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William O'Brien - New and Improved!

Sunday was the orienteering meet at William O'Brien, on what's basically a completely different map than the one we had three years ago. Two years I entirely redid the base contours using LIDAR from Washington County, and last year Kevin T. came to town and quite a bit of field checking and vegetation remapping. So now it's back to being pretty accurate, although there's still an excessive amount of raspberry vines that, if you're not careful, leaves you looking like you lost a battle with an angry cat.

My legs were still a little cashed from the Trail Mix the day before, and staying up until 4:30 AM the previous night didn't help matters either. However, I am no longer allowed to claim certain things as extenuating circumstances.


William O'Brien course on April 18, 2010. Click to enlarge

Routegadget has my route in detail.

The advanced courses had a remote start at the northern railroad track crossing (the tunnel), and so we had a nice chance to warm up before actaully running our course. I dawdled a bit at the start, chatted with Eric, and let a couple other people start before heading out.

The first leg was fairly obvious - trail run west, then south up the hill and attack from the trail bend. I managed this one OK, but could definitely feel that I wasn't 100%. There were a bunch of kids just sitting on logs atop the hill, relaxing, not doing much, but they didn't give away anything I didn't already know. I went out much the same way I went in, but that ended up being too far east to be optimal. I should have cut straight SE like everyone else did. When I reached the open field, I headed due south from the next trail bend and promptly ran into an 8-inch high chuck of concrete at full speed. I launched into the air, landed, rolled, and the immediate assessment upon regaining verticality was "Wow, my foot hurts like hell", and "Wow, my compass is gone.". Well, at least the important part was gone, broken off completely. The plastic was completely shattered, although the band held up fine. I limped my way to #2 trying to figure out whether my toe might be broken, but was satisfied that wasn't the case as I climbed the small hill through a pile of raspberry vines.

#3 was a little slow due to a lot of fallen logs in the area, and then I took a route straight out to the trail and started to climb the hillside to contour around to #4 in the reentrant. I felt a little bit bad because the hillside was covered with wildflowers that I (and everyone else) were busy trampling. But that's not the reason I went so slowly and tentatively - there were a couple of shallow reentrants before the one holding the control, and I angled down a little too low when I finally got there. However, I felt I recovered on #5, which was a leg through a fairly featureless part of the map. Without a compass now, I used the angle of the sun (that I had previously calibrated at the start) and the few hills and depressions, and spiked #5 in a depression next to some more deadfall.

The first mistake of the course was on the next leg - I was trying the follow the sun again and got thrown off course by some thick vegetation on the hillside. By the time I got down to the linear valley on the other side, I wasn't immediately sure which direction to go. Also, there was a bit of a terrace on the north side of the hill, with a bigger dip before the next linear ridge to the north (immediately south of the trail), and it wasn't mapped quite as well as I would have liked. But... there's only one person I can blame for that. Another reason why LIDAR is great to have, but still needs interpretation to really be useful.

Nevertheless, I figured out from the various hilltops that I needed to head west, and did that, albeit slowly. Shortly I came to the right spur and ran down off the right side into the control. Carl had placed the controls nicely for a Red course - on the opposite side of features, and fairly low to the ground. #7 was simply a run out to the trail and a slog up the steep hill on the other side, which had been recently burned. #8 was another bushwhack out to the trail, past the junction and around the south side of the depression. The pond to the west, although it's near the edge of the map and partially on private property, is quite scenic.

The route to #9 offered some choices, and I opted for a westerly route uphill, hugging the edge of the map and then the edge of the deep, complex depression to the SW. I remembered this area from field checking two years ago and passed right by the yellow "State Park" signs marked the property boundary. After passing the eastern "entrance" to the depression, the undergrowth thinned out and I ran the contours until I spotted the open canopy ahead and to the right. At that point it was easy to mark the individual hilltops and head towards the right one.

Unfortunately, I ran into my own personal magnetic field at this point. I passed Pete and Angie Alwin right as I left #9. They were heading almost due east to get to the trail, but the magnetic field kept luring me to the south. More, and more. It seemed like it should be faster - but no. I ended up in a near thicket of nasty undergrowth, cursing and sweating, not just because of the slowdown but because I knew it was there, from fieldchecking long ago, and should have had the foresight to avoid it and take the easy route. So I vindictively slashed through buckthorn and prickly ash heedless of scratches, to come out not far from the trail junction and shelters. Pete and Angie were already there... of course. It was farther south than I wanted, but the only option was to cut across the field up near the hilltop and the top of the reentrant. Once I made it into the woods, the going was easier and I spiked #10, then headed south through some beautiful prairie grass, cut the corner between the two trails, and headed for #11.

I found a nice deer trail up to the open ridgetop, but did bobble a bit in the circle. The controls weren't really visible until you were right on top of them. Still, I was glad for the contours enhancements, because this area of the map was particularly bad in the old (USGS) version. In fact, I found during the LIDAR updates that there was at least one depression that was mapped as a hill - perhaps there were a few tag lines "lost" sometime in the past? Although the contours were much improved, the undergrowth was still just as thick, and getting out to the SE trail was a painful experience. The other side of the trail was open shortgrass, and I basically followed the edge of the woods, then cut over to the next trail. At this point I had a choice of how to approach #12, and I chose to stay more on trail and headed south, then east along the contours of the hill and around a sumac thicket. I had to descend a couple of contours to get the control in a small reentrant, but it was worth it for the open approach. The run downhill to the next trail east was very open but with humpy footing, which made for a fun run. For #13 I again stayed mostly on the trail, and only left it at the base of the hill and took a northeasterly sloping approach to the control. #14 was a straight run east, then down to the tracks, where I was delayed by some NC runners at the one obvious descent. After crossing the tracks, I went low into the broad reentrant and contoured a little bit up, avoiding the very thick hilltop and finding the control without any problems.

Another mistake on the way out here, though. I had slowly been losing energy throughout the course, and, based on the (very dry) look of the marsh grass to the east, figured I'd cut the trail corner. The marsh grass was, in fact, OK, but unfortunately there turned out to be a thicker band of trees near the trail. That forced me farther east than I wanted, and suddenly I ran into a small pond that wasn't on the map. I had to decide which way to go around it - and I went the wrong way into a much, much wetter area. So as soon as I cleared the pond, I just headed straight north to the trail, but the time was already lost. I chose the southern route to #15 (as most people seemed to) and the the upper route to #16. The prairie grass was a bit slower than I thought, and if I had been fresh for a trail run, I think the lower route might have been a hair faster.

#17 was just a placeholder, although I managed to find a good route down off Wedge Hill, and I had some energy to sprint into the finish just ahead of Jim. But the mistakes I made were a just little too much, and left me with a time of 62:38. I know I definitely wasn't 100%, not just because of the prior day's events, but because I had been fighting off an unidentified illness as well. I felt dizzy and "off" after finishing the course, and went down to Marine to get some water and Gatorade and rule out a hydration issue. It didn't feel like one, though. By the time I drove back to the park I was suddenly bonking. I knew I'd be useless for control retrieval at this point, and so bailed for home. The minute I got there I laid down, and didn't wake up until three hours later.