Canadian Orienteering Championships 1996

(From Lokation 108 in December 1996.)

Honeymoon day one, and a chance to test the large sports bags that LOK gave us as a wedding present. (Thanks to everyone who contributed: we decided we’d leave the wine at home, which just about gave us room for O-kit for two weeks.) The flight to Boston passed slowly enough for me to plan most of the Holmbury badge event, and we managed to get about one hundred miles north before finding a motel. Day two was a day for culture. We stopped at Fort Ticonderoga to discover how the Americans had whopped the Brits during the War of Independence. Then on north west into the Adirondack mountains, and a visit to Lake Placid. We did the tour of the Olympic ski jumping complex, complete with lunatic people out dry slope ski jumping. The highlight of Helen’s trip came when she spotted that Eddie ‘The Eagle’ Edwards was one of the people training with the American team. We have a blurred photo of the back of his head to prove it. And then the final drive into Canada, through Ottawa and on to Wakefield, about twenty miles north of the capital.  We arrived at the event centre just in time to miss the opening ceremony.

The original plan was to arrive on Saturday morning, so we hadn’t arranged any accommodation. As usual, something turned up and we gave a lift to a Bulgarian on the way to a Youth Hostel. She was now living in Vancouver, and had taken longer than us to get from home to the event. Canada is a large country. Over lasagne that evening I discovered that she used to work for Bulgarian Railways. Helen looked suitably uninterested.

Days 1 and 2 were the Canadian Championships, both on the Riviere la Peche map in Gatineau Park. The area was moderately hilly, with lots of rock and marsh. It was predominantly white, but once you got out there you discovered that this was all relative, and most people had real problems running. The predominant vegetation was maple, including extensive areas of young saplings which are just big enough to make running difficult and prevent you from seeing the contour features. (In my case they are over head high!) My time of over 4 and a half hours for the two days left me a little off the pace, but Helen’s win on day two was enough to leave her in second place, just 1 second behind the winner.

Day 3 was the Canadian Relay Champs. The novel format required teams of four, so we formed a team with Pauline and Brian Ward of Mole Valley. Two members of each team went off in the mass start, running courses of the same length. The third runner could then go out when both of the first two had finished. This has the significant benefit of shortening the length of the event, and also provides more of a race on the first leg. As a team we were going OK until three controls from the end of leg four, when I decided that an extensive resurvey of the wrong block of forest was required. Without that I might just have scraped under 10 minutes per kilometre. The drive back to the B&B went through Ottawa, and we opted for a boat trip on the river to see the city.

Day 4 was an A meet, roughly equivalent to a badge event. The area was again in Gatineau Park, this time just five kilometres from our B&B. Parking was at a ski lodge, and the area was again hilly and thick. The old version of the map had used 3 metre contours, which required solid brown patches in places. The new map still looked steep with 6 metre contours. Luckily the area offered numerous paths which allowed you to avoid the forest most of the time. Highlight of the day was probably the chance to cross the end of a lake on a beaver dam. We then had a weird penultimate control, where the overprinted circle had been crossed out and replaced with a control 200 metres away. Somehow this change didn’t make it to all the maps, and the M40 course was voided. The afternoon was a chance for more culture, with a visit to a large estate owned by a former Canadian Prime Minister.

And so we finally got to Day 5, the last day, and the Canadian Short-O Championships. We had seriously considered giving this a miss, and when we saw the map it looked like we should have done. The area was effectively flat (with about three contours at a 2 metre interval) and was essentially a grid of major paths around light green forest. Luckily it turned out to be a bit more interesting than it looked, and I eventually managed to get under 10 minutes per kilometre.

The plan was now to head west along the St Lawrence River and Lake Ontario, and get somewhere the other side of Toronto to allow an early start at Niagara the next day. This was a good plan, but was thrown into some confusion when we spotted the road signs advertising boat trips around the Thousand Islands. The guide book said it was worth going, so we went. We’d just missed the one hour trip, so we settled for the three hour trip. This was indeed a scenic trip and provided the information that Thousand Island Dressing does indeed take its name from this group of islands at the point where the St Lawrence flows out of Lake Ontario.

We were now about four hours behind schedule, but pressed on westwards and hoped something would happen. It was dark by the time we reached Toronto, and the main memory is of traffic hell, with very heavy traffic moving at high speed round endless motorways . This convinced us to avoid trying to stop there, so we kept going and eventually arrived at the Palace Motel, Grimsby. (As in ‘Where did you go on honeymoon?’, ‘The Palace Motel, Grimsby.’) It was now about quarter to midnight. I rang the bell, and was just leaving when an Indian woman appeared. She turned out to be from Birmingham. In the morning we woke to see the place in its full glory, which included an enormous pink wall complete with crenellations. Add it to your list of must-visit places in the world. Near the bottom.

Niagara Falls was the main reason for being here. We got into serious tourist mode, with multiple photo stops walking down the main road, and a trip on the ‘Maid of the Mists’ boat. For this you are provided with a bright blue disposable plastic raincoat (complete with ‘Made in China’ label). The boat then sails right up to the foot of the falls. Since you get wet standing on the main road, at least 200 metres away, it soon becomes obvious why the raincoat is necessary. Today’s trivia fact was that Matthew Webb, who had become the first person to swim the English Channel in 1875, was drowned in 1883 whilst trying to swim across the rapids at the top of the falls.

We ended with an ‘LOK on tour’ tradition of a meal in the highest restaurant available. To a list which includes the Space Needle in Seattle, and television towers in Nuremberg and Moscow, can now be added the Niagara Falls Skylon. The meal lasted about an hour, just enough for a complete revolution of the restaurant. Unfortunately it was too misty to see north over Lake Ontario to Toronto, but the views of the falls themselves were excellent.

And so to the United States, another eight events and yet more boat trips. But that’s a story for someone else to tell.