One October afternoon during my junior year at SMU, my mom called to ask how I’d feel about studying in France the following semester. Honestly, I’d never considered it.
Other than going to camp in Alberta when I was eleven and a crazy day trip with some college buddies into Mexico, I hadn’t spent time anywhere outside the U.S. So going to Paris, France was a little bit outside my comfort zone. But I was game for the experience.
Once I arrived, I took in all things Parisian – transit strikes, body odor and sidewalks littered avec merde de chien. All kidding aside, I experienced four of the best months of my life. In fact, my time there led to a passion for travel, getting my first job, and most importantly to meeting my wife.
And so, it’s with that background about trying new experiences that the latest outing of the Dads’ Bucket List would be taking on something none of us had ever done before – Orienteering. It’s best described as using a map and compass to keep from getting lost in the woods. Honestly, I’m not even sure if we men are allowed to use maps (“I’m not going to pull over, Honey. It’s got to be around here somewhere.”).
An avid, experienced Orienteer would better describe it as using these aforementioned tools to see how quickly you’re able to navigate an outdoor course made up of a series of checkpoints. How hard can that be? We’d find out.
We met at my place just after breakfast to caravan to Ft. Yargo State Park. As we gathered in my driveway, we set off doing what middle-age dads do – throwing down alley oops (on an 8 ft. rim) and polling each other on who stayed up past 9:00 the night before (for the record, I only made it to 8:45 – 3 sports events, 2 birthday parties and a reckoning on the treadmill sealed my fate).
Once we arrived and checked in we got some instructions about how to read a map and administer snake bite anti-venom. Then it was time to clock-in and get out on the course.
We planned to space our start times a few minutes apart so we weren’t lumbering through the forest looking like a group of 25 misfits. We figured we’d look more official if we set out in smaller groups of only 2 or 3 misfits.
Once me and my two troops were on the course, we realized that finding these orange and white checkpoints might be a tad more challenging than we’d anticipated. “Dad, I think I see it” was usually followed by “no, that’s a piece of trash. Wait. Why’s it moving? Toward us? and what’s that smell?”
We got the hang of it though and other than having to consent to a piggyback for my little man, Bo, my budding Orienteers did a great job of navigating the course. We finished in just under an hour and then waited for nearly two days for the rest of our posse to find their way back.
Upon completion, we all exchanged hand shakes and high-fives on jobs well done. That led to lunch at the picnic area where we recounted our experiences and the proverbial questions about what’s next for our crew.
As I drove my boys to school today, I asked what they thought of Orienteering and my oldest, Blake, responded by saying “It was the best, Dad”. Guess I don’t need to ask myself if we’re better for having tried it.
As I sat down to write this recap, that experience of my time in Paris seemed to parallel the Orienteering outing. I didn’t know what to expect from studying abroad just like none of us knew exactly what it would be like to go Orienteering.
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Go. See. Be. Do.