the education link off the federation's home page, How to Use a Compass, is a Norwegian site by Kjetil Kjernsmo (www.uio.no/kjetikj/compass). The English is not perfect, but it is worth putting up with that for the vital explanation of an orienteering compass and the mysteries of declination, the difference between true north and magnetic north.

Mr. Kjernsmo's site includes pages on navigating in foggy conditions, the danger of white-out and what to do if you are really lost and don't have a compass. If the sun is shining, you can figure directions with just your wristwatch (analog, please, not digital). No watch? You can use a stick. Night? Use Polaris.

Orienteering's courses range from white, for people who may just want to walk, look at the birds and familiarize themselves with a map, to blue, for people who are willing to push themselves seven miles or more looking for off-trail markers with a compass as a crucial guide. People who love orienteering have a common denominator, Mr. Nash wrote: "They all like to solve things."

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-- Michael (meglin@juno.com), April 27, 2000

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