Thursday, 17 January 2008

nav-i-gey-shuh is my pash-uhn

While I'm not exactly the quiet-type, the one thing that really gets my tongue wagging, my heart racing and my toes itching is the opportunity to talk about my most favourite discipline: navigation.

A number of years ago, Paul Mitchell and I developed a navigation course for beginners. Paul lived in Cape Town and he came up to Joburg one weekend to present two days of navigation instruction for two big groups. Although I'd written the manual, with many of his valuable contributions included, he led the practical sessions; Paul was a meticulous and experienced navigator and he enjoyed sharing his knowledge with others.

That's how the whole navigation course thing started.

Since then I've run regular courses in Joburg; Paul did the same down in Cape Town until his untimely passing in late-2004.

On my very first adventure race, I was our team's navigator. I had no experience at all - only high school geography and a quick refresher from a friend's bush-guide father.

As luck would have it, I made a mistake on Day 1 (my saving grace is that we were not alone; the same mistake was made by a majority of the other teams) and I learned three valuable lessons in one go:

  1. Don't follow (or be instructed by your non-navigator team-mates to follow another team)
  2. Immediately turn back to your last point of certainty when you realise you've made an error
  3. Trust and have confidence in your decisions

Mistakes aside, I was liberated. This race made me realise that I could traverse any environment armed with only a map and a compass. The navigation bug had bitten me b.a.d.

I knew Nicholas Mulder from Wits, and thus I knew of the sport of orienteering. I began attending the regular Sunday morning races to hone my skills and steadily they improved.

My adventure racing kick is not just about the distance, duration and disciplines; it's actually about the navigational elements. This is where I get the rush.

Truthfully my AR navigation is reasonable (not expert) and I can competently get through a race course taking a couple of educated risks on the side; my skills would certainly come up a good number of rungs if I raced more regularly.

As for orienteering... I do well on the local circuit. But I still make mistakes (we all do). I like to think I'm getting better at recognising my errors so that they only cost me 30-seconds instead of 10-minutes. That said, I had my worst run ever at the short course SA O Champs last year... This is what keeps me coming back [for more punishment!]. Results are not about where you place. Achievement is personal - you know when you've run a smooth, clear and accurate course or when you've really messed up.

I've just finished up the theory section of the nav course with my second group this week. The course was scheduled a week ago to prepare newer racers for the UGE Events 150/220 at the end of the month. We've got a practical session on Saturday morning where their map and compass skills will really be reinforced. These two fabulous groups of navigation students are the inspiration for this Blog.

I love maps. I love compasses. I love not being restricted to roads and well travelled paths. I also love teaching others about navigation - hoping that they'll love it too and that they'll derive as much (or even just part of) the satisfaction and sense of acievement that I've gotten from this discipline.

I have an almost parental approach to the course where I feel a responsibility to equip my students with every important skill they will need to get them through a race. Once they leave the shelter of the course, wondering how one person could possible talk so much, they're on their own.

And so, my students... I'll be holding my breath next weekend for news of your successes in Harrismith. Good luck!

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