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Running with Wolves

Last fall I was lucky enough to have one of those memorable orienteering experiences that stay with you forever: planning the courses for the Calgary Sprint club championship. It doesn’t sound like much, but for the first time ever we would be orienteering at the Calgary Zoo. The race was to take place on a Sunday morning before the zoo opened to the public.

A few days before the event, I met up at the zoo with Sarah Brandreth who was putting finishing touches on the map. Even though the Calgary Zoo happened to be closed to the public for the day, they still let us in to explore as we wished. The zoo was my personal playground for the day.

Sarah showed me a few interesting spots for control placement, then I strolled around the zoo coming up with a course design. Along the way I had a conversation with a bald eagle, watched the baby giraffe and elephant, and saw mischievous macaques give the zookeepers a hard time. When I was ready to draft courses, I sat by the Siberian Tiger enclosure with my laptop. The young tiger was in a playful mood, batting around the rope swing. When he broke that he decided to practice his stalking techniques by using me as his imaginary prey. While I’ve been to the zoo before, this day I was able to experience it like I never have before.

My adventure didn’t stop there though. On the day of the event I arrived very early to set-up. It was still dark enough that I had to borrow a flashlight from the security guard. I was placing a control by one of the animal exhibits when a Lynx descended out of the early morning mist to check out who I was and what I was doing. A few minutes later I was jogging by the wolves and I guess they wanted their morning exercise because they ran right beside me. They must have liked all the action as later on they joined along many of the sprinting orienteers.

Timber Wolf at the Calgary Zoo ©Colin Hill

Timber Wolf at the Calgary Zoo ©Colin Hill

Oh yeah – there was an orienteering event. Even though it was officially a club championship event, I planned the courses to make the most of the ‘fun factor’. Due to the layout of the zoo, planning legs that offered route choices was difficult. It was important then to find control locations that were interesting but still required the orienteer to keep constant contact with the map. The courses also ran by as many of the animal exhibits as possible, thus adding to the ‘distraction’ factor. After the event (over brunch on the zoo grounds) it was interesting to hear who had seen which animals and who was seriously competing and didn’t pay any attention to them at all.

This fall the club sprint championship will return to the Calgary Zoo on September 20. This is a unique opportunity not to be missed – worthwhile to travel to attend just to say you once punched an orienteering control being guarded by a lion. I know I’ll be there again, running with the wolves.

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