Sunday, November 28, 2010

Orienteering at de Lietteberg, Zutendaal, BE

As I was preparing for this falls trip to Belgium, I had to check on an opportunity for participation in an orienteering event. I checked both the Vlaams Verbond voor Oriënteringsport (VVO, the Flemish orienteering federation) and the Fédération Régionale des Sports d'Orientation (FRSO, the Walloon orienteering federation). I was in luck, not in as much as there was an event, but rather because it was so close to my home town of Eupen. With 21 clubs in Belgium (14 in Wallonia, including my old club Orientierungslaufverein Eifel, OLVE and 7 in Flanders), there is an event almost every weekend of the year. The event in question was near Genk, only about 60 km from Eupen. I enjoyed driving past many familiar sites passing Liege on my way to Zutendaal and de Lietteberg map on this beautiful early winter day.

I found the location without any trouble and was immediately impressed by all the hubbub. I could not use my e-punch stick because unlike the SportIdent system adopted within the US Orienteering Federation, the VVO uses the EMIT e-card system instead. Fortunately they had some for rent. Participation fee was an affordable 4 Euro, like in the US a bargain compared to many other sports. It was a remote start and I used the 2 km there as a warm-up. BORASCA, the organizing club had laid nine courses, including three puzzle-Os with a map that was part oro-hydro, plus a kid’s course.

My first challenge was to figure out the e-card system. It was intuitive but I wasn’t sure about whether the card worked. There was no feedback from the CP, like a flashing light or a beep which left me disconcerted. When at CP 7 there was indeed a flashing light, I knew I was in trouble. I am certain that I had correctly laid the card on the device before, it must have been an error.

I did not let this deter me from enjoying the well laid course. I could not get over how different this very domesticated the environment was compared to the wilds of the Upper Midwest in and around Minnesota. Fences were a major feature and vegetation boundaries were often those between different plantings on forest parcels. Tree roots were a common feature for CPs, as were man-made objects. CPs were placed accurately and generally much more visible than those I am used to at MNOC events.

When I returned, my fears that the start and the initial 6 controls had not been recorded on the e-card were confirmed, but the time keepers kindly took the time from my Garmin Forerunner 305 and recorded it for full credit when I explained my predicament. When I e-mailed the BORASCA club contact about the card, I also found out that the competition equipment is provided by VVO and that she would forward my concerns about the e-card not working properly. I am pretty sure I did nothing wron while inserting the card into the initial six controls but in hindsight, I should have familiarized myself with the EMIT e-card before taking off.

I finished dead last in the long event of 8500 m, see Results. I was impressed by the number of participants, in all there were 237 from 15 clubs, plus 8 children. There is something to be said for a small, densely populated country to further sports without mass-market appeal!

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