“Pathfinder” orienteering run

Pathfinder 2015

 

As walking brings me much pleasure (and the longer the hike – the better) and reading the map is not a lost art to me, I’ve been planning on participating in the „Pathfinder” race for quite some time now. But there was always something – an inconvenient date, not enough of my friends willing to participate to form up a team (the minimum required to take part is a 4-man team on all marching routes) or problems getting to the place. But finally my patience was rewarded and an opportunity has arisen to finally go and participate in the race – and although it was the Silesian edition, making it the furthest from my home city of Wrocław taking place, it was also the 20th edition – making it the anniversary one!  It so happened that 3/4 of my team (including me) has never before taken part in any orienteering race, so without much planning and consideration we’ve just packed our packs, prepared some food, made sure not to forget our headlamps and take enough water for ourselves and the dog (yup, our 5th team member!) and, on a Saturday afternoon, headed out to Silesia – namely to a nice little town called Miasteczko Śląskie (which roughly translates to „Silesian Town”).

Tropiciel

„Pathfinder” is one of those events where you can actually choose how you want to take part. The menu includes hiking routes, bike routes, classical navigation, GPS orienteering, male-only, mixed and so on and so on. The participating teams start the race with appropriate intervals, so that to prevent any delays happening on the route and at the checkpoints – only the first checkpoint is considered to be „first” and obligatory, all the other ones can be reached in any order you like. Of course, to properly finish the race and be considered as classified you need to reach all of them. None of the checkpoints on our route was a non-manned one. On each and every one of them there were several members of the Pathfinder Crew waiting for us with a specific task we needed to accomplish before we could head on. We’ve started the race at 2100 hours, so all we had to do upon arrival was get our map, pose for a group photo and then start the adventure. We were just like the Four tank-men and a dog (that’s another old Polish TV series – look it up!) on their way to Berlin.

Starting the race at 2100 hours meant covering a large part of the trail in darkness. This made the headlamps the most important (next to the compass, of course) element of our collective equipment. The combined powers of rough terrain and falling darkness have quickly forced us to drop our plans of doing the race in a running pace and we’ve decided to cover even the simple, straight sections of the trail by simply walking briskly. Most of the teams did, actually, because even though we ourselves were looking, with our minimalist lightweight equipment, as if we were taking part in a mountain ultra, time after time we came across teams all covered in heavy gear, with high boots, jeans and lumberjack-like checked shirts. That’s what makes for the incredible feel of the race: it’s not who ends the race as best what’s important, but rather the fun accompanying the participation itself. Though truth be told, the winners have finished the route with a total time of eight hours (which is a great time) so you can’t actually say that it was a walk around the park.

The race had a nice touch to it – a background story revolving around an accident in a nearby mine resulting in toxic fallout, though I must admit that the story seemed a bit forced, as if there just to tie together the tasks we needed to accomplish at the checkpoints. Another nice touch was one of the checkpoints, codenamed the G-spot. It wasn’t marked on the maps (obviously…) and finding it was only possible by finding clues and hints along the trail (we actually got the first clue at the trail’s start). Of course, finding and going through the G-spot was necessary in order to finish the race as qualified. That meant we needed to play it smart, so that it wouldn’t occur that the mythical G-spot is located on the other side of the map… anyways, we’ve hit the road. The setting sun, old railways and a nearby zinc smelter with its enormous smokestacks made us feel as if we were Stalkers in the Zona. It was an extremely pleasant hike which soon led us to…

Stages

Checkpoint C (the mountain) – a fairly simple task of guessing the meanings of the markings typically placed on hazardous materials, of pictograms and stuff like that. Also, here we’ve received our second tip which was supposed to lead us to Checkpoint G (let’s drop the pun). Bad luck – we’ve misinterpreted the tip and thus climbed the Jurna Góra (in English, that’d be… Lustful Mountain). It occurred, that the mountain itself had only meaning as a cartographic tip, and that scaling its slopes was not really necessary. Oh well, happens. Checking the map, we’ve decided to move on to our next…

Checkpoint F (the Forestry’s hut) – an even simpler task forcing us to unroll, roll and then put together two fire hoses.  There we’ve also grabbed a quick bite to stop our stomaches grumbling and moved on, along the line of picturesque camping cottages taken straight from the 70s and straight to…

Checkpoint X (the creek) – one of the most climatic places on the whole route: a running creek, a wooden bridge with several torches sticked into it and a non-complicated, mushrooms-related puzzle. Not wanting to spend more time there than necessary, we head out, double time, towards the next checkpoint which is located quite a few kilometers further…

Checkpoint L (modern art) – even though the road was fairly easy, it did take a while to cover it. As we’ve almost reached the end of it, we’ve stumbled upon a group of bikers (like, „bike” as in „bicycle”, that is) who’ve shown us the fastest route to take. At the checkpoint all we needed to do was put together a puzzle picture. As a reward – a muffin! Also it was the best moment to catch a breather, and fact being that we’ve spent most of the time in a forced march we’ve decided to take five here, just relaxing and chilling, as we’ve started growing tired and slightly exhausted. After that short but much needed pause we’ve moved out, going around Bibiela and finally arriving at…

tropiciel_3

Checkpoint P (the ruins) and the flooded mine – all went fine up until this point. Somewhere along the way, reality must have warped and bended, as by no means could we match what we see around us to what we we’re supposed to see (at least as far as the map was to be considered). This resulted in circling around the checkpoint for a while before finally locating it. Here we come across a group of fully geared airsofters, solve a simple test concerning general military issues and then move on to complete another quest, slowly leading us to the mythical G-sp… checkpoint G (though, at that stage, we weren’t actually so sure we could find it anymore).  After a brisk march we’ve reached the flooded mine, where the only „physical” checkpoint task awaited us: zip-lining, micro edition. After placing ourselves inside a special webbing, our task was to go all the way down towards the little lake at the bottom and get a flask full of „contaminated” water (well, not really contaminated – just named so for the purpose of the storyline). This was also the only checkpoint where we needed to wait for our turn, but it was well worth it – the mere circumstances made it so, as while we were waiting in the line, it started dawning – the forest around us was waking up, with birds starting to sing towards the rising sun. In the meantime, most of us still had their headlamps switched on. That combined has caused the dawn to be one of the most climatic and impressive I’ve ever witnessed. Anyone who ever had the opportunity to meet the dawning day while out in the woods surely knows what I mean here. The rising sun has also brought new strengths and a rush of motivation. All right guys, ‘ere we go, it’s gonna be a piece of cake now!

Checkpoint H + checkpoint A – while striving to reach the final two checkpoints we’ve really started to feel the aftershocks of a chilly night spent on our feet. We start slogging, but we’re still pretty good at navigating the terrain, so even though the road seems to go on and on and boredom starts to kick in for a moment or two, we find both the checkpoints effortlessly.  Actually, looking back, I can say that was the main problem of the whole race: there weren’t many checkpoints, and the amount of ground which needed to be covered between one and another, following trails which were often as straight as an arrow, could be really exhausting, making the venture a bit boring from time to time.

In the meantime we manage to put all the pieces of our main puzzle together and we manage to locate Checkpoint G! At least we’ve hoped so. We reach it a 0800 hours, with scorching sun already coming down on us, after finding our way through dunes, sands and a  burned-out, stunted forest, whole background dominated by the zinc smelter I’ve mentioned before. No, that’s what I call Stalker land! It’s done and we can already see the finishing line from there (well, not literally, but you know what I mean) which we manage to reach just a few seconds before 0900. We’ve managed to not only go through all the checkpoints (including the secret one) but we did that within the time limit. Not bad for our first orienteering run, eh? Especially since from among 48 teams which participated in the Pathfinder race on the same route as we did, only 20 have managed to complete the race as thoroughly as we did!

Time to sum it up I guess. First of all, I’d like to give my most heartful thanks to the people who’ve organized the Pathfinder race, to all the people at the checkpoints who’ve shown unresting commitment as well as to all the other pathfinders who we’ve met along the trail. It’s one of those events you’re really looking forward to coming back to, one of those which are made without much ado and which might slightly lack in all the splendor which is typical for many other similar events, but which are made with much consequence and never-ending passion. Because when passion of so many different people meets in one place, the effects are always most impressive and nothing, just nothing can ever go wrong. Already I can tell you that I want more – seems I’ve got hooked up on orienteering. Maybe I’ll go for a 60 kilometers run next time. Maybe I’ll try to improve my time. Only time will tell. Hope to see you out there, on the trail, too!

 

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