Great Lakes Challenge|
Polar-bear clouds float in the sky; sunlight keeps my frozen fingers warm; golden leaves whisper under my feet; the weather is cold, but the sky clear - such is a typical Indian-summer day in the Midwest. I tread gently, counting my steps. I am interested in every detail of the surroundings - every boulder (well, boulders are scarce here), knoll, clearing, or pit. We are hiking in the surroundings of Ann Arbor, Michigan, but also making maps and orienteering.
Most of the Great Lakes - Superior, Michigan, Huron, and Erie - wash the ground of the American state of Michigan. The population of the Upper Peninsula is very low, and those who live there tend to mark their homes with long, sky-scraping poles, which serve to mark the locations of their dwellings during the long winter ... when the snow level often reaches as high as their roof tops. The climate of the Lower Peninsula (the shape of which resembles a mitten) is warmer. Even vines grow there, as Pat Murad confirms only too well: "Wine growing - that's what I want to do in my life." Murad is a member of the only Michigan orienteering club, a club which we met at the Club Championships.
The Southern Michigan Orienteering Club (SMOC) - which should not be mistaken for the Southern Midlands Orienteering Club of Great Britain - was established in 1984 by the fusion of three smaller clubs. The club has 150 members who live in the surroundings of the university town of Ann Arbor, situated in the south-eastern part of Michigan. You can find there one of the most famous American universities - The University of Michigan. Well-know companies such as Pfizer or Ford also have their headquarters there. No wonder many people from all over the world are drawn to the area. As a result, Michigan runners can often speak Finnish, Swedish, or German.
Dragon trees in glacial terrain
Michigan's landscape was formed by the glaciers which also deepened the Great Lakes. But, they did not affect the lower rocky layer; so there are very few rocky features in the countryside. Blue coloring prevails on most Michigan orienteering maps - a course-setter often has to deal with setting courses among plenty of lakes and marshes (there are no water-courses). Vegetation is another obstacle - various kinds of berries, vines, and thorny bushes abound. The countryside is flat, so contour lines are usually set by 2.5 or 3 meters.
There are no peaches on Peach Mountain
We started making maps in the forests within a 30-minute ride north-west of Ann Arbor. These areas were surrounded by signs saying "Research Property of the University of Michigan." Photogrammetry was made from evaluated aerial photographs taken in 1964. Terrain features, apart from several areas where a high density of pines or uprooted tress made any higher-quality analysis impossible, corresponded with the map bases we were given.
Positively no hunting for frisking orienteers
In mid-October, SMOC organized an all-American, USOF-sanctioned orienteering meet also known as the Great Lakes Challenge. The competition was held in the Waterloo Recreation Area. Runners were given laser-printed copies of the map. On my way to the start, I met several green-clad men with crossbows, and remembered some words from the bulletin: "The recreation area will be open to small-game hunters during the meet; you may wish to consider wearing blazing orange colors for safety."
We returned to the area at the beginning of November in order to map new areas adjacent to the existing map (Prospect Hill) to the east. The trees meanwhile had changed their color to red; there were egrets floating in the swamps; the grass had turned yellow; and a cold breeze had started to blow in from the Lakes. The map area was a former golf course, but we could not find any holes. Nature had quickly taken hold of what had once belonged to it. Some green parts matched well this description by a devoted botanist, Bill Luitje: "It is so thick that the only ways to get through would be to cut your way with a chain saw or to crawl on your belly under the shrubs."
After a month spent in Michigan, a month in which we traveled along roads among orange Halloween pumpkins, a month living in the Siamese house of Mary Joscelyn, we left these colored autumn forests and headed home.
Ales Hejna 2002-29-11 (published in O-sport 1/2003)