Finding Our Way

Greetings, Green Warriors!

Recently, Thistle and I attended a Land Navigation Course and wanted to share our experience. This post may be a little different than most because we are both giving our experiences on the trip.

First off, I am not an avid outdoorsmen. I am at the crawl phase of my experiences in the outdoors. The experience was just what I needed to light the fire of the exciting outdoor adventures.

Thistle invited me to a course through the Facebook page of Hiking the Ozarks. It was a land navigation course that gives you about 2-1/2 hours of classroom overview and 3 hours of practical land navigation outdoors.

The class was a very quick overview of how to orient yourself with a map and compass to reach a destination on the map. We discussed several terrain features and used a 3-step process:

  1. Adjust your map to magnetic north taking in account declination.

    Land Nav compass map
    Using a map and orienteering compass to find our way. Photo by A. Childers.
  2. Find the bearing with your orienteering compass.
  3. Then “put the dog in the house,” or taking the bearings and applying them to reality.

Although we were gung ho for the outdoor experience, our orienteering compasses were not as well marked for getting our bearings as those of some of our classmates. Note: invest in a good compass!

By the time the classroom experience expired my tummy grumbling and I could feel the inner bear growling. Our first challenge of the day was really finding the state park where the practical portion would take place. I knew the general direction from the instructions but we had to eat first to bolster our energy.

Once we arrived to the trail location at Busiek State Forest and Wildlife Area we were in much better spirits. Teaming up with two others from class, we decided to tackle our course in reverse. Busiek features a rugged forest terrain with a few good-sized hills to traverse. The instructors were gracious enough to keep the points of location on the trail. Each of us took turns orienteering and leading the way.

Scene from the Silver trail at Busiek State Forest. Photo by P. Graham.
Scene from the Silver trail at Busiek State Forest. Photo by P. Graham.

I will honestly say that it was a tough trail for me to do and it involved several times of stopping and catching my breath. The loose rocks and rugged terrain entwined with the beauty of the landscape, but you forever watched the path for the hazards of slipping and tripping that were always present. My spirits were high, though, as we laughed, shared stories, and made friends with our new companions. Once we finished our adventure and made our way home, we finished the night with a beer and Chicago-style pizza!

– Ace

OK, now for the chick’s perspective. 😉

Unlike Ace, I love the outdoors and am an experienced hiker – but only as a day hiker. Years ago, I lived just an hour from Roaring River State Park near Cassville, MO (a beautiful Ozark getaway), and I would take my Border collie Zoe there several times a year to hit 2 or 3 trails and have a picnic lunch. I grew up in the country, running up and down hills and in fields all year long.

After moving to southeast Kansas, hilly hiking trips became less and less frequent and I’ve really gotten out of shape for it. Yet in the last year or so I’ve wanted to get back into nature hikes and even expand into 2- or 3-day hiking trips. So I’ve been adding helpful skills in preparation for this, such as learning more about our local edible and medical plants, and I thought this Land Navigation class was a good idea. Admittedly, I was nervous because the last time I had to take a compass, paper, and pencil to class it was for a math class, which makes me shudder just to think about it.

In all honesty, both Ace and I got a little frustrated during the classroom portion of the day even though the instructors were there to help us work through it. I’ve always struggled with concepts like when I couldn’t apply them in a real-world setting. It was difficult for us to understand it out of context (read: with a map of someplace we weren’t actually at), however, I suspected things would become clear when we used the skill in a realistic environment. It also helped to get lunch because, as Ace already made clear, we are both food werewolves and start to bite if we go without food for very long.

At Busiek State Forest, we were blessed to join up with classmates Tonya and Brandon. I say blessed because they were both easy going and a lot of fun, and learning with humor has always helped me. Also, Brandon had a very good grasp of the techniques and helped keep the rest of us on track. And as I suspected, putting it in context worked wonders with understanding the process – a reminder to stay calm and be patient when learning something out of your comfort zone. What the in-class portion of the day didn’t prepare us for was battling the Ozark trail on a hot afternoon.

It was a beast.

Unidentified fungi (though we are consulting experts and it is probably a coral mushroom of some type) from the trail. Photo by P. Graham.
Unidentified fungi (though we are consulting experts and it is probably a coral mushroom of some type) from the trail. Photo by P. Graham.

I love the hills of the Ozarks, but on a humid 90° afternoon for a 2.58 mile stretch of rock and hill, it was a BIG beast for those of us that are out of shape. Again, our little group joked and cajoled each other to keep going, and we made it just a few minutes after the 4:30 official close of the class. Admittedly, it might have gone faster if we hadn’t needed as many breaks and stopped to splash some creek water on our faces and necks (OK, and I pulled off boots and socks and hung my feet in the water for a bit). Or to stop to check out unfamiliar plants (OK, that was me too). Here’s one beauty we found shown at right.

But it was all good in the end and we made it.

The day was well worth the almost 4-hour round trip drive as I know this skill could be valuable on longer hikes or hikes that don’t have good, clear trails. But I know I should practice more to ensure that I retain the knowledge. I would advise anyone who has tried to learn this by reading a book or watching a YouTube video to actually practice in a park that you already know. It’s easy to think you understand a concept like this, but you can get confused easily if you are already stressed out at the idea of being lost. So go out and practice it – better be safe and practice than to risk your life.

A lovely, cool creek for a refreshing break. Photo by A. Childers.
A lovely, cool creek for a refreshing break. Photo by A. Childers.

Oh, and Ace forgot to mention that before the beer and pizza, we each drank 1-1/2 liters of water on the ride home. It was a good reminder that it is easy to underestimate how much water you’re going to need, so be sure to stay hydrated and have fun!

– Thistle


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