Moscow Ringworld 1994

This is an article from Lokation 97 in September 1994. Three orienteers and a hanger-on somehow decided that the Moscow Ringworld, a 10-Day orienteering event, sounded like a good idea for a holiday. This involved a large boat sailing round the Moscow Canal and Volga River stopping each day for an O event and a bit of sightseeing.

Friday 12 August

Our visas finally arrive at the Russian Embassy. Not only that, but they have the correct dates and places on. It looks like we’re really going to Russia.

Monday 15 August

Heathrow by 6.00, Helsinki for lunch and on the ground in Moscow by mid afternoon. Sheremetevo Airport appears not to have discovered the electric light bulb. A one hour queue to get through passport control but there’s nobody waiting for us. Suddenly Natasha arrives, complete with minibus and we’re off to the boat.

Tuesday 16 August

A quick team trip to central Moscow by Metro for a spot of tourism. I suggest we try Red Square. We queue up, have our bags examined by guards, and Steve gets told to put his camera away. The queue edges forward and we discover that not only have we got into Red Square but we also appear to be in the queue for Lenin’s tomb. There’s no escape from the queue, since a soldier blows a whistle and looks upset everytime the queue shows any signs of not doing what it’s told. So we shuffle onward and downward, through the entrance hall and finally into a dimly lit central chamber with you know who laid out for all to see.There’s still no escape as the queue continues around the Kremlin walls, past numerous graves of famous Russians. Finally we reach freedom, and manage to fit in St Basil’s Cathedral and the GUM Department store on the way back to the boat. That evening the organisers finally admit that the Day 1 race has been cancelled ‘because the map is small and not very nice’.

Wednesday 19 August

No orienteering, so Helen and I amuse the locals by running a few laps of the boat. At 43 seconds per lap I guess it’s about 200 metres.

Thursday 18 August

The ferry meant to take us ashore arrives at 9.00. 30 minutes later it leaves; it’s the wrong size, and there is no way of getting from our boat onto it. An hour later another passing ferry is hailed, and we finally get to shore. I am the first starter on M21E. I somehow fail to get called up, despite standing right next to the start official, and there is a small panic as they realise and set me off. I pick up my bagged map and set off. More panic amongst the officials. The map is not bagged; I’ve picked up all the maps for the course, which are in a single bag. Back at the landing stage we have to wait for the correct size of ferry again. To fill the time I play hopscotch with Steve, Helen and Karen, an Australian. Steve is a bit good at hopscotch, and shows the girlies a thing or two.

Friday 19 August

Mass start sprint courses on an area of planted sand dune like Pembrey.

Saturday 20 August

The bus to the event is built to take 50 people. All 80 decide to get on, and only just fail. After all this it turns out to be only 10 minute walk from where we were. M21E is 6.0 kilometres with 500 metres climb. The winner fails to break 80 minutes.

Sunday 21 August

We arrive in Nizchniy Novgorod, known until recently as Gorky. The area is parkland so we’re running in Gorky Park. The Russians somehow don’t get the joke, and explain that Gorky Park is in Moscow. A welcoming committee meets us on the quayside, complete with suits, ties and prepared speeches. Then it’s a bus trip to the event. The bus isn’t quite big enough to take everyone. 4 kilometres with 300 metres climb this time. A brass band plays as we set off. Between the start and control two the course drops 90 metres in 200. Everyone stops before setting off down this slope, not quite believing that it’s physically possible, or that the planner could possibly mean this. What goes down must come up, as they didn’t teach me in school, so the rest of the course was best described as painful. For the first time ever my shoe comes off running through a marsh. 30 seconds wasted, and Steve has the cheek to beat me by 7 seconds and claim it as a victory. During the afternoon sightseeing tour the food finally gets its revenge and I get another demonstration of the ‘going down, coming up’ principle; lunch reappears amongst the trees of the Nizchniy Novgorod Kremlin.

Monday 22 August

By pure good fortune this turns out to be another cancelled day, because they can’t find any way of getting ashore I spend most of the day feeling lousy as I recover from food poisoning.

Tuesday 23 August

Another day with nowhere to land. Be not discouraged, we’ll just run the boat ashore and lash up a gangplank. So that’s what we did. The assembly area is in a sort of Russian Butlins. The map is predominantly white, so the planner has to struggle hard to put all the controls in fight. He makes a brave attempt. Part of the map is so detailed that it’s printed at 1:7500 as well as 1:15000. I still can’t read the three controls on it. Steve manages to read two of them but then gets confused, runs back into the 1:15000 area by mistake and gets disqualified for missing control 11. That evening two teenage Russian girls, who between them speak about three words of English, come looking for Steve (whose grasp of Russian doesn’t yet stretch to three words) and have an animated non-conversation, mainly in giggles, about the missing punch. Steve’s phrase book doesn’t seem to cover this sort of situation, so he goes for the sympathy vote, starting with ‘I’m not feeling well’.

Wednesday 24 August

A new excuse for a cancelled day. If we stop today then we won’t be able to get to tomorrow’s event in time. This appears to be because the calculations were done based on the boat’s top speed, but we’re now heading up stream and are therefore going much slower than this. Even some of the Russians don’t seem to believe this one.

Thursday 25 August

The event is up a branch off the main river. The captain does not have a chart for this branch, and so borrows a road map from one of the Americans. During breakfast we set off, only to find ourselves turning round and sailing back the way we have come. The captain has seen sense, along with a sandbank, and won’t go any further. Along comes a handy ferry, and we set off again. 90 minutes later we finally find somewhere to land. Now for the route march, losing the odd Italian along the way. We come to a steep slope above a river. The path goes straight down the slope. So do we, mainly on backsides. This gets us to the river. We need to be the other side. Transport takes the form of some bits of scaffolding, oil drums and wire which magically combine to form a floating pontoon which can be pulled the 25 metres across the river by four large strong men (not supplied). The whole group gets across in two gos, and its then only ten minutes further to the assembly area, meaning it has taken two and a half hours to get here.The men’s course (there are only two courses today) is 4 kilometres. As I start the heavens open. I am flying along, with a queue of Russians, Hungarians and Austrians following me. The truth of this statement strikes me as I relocate five minutes after running off the map, and lead the Hungarian back onto the map and to control 5. I’m still not sure what happened to the Austrian.

Friday 26 August

The final day, in the outskirts of Moscow. The area is covered in manmade features where the white stone for the Moscow Kremlin was quarried. And that evening we get to the prize banquet. This had been a topic for much discussion: what does a Russian banquet consist of? The answer is that it’s exactly the same as any other Russian meal, but there’s more alcohol. The party finally breaks up at 2.00 the next morning.

Saturday 27 August

A final weekend in Moscow for sightseeing. First stop MacDonalds.