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Letter from Phil & Rachel Bush
Linne Woods Night-O, August 23, 2003

So my 10-year old daughter Rachel loves spending time with her Dad, and she thinks any opportunity to do something with me that excludes her brothers is a great thing. She had expressed some interest in the orienteering meets I have been doing, but the next meet was at night (affectionately called Night-O). She wanted to do it anyway, so Saturday I dug out the orienteering/adventure gear (backpack, compass, map case, nylon pants, Camelback bottle) and the new headlamps I'd bought. We grabbed a couple of extra flashlights just in case and drove to the Linne Woods Forest Preserve in Niles, Illinois. The sign-up was from 7-8, with starts about a half hour after sunset around 8:30.

For this meet, there were no beginner's courses, only intermediate and advanced, as they recommended Night-O was not for beginners. We found the pavilion, got signed up for the intermediate course (12 controls), and were assigned a start time at 8:41 p.m.. We sprayed down with Deep Woods Off, finished our Wendy's burgers, and waited for our start.

And we're off! The first control was just across the open grass and parking lot to our east and it was easy to see because of all the other flashlights hovering nearby. We punched our card and headed out for the next one. Doing this at night has advantages and disadvantages. The controls have reflectors, so if you get close they are generally easy to spot. The downside is you really need to closely monitor where you are on the map. If you lose your place on the map, getting back on it can be time consuming and frustrating. And you really have to rely on the compass, because there is no sun to reference.

We ran, so we passed several teams that had start times ahead of ours, which is always a great feeling. We found the second control, which was still near the parking lot, but all the rest were in the deep woods, so now it got interesting. The third control was a bit down the trail and then about 50 feet into the woods, with no clear identifying point where to veer off to the control. We passed several other teams looking at their maps, but we were not seeing the control. We came up on a fence, which was next to the Chicago River, which told me we missed it. Wow, the map scale was large, indicating we cover a lot of ground on the map quickly, something that threw me off. We backtracked, and I figured we needed to go about 100 yards on the trail and cut in, and sure enough there it was. If they all are this hard, it'll be a long night.

But they're not. Or, at least, I'm getting the hang of it. Rachel has an eagle eye for spotting the reflectors, I'm getting us close to the controls without getting off the map, and we are passing people like crazy. At one point we came upon a huge high-tension line tower and Rachel was all excited, she'd never seen one up close. "Can I touch it?", she asks, with an equal mix of excitement and trepidation. She wades through the weeds and rubs the metal, knocking on it to hear the steel vibration reverberate up, listening to the current buzz across the insulators 100 feet overhead. Seconds later we're flying down the trail in the dark, on the way to the next control.

Finally, we've found the last one, and we're out of the woods, running in the dark across the grass near the parking lot ("Watch out for those picnic tables!") to turn in our punch card. The pavilion is hard to find: they turned out all the lights and it disappeared in the trees, backlit by the McDonald's and street lights across the road. We near it and we hear someone call out "Finishers!"; we vector that way and we hand over our card. They record our time and we get a drink and relax, covered in sweat but happy we got a good time. Later we find out we got 4th place out of 32, missing 3rd by seven seconds.

Not having enough, we went out and did the first 10 controls on the advanced course. Much tougher, I have so much to learn: the first three take us almost 30 minutes. Rachel spots the first three or four, including one where I had turned to go back to the trail and try again, and then she saw it. It was a little scary in the woods for her at times but she did a great job. We had so much fun together. She fell asleep in the car on the hour ride home. The next morning she was asking when we could do some more Night-O.

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