Sunday, April 25, 2010

Minnesota Orienteering Club 2010 Adventure Race Tune-Up

or The Lost Boys found.

We did it and we did it at an extremely short notice: Bryan and I entered MNOC's annual AR tune-up, starting at Riverbend Nature Center in Faribault, MN.

Neither of us knew quite what to expect, neither the sequence of legs nor had we ever done anything like it. All we knew was that we would be running/orienteering, kayaking and bicycling.

When we needed a team name, Jen at work came up with a good one without delay: "The Lost Boys." I was just hoping that this would not prove to be a premonition ...

I picked up Bryan at 6:15 and we were on the road. Warnings about traffic delays due to the Ironman Bike Ride proved to be unwarranted. We moved at a good clip and were soon in Faribault. We had a quick pit stop at Hardee's and then dropped off our bikes at the appointed location in Two Rivers Park near downtown Faribault. Like at the bike drop, the parking lot of Riverbend Nature Center, participants were busy readying their gear.

The sky was leaden, the temps anything but mild, with a brisk northerly wind. Thus, after signing the waiver, the next order of business was deciding what to wear. I wore shorts, my orienteering gaiters and a rain jacket. I warned Bryan not to overdress, but the cold got the better of him.

At the pre-race meeting we were told that for the first leg we needed to carry all of our gear. That meant that those of us who insisted on using their own paddles would carry them through the woods. The sequence of events was orienteering, kayaking, cycling with a short orienteering (i.e. UTM location followed by compass bearing) interlude, a score-o and another bike leg.

On the Straight River, in my mind the most difficult leg

It didn't take long before we got going, a little after 9:00 AM. The Orienteering was rather simple and my experience helped us quite a bit.

We arrived at the start of the kayak portion within the first quarter of racers. Here, the decision was whether to install a seat. I decided against it, which may have been a mistake. I should have either invested that time or knelt in the inflatable craft. Quite a few parties passed us, our rhythm was off and I had a hard time sitting up straight. Furthermore, my rear end received a good soaking from a puddle of water that formed in the hollow I created in the back of the rubber boat. We made it without serious hangups but fell back by probably 10 places or so.

At the take-out I let Bryan clean the canoe while I plotted the UTM coordinate of the orienteering interlude of the first bicycle leg. A volunteer checked the plot for accuracy and off we went. One more control point within Faribault followed by a steep climb, then the country roads were ours.

The climb revealed what would turn out to be a major draw-back: Bryan’s studded tires were slow on smooth surfaces and his soft fork made climbing difficult. We plodded along and eventually made it to Caron Park, to the UTM coordinate at the picnic shelter. From there, we took an 11° bearing to a large boulder. We found it without problem. Back onto the bike, to Nerstrand Big Woods State Park, familiar to me from previous orienteering meets.

I do like Nerstrand Big Woods, it's one of my favorite parks. Here, we had to run a score-O, i.e. to tick off as many controls as possible in the allotted time. The control placements were generally simple and we hit all but the last one right on.

They were placed more as during a regular O-event, it was easily possible to create a route not requiring any detours. As I said, I made a mistake at the last control. Since we only had about five minutes left, I had already resigned to dropping this one. However, it was so close to the check-out point that I decided to go for it. Fortes fortuna adiuvat, we got that last control and made it back with a minute to spare!

Back on the bikes and a tactical decision that would help us quite a bit: we switched bikes. I am a little fitter than Bryan and my smoother rolling Gary Fisher helped him a lot. Three controls on the road and three in Riverbend Nature Center, all by bike. The first one was not a problem. South, with a brisk back wind, that made even steep hills seem easier.

Easy ridin' downhill and with a back wind

The second control was where the road intersects with a drainage ditch. A strong, fast-riding team overshot this control and was out of sight by the time we had punched our card. I wonder how long it took for them to notice. The way back to Riverbend was a little more difficult because the NNW wind and a rather soft gravel road surface. The occasional farm dog would jump out at us but never persist. Just doing their job, keeping the riff-raff and varmint (like us) away.

The short bike-O in Riverbend was a fun piece of single track, nothing technical. Again, my orienteering helped except that I turned the wrong direction (left instead of right on the road back to the finish. This probably cost us a minute.

All in all, what a great experience for participating in an adventure race. It also boosts the ego to finish 8th out of 38 teams, for the results, see AR Tune-Up Finishers. For Mike Carlson, the meet director's thoughts, a description of all the work that went into preparing this and how the final scoring worked, see AR Tune-up review.Garmin Connect (click next to move to the next leg, they are in sequence, 1 to 5)

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Setting Courses for May 16, 2010 Orienteering Meet at Afton SP

Jim Mullins drafted me a couple of months ago to set courses for a MNOC meet. I recall he gave me two options: The dreaded Sand Dunes State Forest, a little NW of Elk River, MN or Afton State Park, just E of St. Paul. I was glad I could pick Afton, because Sand Dunes is not only far from where I live, it is also the toughest terrain within easy driving distance of the Twin Cities.

Afton may have been easier to reach, but it has its own set of challenges. The terrain is characterized by several deep valleys opening into the St. Croix River to the east and  relatively level prairie on top. I found that the white and yellow courses were quite difficult to set because the trail system is either too long or too short for a self-explanatory course. Likewise, the steep grade around the park presents the need for compromise between distance, physical challenge (due to the climbs) and technical difficulty of the control placement. I did not help that this is the first full event for which I am the setter.

After checking in with the ranger to make sure that I did not place any controls in sensitive areas, I started at 8:30 with the white, yellow and orange courses. I was able to use a bike for part of this portion, in general, the park has very limited bike trails.

I immediately notice numerous geocaches in the southern half of the park. Fortunately, only very few corresponded to locations I had picked for the event. As it went, I relocated all but two controls away from the geocaches.

I decided to take advantage of the single bike trail to place a few controls on brown/green/red as well. Here, the steep terrain was much more in evidence than on the easier course. The sunny weather and very dry air made me wish I had brought my water bottle along, but I knew I would soon return to the car for a break. After 3:22 I was back in the parking lot, getting ready for the second half of my job.

I drank my fill, ate a little and grabbed my black lab Mellie, who had been patiently waiting for my return. We took off and hit the remaining controls on brown/green/red. Again, not too much trouble finding the locations I had picked. I am hoping that my courses are not too easy and that my lack of challenge is only a reflection of having spent so much time with the map. I am sure that Erling, my vetter will provide me with feedback.

Mellie and I got to see plenty of wildlife, more thoroughly recorded in my wilderness blog. We were both exhausted but happy with this days activity. For obvious reasons I will not publish the track log generated by my Forerunner 305 till after the Afton meet on May 16.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Variety is the Spice of Life

That's why I like to run when on business trips, that's why a switch my every-day routes in many ever so subtle ways and that's why I love orienteering. Wednesday is the day for what I call my "Cadenza Run," i.e. James has a sax lesson at Cadenza Music on Snelling Ave, giving me 35 minutes to kill. Perfect for a quick run down Selby or Marshall or one of the side Streets to the Mississippi and back along Summit Ave.

During the short stretch along the Mississippi River Blvd I noticed a trail a few meters below the street level. Until today, it had been too icy or too wet or I did not think of it, but today, it had to happen. As I ran down Dayton, crossing Exeter Pl, I saw Mary coming home. I stopped to say hi and mentioned my plan. "Oh," she said, "Shadow Falls Trail, I walked it but I've never run it."

So now I had a name: Shadow Falls. A couple of minutes later I got there. The trail access was easy to find. I let Mellie off and was a little worried when she headed straight for the top of the bluff. But she's a pretty smart little pup and did not jump. Or fall.

View Cadenza Run plus Shadow Falls in a larger map

How great to run on a soft meandering trail instead of hard blacktop. We left Shadow Falls on our right and, staying fairly level, ran towards the bottom of the ravine that falls away steeply from where Mississippi River Blvd almost touches Cretin Ave. I had to cross the creek several times, while Mellie decided to run in the creek, stopping occasionally to lap some water. We exited the ravine where the river blvd. makes a hairpin turn.

The rest of the run was as before, though I had taken to taking the alley between Summit and Portland. Alleys are almost like ravines, you never know what lies behind the next garage.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Running in Canon River Valley, Randolph, MN

I failed to sign up my son Colin for ACT in a timely fashion. Yesterday we noticed that his test was not at Randolph Heights School in St. Paul but at Randolph High School. But where is Randolph? Thanks to Google Maps we found out that it is only about 45 minutes south of St. Paul. Along the way I found out that the senior class and Randolph High just had their annual tractor parade yesterday. Too bad, we missed it. The town of Randolph turned out as quaint as its location in the Canon River Valley suggested, an agglomeration of less than 50 houses, the Red Diamond Saloon, a one-room post office and the biggest act in town, School District 195 or Randolph Schools.

In this buccolic setting I dropped my first-born for the grueling exam. The question remained how I would do pennance for the sin of delayed registration. Since the saloon didn't open till noon, I had to do the next best thing, go for a run. For that purpose, I had invited my trusty dog Mellie along. Off we went, running into the moring chill, crossing the Canon River twice, first at Hwy 56 and then at Alta Ave. A good, uneventful run, Mostly on dirt roads and flat. Mellie was allowed off leash for long stretches, except when we passed the turkey farm. I did not want to be responsible for my dog scaring to death a couple thousand turkeys. There were a few watchful dogs along the way that warranted protective custody of my best friend. My Garmin device displayed a little more than 14 km (~9 miles) when we finished our round.

View Randolph, MN Run in a larger map or at My Garmin

Since the local watering hole still wasn't open after our return (I sure could have used a cold one) I decided to cast a fly. Easier said than done, as I like to be in order with the DNR. The local service station did not sell DNR licenses, neither did two in Hampton, [Lil' Oskar's is still there, but the cabooze is gone :(  ]. No luck here, either,they sent me to Canon Falls. After some misses I got my license at Althoff Hardware on 4th Street. Friendly service by someone who knew how to work the machine!

Off to the Little Canon River, along Goodhue County Rd. 14. I stopped on Sogn Rd., right by a bridge, there were quite a few rises but I could not figure out what they were after. Still, a pleasant enough hour on the creek; good to be fishing again.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

Orienteering at Terrace Oaks Park, Burnsville, MN

This week held a few "firsts" for 2010: first bike ride to work, first day with temps above 25C/80F and first O-Meet. A gorgeous day, a bit chilly in the morning and cool but with plenty of sunshine and a blue sky with white fair-weather clouds. I'd never been to Terrace Hill Park, always nice to have a new area.

The park is tiny, less than 1km wide and just barely more than 1km long, wedged between I-35E and Dakota County 11. But the setter did a great job teasing out a 6.5km red course from this postage stamp of an area and the many doglegs in the hilly, thickly overgrown park made it seem much larger. Per the Forerunner 305, I made 8.6km out of the 6.5 and I finished in a little more than 1 hr 34 mins. Eager to see the results.

I was glad that the trees and shrubs were leafless, this would have been very difficult under full leaf cover. Saw a nice white-tail very close. I always forget how big they are.

This was the first time I wore the Inov-8 Mudclaws during an O-event. After 3/4 of the race my heels started acting up. Two blisters, I will have to tape my heels next time. Other han that, they performed very well, nice and grippy, keeping a good feel for the ground.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

First Ride to Work In 2010

Last week held the promise of warm weather.  I thought I would ride my bike to work one day, taking advantage of the early season heatwave forecast by the weather augurs and of my kids' spring break. When the weather turned out as balmy as predicted, I checked my bike, dug out my saddle bag, packed it on Monday night and hopped out of bed at 5:00 on Tuesday morning. The usual cup-o-joe, sudoku, leftovers from the fridge for lunch, one last equipment check and off I went, at 6:00 sharp.

I had hoped that the gusty winds would start only after day brake, but I was not as lucky. I was buffeted by strong southerly gusts all along my ride form St. Paul to Eagan, which happens to be oriented completely north-south. Especially the open areas were a little troublesome, but hey, biking on March 30 in Minnesota at 12 C, not even a month after my last cross-country ski outing, I'll take it. I have to say that I do mind a head wind on the way home more than on the way to work. As always, I love crossing the Mississippi via the I-35E bridge. The river was still well outside its banks and the slower pace of the bike allowed me to take in the view. Again, as always, Valley Park in Mendota Heights is a welcome relief from the frantic traffic on the interstate. By now, day night definitely started to give way to the gentle light of dawn and the noise of the nearby free-way is muffled by trees and shrubbery. Nature is still dormant, the meadows and woods seem still barren and grey. Because of the wind there is no hint of the morning mists that I love along this stretch. 

After labouring up to Hwy 110 I am back on the road, Dodd Rd, just for a short piece, until I cut through a residential neighborhood to get to Mendota Heights Rd. and then Argenta Trail, which takes me almost to the West campus. While I love Argenta Trail for its almost rural character, it has the nastiest stretch of the entire commute: the short piece of way between Hwy 52 and where Argenta Trail turns south from Yankee Doodle Rd. Always heavy traffic on four lanes and not a good way to make it across. But this morning it worked out because of a slow semi that kindly held up traffic, thus creating a gap. 

I made it in about 11 minutes more from my usual time, due to the strong head wind and my lack of practice with the bike. 

In the screen shot above, note the time difference between ride to work and ride home. Most of the times, for this ride I am a little faster in the morning than in the afternoon, mostly because there is significantly more traffic on Hamline Ave, especially near University Ave. This time was no exception and I was further delayed because I lost my pack when I jumped a curb at the Midway Target. There is just not enough room on the road to ride a bike safely in rush-hour conditions.

All in all, an excellent first bike outing. Later that evening I also rode my bike to the Midway Y to attend my second to last front crawl swim class.