Problem: I am trying to follow coaches' advice and work my way through to more difficult levels of courses. This means that I can panic and forget all the things I should be trying to do and, on occasion, I have been completely lost. Is it permissible to carry a crib sheet while competing? If so, what should it contain?
Doctor-O's response: Whilst I don’t recall seeing anyone with a crib sheet out in the forest (nor for that matter on the tennis court, rugby field or cricket pitch), there’s nothing stopping you taking one into the forest if you think this would help.
The question does, however, remind me of the old man who when asked by a passing motorist for advice on how to get somewhere, thought carefully and then replied “Well, if I were you I wouldn’t start from here”.
Enjoyment and safety are paramount, and it is not appropriate to put yourself into a situation where you panic and, as discussed in response to Problem 1, one way of avoiding panic is to master the skills required for a particular level of course before moving up, and to step down a level to bring back confidence and enjoyment if things do not work out.
Another way of keeping panic at bay is not to get lost, or at least, not ‘too lost’. Setting the map, folding the map, thumbing the map, distance judgement and use of handrails, check points, attack points & catching features should all be second nature before tackling TD4 courses. In developing these skills, try to imagine where you are going rather than where you are, e.g. if you are following a line feature between controls, look ahead and look out for the next check point. Also develop a means of estimating distance travelled, and if features fail to turn up as expected, stop and ask yourself when did you last know where you were, what might you have done since, and where are you now? If this does not provide the answer, retrace your steps to the last place where you knew where you were. This may mean going back to the previous control, so realising something is amiss sooner rather than later is important. With experience, you will learn how to relocate by fitting what you can see, and what you saw before realising something was wrong, to the map.
So here is your mental crib sheet:
• Think about where you are going, rather than where you are, and look out for the main features (check points) on the way.
• Mentally tick off the features as you reach them.
• Keep moving your thumb to the feature on the map.
• Stop when what you see does not correspond to what you expect, keep calm and RELOCATE (which for the less experienced will be to retrace your steps to where you knew where you were).
From a safety point of view, no one should put themselves into a situation where they become completely lost and at a loss of what to do. Event information sheets sometimes give a safety bearing to help competitors return safely to the Finish or Assembly, e.g. "Head south west downhill until you reach a forest track, then follow the track south east until you reach the Finish". If such information is not given, you can think about this at the start, and decide what you would do if you became unsure where you were on the course. Why not write this on a piece of paper if you think you may panic and forget what to do? You will, of course, have remembered to carry a whistle in case of emergency.
Relocation tip for the more experienced – if you can’t find a control, have relocated on a line feature and still cannot find the control, go out again but use a different line feature and attack point. The first one might not have been where you thought it was. Many orienteers have tales to tell of not relocating properly, and losing significant time by continuing to search in the wrong block of forest.