Lesson 18.5: Real World Connection

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Orienteering Is the Way to Go

Be a modern-day Hansel or Gretel and find your way through the woods. You do not have to bother getting pebbles or breadcrumbs, but be sure you have a compass and a map! Then get ready to take part in one of the most exciting outdoor sports of all—orienteering.

Each year, one day in September is designated as National Orienteering Day. Many clubs, members of the U.S. Orienteering Federation, have “Newcomer to Orienteering” events to ease people into the sport. Get involved—bring your family—and you'll find out how much fun it is to navigate your way through the woods, first with others, and then all by yourself.

Orienteering is a sport that can be done by walking, jogging, or running. (In some places there are even skiing and mountain-biking orienteering events). As an orienteer you find your way along a set course, from control point to control point. Each control point, marked with an orange-and-white flag, is located at a particular feature along the trail. When you reach a control, use the hole-punch that you find there to make a unique pattern in the card you carry with you. Then, from that control, use your map to help you decide which way to go next. Finally, when you complete the course, hand in your hole-punched card to prove that you have visited each point along the way.

How to Get Started

Even young children can be orienteers. At first, an adult should accompany the child along a novice, or “white,” course. This course runs only for about 2 km, or a little over 1 mile, along paths, trails, and sometimes roads. Control points are marked all along the way to help in making decisions about which turns to take.

When the white courses become too easy, orienteers move up to the “yellow” courses. Each of these is about 3 to 4 km, or a little over 2 miles, long. The yellow course will follow established trails, streams, and fences, but it will not have a control point at every decision point.

Experienced orienteers may be up to the challenges of the 4 to 7 km “orange” and “green” courses and maybe even the longer (7 to 9 km) “red” courses.

Orienting the Orienteer

Orienteering maps are 5-colored maps that show features of the land, such as elevation, vegetation, and trails. But orienteering maps have even more details than other topographical maps in that they show such natural and man-made features as boulders, cliffs, ditches, and fences.

To begin a course, start by orienting yourself to the terrain. This means holding your map so that it faces the direction in which you are headed. You may have to turn your map so that things that are actually in front of you are marked in front of you on the map, things that are actually to your left appear on your left on the map, and so on.

Sometimes, if it is foggy or very dark, you may not be able to use markers to orient your map. In this case, you can always use your compass to orient it. Hold the compass on the map and turn the map so that the red end of the compass' floating magnetic needle lines up with the north arrow on the map. Before you start out you should study your map. The purpose of your map is to make all the features easily recognizable so you can move quickly across the terrain.

Now, look carefully at the curvy contour lines on your map. These look something like steps on a staircase. If you walk in a path shown by one contour line, you remain on the same level. If you cut across to a path shown by an adjacent contour line, you will be walking either up- or downhill.

Back to the Finish Line

You may enjoy orienteering just for the fun of exercising outdoors. Orienteering means exercise, not only for your legs but for your brain as well. And, if you compete in orienteering events, you will be challenged to make quick decisions to help you get to the finish line in as little time as possible.

Word Wise

Appoint or assign: As the fastest runner on our team, Clare was designated captain.

Follow a plan in order to get from one place to another: On our visit to New York City, we used a subway map to help us navigate around town.

Unusual, one-of-a-kind: My favorite rock group has a unique musical style.

Beginner: The novice swimmers lined up at the shallow end of the pool.

Height of land above sea level: Sentinel Dome in Yosemite National Park has an elevation of 8,800 feet.

Piece of land: Some orienteering courses are flat, but others are set over a hilly terrain.

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The English word “terrain” comes from the Latin word “terra,” meaning land. The same Latin word gives meaning to each of these words: terrace, terra cotta, terra firma, terra incognita. Use a dictionary to find the meanings of any of these “terra” words that you do not know. Then, use each word in a sentence. Share your work with your partner or small group.

Data Hunt

You have read that distances in orienteering are measured in meters (m). The fact that 100 centimeters equal 1 meter is used to create orienteering map scales.

Orienteering map scales are expressed as a ratio of 1 cm to some number, where 1 cm on the map equals some number of centimeters on the ground. For example, if your orienteering map has a scale of 1:10,000, then:
1 cm on the map = 10,000 cm on the ground
1 cm on the map = 100 m on the ground

Suppose you are using an orienteering map with a scale of 1:10,000. You use a centimeter ruler to measure that the distance between control sites 1 and 2 is 3 cm. Set up a proportion to find the actual distance between these control sites.

Write the scale as the first half of the proportion. Then multiply each term of the proportion by 3 to express the ratio of the distance on the map to the actual distance.

So, the actual distance between control points 1 and 2 is 300 m.

Copy the table below. Then write proportions to help you find the actual distances between the control points.

Control Points Map Distance Actual Distance
2 and 3 2 cm blank m
5 and 6 4 cm blank m
7 and 8 5 cm blank m