Orienteering didn’t exactly captivate Janet Tryson the first time she heard about it.
Tryson’s brother was a Boy Scout, and when he talked about orienteering, it meant using technical terms to decipher maps.
Years later, Tryson was home with her two young sons when the PBS show 3-2-1-Contact did a segment about orienteering. It showed a couple of youngsters examining a map to see where to go next to find a special flag marking their checkpoint, and `that sounded more fun,` Tryson said.
Soon, Tryson was searching for her own flags as a member of the Empire Orienteering Club, or EMPO. Made up of residents throughout the Capital District, the club regularly holds orienteering `meets,` including one at Saratoga Spa State Park on Monday, Oct. 11. The public is always invited.
Sue Hawkes-Teeter, a longtime EMPO member, explained that at each meet, participants are given highly detailed maps. `They show every large boulder, every cliff, vegetation, that kind of thing,` she said.
In addition, the maps show the checkpoints where flags have been planted by meet organizers. In the old days, each checkpoint had a unique stamp or hole punch that orienteers would use to mark a card indicating they’d been to the checkpoint. Nowadays, though, the checkpoints have largely gone electronic.
`People have a little device with a scanner that they can swipe at each checkpoint,` said Frank Boscoe, EMPO’s vice president.
Boscoe will be in charge of setting up the checkpoints at the Saratoga meet, arriving at the park not long after the sun rises to place the flags and electronic boxes. He’ll have already charted the course on paper and done a dry run at the park to make sure everything on the map of the area is still there.
He will mark different courses, since orienteering meets are geared to people of all abilities. There’s a white course, which generally attracts kids to about age 12, Boscoe said. The yellow course is good for young teens or newcomers to orienteering. The orange course is intermediate, and red is advanced.
Participants can travel alone or in groups, running or walking. Some larger meets are races with prizes for those who finish the course in the shortest amount of time, but smaller meets, like the Saratoga one, are primarily aimed at just having a good time in the outdoors.
Boscoe has been orienteering only about three years, but he quickly took to the sport. Boscoe is a long-time runner and he teaches geographic information systems at the University at Albany, so orienteering `kind of merges two things that I do,` he said, noting that he finds the sport `more interesting than running itself.`
Hawkes-Teeter, meanwhile, has never been much of a runner, so `the whole idea of running through the woods didn’t really appeal to me,` she said.
But people can enjoy orienteering without putting an emphasis on speed. Hawkes-Teeter likes that orienteering offers both a physical and a mental challenge. `It’s kind of like solving a puzzle,` she said.
Tryson also cited the way orienteering engages both the body and the brain as one of the reasons the sport has become a favorite hobby for her family.
`The combination of physical exertion and mental stimulation has made it an attractive pastime for us for almost 20 years and gives us motivation to stay in shape,` she said.
Boscoe expects about 50 people at the Saratoga meet, including some from as far away as Massachusetts and Connecticut. `It’s not like a running race where you can find one every weekend,` he said.
People of all skill levels are invited and encouraged to wear comfortable clothes, including long pants to keep their legs from getting scratched. No equipment is necessary, although compasses can certainly come in handy. Compasses will be available to rent.
The start/finish for the Saratoga meet will be at the Geyser picnic area. People will have to pay a $6 park entrance fee to park at the picnic area, or they can park free at the southern end of the SPAC lot off Route 50 and walk to the picnic area. Entry fees are $5 for EMPO members and $8 for nonmembers, with a maximum of $20 per family. Registration runs from 10 a.m. to noon.
For information on EMPO, visit empo.us.orienteering.org.