The 2012 US ARDF Champs were at Laguna Village near San Diego this year. After some reluctance, I decided to attend the event because I want to make the team for the 2012 World Champs in Serbia, and I didn't feel comfortable accepting a slot without showing up and earning it.
My attempt to avoid sacrificing a work day led to crazy logistics; I left Boston at 5 PM on Friday, landed in San Diego at 11 PM, and after a quick nap to avoid dying on the roads, arrived at the meet site at 3 AM (PST). I sleepily put my receiver together at about 8, and we were ferried to the event start at 8:45.
There were problems with the event organization immediately. For each race, five transmitters (with an e-punch at each) are set in the woods. Unlike in O, their exact location isn't that important; it takes a lot of effort to set a transmitter wrong. The information about their location isn't on the map, so they really can be anywhere without affecting the legitimacy of the race, as long as they are audible from the start location (as per the rules). Despite only having to set five transmitters, there were problems with two of them at the scheduled start time, so we waited for two hours while the organizers went into the woods to change the batteries or some such nonsense. Despite these efforts, transmitter #1 was off for the duration of the race, so we only raced with four controls. Fail.
My Garmin died midway through the race because I had turned it on at my scheduled start and forgotten to turn it off while we waited. In an idiotic oversight, I had put my yagi antenna
together incorrectly, swapping the long and short elements. I haven't worked out exactly what that did to the signal and the relative phases of the components, but what I was hearing was garbage. While I could hear the receivers, my direction-finding ability was totally shot, and I had trouble localizing anything. The antenna was held together with screws, so even had I figured out the error, I could not have fixed it mid-race. By some miraculous confluence of good fortune and geographic reasoning, I found control #4 on a hill. I didn't want to give up, so I ran around for three hours searching in vain for the other four transmitters. My attack of the knucklehead was entirely my fault, and clearly I should have spent a non-zero amount of time with a 2m receiver in the past year. Poor preparation will lead to failure.
There were 3 M21s competing. Brad made the same mistake I did - incorrectly assembling his antenna - and found no controls. Grant, the Canadian, found two before encountering a mountain lion at 10-20m distance running at full speed. He made noise and shook his receiver to scare it away, but discovered shortly afterward that his radio had flown off his antenna into the woods. He searched for a time, but eventually had to bail out. He doesn't use his map, so had no idea where he was; he apparently got a ride back to the finish and so DQ'd himself. As a result, in a pitiful demonstration of 2m proficiency, I won the race.
Words cannot express the frustration I felt during the race; I haven't been out on a course that long in many years, and I have never failed to find all the transmitters in an ARDF competition. Three hours without any water and the technical difficulties at the start of the race did not improve my mood.