Running through an unfamiliar trail of a rainy, Georgia forest terrain with the rush of wind drying her damp blonde hair, Sara Ashby was on a mission.
Surrounded by the still sound of nature and the scent of fresh pine, the Carson High School NJROTC cadet could only use two tools to help her reach journey’s end: a map and compass.
“My heart was racing,” she said. “I kept remembering the advice the team captain gave me: no matter who bolts off, don’t worry about them. Worry about you.”
There also was CHS freshman Jared Deselms on the course, who hesitated under a tree to reevaluate the route as rain poured.
“You lose advantage when you’re not at your home terrain,” he said.
For Ashby and Deselms, this was their first National Orienteering Competition, based at Red Top Mountain in Cartersville — 40 miles north of Atlanta — Feb. 17-19.
Orienteering is a timed individual sport and consists of using a compass and map to find specific locations defined as control sites. Each competitor is given a map and compass to locate controls in the shortest time possible.
If they don’t navigate the controls in order, they’re disqualified.
Competitors are not allowed to communicate with one another during the competition and are required to part ways from GPS and mobile devices.
The course length varies from two to four miles, but competitors often cover more miles in their search for the controls, depending on difficulty level.
Ashby succeeded in her two first races, which included 36 schools and more than 500 competitors across the country. She placed seventh the first day and 15th the second.
Her overall performance earned her eighth out of 23 females on the intermediate freshman course.
“There were some moments that brought me down,” she said. “I got frustrated on the course but I made it to the finish line.”
As for Deselms, he took 29th the first day and 11th the second, earning him 18th overall out of 68 male competitors on the intermediate freshman course.
“The competition gives you a rush of endorphin,” he said. “When you get to the end, you book it hard and you punch into finish.”
The CHS Orienteering freshman intermediate team took eighth among 36 teams.
Overall, the team consists of 15 cadets of CHS NJROTC, ranging in all grade levels.
Naval Science Instructor and Chief Dan Ingram said the team has been involved in the sport for three years. But since he’s taken over to teach, he’s organized the group to attend more meets than they used to.
Ingram also is an avid orienteer as he attends competitions at his own leisure.
“The team did extremely well and all team members completed their courses with no disqualifications, and well under cut off times,” he said. “Once they do it, they get hooked.”
Orienteering — established in the late 19th century in Sweden — is open to all ages, athletic levels, and genders. Orienteers can compete individually or in groups, while other teams run the same course.
Along with noteworthy accomplishments, CHS junior and team captain Chris Berggren placed 34th on the first day of competition and ninth on the second, earning him 15th out of 110 orienteers on the varsity course.
“We did great as a team,” he said. “But I’m really proud of the freshmen.”
To the cadets, the sport is viewed as a scavenger hunt version of track and cross country. For practice, Ingram gathers the team to off-road courses, such as Spooner Lake, in which he designed a map legend and control course for the area.
The orienteering team has its sights on qualifying for nationals again next year, by participating in meets as much as possible. Their next mandatory competitive meet is Sunday against other high school and independent teams at Rossmoor Bar in Sacramento.
In the meantime, Ingram has a plan in the works to bring orienteering beyond CHS, to the Carson City community sometime this summer.
Ingram said there’s no real orienteering club in the region, however, the Gold Country Orienteers of Sacramento are supportive to help start a league, he said.
The goal is to make it a non-profit.
“This area is in a real need of growing a team, especially after these kids graduate,” he said. “It’s a lifetime sport for everyone. It’s my passion.”
Participants from CHS included cadets Chris Berggren, Courtney Green, Kyle Ketten, Jarrod Meyer, and Briana Sanchez on the varsity team; Matt Gibson, Michael Johnson, Darian Montalvo, Chris Paluch, and Dean Poppenga on the junior varsity team; Tyler Alexander, Sara Ashby, Jared Deselms, and Kyle Navarro on the intermediate freshman team.
Although he didn’t compete in nationals, CHS student Kenneth Boyle also is on the team.
Together they share a motto, printed on the back of their shirts: “By land or by sea, let compass guide thee.”