NASHVILLE, Ind. (AP) — If Hansel and Gretel had honed their orienteering skills before heading into the woods, they could have avoided a lot of unpleasantness.
Had they used a map and compass to find their way back home rather than leaving a bread crumb trail the birds ate, they might never have ended up at the wicked witch's house.
This more sure method of finding your way around in the wild is also a competitive outdoor sport, with meets around the world.
Of course, topographic maps, contoured to show elevations and other geographical features, weren't available when wicked witches lived in the woods, while today, you can find one that covers almost any corner of the world.
In organized orienteering meets, those maps are enhanced and enlarged to bring into close-up such features as streams and ravines along with other, man-made landmarks that might include old cisterns or abandoned cabins, The Herald-Times reported (http://bit.ly/1bRBrfs ).
Competitors are armed with only a map and a compass, racing to the finish line as quickly as possible while also passing designated checkpoints along the way.
Orienteers must interpret the map, figure out where they are and find the best or fastest way to the checkpoints, which they must visit in a certain designated order. Each checkpoint is marked by orange and white flags, said Eric Tullis, publicity director for Indiana Crossroads Orienteering.
"You use what the map is telling you about the terrain around you and you look around to figure out where you are," Tullis said.
The special maps are used when orienteering groups, such as Indiana Crossroads Orienteering, based in Indianapolis, get together for meets.
A meet scheduled for Yellowwood State Forest in Brown County later this month is a standard "cross-country" style meet, so it will have a variety of courses from beginner to expert, and first-timers are not expected to interpret a map to navigate. A beginner course could be all on trails, Tullis said.
"It's hard to describe without it making it sound like work, but it's actually a blast," Tullis said.
Beginners understand what the trails look like on a map and the basic shape of the course. The expert-level course should be designed so that staying on trails will cost you time, Tullis said.
A beginners training session is held before every meet, with Crossroads members showing first-timers everything they need to know to navigate the easier courses.
Tullis said anybody coming for the first time should not have any trouble if they are at all familiar with the outdoors. "The more you come out, the better you get at the other terrain features," he said.
Orienteering is not just for serious competitors trying to run a course as quickly as possible, Tullis said. In fact, Crossroad meets attract a majority of hikers and families who are out to complete the course and challenge themselves outdoors.
Tullis said people should come dressed appropriately for a one- to two-hour hike in the outdoors.
"If you're traveling at hiking speed, you probably want to make sure you have some hydration with you of some sort," Tullis added.
People can bring their own compasses to the meet, but the club can also provide them.
The area that has been mapped in Yellowwood is between Yellowwood Lake and Dubois Ridge Road, where there are campgrounds. The map is at a 1:10,000 scale.
Jim Allen, property manager at Yellowwood State Forest, said the terrain will be typical Brown County — rolling hills, with steeper slopes in some areas.
Yellowwood is a really good park for orienteering, said Brenda Blacklock, a member of Indiana Crossroads Orienteering. There are lots of places that do not have trails, making it more difficult, but there are also many places with trails for beginners. There are many ravines and hills that make it very physical, she said.
Allen concurs with that assessment. "It's not flat by any means," he said.
The relatively low cost of orienteering makes it an economical option for people wanting to take up an outdoor sport.
When orienteers reach their flag points, they find a special punch hanging from the flag, which they then use to mark their meet card, thus proving they located that point on the map.
The club has not yet invested in electronic punches, something that clubs at the national level have, and so still use the more old-fashioned pin punching, Tullis said.
The more competitive orienteers will run the course, trying to beat the clock. And that means bushwhacking through the woods, over logs and ducking under bushes.
There's "lots of rivalry among most fast folks in the region," Tullis said.
Blacklock has been orienteering for six years and will be running the next to highest course at the Yellowwood meet.
"In orienteering it's a race, but it's a navigation race," she said.
Blacklock emphasized the family aspect of orienteering. It is a great activity for a family to do together and allows everyone to participate at their own level.
"When we're finished we always talk about the courses," Blacklock said. "We spend time looking at the maps and telling each other where we went."
Information from: The Herald Times, http://www.heraldtimesonline.com
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