Walking through my local arboretum after a long absence, I noticed a square post on the wooded path that wasn’t there the last time. An emblem showed as a shiny square, lower right half a bright orange triangle and the upper left pristine white. Below that I read the unfamiliar word “orienteering” and what appeared to be a company name.

That odd noun stuck with me, reinforced by an eerie sign on another side of the post saying, “obedient”. I immediately thought of the stereotypical salarymen of Japan and the so-called team building activities in corporate America. Then I came across the orienteering expression a mere day or so later during a rare night of watching television. Nathan Fillion’s character on “Castle” referred to his daughter’s trip as an orienteering expedition.

Upon hearing that, I followed through on my intent to look up the term. To my great surprise, orienteering is a whole class of widely varied competitive exercises. From what I read, the phrase was first used in the 1880’s to describe Swedish military training in land navigation. Civilian happenings occur around the world for every age group. Navigation is accomplished on foot, skis, mountain bikes, in cars, and even canoes. Certain participants are required to navigate by night using headlamps while a few beginner or child-oriented events involve string to follow around a short course as the competitors note objects found along the way like some sort of treasure hunt.

Considering how these proceedings don’t sound particularly interesting to watch, it’s easy to see why these games have thus far failed to gain inclusion in the Olympics. However, the International Olympic Committee is patron to the World Games, at which a relay form of orienteering is included. I find myself thinking of the movie “Dodgeball” and the fictitious “Obscure Sports Quarterly” magazine since the World Games include such non-Olympic matches as netball and casting (as in fly fishing technique). I don’t disparage contestants of these or orienteering but I think I’ll stick to exercising in my home without the need of a compass.

Meanwhile, I discovered something even more interesting when Alleycat races turned up under my search. The designation alone appealing, the concept really captured my imagination upon learning that informal races were originally organized in big cities by bicycle messengers starting in the eighties. Those couriers always struck me as insane risk takers. Depending upon the organizers, races may be designed more for enjoyment, and sometimes award prizes for the last competitor to finish. This honor might be known as DFL (Dead Fu*&@#! Last). You gotta love that.

Yet despite the general emphasis on participation as opposed to competition, there might alternately be grueling courses meant to eliminate all but the swiftest and most daring. I’m surprised there hasn’t been a movie made about this. Or has there? Anyway, a number of actual messengers want to retain this culture as uniquely their own rather than see it lent to people who have never worked in the field. I can’t say I blame them. A philosophy that conceived of sticking Tarot cards in the rear bike spokes to differentiate the racers deserves to be owned purely by the daredevils who created the sport.

On that note, can anyone tell me why the heck an orienteering course would be called “Obedient”? That still irks my inner rebel.

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