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Orienteering is where it's at

Orienteering didn't exactly captivate Janet Tryson the first time she heard about it.

Tryson's brother was a Boy Scout, and when he talked about orienteering, it meant using technical terms to decipher maps.

Years later, Tryson was home with her two young sons when the PBS show 3-2-1-Contact did a segment about orienteering. It showed a couple of youngsters examining a map to see where to go next to find a special flag marking their checkpoint, and "that sounded more fun," Tryson said.

Soon, Tryson was searching for her own flags as a member of the Empire Orienteering Club, or EMPO. Made up of residents throughout the Capital District, the club regularly holds orienteering "meets," including one at Saratoga Spa State Park on Monday, Oct. 11. The public is always invited.

Sue Hawkes-Teeter, a longtime EMPO member, explained that at each meet, participants are given highly detailed maps. "They show every large boulder, every cliff, vegetation, that kind of thing," she said.

In addition, the maps show the checkpoints where flags have been planted by meet organizers. In the old days, each checkpoint had a unique stamp or hole punch that orienteers would use to mark a card indicating they'd been to the checkpoint. Nowadays, though, the checkpoints have largely gone electronic.

"People have a little device with a scanner that they can swipe at each checkpoint," said Frank Boscoe, EMPO's vice president.

Boscoe will be in charge of setting up the checkpoints at the Saratoga meet, arriving at the park not long after the sun rises to place the flags and electronic boxes. He'll have already charted the course on paper and done a dry run at the park to make sure everything on the map of the area is still there.

He will mark different courses, since orienteering meets are geared to people of all abilities. There's a white course, which generally attracts kids to about age 12, Boscoe said. The yellow course is good for young teens or newcomers to orienteering. The orange course is intermediate, and red is advanced.

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