Nov3collage.jpgOver one hundred and fifty people enjoyed the Hockley Orienteering Games (affectionately referred to as H.O.G.) October 11 at Ghostwood Farm. Seventy-eight of them rode horses, the rest walked/ran.

The event is hosted by Betsy and Torchy Millar as a fundraiser for the MukiBaum Association. The MukiBaum Treatment Centres is a non-profit organization whose mission is to help children and adults living with complex psychiatric, developmental as well as physical disabilities. Over $12,500 was raised!

2008 was H.O.G.’s fourth year with defending champions hoping to emerge victorious and, once again, name a gnome. Yes, Name A Gnome. You see, this hotly contested competition is held for the FUN of it. The prizes do NOT include cash, ribbons, trips abroad. Oh no, the battle is for something more precious. Each year the winning Walking team and the winning Mounted team have their names placed on a plaque in the forest at the Gnome Home. All of the 2007 champions were ousted. The 2008 Walking team was led by eight-year-old Michael who is currently fascinated by whales. His team name? Orca! The gnome he won the honour of naming? Orca!!! The defending champions, the Lindy Hoppers, trained for twelve months, even ran half-marathons, but they were left in the dust by the Orca-ite with the photographic memory (!!!!!) Yep, they were out-foxed, out-thought, out-walked and out-orienteered.

In 2007 there was a tie in the Mounted division between team Bonnie and Clyde and team Looking Whacked. Team Bonnie and Clyde returned to defend their co-title, but they were beaten by the weather. The glorious October day with temperatures near 20 C contributed to one mount over-heating. As a result the team was slowed to a walk. This is not necessarily a bad thing. Ghostwood is a beautiful farm and walking allows competitors to enjoy the many nuances that are waiting to be noticed. These include: The Gnome Trail, Fancy Gap, Lorna’s Leap, Chisholm Trail, Cathedral Grove, The Ridge Trail and Lumberjack Junction. As years go by specific trails and spots on the farm earn a distinctive name. Two trails that are awaiting their signs are Winnie’s Wilderness Way and Hill Billy Highway.

WWW was created last year in the southwest corner of the property. There were no trails in this area and I hated seeing that forest going to waste! I talked with Betsy and Torchy about creating some looping trails with a link or two… just to add spice to the orienteering. It was six weeks before the 2007 event and the Millars were a bit skeptical. Could anyone get these yet-to-be-made trails into riding shape? They said, “Go ahead, but they’ll probably only be ready for walkers.”

Bill and I (with some help from their friends) met the deadline AND horses cruised through the trails. Torchy commented, “When you look in the dictionary and see the word ‘work’, right next to is the word ‘Winnie’!”

Hill Billy Highway is named for Torchy and Betsy’s daughter, Hilary. As a youngster she was called “Hill Billy” so when she went flying off her horse on the path near the stone wall it didn’t require an equally great leap of one’s imagination to christen that trail.

This year’s winning Mounted team, The Red Rockets, found all twenty controls in forty-six minutes. We never DREAMED that anyone could ride and orienteer around Ghostwood in such an incredibly fast time. In the early 1990’s Orienteering On Horseback was held in the Vivian Forests on over 800 acres. The time allowed was ninety minutes and no one ever found all the flags within the time limit. Obviously we need to add land to the 83 acres of Ghostwood. The plan for 2009 is to expand the map by adding one hundred acres to the east and, we’ll introduce the concept of ‘optimum time’.  The course will be ridden during the week prior to the event by two teams. Their times will be averaged, thus creating the optimum time/pace. The winner will be the team that punches in at all of the controls and finishes closest to the optimum time.

One of the delightful bonuses I receive when H.O.G.-time approaches is that I get to walk all over the property during the months preceding the event. During one of those outings Betsy showed me her latest ‘find’ for the Gnome Home. This particular gnome has a few gargoyle characteristics. He’s obviously puzzled/bewildered and Betsy figured he would be a special award to a competitor who did something ‘H.O.G.-noteworthy’ during the event. We’d just have to wait and see WHAT warranted winning him. The day of the event I was not in the forest, but chained to the registration area. A few hours into the event Betsy whispered, “I think we’ve got our ‘Oh, No! GNOME!’ winner.”

“What happened?” I asked.

“A lady riding a Paso Fino came off.”

“Is she all right?” I had visions of a medical helicopter hovering over the lady, scattering seventy-eight horses across Ontario.

“Yes, but she’s a bit worried that we’ll mention it during our awards ceremony.”

“Betsy, aren’t Paso Finos supposed to be REALLY smooth to ride?”

“Yes, but this one spooked at something.”

“Ah, so a horse, is a horse, is a horse.” And I turned back to registration.

Bill made several contributions to H.O.G. His main one was setting courses. For three years he’s avoided making it necessary for riders to go down into Fancy Gap. This is the steepest descent/climb on the property. In the past he’s given the riders the option of journeying there, but this year the H.O.G. committee announced, “If the rider can’t get down Fancy Gap, then he/she’s not H.O.G.-worthy!”

Bill placed an orienteering marker at the bottom of that hill, which, it turned out, had its good points and its not-so-good points. As the sun set on October 11 we checked the control cards of the riding teams and learned that every team was indeed H.O.G.-worthy. Every card had the Fancy Gap punch. The not-so-good point was that the trail isn’t all that wide. Sure, it’s wide enough (for a horse or two), but there was that moment when the team with five stallions going up the hill met a team coming down the hill. Everyone survived and no mares were bred.

During the weeks leading to the event we were all wondering how we would keep the riders and the walkers out of each other’s way. In the previous years both groups were given maps with circles marking the location of the flags and were allowed to find the flags in any order. This worked well with the fifty competitors in 2007. The event entry deadline this year was September 15 and more than fifty people had signed up. This got us worried. We know human nature and the majority of people do not register on time. By the end of September the total was over 100 with 48 riders. Bill decided that the riders could have the woodland trails and the walkers would be in the open areas. Sure, competitors could make mistakes and cross over into incorrect areas, but hopefully not too many would go astray.

Betsy and the committee decided that Bill’s idea was a good one, until they realized that the Gnome Trail with its Gnome Home was NOT in the open. Betsy announced, “The walkers HAVE to go past the Gnome Home. We have dozens of children coming and they need to see the gnomes.”

I countered with, “Let’s move the gnomes to the base of those lovely spruces south of your house. The riders won’t be travelling anywhere near there. The gnomes can enjoy a holiday retreat. And, since almost everyone coming is NOT an orienteer, it’s much safer to plan a course in the open. IF we take them into the forest, past the gnome home and then back into the open, these walkers will have to make turns at three different trail junctions. They won’t have the skills to do that correctly. They’ll get lost.”

Betsy said she’d take my thoughts to the committee and get back to me. (I was beginning to wonder just WHO was on this committee!) She reported, “The committee decided that if the walkers can’t negotiate the turns correctly, then they’re not H.O.G.-worthy.”

As it turned out, the Gnome Trail was the undoing of one very fast team. I was astounded when I learned that they completed it in 38 minutes. I sought them out and congratulated them. To my surprise they said, “We would have been six minutes faster if we hadn’t missed the Gnome Home. We punched in at the control on the bridge, ran to the Gnome Trail, got to the next trail, realized we missed the control point and ran all the way back to the bridge. We turned around, ran the same route and missed it again. The third time we returned to the bridge we re-checked the map. Sure enough, we had to run north on the Gnome Trail…again! This time we accidentally glanced to the left at precisely the right moment and spotted the flag in the forest.” I listened sympathetically and when they walked away I shook my head. If only they’d looked a bit more closely at the map. The Gnome Home is near the middle of the Gnome Trail and on the west side. What they had to do was notice these details and they would have spotted the orienteering flag on their first run up the trail.

Another contribution of Bill’s was the creating of two signs saying, ‘No H.O.G.s’. These were placed in the conservation area to the east of Ghostwood. The committee decided to extend the area used by the riders and hopefully keep them out there for a LONG time looking for controls. The trail we were using in the conservation area runs north and south, parallel to the existing orienteering map. As long as the riders stayed on the trail, all would be copasetic. But there were two trail junctions meeting this trail and if a rider went EAST, well, no one wanted to consider what would happen. Bill placed a sign at each junction and as far as we know, the riders stayed on course.

The rider/walker conundrum kept bugging us. Bill and I suggested dividing the event into riders in the morning and walkers in the afternoon. But Betsy pointed out, “People like watching the horses start out on the course. I hate to take that out of H.O.G.” The final decision was to provide separate start areas, separate parking sites, separate orienteering clinics and to stagger the start times so that walkers and riders weren’t beginning a course at the same time.

I am very pleased to report that the event was catered. And being the Hockley Orienteering Games it was totally appropriate that the menu included a HOG roasting on a spit. This was located next to the registration area, beside the caterer’s tent, south of the porta-potties, fifty metres east of the parking lot for the horse trailers, one hundred and fifty metres west of where the cars were parked, eighty metres north of the Mounted start and sixty metres west of the Walker’s start. To say that the hog was in the hub of the activity is an understatement.

However, the contraption turning the pig SQUEAKED…LOUDLY. My sanity hovered just below the surface mainly because I did not drink the Hogwash. This is the event’s signature drink (an intriguing mixture of several liquids which brought smiles to many faces) that Torchy was offering to any and all adults.

Frank Buck hosted the awards ceremony, explaining that each year new gnomes were awarded and named by the winners. The ‘Oh, NO! Gnome’ was graciously received with several in the audience muttering, “We need more than ONE of those up for grabs each year!” Some of us were wondering if the Gnome Home would be overcrowded in the next decade.

And finally, as the winners lovingly cradled their spoils, Betsy assured us that the gnomes would be nestled in the Gnome Home in perpetuity, acknowledging their winners’ prowess in the Hockley Orienteering Games.