The sport of orienteering was invented in Sweden not long before the second world war.  Major Ernst Killander, of Copenhagen, developed it as a training exercise to teach their military precise and rapid land navigation, using topographical maps.  The skills were famously put to good use by Norwegian commandos on a clandestine mission that blew up the Nazi nuclear program’s heavy water plant, during the war.  This was the subject of the 1965 movie “The Heroes of Telemark“.  The sport involves disappearing into the woods with a topographical map and a compass, and finding a series of checkpoints as quickly as possible.  Due to it’s solitary nature, it is not for everyone, but it can be great fun and has a tight knit following. It is very big throughout Europe.

This sport attracts some serious athletes who travel the world, families, some who simply like to hike in the wilderness, and a few colorful people as well.  My brother and I happened on it when St. Louis was hosting a national meet, back in the mid 1980’s.  Some years later, I remember revering the president of the club as some extremely important person.  Many years after that, I became president of the club for many years.  I was not a terribly important person.

One of the continual challenges of a sport such as this is selling it.  The number of members and participants must be kept at a high enough level to keep it interesting and spread the workload.  This sport requires a lot of work.

During my leadership (I use that word loosely) the club had two of the colorful people, that were so terribly gung ho that it was hard to contain them.  That made a lot of us a little nervous.  We appreciated their enthusiasm in putting on their first meet as the ‘meet directors’.  We were biting our nails a little with worry as to how this event was going to go.  When I arrived at the park on the day of their event, I was amazed and pleasantly surprised that this was the biggest turnout ever!  What had we been so worried about?  How did they do it?  They were doing great!  Why is everyone milling about and looking so confused?  Why haven’t I seen these people before?

Apparently, as I quickly learned, something that the new, ‘gung ho’ event directors had found was that events listed as “meet up, singles groups” get a lot of people to show up.  

How do you convince a group of people who are longing for, and looking for, the love of their lives, that the solitary skills they are about to learn may prove to be useful in foiling enemy nuclear programs?


Backpedaling is also a skill.