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READY,SET

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The name may be silly, but the event requires serious skill. Presenting the true story of what happens when two average guys who have never competed in the sport enter the world championships.
ne morning last May, Dave Goldstein and I stood at the edge of a campground in the White Mountains of east-central Arizona, shoulder to shoulder with nearly 400 other competitors, awaiting our first rogaine. No, I’m not talking about the hair-growth product. In this story, rogaine is the awkward acronym for an Australian-born sport: Rugged Outdoor Group Activity Involving Navigation and Endurance. Basically, it’s a gargantuan Easter-egg hunt for adults. ¶ Racers milled about, fiddled with their backpacks, and studied the maps they had carefully folded inside plastic bags. Some had the no-wasted-ounces look of hardcore runners; others were barrel-chested and tree-trunk-legged lumberjack types. Some wore the garish nylon track suits favored by elite orienteers; others wore faded blue jeans and sweatshirts. We weren’t the only beginners here, yet this was not just any rogaine: This was the 6th World Rogaining Championships. This is a sport so low-key and underpopulated that absolute rookies are invited to compete against the best in the world. ¶ Rogaining is a stepchild of orienteering, which is fairly popular in the United States as foreign-born sports go—on the level of, say, biathlon or lawn bowling. Orienteers race along a pre-set course, using a map and clue sheet to locate a series of “controls,” orange-and-white nylon boxes about the size of a case of wine. At a control, you punch a card to prove you’ve been there and then race to the next. ¶ In rogaining, the goal is also to locate hidden controls, but there is no pre-planned course. Before the start, each team of two to five racers receives a map showing dozens of controls, which are generally worth more points the farther you get from the home base (called a hash house). Each team plots its own course, aiming to gain maximum points within the time limit. That’s the Navigation side of the sport. The Endurance? The time for a classic rogaine is 24 hours, and the course is the size of a large metropolitan area.

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Text & Photos By Dougald MacDonald
Dont be fooled: Rogaine is neither a 46 RUHOOKED.COM APRIL-MAY 2005 walk in the park nor a hair growth product. It’s orienteering on steroids.

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Dave and I had done plenty of rugged outdoor activities, including local orienteering meets and long days of mountaineering, but we had never competed in a rogaine. When we learned about the sport from some orienteering friends, the idea appealed to us—if a two-hour orienteering race was fun, an all-day race might be a blast. As graying 40-somethings, we also liked the idea that rogaining is a sport for all ages, in which cunning counts as much as stamina. After Dave and I decided to enter the competition in Arizona, I spoke with Jason Poole, a friend from Colorado. He and Mikell Platt had won the past two US national championships of rogaining—events the producers of ESPN’s SportsCenter had somehow neglected to cover. “You’ll have three hours to look at the map before the start,” Jason explained. “You have to figure out what routes you’ll attempt, bail-out points, where you want to be at night, if you’re going to come back to the hash house. We try to come back, because then you don’t have to carry as much, but it depends on the course.” Jason’s team planned to race all night. I figured my eyes would be tightly shut inside my sleeping bag after it got dark, but Jason assured me, “Once you get started, you’ll want to keep going.” As they say in Australia: Not bloody likely. Three hours before the start of

the race, we gathered around the large, white hash-house tent to listen to a briefing by coursesetter John “Wolfsong” Maier, a lean, bearded fellow who had spent weeks marching around Apache National Forest to map the controls. Maier reminded the racers of the dangers of dehydration, hypothermia and altitude sickness, and pointed out that no wolves had been spotted in the course area. Not recently anyway. Dave and I sat at a picnic table, anchored our maps with rocks to keep them from blowing away, and started thinking about our route. The competition area, which covered nearly 115 square miles, contained 64 controls worth 30 to 90 points each, for a maximum point total of 4,020. Almost no one “cleans” the course at a big-league rogaine. At the 2002 world championships in the Czech Republic, the winners gobbled up 4,160 out of a possible 4,400 points. In our race, with 175 teams, earning a top-10 finish would require scoring only 70 percent of the maximum, or 2,820 points. Dave aspired only to finish “not last.” We dubbed ourselves Team Penultimate. Pressed to set a numerical goal, we agreed on 1,000 points. By trial and error, we eventually devised a couple of loops that would net 1,000 points if we walked about 25 miles. I had not hiked 25 miles in a day in over two decades, but hey, we weren’t in this to win. We just wanted to try something new, and this was undoubtedly the only chance either of us would ever have to compete in a world championships—of anything. The thing is, while Dave and I viewed our participation in the 6th World Rogaining Championships as something of a lark, other racers were absolutely serious. They had traveled to Arizona from Latvia, Australia, Finland, Switzerland and 11 other countries and 32 US
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“RACERS SCATTERED AGAIN AS THEY LEFT THE SUMMIT, AND DAVE AND I POUNDED DOWNHILL THROUGH THE WOODS AS A GUY BEHIND US STARTED YELLING FOR HIS TEAMMATE, WHO HAD DISAPPEARED JUST 45 MINUTES INTO THE RACE.”

states. They used thumbtacks, lengths of string and pocket calculators to work out routes with maximum points per kilometer. They carefully timed their routes so they could travel through open areas and on roads in the darkest hours; they knew that civil twilight would end at 7:44 p.m. but a gibbous moon would rise at 12:10 a.m. I was stunned to overhear one guy say, “Our first loop is about 50 kilometers, then 40, then 35.” He was planning to cover more than 75 miles—three times our target mileage. If this were the Olympics, it would be as if those joggers who run laps inside shopping malls were allowed to shuffle along behind the medal contenders in the marathon.

No gun fired at the start. Racers

around us did not bunch up against the starting line. There is no starting line in a rogaine. At 11 a.m. Wolfsong calmly said “go,” and 175 teams trotted off in all directions, scattering like a bag of marbles dumped on a smooth table. A few greyhounds jogged out of the campground, but most of us simply started walking. We joined a large group that seemed to be headed for the same control: a 70-pointer atop a prominent hill about a mile and a half from the hash house. Dave and I felt certain we could find the top of a mountain visible from the campground, and starting the day with nearly 10 percent of our ultimate goal seemed like a good way to boost our confidence. It was a beautiful spring morning, overcast but not threatening. At an elevation of more than 9,000 feet, little snowbanks lingered in the woods. From a fire tower atop the 70-point hill, you could see much of the course: thousands of acres of rolling hills, lakes, subalpine meadows and thick woods. Racers scattered again as they left the summit, and Dave and I pounded downhill through the woods as a guy behind us started yelling for his teammate, who had disappeared just 45 minutes into the race. One-hundred and fifteen square miles quickly absorbs 400 people, and soon we were alone. We would go an hour or more between sightings of other competitors, yet suddenly find ourselves converging on a control with two or three other teams. By late afternoon we had covered about 20 miles and hit 11 controls, for a total of 800 points. We were doing much better than expected, but I had very sore hips and knees and a large blister on my left heel. Dave had caught a second wind. He would trot ahead on the downhills and try to cajole me into running. The high pastures were crisscrossed with barbed-wire fences that had to be climbed over or squirmed under, and either option was tiring and sometimes painful. Night fell and we staggered along the edge of some woods where a control was supposed to be hanging from a tree. Our headlamps poked uselessly into the vast, black Arizona night. At 9:30 p.m. we finally made it back to the hash house, where cheerful volunteers loaded my plate with pasta and snacks. I played listlessly with my food, too tired to eat. Other racers came into the tent, quickly loaded up on calories, strapped headlamps on their

Clockwise from left: Plotting the course can make the difference between winning and suffering; Dave Goldstein goes for the shortest line; Lemmings headed for the finish line; Another control bites the dust; The best part of rogaine? Stopping to eat is part of the race.

heads and arms (for more light and better depth perception), and purposefully headed back out. Dave and I trudged hundreds of yards back to our tents. Our plan was to sleep until around 4 a.m. and return to the fray once it was light. I fell asleep immediately, but the campground was jammed with other tents, and soon racers started returning for their own siesta or a change of clothes. One guy tripped over my tent, and then a Loud Talker nearby began recounting the previous 14 hours of racing at full volume. It was 1 a.m. Dave was in his own tent a few feet away. “Dave,” I said, “are you awake?” “Let’s get out of here,” came his reply. It was amazing how fast the idea of rogaining at night had gone from utterly inconceivable to our only alternative. I don’t know if it was the two hours of sleep or the four ibuprofens I took before bed, but I felt great. I downed two bowls of chili, and we headed onto the course. Stars spangled the sky, and a three-quarter moon hung low on the

horizon. Frost crunched underfoot in the low meadows. Headlamps bobbed in the woods, and now and then a team of real racers trotted by us, quickly separating the men and women from the rest of us toddlers. At sunrise we were still moving. We plotted a final loop that would bring our total score to about 1,500 points, 50 percent more than our original goal. At around 9 a.m., we bagged a 70-pointer in a clearing. More points were within reach, but we were done.

A rogaine is a strange race. Because the competition
is based on points and not time or distance, you could “finish” the course by leaving the starting area, strolling about half a mile through a pleasant meadow to a 30-point control, wandering back for lunch, and calling it a race. Dave and I stopped by our tents to change our shoes and shirts, and then ambled across the finish line in our Tevas, about an hour before the race was over. At the hash house, we ate a huge breakfast of eggs, bacon and pancakes, and compared limps and

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MANY WAYS TO GET LOST—AND WIN
Rogaining:
Not all rogaines are 24-hour endurance tests. Several US clubs organize easier rogaines spanning 4, 8 or 12 hours, along with similar Score-O competitions. Of course, shorter doesn’t necessarily mean easier—one 9-hour race in Missouri starts at 9 p.m., so it’s all in the dark. The 2005 North American Championships (a 24-hour race) are August 2-3, west of Kamloops, British Columbia. www.rogaining.com

Orienteering:
Color-coded orienteering courses allow competitors of all skill levels to try this sport, in which racers use a map, compass and clue sheet to navigate a backcountry course. Beginners’ white courses are only 1-2 miles long and stick to trails, while expert red or blue courses are morre difficult. They often bushwhack for 5 to 10 miles. Orienteering courses also may be set for cyclists or skiers. www.us.orienteering.org.

Urban Challenge:
The Urban Challenge is a series of city-based races in which two-person teams get clues to help them find hidden checkpoints using only their feet, public transportation, a cell phone and their wits. www.urbanchallenge.com.
Above: Behold the coveted boot trophy! Below: Rogainers in the heat of competition.

Geocaching:
In this GPS treasure hunt, you download the coordinates for hidden caches around the world, some of which are extremely difficult to reach (you do have scuba gear, don’t you?). Often the coordinates only get you started—more clues and puzzle-solving may be required. More than 125,000 caches have been hidden in 210 countries. www.geocaching.com.

Letterboxing:
This is another form of hide-and-seek, in which clues guide participants to hidden containers holding a logbook and a unique rubber stamp. When you find a letterbox, you record the find in your own notebook with the rubber stamp, like collecting visas from exotic countries in your passport. The game originated in England, but there are at least 5,000 hidden letterboxes in North America. www.letterboxing.org. —D.M.

blisters with fellow racers. The crowd cheered as the final racers lurched up to the line in staggering sprints. The awards ceremony was just as unpretentious as the rest of the event. Winners in their age categories earned a boot-shaped trophy and a smattering of tired applause. Americans Mike Kloser and Michael Tobin, members of the Nike ACG/Balance Bar adventure racing team that has won the Primal Quest and the Raid World Championship, scored an upset by edging two-time world champions Greg Barbour and David Rowlands from New Zealand and Australia. The Americans had nabbed one more control than their rivals for a total of 55 controls and 3,490 points and, amazingly, like us, they had never done a rogaine before. Kloser and Tobin didn’t need to be expert orienteers—they just ran around all night with the stamina and energy of black labs looking for lost tennis balls. Dave and I ended up covering about 40 miles. We finished behind all of our friends from Colorado, including Poole and his partners, who placed sixth overall. But we did much better than we had expected: With 24 controls and 1,550 points, we took 95th place. “Well, that was interesting, but I don’t think I’ll do another one,” said one of our Colorado friends. Exhausted and sore, Dave and I shared that sentiment. But during the long drive home, we began speculating feverishly about how we might have done better— strategies for maximizing points per kilometer, minimizing foot problems and staying out on the course all night. The 7th World Rogaining Championships will be held in October 2006 outside of Sydney, Australia. Goodbye Team HOOKED Penultimate. Hello Team Top 50?

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