Wyatt Riley has protection on his legs but not his arms—and he feels it as he finishes the Delaware Valley Orienteering Association’s Long-O Championships at Upper Perkiomen Valley County Park: “Ouch! Ouch!”
A few minutes later, his wife, Angelica, arrives. True orienteers, the Rileys analyze their course maps. “You didn’t see me?” Wyatt asks. “I was 100 meters behind you.”
Angelica figures she made eight minutes worth of mistakes. “You try to save time by going fast, but then you miss things,” she says. “Sometimes you just run too fast, and your brain can’t follow.”
Then she notices the scrapes from the briars.
“Blood, blood everywhere!” she says. “Oh, look, you hit stuff, too.”
“I’m not damaged enough,” her husband says. “I didn’t run hard enough.”
The Rileys are dressed in matching red, white and blue DVOA running suits, hinting at their reigning status on the U.S. Orienteering Team. Five men and five women represent the country every year at the World Championships.
The two met 12 years ago at an event near West Point, N.Y. They married, moved to the West Coast, then to Chesterbrook for the DVOA orienteering schedule. The club in California wasn’t competitive enough.
For the uninitiated, orienteering is a cross-country race through the woods on a course devised by someone else. Participants are armed with a map, a compass, a Sports Identification Card for checkpoints, and a burning desire to finish first. Started in Sweden, the sport is now international.
DVOA has some 35 local events a year that span beginner to advanced courses, and another 10 that feature courses to attract newcomers. A typical run is 5.5 kilometers. At an average of 10 minutes per kilometer, a participant can finish in just under an hour. There’s a three-hour time limit, after which organizers worry about your whereabouts.
Orienteering is most popular from early March through June, then again from September to December. In July and August, there’s a meet every other weekend, rather than weekly.
To train, the Rileys run daily cross-country trails from their house to Valley Forge National Historical Park. Angelica calls it a “big hobby” since it isn’t a professional sport and lacks sponsorship. They spend all their time training, and all their money on travel and competitions. Angelica was a 1998 U.S. champion, finishing in the top three multiple times. Wyatt’s best finish is third in the U.S. Championships.
Longwood Gardens has an orienteering course and hosts summer camps. Kathy Gates at the Baldwin School hosts an orienteering outing in the fall, and there’s a permanent course at Ridley Creek State Park. Each April in Villanova, the Willows has a meet. In the corporate world, the sport is used for inter-office bonding; Narberth’s Team Concepts offers an orienteering program in its repertoire, for example.
Interestingly enough, DVOA received an inquiry from TV’s Survivor, which is searching for a mature orienteering woman with a family who competes at an elite level. Angelica Riley, a mother of two, would be a perfect fit. Seven-year-old AJ can already orienteer on his own. Oriana, 6, is still learning.
“It’s all a compliment in a sport that’s not well known,” says DVOA administrator Mary Frank. “But don’t forget. This is also about an ability worth having—the ability to read a map.”
To learn more, call (610) 792-0502 or visit dvoa.org.
As a young teen, Sean Saunders twice won his school’s computer programming contest. Both times, the prize was a helicopter flight around Manhattan. The first year, the pilot took off his headset, broke the rules and gave Saunders the flight of a lifetime “We flew under the Brooklyn Bridge and did a figure-8 around the Twin Towers,” he recalls. “We went up to the nose of the Statue of Liberty—back when you could do that.”
Now, as president of the American Helicopter Museum and Education Center in West Chester, he’s living a second childhood. In a hanger at the Brandywine Airport, staff and nearly 100 active volunteers (many helicopter industry retirees) safeguard and share the nation’s premier aviation museum devoted exclusively to helicopters. Over 35 civilian and military helicopters, autogiros and convertiplanes are featured. The center’s Renzo Pierpaoli Memorial Library has over 12,000 documents, artifacts, films and memoirs that chronicle the origin and evolution of rotary wing aircraft. And with an $8 million fundraising campaign underway, things can only get better.
Philadelphia has always been a hub for the helicopter industry. In 1928, Harold Pitcairn piloted the first rotary wing aircraft in America at Willow Grove. On the White House lawn, with Orville Wright as a witness, President Herbert Hoover presented the Collier Trophy for Greatest Achievement in Aviation in America to Pitcairn. A bronze copy is among the museum’s holdings.
Paoli’s Arthur Young converted his barn into a shop for experimenting with helicopter technology using remote-controlled models. He built the Bell Model 30—or Genevieve—that was christened in 1942. Bell continued to use Young’s basic rotor design for decades.
“That’s why we’re here,” Saunders says. “This area is so rich in helicopter history. There’s no other place in the world where this many have been built.”
Since it opened in 1996, one of the center’s main missions is to encourage future generations of aviation pioneers. It partners with the Delco Workforce Investment Board to create educational and career pathways that promote the industry and attract youngsters to it. On site, there are eight different cockpits open for exploration. Each June, there’s Fatherfest, and every summer, the museum hosts Aerocamp, an eight-week series of two-day summer camps for children ages 8-14.
“We’re 10,000 years away from the Flintstones, but just one generation away from the Jetsons,” Saunders promises. “Your children’s children will travel with rotorcraft, and the real exciting thing is they’ll also be the ones designing them.”
1220 American Blvd., West Chester; (610) 436-9600, helicoptermuseum.org.
On a Sunday morning at Riverbend Environmental Education Center in Gladwyne, it can be so quiet that volunteers will team with the Lower Merion Conservancy to listen to, watch for and count birds. It’s much noisier after school, on Saturdays or during summer camp, when Riverbend follows through on its basic premise that nature is good for kids—and parents, too.
From its beginnings in 1974 as a nature preserve, the center has become a place where everyone is free to dig, touch, build, explore and discover. Within its 30 acres, there are five hiking trails through woodlands, meadows and streams. A fully renovated 1923 Sears & Roebuck catalogue barn houses Riverbend’s office, children’s library, and collection of live amphibians, reptiles and mammals. There’s an outdoor amphitheater, as well as dry-laid stone walls believed to have been assembled by Civil War soldiers.
Guided by its master plan, Riverbend is busy with several projects that will restore natural habitats, promote biodiversity and further the abundance of wildlife for exploration. It recently installed deer fencing around its core 10-acre teaching areas to prevent over-browsing and the decimation of native plant populations. This spring, it rededicated its new Alec Williamson Bird Observation Area, a planned memorial educational garden and wildlife sanctuary complete with interactive learning stations, discovery trails and numerous ecological points of interest.
Through what the center calls “engaging, experiential environmental educational programming,” it offers diverse opportunities for children and families to connect with nature. There are weekly nature club classes, school and Scout programs, birthday parties, scavenger hunts, and stream stomps.
Annually, about 8,500 students visit each year. Riverbend is particularly committed to underserved school populations. Twice a month on weekends, family programs are offered, including camp-outs, corn-husk doll making, and honey harvesting. For 12 weeks in the summer, Exploration Camp occupies kids as young as 4 and as old as 13. Every week is themed; sessions begin in early June and end in late August.
“It’s far better than sitting in front of the TV,” says Stacy Carr-Poole, Riverbend’s education director. “Or doing whatever parents do—pull their own hair out, I guess.”
1950 Spring Mill Road, Gladwyne; (610) 527-5234, riverbendeec.org.
Ardmore’s Maureen and Alex Thielens may have met while ballroom dancing, but they shared their honeymoon on a Philadelphia Sailing Club trip to Tahiti 12 years ago. But they didn’t have much privacy. Typically, the club charters five or six self-skippered boats, each with a crew of six or eight members.
PSC hosts 10 local sailing trips annually, mostly into the Chesapeake Bay, Long Island Sound, and along coastal New England or the Outer Banks of North Carolina. More exotic destinations include Australia, Thailand and Greece. PSC members just returned from a 20-day tour of Turkey by land and sailboat.
A nonprofit organization founded by sailors for sailors in 1979, PSC charters an average of 65 boats per season. The club meets monthly (except for December) at the Cynwyd Club in Bala Cynwyd. “There’s no experience required,” says Newtown Square’s Doug Heikkinen, who didn’t have any when he stepped into his first sailboat in 1991. “By the first time I was at the helm, the wind was snapping through the sails and I was hooked. Out there, the whole world disappears.”
On July 11, PSC will host the biggest bash in its history, a 30th anniversary party at Springfield Country Club. “We’re an eclectic group,” says Rosemont’s Linda LaChapelle.
PSC began as the Sailing Club for Singles. “The idea of spending some incredibly exciting time on a sailboat while developing new friendships really caught on,” says Wayne’s Bob Holland, one of its founders. “In just four or five years, the club grew from just 12 members at the first meeting to well over 1,000.”
Holland found the love of his life, his wife Cathy, through the club. “She attended the very first meeting,” he says. “We were the first couple to marry (in 1982) as a result of meeting through PSC.”
Today, West Chester’s Al Ponessa is PSC’s commodore, a title known as president when Holland held the post for the club’s first five years. “One night [Ponessa] slipped out to the men’s room, and we elected him,” says Bryn Mawr’s Larry Slack, whose sister is also a member.
Of PSC’s roughly 300 members, only about 30 own their own vessels. “The club was formed around the idea that we didn’t own boats, but we could create an infrastructure and charter them,” says Villanova’s Ralph Harris, an at-large member who has a boat. “One week on a 40-foot sailboat, and you’re either going to become very good friends, or you’ll never work together again.”
To learn more, visit webcom.com/psc.