Monday, February 19, 2018

2018 SLOC Meramec Ice Ice O by Alane Wolins

Meramec Orienteering Meet, February, 2018 by Alane Wolins

February weather impacted attendance on this one.  There had been some freezing rain overnight and it was a little dicey getting to the “base camp” shelter, what with the slippery downhill drive.  It helped having David Beattie and daughter along as passengers, as well as my dog Kelly Kapowski, an English Pointer mix (her first orienteering escapade). 
Kelly Kapowski

Kelly Kapowski's animal spirit. Same sassy look.
This time I opted for the orange course, with a total of seven checkpoints.  Starting out was rather strange.  The roads and rocks were all icy, so you had to be very careful where you walked.  Staying in the grass/leaves was the way to go.  Headed out and uphill and next to the road, to begin the quest for CP #1.  
I overshot the path that led towards #1, but back tracked through the woods and got to the power line about the time the Beatties were coming down the cleared area, finding the CP just adjacent to the power line clear cut.  
For #2 I had seen on the map that it was just off an old abandoned fence line, and knowing where the fence line was, I decided to go back to it, then follow it downhill to the checkpoint.  I looked and looked, up and down, restarting from the road above to no avail. Then Dave came by and they had already been to the checkpoint, heading on to the third. Turns out #2 was actually not particularly near the fence after all.  Dave pointed me in the right direction and I scrutinized the map to find it.
Lesson number one for the day:  don’t trust man-made objects on the map.  Go by terrain first.  If I had navigated by terrain, #2 would have been easy, what with the reentrant it was near.
So after that, it’s what I did.  For #3 I contoured around another reentrant and hillside, continually comparing the map to where I thought I was, catching up with the Beattiescoming upon the abandoned road which led to the checkpoint.  All in all, easy peasy.  
Then I hoofed it uphill and over the paved road, down the other side to a reentrant for #4, with frequent stops for map consultation. Another easy one!  #5 was further down the reentrant, to the side in a ditch.  Also according to the topo map.
By this time I was feeling pretty confident.  I decided to contour around the hillside, trying to stay at approximately the same elevation and around to what looked like an open-ish area, with the checkpoint on the side.  Which is, of course, not how it turned out.  Back and forth through that open area I went, even so far as to get within sight of a pond which should have helped me to backtrack to the checkpoint.
Hmmm…  cp #7 was right at the edge of said pond, so I decided to go there instead. Around the pond I went through the stickers and brambles and phew, #7 bagged. But then I realized the map was no longer in my hand.  Dang it!  Wearing gloves and having a dog leash made it hard to keep track of what I was holding. I back tracked and looked for it, but couldn’t tell exactly where I had been, so unfortunately I littered in the state park. 
Far in the distance I heard the chatter of boys. The Scouts were coming, so I knew at least I could walk out with someone.  It took quite awhile as they were scrambling downhill on very icy/slippery rocks.  One of the gracious leaders gave me his map, and helped me decipher the location of #6.  Which was decidedly not in the green/open area of the map.

So lesson number two for the day, don’t trust the green.  Uphill I went, climbing the slippery rocks to #6.
All during this time, Kelly was having great fun. Since it was cold I had put a coat on her because of the possibility of a lot of time spent standing around looking at maps, and she was quite cozy but not overheated.   So much to sniff and see!  Keeping her out of the pond was a bit of an issue.  The thin layer of ice could have cause quite a problem.   It was definitely a better day to be on four legs than two.  She had zero issues with slipperiness.
After #6 it was time to get back to the start/finish.  Fairly straightforward, except for the path on the map which didn’t exist in real life- lesson already learned, so I didn’t look to hard for it.  The fire in the fireplace of the shelter was a welcome sight.
To summarize what I have learned so far in the last two O meets:
1. Don’t count on a trail indicated on a map as actually being there
2. Go by topographical information rather than man-made objects such as fences whenever possible
3. The green/open area isn’t always there
4. You gotta still look around a lot

Something else of note – whenever I have heard veterans discussing various checkpoints in regards to orienteering or adventure racing, they are able to talk about check point this and checkpoint that and I wondered how they kept it all straight in their minds afterwards. Now that I have done the actual navigation by myself I understand it better.  I’m writing this blog a full week after the event and can still trace it back in my mind.  Maybe it amounts to all the consideration and ability to be present in the moment that needs to happen to be successful in such an event.
All in all a very enjoyable day, minus the slippery driving.  There’s a big learning curve for me in this new endeavor of Orienteering and I am really intrigued with the challenge.  Can’t wait til the next one!

Friday, January 26, 2018

Saint Louis Orienteering Club - SLOC - Babler O by Alane Wolins an Orienteering Newbie

Thoughts from an Orienteering Newbie - Alane Wolins

This is not going to be a blog full of the nitty gritty details, as it’s been a few weeks now and my memory is fuzzy.  

I consider the January Babler Cold Nose-O to be my first real orienteering meet.  Last fall I went with Amy and Jessie to the event in Grafton but that consisted of me following them around, as they are much more versed in map and compass reading than I am.  And lots quicker.

It was a cold and crisp sunny January morning at Babler
 State Park and fun to see familiar faces there- Yvonne, who designed the course, Kate, Chuck and others.

Yvonne running the show
Kate in her SLOC jersey
Map plotting

As I considered my plan, Scott very generously offered to follow me around to help out as needed and I eagerly accepted.  Getting lost is not high on my list of fun things.   I decided to try the beginner course and see what happened. My expectations on how hard this would be were based on three adventure races as a team member, and as I learned, adventure races are a huge level of difficulty higher than what I was attempting.
This orienteering differed from the adventure racing I have done in that there was a master map and participants copied the location points from that onto their own map rather than using coordinates to plot.  So it was kind of a relief as plotting from coordinates is a foreign language to me at the moment.

I decided on the white course, which is the most beginner course, and copied the points from the master map onto my own map.  The checkpoints are all set up to be easy to find, no tromping off road or off trail into the deep woods.  The flags to mark the locations look sort of like a very small box kite, in white and orange, and have a hole punch tool with a specific pattern of holes.  You punch your card with this and then there is a record of you finding the checkpoint.
Alane's MS-2 OutThere pack and her yellow balls

Scott followed along with helpful advice and I cleared the course in 38 minutes.  Not fast by any means, but a great confidence builder.  The checkpoints were located along well-travelled trails as well as in a park shelter, at the edge of a field, right along a paved road and finally next to a statue, making them very easy to find.

We got back to the start and I had already decided to go out on the orange course, which was the next level in difficulty.  The checkpoints in this case could be off trail but not too awfully far, and in locations that were relatively easy to find by using the contours of the map. I only pulled out the compass once, to make sure of a direction. 
Alane finding an easy check point
I’m really glad of Scott’s advice - suggestions as to how to increase speed transitioning from one checkpoint to going on to the next, reading the contour lines to more precisely locate a checkpoint on the map, seeing the contour lines in person and comparing to the map, using landmarks such as old structures.  And I learned not to take the map as 100% gospel when we were looking for a trail marked on the map that didn’t (or no longer) exist in real life.  We left one checkpoint and I headed the wrong way, pointed out by Scott by his asking what my plan was, and he helped me with deciding on the correct route.  Planning out loud was very helpful and seeing how Scott read the map vs how I did was a good learning experience.

This second course took around an hour 45 minutes for me to complete.  Scott would generally see the checkpoint first, but not tell me, so I was truly finding them on my own.  
Alane cleared two courses and took down the white course
The experience of orienteering reminded me of my hikes in the Grand Canyon.  I was already planning to go to next event before even completing this first one.  It was that fun and it amazes me that I had never done it before.  

For my next outing I’m going to change up a couple things.  No Scott following me around, I need to do this by myself.  Wearing trail running shoes is a way better idea than hiking boots.  I now know that I will actually be able to run the white course, which also means lighter clothes are in order- I was way overdressed, even for a 15 or so degree start.
This fun adventure would probably not have happened had I not met and joined Team BOR.  It’s great to have supportive teammates!  Now on to the next event!

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Adventure Racing and Out There Packs Review by Scott Shaw

Adventure Racing and Out There Pack Review by Scott Shaw

                When I first started Adventure Racing I used my Camelbak Mule, which was really too small for 8 hour races.  It was fine for shorter races and training, but I just couldn’t shove enough in it for anything longer than a few hours.  I started being envious of my teammates Out There MS-1’s because of their forward hip and chest pockets.  I added some temporary hip pockets to my Mule for food, but it just wasn’t the same.  I then got my hands on a larger Camelbak, but it rode low on my back and no matter how I adjusted the straps it would bounce all over my back.  It also did not have forward pockets.  I tried a ton of Camelbaks.(Some of the Camelbaks I own that are not suitable for AR are shown below.)

Anyone want to buy some Camelbaks?

I finally said enough is enough and bought a MS-1, which has 15L interior storage and 5L exterior storage.

Scott Shaw's brand new MS-1.
                I started training in it immediately and loved how it rode on my back.  In races, the front pockets were from Heaven as I could pull food out whenever I pleased.  The pack was also lighter weight than my Camelbaks, held more gear, and had more attachment points.  The permanent whistle is a great idea, but for some odd reason I still carry another one.  I need to break that unnecessary habit and delete that little extra weight.  I could put my shoes in the outer pockets with a 4 piece paddle, and my jacket.  It is a tight fit, but I started just attaching my shoes and let them swing about a bit to allow for more room.  This is how I still "stow" my shoes as it keeps dirt and stench out of my pack.  I don't even bother sticking the toe of the shoes in the external pockets like my teammates do.

Robert Bart's Osprey Talon and Scott Shaw's MS-1.
There were a few things I didn’t like about my MS-1.  My friend’s older MS-1 pack had a larger belt buckle, so I actually cut out the orginal smaller quick adjustable strap and buckle and sewed in the largest strap and buckle I could find.  (Mike just threw up some I bet.)  I preferred this because I could stow the adjustable tails away behind the hip “food bags” and the larger buckle didn’t cut into my fat gut as much.  I also missed the Velcro attachments that held the excess webbing on my Camelbak Mule, so I made some and sewed them on to my MS-1 (These are awesome Mike).  I then got a little crazy adding straps and interior pockets, but after time I never used them and decided to remove my added interior pockets, but kept the straps.  I normally use a large dry bag that fits all my gear and fits inside my MS-1.  Anything that doesn't fit gets strapped on or put in external pockets. Lastly, I found that the interior pockets behind the bladder were just not for me.  I could see some people using them, but I am all about function and having to remove a bladder, or move it out of the way, just doesn’t make sense to me, so I refuse to use them.  If you were not using a bladder they would be great as they fit a UTM and Markers perfectly. 

Stuffing my hat and jacket in my MS-1.

                My slightly modified MS-1 lasted me 6 years of heavy training and rough racing.  I wore it all the time, so much so that my wife called me “Dora the Explorer” and the roadies I ride with called me “Backpack Man.” I used it in several 24 hour races and a 30 hour.

               After 6 years of heavy use I was bragging about what a great pack it is to my teammates that were searching for a new pack.  This jinxed my pack and a day later the main zipper tore about an inch away from the pack.  Before that I only had one small rip in the rip stop nylon from barb wire.  I just kept an eye on it and it never spread.  I was devastated at the thought of having to replace my beloved MS-1.

Team BOR likes duct tape.

Neil Dickhaus
 with Dave Cortivo's MS-1
 and Larson's Medical Kit.
                I started thinking about my friends larger AS-2 that he has.  I have raced with him several times and always give him trouble about stowing items in his rear pockets.  He says, “Hey, put this in my backpack.”  I say, “Which pocket? Pocket 1A2C, 2B3D, C3PO, or R2D2?”  It has so many pockets that they need labeling.  It is really just jealously that I tease him about his pack and I would love to have the newer AS-3 version of this pack for longer races.  I will eventually purchase one as the MS-1 is probably too small for expeditions.
               I ended up deciding that for the time being that I don’t want the larger pack and I start looking at my teammates Osprey Talon 22’s (22L storage).  They seem to like them and try to sell me on their highlights, but every time I spy theirs I don’t see much I like.  I decide that is not fair and head to a local retailer to try one on.  I grab a Talon 22 and it immediately feels heavier than my MS-1.  I start to look at the “suspension system” that is supposed to balance the weight for comfort, but then I notice the lack of forward pockets.  I also notice the hip pockets are small and hard to reach and remember my teammates ripped up mesh hip pockets and ripped up mesh outer back pocket.  The mesh on my MS-1 never ripped.  I set it down and tell the salesman I’m not interested.  I tell him I just want my MS-1 back.  I remember my teammate telling me that Osprey has a lifetime warranty, so I decide that I would drive home and try to contact Out There Packs to see if they can repair my pack, replace it, or give me a discount on a new MS-1. 

Larry Lazo loving his MS-1 like a baby and fingering his...what? Yuck!
Karl Kilthau in the background mesmerized by Larry. 

                I contact Mike Kloser of Out There Packs, tell him about my situation and send him some pictures.  He explains to me what I thought I would hear that the repair would be too costly because the entire main zipper would need to be replaced.  He offers me a new MS-2 at a great discount and I snatch one up quickly.  I want to mention that Mike helped me all through the week and over the weekend answering my many questions and offering me advise.  He also shipped my new pack in time for the upcoming race I was preparing for that next weekend.  I doubt you will get this type of service anywhere else.  Mike is awesome, so much so that I hit him up for a TeamBOR sponsorship and he agreed!
Scott Shaw's Brand New MS-2!

                I chose a black MS-2 because it had the new removable hip belt option and still had the mesh pockets instead of rip stop nylon.  I chose the mesh over the rip stop because it held up much better on my MS-1.  I believe the blue MS-2 had mesh, and the orange had more rip stop.  The MS-2 has bigger hip pockets!  It also has dual bladder attachments.  I don’t know if I will use the removable hip belt, but it is a cool idea.  I will try it out before I dismiss it. 
Add a Hip Pack Pocket to make your
removable belt hold more.
Removable belt with Hip Pack Pocket installed.
I have been using the removable hip belt webbing adjusters to move my hip pockets fore and aft.  The pack also has webbing tail stowage and a trekking tow attachment.  It does have that smaller quick adjust belt buckle, but I’m just going to try and get used to it (no modifying this pack).  I just find that I grab the wrong strap when trying to buckle without looking.  I would like to have stowage for the adjustable tails as I usually set mine and forget about them.  The pack still has all the cool features of the MS-1, but is just new and improved.  It is also slightly bigger.  Mike's specs below.

"Compact and feature-rich, our MS-2’s lighter weight means more comfort and energy for “done-in-a-day” outings, such as adventure racing, climbing, short ski tours, bike adventures, or just walking around town. It offers a full-featured, ultra-comfortable design in a versatile and ventilated day-pack. Offering highly efficient and accessible storage options, while exhibiting a simplified fit with upgraded style and materials. One of the highlights of the new MS-2 pack is the detachable Hip Belt, which doubles as a separate Hip Pack.

  • Colors – Black, Blue, Orange
  • 2 in 1 Hip Belt– Airmesh lined, with NEW -ergonomic 1” waist belt webbing & buckle. NEW -Adjustable width buckle system under back panel, NEW-Hip Belt detaches from pack for use as separate Hip Pack
  • “Beaver Tail Pockets”™– 4 easy access pockets on shoulder straps (2 zip, NEW -1 water resistant) NEW -Velcro attachment for swapping with Bottle Tail accessory pockets
  • Stow Pocket– NEW Zipper pocket on bottom of pack with towline/key ring tab, and NEW -Ice Axe tip slots
  • 2 Accessory Webbing Loops– Bottom of pack with buckles for Ice axe, poles or skis NEW -Adjustable buckle added to 2nd strap
  • Accessory Bungee Cords– Bungees with NEW -squeeze cord lock hooks and webbing tabs for attaching helmet
  • Internal Stretch Mesh– NEW – 4-way stretch mesh on internal pockets for more pocket storage volume
  • Elastic Webbing Loops NEW – Elastic keepers to gather excess webbing on shoulder straps and chest strap
  • 4  External Pockets – 2 side easy access, one lg. helmet compatible, one zippered. Note; NEW Orange model, all external pockets on main pack body are Rip stop nylon

Packed with Features

In addition to the NEW upgraded features, the MS-2 incorporates the signature features listed below:

  • Rip Stop Nylon – Durable, silicon treated water resistant, light weight construction
  • Foam Padded Venting  – Airmesh covered foam venting on back panel
  • Ergonomic Shoulder Straps– Airmesh wrapped perforated foam for enhanced comfort
  • Chest Strap– Vertical and width adjustable, with integrated buckle whistle
  • 2 Hip Belt Pockets– Integrated, easy access zippered pockets (one water resistant)
  • 2 Hip Belt Water Bottle Pockets– Convenient easy to reach side mesh pockets
  • Hydration Bladder Compartment– Internal sleeve-compatible to stow laptop
  • Hydration tube External Port– Two internal webbing/hook attachments for bladder
  • 3 Internal Organizer Pockets– One mesh pockets (1 zippered), 1 nylon organizer pocket
  • 4-Side Compression Straps– Double as Ski or Snowboard attachment straps
  • Top Zipper Pocket – With waterproof zipper, stows strap for diagonal ski attachment
  • 4 Nylon/plastic Webbing Tabs– Sewn on bottom of pack for attaching camping gear"
One bad ass MS-2!

                I have used my MS-2 in two races now.  The first thing I noticed is that I didn’t really realize it was on until late in the race.  That’s a great thing!  The forward pockets are even better than the MS-1’s.  The only issue I find is that the removable hip belt sometimes pops out some, but that’s probably because I moved the hip pockets forward some by loosening the straps.  It’s really no big deal as when you go to put it on you just have to push them back in, but I wish I didn’t have to. (Update 01-06-18) just realized I didn't have the straps installed correctly and now they stay in much better).  Another positive is that the bladder stays in place better with the new attachment.  I set up the trekking tow, but I couldn’t get my teammates to try it out, which probably saved my legs. 

Mesh chest pockets and nylon covered straps on MS-1
One H2O resistant chest pocket and mesh covered straps on MS-2.

Larger hip bags on MS-2.

"Camelbak" tail accumulator modification.

MS-1 front, MS-2 rear bladder attachment.

One concern I have on MS-2 is that the heavy duty mesh and rip stop nylon has been replaced with stretchy "cheaper Osprey looking" mesh.  We will see if it holds up inside the pack.

                I couldn’t let my old trusty MS-1 die so I tore out the old zipper and searched all over for a new one.  I couldn’t find the exact one, but I bought one that was a close second and sewed it back in (I should have asked Mike where to get one).  It functions and looks good from the outside, but I made a mess of the inside.  If I would have taken my time I could have made it better, but it was better than throwing an awesome pack away.  I can always clean up the inside later if I want.  I will use my MS-1 for training and my MS-2 for racing, which will hopefully extend the life of my MS-2.  I could also sell a bunch of my Camelbaks and my MS-1 and buy some more Out There's!

             Our team almost exclusively runs either Out There Packs or Osprey Packs.  We have a large AR team with around 30 members.  I think Osprey is slightly beating out Out There as the most used pack on the team, but that is because our team is full of cheap bastards.  I need to figure out that percentage.  Rough estimate looks like a 60/40 split.  Now that Out There is sponsoring Team BOR I think that balance will shift into Out There's favor.  Why buy a pack that is not designed for adventure racing when Out There Packs are?  It seems like a simple decision to me.


Alane Wollins new MS-2.

I think she loves her pack.

I have asked the team to give me honest feedback on their Out There and Osprey Packs and will post it here.

Osprey Packs = "Belt pockets, but not very big. Had held up really well. Has tiny pocket on shoulder strap, but can't fit much in it; It has whistle to satisfy AR requirements. About the right size for up to 24 hr race. Fairly simple; not a ton of different pockets. Water resistant at least. Not adjustable. Like the orange color!" JESSIE BROWN

"Scott, I’m still not convinced that the MS 1 can hold 24 hours worth of AR gear. If you have the cash to buy expensive packable gear (a fleece for example) and all the mandatory gear you may have to pack for a race that’s my AS 2 (? I think that is the one I use for 24 hour). So what I’m getting at is recommend that if your only gonna buy 1 bag then get the larger of the two. Also, I have had my MS1 for over 4 years and I have only had to do 1 repair and it was my fault. Not the bags. Hope this helps." LARRY LAZO
Larrys MS-1. He also has and AS-2...spoiled brat!

"I’ve used the MS-1 for up to 84-hrs. We had the ability to re-pack every 24-hrs. It worked great!!  And it still had the ability to clip on lots of gear if needed. A larger pack could give you extra space, but extra space could mean just packing extra gear which just adds extra weight." PAUL FRISBEE

"Agree Paul. While I have not raced that long if you have the ability to repack for different sections that would make a huge difference. Also, good points on the outside of the pack. Mike made sure there were plenty of tie down points on the outside." LARRY LAZO

"Osprey 22L Talon.

Pros: large main pocket works great for storing large amounts of gear. Pack has a small outboard zipper pocket on top and one inside the main pack for storing smaller pieces (e blanket, lighter etc) so you don’t have to empty the pack at gear checks. Built in helmet carrying system. Integrated pole (think paddles or walking sticks) carrying system. Stiffer backing between the bladder and back keeps the pack fitting the same whether a full or empty bladder is installed. Many more load adjustments on the straps than any camelbak I have owned.

Osprey will repair/replace the pack for free with their all mighty guarantee. As with most packs, integrated whistle.

Cons: hip pouches are a bit small.  Mesh on kangaroo pouch and hip pockets will tear over time with bushwhacking. Mesh tends to get sticky if you put empty gel wrappers in it. (Annoying thing, not really a con)" KEVIN MINTON

Kevin's Osprey Talon 22
Kevin's dog Osprey...Kevin likes Osprey packs we guess.

Team Mates Osprey (not sure of model). I have to buy an Out There AS-3!  I also want the 45-L for backpacking - Ahab.