After 5 hours and 39 minutes of effort — with about 20 miles of foot travel on and off trails in the woods of northern Minnesota — Team GearJunkie.com won the 2009 MNOC Rogaine Orienteering Race! Beginning at 9am on Saturday, August 15, the race organizers handed out topographical maps pre-marked with control flag locations. From there, teams scanned the shotgun pattern of flag placements and picked a route through the boggy, thick woods of Savanna Portage State Park.
In a rogaine race, a compass serves as your sole navigational tool, no GPS allowed. You chart a course and tag the control flags in any order, imprinting a punch card at each flag to prove you were there. The team with the most punched points in the end wins. (Note: Rogaining has no connection to Rogaine, an anti-baldness drug made by Pfizer Inc.; it is a combination of Rod, Gail and Neil, three Australian athletes credited with popularizing the sport in the 1970s.)
My two-person team — me and Dylan Wiek, a Minneapolis runner training for a 50-mile ultra race next month — managed to get very lost within the first 20 minutes of the rogaine event. We grabbed a control flag just a few hundred feet south of the start area. Then, after bushwhacking without luck for about 15 minutes, we circled back to a trail to reorient ourselves and go for a second control point from another direction.
But it went better from there. As we continued through the 10,000 acres of state land that contained the course, the woods and the map began to mesh. We bounced from terrain feature to terrain feature, following topo lines up and down hills, and running trail where we could.
In the end, we got 28 out of 29 possible controls, enough to eek out a victory. Some key gear that helped in the event included the Inov-8 Race Pro 12 Pack, a small running-oriented pack; the Reactor Max from Smith Optics, a prescription pair of “sports” glasses; the RocLite 285 shoes, also from Inov-8; and my trusty and well-used Arrow 1 Thumb compass, a key navigational tool made by Suunto that I have used for years.