OA Winter Trail Marsden

OA Sprint Checkpoint
Rick at an OA Sprint Checkpoint somewhere near Marsden

If mountain bike orienteering sounds dorky, that’s because it is. You ride your bike around finding numbered checkpoints on a map, aiming to visit as many as possible before returning to base inside a set time limit. Not only do you have to go outside in the cold and wet and pedal a bike around, you also have to use your brain and a modicum of map reading skills to decide on the best route. Serious competitors tape their maps to special boards on their (often interestingly wiggly) handlebars. Triathletes probably think MTB Orienteering is a bit weird. It’s trainspotting on wheels.

Right up my street then, I’m not sure why I’ve never done it before. Organic Adventure organise several series of orienteering-based events, and one of them was in my home village yesterday, starting and finishing at a perfectly good pub and everything. Being both a mountain biker and a massive dork I decided to have a go; it’d be rude not to show up to a bike event on my doorstep. I’ve not done orienteering since I was about fourteen, but I had backup in the form of my teammate Rick who has previously won his category in Polaris or something fearsome like that, so I wasn’t overly worried about messing things up. As it turned out the course was abnormally easy due to the fact that every local track over 300m is still buried under six foot snowdrifts. The organisers were naturally worried about possible yeti attacks so they kept things at a low-level. As far as offroading was concerned we only had to cover about half a mile on a bit of muddy lane, and a bit of rocky, icy riverside path. Everything else was accessible by tarmac, and we’d probably have been faster on road bikes.

It was great fun though, and we bagged all the checkpoints in 1h40 and blasted back to the pub to find out our position. We came second in the team competition… out of two teams. Or last, as it’s more commonly known. But as were only about three minutes off the winners, I’m counting that as a pretty good result for my first go at it. It was a well organised, enjoyable event, Organic Adventure did a great job putting this on, so I think I’ll do my best to make it to some more of their gigs this summer.

A well-earned pint, and some junk.
A well-earned pint, and some MTB orienteering paraphernalia.

At the pub we shared our bike lock with one of the other competitors, a chap called Ian McNabb who had ridden over from Todmorden (a good two hours over a fair chunk of the Pennines) and was just having a quick breather before setting off to ride back again. He’d done over 200 miles the day before so he was taking the easy way home, a mere 30-odd miles or so along dark, icy towpaths and back roads. We boggled a bit, and then asked him if he was mad or what? Apparently he is training for the Tour Divide this summer. The Tour Divide is sort of like the adventure racers’ Tour De France: it’s really long and really difficult to finish, like Le Tour, but it’s also off-road, self-supported, and has more grizzly bears. Best of luck to Ian, I’ll follow his progress with great interest this June.