Thursday, January 17, 2013

San Francisco Urban Orienteering Adventure

 This past Saturday Toshi invited me to try some Urban Orienteering.  I had read about these type of events before, so I was interested in trying it out.  The basic idea is that you are given a map that lists various checkpoints that you are suppose to reach during a given time period.  Different events have slightly different goals/rules.  In this particular event we were given three hours to reach as many of 35 different checkpoints in San Francisco as possible.  If you reached all 35 checkpoints, then the winner would be based off of the time when they returned to home base.

This event was hosted by terraloco.  Home base was Sports Basement on Bryant Street.  We were given a map of 1906 San Francisco with no street names at 8:30 a.m.  The checkpoints were historical markers from buildings/sites that survived the 1906 Earthquake.  We were also given a question sheet.  When you reached checkpoint you had to answer the question on the question sheet.  The question might be:"plaque in sidewalk for Audiffred Building begins with letter: A / B / C".  You would have to answer the question correctly to prove that you reached that checkpoint.

5th Floor of this Sports Basement.  This is where we got our maps and people started designing their routes.
There are a couple of tricks/skills that help you succeed in this event.  One, you want to design an efficient route to reach all of the checkpoints.  This route should be the shortest possible distance and probably should take the hills into consideration.  Local knowledge of the city would help.  There are a few differences between the 1906 map and todays grid, and that can mess you up too.  Another skill is finding the plaques once you reach the location.  You have to read the arrows on the map to decipher which side of the street and where (generally) you might be able to find the marker.  Even then, it might take a couple of minutes to actually spot the marker.  In terms of nerdy running events, this has to take the cake!
This has got to be the biggest Sports Basement I have ever seen...
The Sports Basement on Bryant Street has five floors!  Insane- I could have spent all day in that store, but I had other things to do.  After we got our maps we had one hour to do our research and figure out how to design our routes.  One of the first tasks was to try and put street names on the map.  The funny thing was that Toshi and I ended up going back to my truck to pull out an Atlas to start figuring out where the checkpoints were.  Everyone else was using their smart phones...

1906 map of SF.
As race time got nearer we headed back to floor five for our pre race briefing.  This is where we received our question sheet.  At 10 a.m. we were off.

Question Sheet.
You have the option of teaming up, but there were a bunch of other "runners" there that decided they wanted to compete against their friends, so basically we had a bunch of one man teams.  I think this made the task more difficult, but it was what it was.  Toshi and I designed completely opposite paths, so we went off in our own directions.

One of the "markers" or checkpoints we had to reach and inspect.
Running to the first checkpoint I was completely clueless for what I was supposed to be doing.  I had not realized how important the arrows on the map was to finding what we were supposed to be looking for.  Also, the clues were getting me as well.  But after a couple of check points I started getting the hang of it...
Up and down the SF hills.
I spent way too much time at some of the points trying to find stuff, and I designed a terrible route that had me going up and down the hills of SF all day long, so I ended up having to re prioritize on the run. At one point near the middle of the run I crossed paths with Toshi.  He had just descended this long path of stairs that slalomed up a cliff.  At first I thought it was weird that he came off of the hill, but then when I went a couple of blocks further, fully expecting to take a right on union street, I noticed that I was staring at that same cliff, with no road in sight.  I then realized my mistake and backtracked to those steps and proceeded to climb.  It was at this point that I figured out I wasn't going to reach the norther two checkpoints within the time limit, so I started south along Van Ness.  As I proceeded south across Market street I had to make another call to not go after the farthest south-western point and started back for Sports Basement.

By the time I arrived at Sports Basement it was about 11:45, so I had 15 minutes to spare.  I thought I had missed three checkpoints, but it turned out I missed one in the middle too.  Then I found out that all of the other "runners" were already done.  The winner got all 35 points in 2:12 or so, Toshi finished third after a sprint loss against his arch rival in like 2:30 something.  Anyways, I was totally in awe of their performance and realized how important the planning and experience part of this was.  I don't know if I want to do another big city type event.  While I like San Francisco, dealing with the traffic and crowds was not that fun to me.  I think a more rural event might be more fun.

After we were done we went and got some lunch, and then Jason Reed, Toshi, and I went on a SF "peak bagging" adventure.  I didn't know there were any "peaks" in San Fran, but it turns out there are a bunch of them, and you can keep track of which ones you have summited.  Jason was on a quest to get them all, so we went with him to get a couple.  It was pretty fun and I definitely got a good day of nice slow running in.

Anyways, I recommend trying these orienteering events out.  They are really fun.  You can do them as a team, family, whatever, and you can pick the length of event you want to do.  This event had a 90 minute and 3 hour option.  The events are totally laid back.  At one point I crossed paths with a dad, mom, and their son who were out trying to find one of the markers.  It was fun to watch the boy running around with total enthusiasm trying to find that marker.  I can see why kids would like this stuff, it is like a treasure hunting type of thing...


  1. You know I've been wanting to do something like this for awhile now. When our kids get to running age, it'd be fun to compete together, or split the fam in half and have a second comp going on against each other. :)

    I think participants should have to dress for the time period... just a thought. ;)

    1. There were people dressed up for the pre-Halloween event last year ( My team (Directionally Challenged) lost to Heroic Legends by 1 point because we misread the question. There were a lot of kids in that event. I'll ping Jeremy for a next family event.

  2. Very interesting! More rural would be better, although urban would be fun in a group instead of solo, I think.

    Dress for the time period? You feel free, Joanne. Go right ahead.