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Third Thursday Series
Carol's Fat Ass

Gateway Grunt III

March 19-20, 2011

Bill Langton didn't have to ask twice. I'd be happy to set Saturday courses for the Third Annual Gateway Grunt. For starters, why would I turn down an opportunity to spend time on the S-F map? As it's on Boy Scout property, it's not available as a general training venue, so mapping and course setting are the excuses I have to get access. Also, having a full set of courses the day before the main event would mean we'd get a bigger field, which makes mass start events like this much more fun. Finally, I owe him because we routinely have each other for dinner and his wine cellar is stocked with much nicer stuff than mine.

So, I spend the early part of Saturday running through the magnificent woods of S-F Scout Ranch putting out the electronic punch units for the MOJO (Missouri Junior Orienteering) finals. Nature could have dealt us just about anything this time of year, but has chosen to bless us with a perfect day for running. As I had already placed control stands and flags the weekend before, I'm able to take full advantage of the conditions (the e-punch units don't weigh you down much). I get back just as registration is getting underway and, after verifying that Bill and Pilar Williamson have that under control, head over to the start, which I'll work with my good friend and arch rival David Frei who has been getting the better of me this year and leads the famed Buckley-Frei Death Match 2-0.

After getting the bulk of the competitors out on course, David heads out himself on the Red course. A few minutes later Katrina and Sophia Svobodny arrive to do the White course. At ages 6 and 7, they are younger than I would ordinarily allow out without an adult to shadow them. Their father, Tom, is a skilled orienteer and seems comfortable with them going alone so I don't object. It's the worst meet director decision I've ever made. Maybe, the worst decision I've ever made, period.

I head over to the finish to record the times for the few folks that are out on the punch card courses (White and Yellow). Being there also means I get to hear the comments of the advanced runners just finishing. The reviews are all good and I'm delighted that the fastest two runners on Red decided to take the alternate routes on the long leg to 6. My thoughts on the route choice are confirmed: straight was faster if you did it right, but just a bit of inaccuracy or hesitation is all it takes to swing things in favor of the trail. That's exactly what I was going for.

Long leg on Red/Green

Tom gets back from his run on Green and decides to head out to see how his girls are doing on the White course. They've only been gone an hour, so I'm not too concerned, yet. When he returns, having not spotted them, I turn that problem over to Bill so I can continue to run the meet. A small group is dispatched to the north in case they missed the turn off the big powerline to the finish. This seems the most likely problem, since the lake prevents them from missing south or east and missing west would probably just bring them back to the finish on the park road.

I proceed with shutting down finish and getting control pickup underway. After another hour, the girls still haven't been found and it's time to commit to a full-on search. A group heads south just in case they did manage to get around the inlet at the south end of the course. More folks are sent north with instructions to search north west as well in case they made the turn west very late. I run the western perimeter which still seems least likely as there are no trails for them to pick up on the west side of the road. Bill has to stay around the finish to organize his controls for tomorrow, anyway, so I leave him as the primary contact for reports from the field. I run to the south end of the course and after working my way north for about half an hour, I meet a scout troop and ask them if they've seen two girls. They say they've been recruited as part of the search. I thank them and just as I'm moving on, one of them gets a text message that they've been found far to the north.

The knowledge that two children were lost in the woods because I chose to waive a safety guideline doesn't sit well with me at all. The preceding hour has been one of the least pleasant of my life. I decide to pick up the remaining controls to get myself back together before heading back to HQ. When I do arrive, the level of panic has subsided. The girls, who were in tears when found, have been substantially cheered by the presence of cookies and lemonade at the finish. Tom is apologetic, but I'm quick to let him off the hook. It was my call and I blew it. I won't make that mistake again. Ever.

Involving the scout troop was a good field decision, but has the unfortunate side effect of propagating the news through the rumor mill before we can report it through proper channels. By evening, it's travelled far enough that Bill gets a call from the Executive Director of the Gateway Scout Council wanting to hear the story from a source closer to the actual events. Bill patiently describes what happened and seems to put him at ease, though there's no way to be sure this incident won't impair our access to the land in the future. That would be pretty sad as it's the best terrain we've got in Missouri and this is only the third meet we've had on the new map. Hopefully, the fact that we're putting no small effort into running the Scout Orienteering Champs next weekend will count for a lot.

Emily Korsch is helping Bill redistribute the controls for the Grunt. As I drive her to the far side of the park, she gets a call from Bill who has noticed that a lot of rain is heading our way. It's 4:30PM and she's got a solid 3 hours of setting ahead of her. She'll likely be getting back to HQ in the rain after dark. As I watch her trudge off with a water jug in each hand and a dozen control stands and flags jammed into her backpack, I don't envy her one bit.

All my favorite wineries in this part of the state close at 5PM so there isn't much for me to do but head back to HQ and get some rest. The scout lodge is rustic (50 bunks in one big room with no indoor plumbing), but the cots are surprisingly comfortable. I doze off immediately. At around 7PM, Gary Thompson arrives. Bill and Emily show up closer to 8, just as the rain is starting. After a late dinner in Farmington, during which the rain gets quite heavy and then stops, we head back to HQ for the night.

When I wake in the morning, I go for a brief run to loosen up. I'm pleased to see that the forest has not turned to goop from last night's rain. In fact, the footing appears to be excellent. As I'm finishing a relaxing breakfast, competitors begin to arrive for the Grunt. My main rivals will be yesterday's winner, Maricel Olaru from Chicago, Fredrik Goransson of Peoria, and, of course, David.

1-5 We all pile into vans to drive to the remote start on the east side of the lake. There Bill gives us some minimal information. The first map shows 1-19 and we'll get a second map at 18 showing the rest of the course. Total course length is 17Km (straight line), but we'll be shortening that by choosing one control to skip on each map. That's followed with a few comments on vegetation mapping and we're sent off.

Most folks take the trail to #1. Nobody is pushing the pace too hard, so a pretty good sized pack arrives together. Fortunately Bill has put out two e-punch units at this control, so there's only a few seconds wait. Maricel leads towards 2 and seems to be increasing the pace. David follows closely, with Fredrik and Jeff Sona in tow. I drop back a bit, not wanting to cook my legs in the first kilometer. By the time we get to 3, I'm in danger of losing contact with the lead pack, so I up my tempo to match their pace. At 5 we make the first split with Maricel going left of the deadfall, Fredrik staying high to the right, while David, Jeff, and I take the lower right-side route along the edge of the thick stuff. David spots a break in the deadfall and decides to cut across to the left and Jeff follows, leaving me on my own.

The channel just before 6 is mapped as dry, but is actually about a foot deep in water. As I cross, I spot Maricel to my right, which seems a bit weird since I'm sure I'm right of the control and he came from the left. I figure he must have overrun it and press north. Up ahead, I see David and Jeff crossing the channel and then also turning north ahead of me. That seems too far up, so I look off to my right and spot the rockface on the far side of the stream. Rats, I head back south, passing Fredrik who seems pretty pleased to have passed the lot of us by hitting it cleanly. Maricel is nowhere to be seen, so I figure he took it cleanly as well and then took the right hand route to 7. I find the control just a few meters south of where I crossed the channel. If I had only bothered to look that direction before turning north, I probably would have seen it. In the context of a goat event, it's not a big error, so I put it behind me quickly.

6-7

The straight route to 7 looks risky to me; too much chance of confusing all the similar spurs on the far side of the ridge. 7-13 I decide to take the right hand route, following the stream up the ridge, checking off the rocks when I cross the big trail, and following the stream back down the other side. It works great and I run it fast but, despite having an excellent attack point at the stream junction, I overrun the control and have to relocate off the small pond. Again, a small error, but these things add up.

Things are about to get worse. Bill had warned us that the northeast area mapped as rough open land (light yellow) 20 years ago was now overgrown and we should use more permanent features like contours and streams rather than vegetation to navigate. I try to do this, but I still find myself struggling to keep track of where I am. I had already decided that I would either skip 10 or 14. After bobbling both 8 and 9 (allowing David and Jeff to catch and pass me) I settle on skipping 10 simply to reduce the number of controls in this section of the map. I do hit 11 and 12 cleanly and manage to chase down Maricel on the way to 13. As I punch 13, I have to wait a couple seconds while the e-punch unit wakes up (they go dormant after a few hours to save battery life). It's likely that some of the leaders haven't skipped yet, but it's nice to know that I'm the first one to this point. None of the first map skips are worth more than a few minutes, so I'm clearly still in it.

13-18

Maricel and I run more or less together to 14, but he is better at getting through the thicker vegetation approaching the control. 18-23 I lose sight of him on the way to 15 and then miss the control low. Another small mistake but this one is costly because I'm back on my own whereas David still has Jeff helping him. I'm reasonably clean the rest of the way to the map exchange, but my route along the river is slow because there's a lot of deadfall. By the time I start climbing up the break in the cliff to 18, I can see David and Jeff (having skipped 16) crossing the river behind me. "We're gonna get you, Buckley!" taunts David as they splash across.

Bill and Emily are both at the control. Bill pours me a Gatorade and tells me that it's just Maricel up front with about a 2 minute margin. Emily hands me my next map. The cookies look appealing, but I don't linger because I really want to get a gap on the pair behind. It's apparent that they are going to stick together as David has no reason to drop his regular Adventure Race teammate. So, if David gets by me, it will not only put me woefully behind in the Death Match, it will knock me out of the top three on today's results as well.

I'm fast and clean through the next three controls, but 23 is a disaster. Approaching the hilltop I spot plenty of rock, but it doesn't seem to line up particularly well with the formations on the map. I poke around a bit wondering why Bill would set a control on a rock feature in an area where the rock is mapped so badly before the horrible realization hits that I've drifted left and am actually on the hilltop 200m to the south. Once recognized, it's an easy problem to fix, but I've dropped about three minutes in the process. Given that the top four were closer than that just a few controls ago, this is potentially fatal.

I'm not sure if the mistake sharpens my focus or just gets me to relax a bit, but the effect is that I run the next 10 controls about as well as I could have hoped. A nasty trip on an old piece of barb wire slows me down a bit on the way to 24, but everything else is fast and clean. The only remaining skip that makes sense is 31. Ironically, I passed on skipping 22 because a rockface at the top of a hill seemed like a pretty easy location to spike. It is, if you're on the right hill.

23-33

The final two controls and the run in are pretty basic stuff. I fight hard not to relax, since even easy nav can be botched if you don't pay attention to what you're doing. I'm getting tired but, as I push up the hill to the finish, I'm very pleased at how well my fitness has held up. 33-F And, while there were some rough spots from 6 to 9 and the bad boom at 22, I'm happy to have kept my total nav error to around 30 seconds per kilometer in terrain this complex. There's a small crowd of folks from the shorter courses at the finish and I get a bit of a cheer as I clock in at 2:29:30. Maricel has finished a couple minutes ahead but there's no sign of David or Jeff (or, for that matter Fredrik, who nobody has seen since 6). It's a fair wait for David and Jeff to show up. They had big problems at 31 and 34 as well as some smaller errors. Jeff makes no attempt to snag the final podium spot; acknowledging that David did most of the nav work. Fredrik is way back in fifth. Apparently his race went horribly wrong in the northeast section and he never recovered; the smile he flashed leaving 6 was the last time he felt happy about his run.

In a nice upgrade from the usual post-race food, Bill has ordered pizza for everybody. I down a fair bit before heading back out into the woods to pick up controls. While I'm tired and it's getting warm, pickup is a nice wind down for the weekend. I jog easily, enjoying the woods. Among others, I collect all the controls from the northeast section of the map. At an easy pace, I have to concede that the map really isn't too bad here. It's just very hard to sort out the discrepancies while pushing full speed through nasty vegetation. At any rate, it was completely fair for Bill to use this area, but I'm glad I chose to minimize it by skipping 10.

I still haven't won a Grunt; this is the first time I've even made the top three. I'm certainly hoping Bill keeps putting them on because all three have been really good meets and I'd love to notch a win one of these years. I'd also like to keep combining them with a full weekend of activities because we've drawn much better fields the two years we've done that. So, Bill, if you need a course setter for Saturday next year, you won't have to ask twice.

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