Anza Bananza Extravaganza

Greg Ahlswede + Interviews from Oriana Riley

Anza-Borrego is a two-day, five-event reason to come to the West Coast. Over the course of Saturday and Sunday, several current and former NT members & a kiwi showed up and showed out at a Goat, Sprint, Lighthouse-O, Classic (NRE!) and a Maze-O.


US Team Members in attendance:
Greg Ahlswede
Will Enger
AJ Riley
Joe Barrett
Oriana Riley
Julia Doubson


The Anza Borrego Goat


The weekend at Anza Borrego State Park got off to a roaring start with the Goat race. The rules for this Goat were that you could skip any control except 3 and that you could the controls in the “box” in any order.

The writer arrived at the venue about a half-hour before the start after a lovely night at a Day’s Inn. After a thorough warmup and run up the big hill to the start, the competitors were ready to go. The mass start was exciting and especially fast in the desert terrain, while everyone was careful to avoid the unfriendly cacti.

I decided to take the lead at the second control but then remembered I hadn’t selected my skip. So I hung back, letting the others to guide me into the control while I read through the course and picked a worthwhile skip.

After 3 we entered the box where it seems most competitors ran in the same order, but it would be interesting to see an analysis to determine if there were better options.

From the end of the box to 8, I decided to skirt the mountain and test the downhill since it wasn’t mapped as rocky. This worked out in my favor as the downhill was almost all sand and very fun to run (fall down).

At 10 I arrived first with Joe shortly behind me. Since it was a water control and I knew I wanted to skip 11, I took my time drinking to let Joe leave first and see what he had decided. His direction told me he was going to 11. So off I went to 12 enjoying my downhill trail run.

After 13 we entered the canyons where it was clear that scaling the walls would be unadvisable in most sections, but certainly not impossible. I attempted to climb out through a branch off the main canyon before deciding that the cliffs there were impassable. AJ caught up to me after my attempt to escape the canyon and I knew there was no shaking him here. So I ran further down until I saw a less step section of canyon I felt I could climb. Once at the top I saw I had AJ following the same line up the canyon wall, and I knew I had to keep moving.

I punched 15 a bit less than a minute before him and set off for the next control. I expected to see him shortly behind me, but he was nowhere to be seen. I imagined that he had not skipped 11 and actually decided to skip 16, which was mind-boggling to me because he must have been moving extremely quickly.

But at the end of the day, you can only run your race. So onward I pushed to the finish. At the end I learned AJ had simply gotten tired, which is no surprise since he’s still recovering from his knee injury saga. And we all learned the Joe had not only skipped 11, but actually skipped 12, which in all likelihood added time to his race, meaning he certainly would have been in the mix had things played out differently.

Unfortunately, I am unaware of how things played out in the women’s race. But luckily our athletes are active on Attackpoint. So I encourage you all to visit their pages to learn more details of their races!

The other races this weekend were the sprint, classic and maze, which you can see maps for below.

Maze Map

Traversing the Maze-O (Oriana has a fear of heights)

Oriana’s Q&A Session:

Q: What was your favorite course and favorite moment from that course?

AJ: My favorite course was the Classic and my favorite moment was successfully punching the water stop control. 

Julia: My favorite course was the Classic because you got to identify contour features from far away and then run fast. My favorite moment was not messing up number eight.

Tyra: My favorite course was the Classic because it was super fun and my favorite moment was waking up one of the controls because I was the first one there!

Briana (the Kiwi): My favorite course was the Classic and my favorite moment was nailing my compass bearings.

Oriana: My favorite course was the Classic and my favorite moment was every time I passed Briana when we were head-to-head.

Q: What was your least favorite moment from the weekend?

AJ: My least favorite moment was watching Joe and Greg disappear from me because I was too slow on the goat.

Julia: My least favorite moment was when it was really windy and it blew the car door shut on my foot.

Tyra: My least favorite moment was kicking a cactus between the last control and the finish on the goat. 

Briana: My least favorite moment was questioning everything I know while getting lost in the maze.

Oriana: My least favorite moment was any moment that I was running on soft sand.

Q: What was your favorite memory of the weekend as a whole?

AJ: My favorite memory was seeing all the sculptures. 

Julia: My favorite memories were watching a woman knowingly drive with a partially eaten burrito on her car, peeking into someone’s tent and then making friends with the inhabitant (an orienteer from Arizona), and meeting Erin’s baby.

Tyra: My favorite memory was spending time with my orienteering friends and trying to run fast again.

Briana: My favorite memory from the weekend was seeing the cool terrain.

Oriana: My favorite memory was comparing splits with the F21 girlies and realizing I’m not that slow. 

Q: Why should everyone come to Anza-Borrego 2024?

AJ: It’s the most unique terrain I’ve seen.

Julia: Cause the maze is epic and the cactus are cute. 

Tyra: Because it’s high quality orienteering in unique terrain in the middle of winter.

Briana: Because there’s no green on the map.

Oriana: Because I’ll be there.

Overall it was a great weekend racing in the desert and getting some warmer temperatures for a bit, even if there was a little bit of rain. So a big thank you to San Diego Orienteering! Already looking forward to the next one!

Bonus (from Greg):


Will, Tyra, and I took a side quest on Monday after the races were finished to some badlands north of the event venue. The data initially was in feet and I had difficulty converting it to meters, but after maybe 5 or 10 attempts I finally hit on the right command line. We went to the map after giving it 1h45 to process and printing black and white maps at a hotel. Initially the terrain was quite tame, but it became extremely intense as soon as we hit the complicated. Without question one of the most formidable orienteering experiences of my life. Very steep canyon walls that crumbled away under your feet, razor-thin ridges to run along, and possibly even some caverns underneath it all. I can’t wait to explore this area and other badlands in coming years.

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