Wednesday, November 4, 2015

Surviving the Night

...and somehow October has already passed, and with it a full, but incredibly fun, Autumn season. World Champs, Night Hawk, NM Ultra, Antwerp Sprint Meet, NM week, World Cup Final (the orienteering one. Not the Rugby one. Which NZ won. Just by the way. #subtlesidenote), 25-manna, Blodslitet and Smålandskavlen. But I'm not writing about any of them. Not this time anyway.

But I will just slip this little pic in here ;-)
Photo: 25-manna

 Because the end of the Autumn season has also meant the advent of winter training, and that means night-training, which, in my case, makes far more entertaining reading.

Prologue: Night-O Down-Under

You see, night orienteering is a rare species down-under. Especially so when you lead the 'tough' life of spending half of each Southern winter up in Europe racing and training ;-)

In New Zealand, I can remember running all of two individual night races. Both of these were completely dominated by the South Islanders, who have the advantage of experiencing more hours of darkness each year than the rest of the country. That, and they have a number of innovative engineers in their mix. And a seeming lack of fear for setting their hair on fire with home made lamps. Us North Islanders have no chance.

Meanwhile in Australia, I raced all of one night orienteering race. It was possibly my least enjoyable orienteering experience. Ever. A warm late March evening in Sydney, I was still new to the country, and the race was 70% in long, thick, waist high grass. The entire race, my thoughts were like a track on repeat:

"Snake!...Nope....Snake?!,,,Snake??!...nah....SNAKE?!...SHIT!!...wait...No...Rabbit...SNAAKE!!!...Oh thank f*&#, a control in the forest!! Goodbye sneaky snakes, you suckers!!!".....

"Shiiiiiiiiit!!!" *Runs back out to long grass*
Between every tree. I swear. (For the record, I didn't actually see any snakes. Just heard a lot of could-be-snakes-but-probably-rabbits. I stand by my statement that Australia really is a safe place to orienteer)

I did actually do some night training in Aus though. And it was good. Not least because if your headlamp dies, the forest is usually so sparse you can just use star and moonlight to find your way home. Something I resorted to more than once. But, when the headlamp worked, I wasn't half bad:

Take that termite mound! (never mind #9)

The Real Stuff: Night-O up North.

But being capable at running around the open farmland and open forests of NZ and Aus at night does not nearly translate to capability in dark Norwegian forests. A fact that club mates had cheerfully been warning me of for weeks prior to our first night training. Meanwhile, my Ayups have been met with laughter over their lack of brightness and their inappropriateness for night training. An accusation I staunchly defend them against (although, I will concede they're not great in comparison, when everyone else has a stadium floodlight attached to their heads...)

Anyway the stage was well set for my first Onsdagsnatt training a few weeks ago. Mass start night training with plenty of splits, and no tapes in the forest. Sounded awesome! I was keen to get stuck in and show that I wasn't a complete noob at this night orienteering thing...

An Onsdagsnatt Debut, action replay :

Borrowed headlamp charged (or so I was told), and wrapped in more clothes than I've worn for training in years, the session starts off with a social jog out to the start. Except, what? We've started already?! Well that just seems unfair! I was told we gather up before starting, but now I'm already back of the pack at the start triangle!

Unperturbed, I head out to the track and hop past some of the juniors until I find Mari and Jo to pace alongside. The boys are already gone, but that's OK. I know where I am, I know where I'm going, and the other girls are here. Who said this was hard?! In fact, we catch and pass half the boys at #2 as they miss the rock which the non-existent control is on. Never mind that I have the full map while most of the guys have contour only, I am smashing this!! Kiwis are nocturnal birds, after all.

The hill up to #3 is a bit tough on short legs, but hey, I'm still with the pack. There's a quote they have for this situation, what is it?...

"Quit while you're ahead in the pack"
One hesitation to make sure that the two hills I'm between truly are my #3 feature, and suddenly I'm back off the pack. It's just me, Rahel and Mari. One minute and a further hesitation later, it's just me and Rahel. The forest is kind of dark. I start to see, what I was being warned about.

Nek minute...
I figure this is as good a time as any to test out the advice I was given on warm clothing; so take an involuntary swim in the stream between 4 and 5. Three lessons learnt for the price of one: 
- It's hard to judge the depth of a stream with a headlamp on.
- The swimming season in Norway is definitely limited to June - August. Unless you're Scottish.
- Merino is warm. Good.

A smarter (or less stubborn) person would turn around at this point. But no way, I'm out here to prove a point, and...I'm having fun?! Rahel, however, is smart, and cuts off 6-13, leaving me to find #7 alone. Or, as it turns out, not find it.

I literally have no idea where I am right now.
I suddenly feel very, very alone. Everything is vague as heck, and anything is bare rock and rocky pits in the dark. My thoughts start to turn to the fact that I am soaked through and a little lost...and oh shoot, did the battery get wet when I went for my swim?! Am I going to die out here? If only I could find a snake or a spider to bite me least I'd die a bit faster then.

Time to ditch #7, I pick an arbitrary knoll as being correct (It's only 150-200m out) and head to #13. Half way there I realise that I have entirely trusted my safety to Eva, in assuming that the headlamp I've borrowed is fully charged. I have absolutely no doubt that she has charged it, but I still turn the brightness down. I'm in survival mode now after all. And the closest tracks look a long long way away. I have never been more thankful for the live gps on my back...atleast they'll be able to find my body.

But then I absolutely nail #13. No-one is around to hear me celebrate, which is probably a good thing. You know, maybe I'm not so bad at this after all? And another thing. I haven't fallen off a cliff yet. So you know, I've got that going for me. 

I continue on in slightly better spirits and with some confidence restored. Somewhere in the bog of green between 13 and 14 I successfully intimidate and scare the living daylights out of the biggest, most blood-thirsty moose known to man kind. Definitely not the other way around, and definitely a moose, not a small deer or small-to-moderate sized bird. I do, however, run faster to put some distance between us. Just out of consideration for the moose you understand, to make it feel safer. Not me.

Around #15 I see possibly the best sight ever:

I'm not alone in this world!! Unfortunately, I get a little too excited, and miss the control feature. By the time I correct, my unidentified friend is long gone. Ah well, atleast I know there's still one car waiting at the finish, right?! I push on, running faster to try and chase down my new potential friend. They also run faster, to avoid being my friend.

No, to be honest, the rest of the course goes pretty smoothly. I manage to screw my head on, start hitting controls well, and start drafting this blog in my head. Although many cars are gone by my return, my ride is still there, as just as importantly, so is my overflowing bag of warm clothes.

And you know what? I wasn't last back. I may not have run nearly as far. But whatever. I'll take it.

Epilogue: Onsdagsnatt 2 & 3

Since that first adventure, I've had the pleasure of two more Onsdagsnatt getting lost in the dark training sessions. Admittedly, I have not quite got this night orienteering thing nailed yet:

When you have a 6th sense for the edge of the map like:
(But in the dark. Obvs.)

But I'm improving! Honest! HSK's first Night Cup race of the winter season is tonight. So, we'll see I guess. If not brilliant orienteering, at least I'll get a decent story or two out of it, and definitely a lot of fun. Bring on the night!

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