I participated in a night orienteering course with DVOA this past weekend, and it was an interesting experience. There were two difficulties, beginner and advanced, situated in a bunch of open fields and farmland. The beginner course was an hour long score-O, but I opted to do the advanced course, which was 13 sequential controls of criss-crossing mayhem. I thought about doing the beginner’s course, but I showed up 30 minutes after everything had already started. Despite being so late, they let me start the advanced course, warning me to try to finish in about an hour so they could start picking up the controls. I didn’t tell them that the reason I was late was because I had gotten lost on the way there, but they didn’t ask, so who cares.
Let me tell you one thing: night orienteering is exactly the same as day orienteering, just a little darker and completely different. Even with a pretty powerful headlamp, your visual range is drastically reduced. You can’t see landmarks in the distance, or even ones that are more than 100 yards away, if it isn’t huge or reflective. Forest-field boundaries are especially hard to make out, which is a bummer since they are the bread and butter of a course like this. Depending on how clear the night and sparse the vegetation is, you may be able to get away without using a compass, orienting the map off the North Star instead. Trails are your friend in the dark. There is much less to trip over, much harder to get lost. Finally, if you use the same light for running that you use for reading the map, be prepared to be blinded every time you check the map. Every. Single. Time. Or learn to check the map with your peripheral vision, like I trouble remembering to do. Every. Single. Time. (For a mental sport, I tend to take a rather unorthodox approach.)
Anyway, a lot of people were out there with their families doing the beginner course that I crossed paths with. (The beginner and advanced courses shared controls.) At one control, I stopped to punch my score sheet and two 7 year olds run up, out of breath, saying, “We were trying to catch up with you!” Sorry kids, being cute won’t stop me from leaving you in my dust. Which I did. (booyah) After running like a mad man around sunflower fields in the dark, I managed to finish in the ballpark of 46 minutes, which was good enough for second place among the advanced category. A shorter course than I normally would have done, but probably a distance I’m much better suited for, physically.
Next O on the to do list: Canoe Orienteering.