Today marked the end of a weeklong orienteering meet here in Halmstad. More than 30,000 participants crammed the city, already crammed by vacationers looking to soak up some of the beautiful Halmstad summertime. The weather has been spectacular all week and they held the competition at just the right time.
For those unversed in orienteering, which includes myself, a few basics. Orienteering is basically running through the forest with a topographical map in your hand looking for different markers, which denote a leg of the race. The competitor who finds all the markers and makes it to the finish line first is the winner. Simple. In a country that is 2/3rds forest being able to find your way in the woods seems like a natural activity, as natural as becoming lost in the woods.
Orienteering originated in Sweden as training for the military in land navigation, but as I say and can attest to, Swedes spend a lot of time in the forest, so it soon became popular with the people in general. The sport is biggest in Scandinavia but there are orienteering clubs in many countries including the U.S. and urban orienteering is growing in recognition.
The O-ringen is the largest orienteering event in the world with all kinds of races spread out through the week for all ages and levels including mountain bikes.
With Halmstad’s hotels already packed with vacationers (the beaches and warm water make Halmstad Sweden’s Riviera) places had to be found to stuff another 30,000 folks. (The population swells to about 3X the usual in summer.) The air force base just outside of town was selected and I went by there to check it out.
People set up camp wherever, though neatly, in typical Swedish fashion.
Even the beer cans are orderly here.
A mile or so away from the campsites they set up an O-ringen village with food, gear, a radio broadcast and even an art gallery. A local artist set up an exhibition of his work and I spent some time speaking with him. Very wild, primitive work, which I liked. Anyway, today, I talked to an acquaintance who knew this guy back in the day and he worked for my friend’s sandwich business and did very well at it. Every day he would go out to the beach with his cart full of sandwiches and sell them all. One day my friend decided to follow him to see if he could find the secret of his success. One thing to know about Sweden and all of Scandinavia in general is that people are a lot less uptight about their bodies and nudity. Many resort areas have clothing optional beaches or resorts and Halmstad has just such a beach. My friend followed the super salesman down to his spot near the nude beach and discovered that he was taking off all his clothes and selling sandwiches all day in the nude. (His art was just as wild.)
Getting back to orienteering, the army maintains a presence at the events and they were out there recruiting.
They were engaging the kids in fun and games like seeing how long they could hang from a bar. I can’t imagine that happening in the U.S.
Also, loading up a kid with pack, helmet and (wooden) rifle and letting him run an obstacle course just for laughs. Since Sweden has not been in a war in over 200 years, I get the impression that the Swedish military is more fun and games, like when we used to play Army as kids. At one time, a year of military service was compulsory and had an aspect of national service to it, I think. Nowadays, the Swedish military is all volunteer.
Today was the grand finale, so I decided to check out out. You had to be kind of an orienteer to just find the place but I managed. That there in the background is the bike parking area, though there were bikes parked all along the way in.
I arrived with a crush of people, all of whom seemed to be participants as nearly everyone was wearing orienteering outfits. This was the healthiest looking bunch I have ever been around, I’ll say that.
As I said above, Swedes have a more relaxed approach to the fact that human bodies have needs. It is most acceptable when out in the woods to relieve oneself Number 1. These nifty little items enable you to do it in a crowd. The blue porta-potties were for women and Number 2s. For Number 1s, there is no reason why this should not catch on. First time for everything and I had never seen anything like this before and I imagine you haven’t either.
Orienteering clubs from all over congregated together with their club flags.
There is probably not a less spectator-friendly event in the sporting world than orienteering since it takes place in wild unmarked terrain. But at the start and finish lines they had a closed circuit broadcast of the finishing stretch.
The finishing lanes.
Competitors punch that little red thing on top of the post which clocks them out of the race. On the guy to the left, you can see his map and the band on his left forearm which holds, I think, his compass and the markings for where all the marker locations are.
With staggered starts, everyone runs together. Different classes and age levels can all be on the course at the same time. Here are some runners entering the finishing area.
They had somehow already determine that this young woman won her class and the second she punched out someone placed a wreath around her neck.
This guy punched out and then checked out, exhausted.
It’s hard to see, but the guy with the white X on his back and carrying a flag was the winner of the 85 and older class. I saw something on a website this morning that there is a 94 year old guy who has done the last 44 O-ringens. 94!
The army was here as well, showing off their equipment and impressing the kids.
The real little kids were sequestered off in their own area complete with brightly colored vests. In orienteering, competitors are required to punch out even if the quit the race because if they don’t then no one knows whether they are out on the course really lost and they send out a search party. You would hate to be sitting in a chair rubbing your bunions when the search party returned to find that you weren’t lost at all but simply hadn’t clocked out at the finish. Every contestant who starts must clock out at the finish since that is the way they check to make sure someone isn’t out there wandering around totally lost or up a tree with a hungry bear below.
Having spectated my fill, I pedaled down the road to a nearby dairy farm. Obviously, that is not me on the bike, but sure is a pretty shot.
This is the castle at the Wapnö dairy farm where most of the milk in Halmstad comes from.
This is the milking carousel. They move a cow onto it, clear her udder and hook up the milking machine. The carousel rotates slowly and the cow kicks off the hoses at some point and when she comes around to the gate, they back her out and that is that. This was shot through a window so that is why is is worse quality than the other shots.
The cows seemed willing to put up with it.
Ample shade on a warm day, plenty of grass to munch on and the public address system would be gone by the end of the day. Next year, the O-ringen will be in another part of the country. What’s not to like about a cow’s life in Sweden?