Saturday, October 21, 2006

Sieni Mushrooms?

It started with a conversation at lunch today. Several of us from my department eat lunch together. We talk about cultural differences, stuff that happens in Finland, UFOs, and sometimes they come up with things for me do. Anna asked if I liked orienteering... as if I were familiar with orienteering, had tried it a bunch, and then decided if I liked it or not. I do vaguely remember orienteering at Girl-scout camp when I was ten. I think it mostly involved practicing inside a lodge. Maybe the next day, after we got some experience, we were allowed to try it outdoors. It was all very slow: following directions, writing down coordinates. It was very boring.

"I've never tried it," I told her. It was almost the truth. There were six of us at the table. As it turned out, all five (other than me) had been on fairly extensive orienteering expeditions... in the actual forest. Most people didn't like it, or claimed to be bad at it.

"My sense of direction is so bad that I get lost even with a map and a compass." or "I used to like it, until I missed a whole lake and had to find my way home without it." Apparently, the Finns learn to orienteer as part of their upbringing. It seemed kind of like Americans learning to play soccer or softball. Some of us are good at it, some of us aren't, but we all know the basics.

Anna likes it. And she invited me to join her orienteering team. I didn't realize it was a competitive sport... with teams. "Do you like to run?" she asked. Run? While orienteering?

There were three of us on the 4km team (Anna, Ari, and me), and one person was her own one-man 3km team. We drove for about 30 minutes to the starting point. You see, orienteering courses have to be in a different location every week because those darn orienteerers learn their way around the forest quickly.

Ari lent me a compass. That was key. The other key was having Ari and Anna on my team. I actually have a poor sense of direction. When we first pulled into the parking lot (the starting point), I couldn't help but notice the outfits on the other competitors... oh the outfits! People really get into this. There was a variety of attire, but the hardest core people were wearing... superhero-like costumes: bright blue tights, a red shirt with a fluorescent green vest over it, and plastic leg warmers (apparently to keep their legs dry when crossing lakes!). They were dressed... like Night Captain, but brighter. We were often in the middle of the forest (away from all trails), looking at our compasses and maps, and then, out of nowhere, a brightly colored bundle of energy would come plowing through, leaping over tree stumps, flying through the air. We had to be careful to keep out of their way. The forest outside of Tampere is like the Olympic National Forest in some ways. There was about six inches of moss covering the ground and growing on trees. Running through it required agility. I only fell down once, but I had a few other close calls. Our team was of moderate competitiveness level, compared to the other teams. We ran, and we took it seriously, but once in a while someone would stop and say something like "oh hey, look at this mushroom. What kind of a mushroom is it? How to you say mushroom in English?" And then we'd start running again.

I was surprized how fun it was. You don't really notice that you're running because you're too busy looking for rocks, mounds, valleys, and other hints on the map. It was a good way to see the forest... as long we you didn't mind the periodic superheros leaping by. I heard that we had it easy this week. Sometime you have to climb trees and cross rivers!

We finished the 4km course in one hour, nine minutes, and 55 seconds. It was an all-time record for me! I'm totally doing it every week!

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