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Adventure Racing:
My First Rogaine

Dave Macaulay

A Rogaine is a long-distance version of orienteering in which teams of two or more visit as many checkpoints as possible within a set time. Championship events are twenty-four hours long, but there are many shorter variants of 4, 6, 8 or 12 hours. Teams select their own route and controls are assigned varying point values based on distance and difficulty. Significant time penalties are assigned to teams returning after time expires. CAOC periodically holds a shorter one-hour individual version of a Rogaine called a Score-O.

Last March I participated in my first Rogaine, the Lewis & Clark Cup in Southern Indiana, west of Louisville. Both 4 and 8-hour competitions were offered; most people did the 8-hour. The weather was perfect for orienteering; although the overnight temperatures dipped below freezing, it warmed up to the mid-50s during the event with bright sun and beautiful blue skies.

The terrain was much different than Chicago. Harrison-Crawford State Forest borders the Ohio River (elevation of 383'). The area is very hilly, almost mountainous, and many of the hilltops are over 800 feet above sea level. So with little flat land, that means you are constantly going either up or down hill as you travel, climbing one 400' hill after the next.

Prior to the event, my major concern was what footwear to use. I normally wear high-topped orienteering shoes but I didn't believe they would be comfortable enough for an 8-hour event. When I tried on my old comfortable hiking boots I found they no longer fit; my feet got had grown longer over the winter! Running shoes are probably most comfortable, but they don't offer much ankle support. However most people wore running shoes, and so did I.

I showed up at the event without a partner. Chicagoans Gale Teschendorf and Dan Phillips graciously allowed my to join their team. We ended up being the only three-member team; all others were two-member teams, which tend to be more efficient.

The Start was on the Ohio River at the lowest, most southern end of the Harrison-Crawford USGS topographic map (1:24 000, 10' contours). Unlike an orienteering map, a USGS map shows no trails and few black, green or yellow features, limiting itself mostly to a display of contours and roads. So in a Rogaine, you get lots of practice navigating by using brown contour lines!

Although some teams tried to reach all 41 controls, our plan was to head for only the high point-value controls. The highest point control was a 7-pointer at the far northern end of the map: we planned to work our way toward it, getting as many 5- and 6-pointers as we could along the way. We planned on skipping most of the 2- and 3-point controls. Teams normally plan a loop route, immediately going out to the distant perimeter of the loop where the highest point controls are located. This strategy requires good timing, since it is easy to get greedy, and fail to give yourself enough time to get back in. Clark Maxfield had suggested a counterclockwise loop because as time ran out you'd be near the main road on the left side of the map which could be used to rapidly run back to the finish; his suggestion was most valuable.

At the 9 a.m. start, 18 teams set out and seemed to head to the same control, but then scattered in several different directions. We figured 8 hours was too long to run and thus we walked for most of the day. Our route to our second control involved contouring around a large hill; the steep side hill put a lot of pressure on the bottoms of my feet and they became tender immediately and remained that way for the rest of the day. Two weeks later they were still sore!

Navigating on the 1:24 000 map was tough because the unfamiliar scale caused us to misread small hills and reentrants and assume they were larger features. Distances also seemed a lot longer. It was daunting to stand in a deep gorge and realize your control was a half-mile straight up the impossibly high ridge in front of you! So it took us a while to find the first couple of controls, but eventually we "got into the map" and things went more smoothly. But by the seventh control, we were losing our confidence, and started to use more attack points to ensure bullet-proof navigation. The only problem with this strategy was that it caused us to travel a lot more distance, since we first had to get to the attack point, and then find the control feature: it was like making two legs out of one!

After 3 of the 8 hours had passed, it became apparent that we wouldn't have enough time or energy to get the 7-point control and we reluctantly swung west to pick up nearby 4- and 5-point controls. This turned out to be our best decision of the day, since it ensured we would get back within the time limit.

Our dumbest mistake came when we navigated to a saddle where we expected to find the control. Instead we saw another team resting and drinking water, but no control. So we thrashed around the ridge for a while, eventually returning to the same saddle where we now plainly saw the control! Who knows why it was not evident on our first visit....had it been mischieviously hidden by the other team? Or were we getting so tired that our powers of simple observation were failing?

We carried our own water and food. A few water jugs were set out at three controls but they were inadequate for the number of competitors and quickly drunk dry. I carried a Camelbak partially filled with 60 ounces of water, which was about right. I had a few energy bars and granola for food. One of my teammates had too much food. I generously helped lighten his load by eating several of his tasty sandwiches.

Our route required us to climb two very steep hills where we were forced to use our hands to help climb. It was more like technical rock climbing than hiking. Efforts such as these took their toll physically. We all became very tired. At the seven-hour mark, we punched a 5-pointer that turned out to be our final control. Very tired and fearful that we would be late, we picked up the nearby main road and headed for the finish. For the first time all day we ran brief downhill sections.

After a final steep climb we finished in 7 hours and 48 minutes, twelve minutes under the time limit. We punched 15 of the 41 controls and ended up with 65 out of 133 possible points. We finished third in our category of Master Men and won medals. Other CAOCers also did well. With 102 points, Brad Rogowski and Dave Brewer were sixth overall. Scoring 87 points, Clark Maxfield and Sari Rantanen won the Mixed Couples division, but were only one point ahead of Svetlana Sergueeva and Mikhail Pekour who lost points for finishing 5 minutes late. Overall, the top two teams visited every control within the eight hours, the winner in that case being decided by the shortest elapsed time.

Next time we plan a more aggressive route at the beginning, with several "escape" points planned if our pace falls short of expectations. Our plan of going only for big point controls led us to a route with lots of uphill sections. Other teams planned more logical loops that took advantage of the several long ridges. Not only did they avoid some of the uphill sections, but they were also able to follow the unmapped trails along the tops of many of the ridges that enabled them to make good time. We traveled a total of 15 miles and climbed over half a mile up. But the winning team traveled over 25 miles in order to visit every control.

I learned that teamwork is essential in Rogaining. The three of us got along very well together but there was too much indecision and no acknowledged leader. It took us too long to decide which control to go for next. None of us wanted to be overly "bossy" and we spent too much time talking politely without moving.

I did meet my goals. I did have fun and I did learn a lot. While I'm not ready for a 24-hour Rogaine, I'm eager to try another 8- or 12-hour Rogaine. Want to be my partner?

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