Thursday, April 21, 2016

Javier Arufe and Natalia Pedre: "All maps are suffering"

The passion for animals and for Galicia's green spaces are just two of the many ties that bind Javier Arufe and Natalia Pedre. Another of these ties is the cartography. They were responsible for the map where the Spanish Trail orienteering Championships took place and this was the starting point of a really pleasant conversation. About maps and TrailO, naturally!

How did you know each other? Have you find each other, mapping in the forest, and it was like “magic” or this cartography “thing” came later?

Javier Arufe (J. A.) - It wasn’t that romantic (laughs). I'd been drawn maps and it turned out to be an almost natural process that Nati joined me. Mapmaking is a very demanding job, it requires lots of time and dedication, so we realize that, rather than being apart from each other, we would commit ourselves to cartography.

Natalia Pedre (N. P.) - Moreover, the forest delights me. Since my childhood, I love the contact with nature and this was also a way to explore the forest in its most interesting details.

What is it, “making maps”?

J. A. – I started making maps as a personal challenge. I realized that this could be my place as member of a club that organizes events. We have the courses, the start, the finish, the logistics, and we have, of course, the map. The challenge was trying to understand how an athlete could become a cartographer. The truth is that I'm already on it for 20 years.

What are the most important resources during the map making process?

N. P. - Well, I just work on it for 10 years now but I believe that’s a process with several stages and that has improving a lot recently. Since the paper sheets, with coloured pencils, to the transparency paper and then with the new technologies that Javi controls so well. Step by step, we started bringing with us the computer to the field work. Everything has its pros and cons, but working directly on the computer in the field allows you to save a lot of time in terms of homework and gives you a much more precise results, something that we couldn’t expect when designing on paper. Another important support technology is the GPS.

In your experience as cartographers, I’m sure there will be some pleasant moments and some not so, some maps that you proudly recall, others that brought you nothing but headaches...

J. A. - All maps are suffering. I'm not professional and, after 20 years making maps, the effective time in the cartography turns out to be really much less. It’s the work, the family life, the sport, the training… all of it doesn’t leave you too much time to making maps. The best map I've done so far has resulted from a quiet walk in the forest, without having in mind some plans about maps or anything else. But the map making is a quite suffered process and the most suffered so far was undoubtedly the last one, for the Spanish Trail orienteering Championships, in Castiñeiras Lake. It was a tremendous task, demanding all our knowledge in order to give the competitors the information they need, which in Trail orienteering is… everything. When I make a map, I always have in mind the elite - not that the other classes, particularly the youngest ones, stay out of my concerns. I want them to realize that the reentrant is visible, the vegetation is perfectly readable, the colours are correct. I want to make sure that I'm able to provide the appropriate information and feel, in the end, the athlete's happiness. But this approach, in Trail orienteering, is not as simple as that and turns out to be highly demanding for any cartographer.

N. P. - Of course, the whole process of drawing a map has a subjective part. Where the doubts begin, begins the suffering. To draw a map from start to finish, following strictly a defined criterion, it’s tremendously stressful. Just because it's another day or we are more tired, the map drawing style cannot simply change. Still, in the end there will always be room for some subjectivity and therein lie the cartographers’ fear.

In the final part of your work on the Castiñeiras Lake map, you could count on the presence of the course planner and the controller. How did you see this multidisciplinary approach?

J. A. – The multidisciplinarity is always very positive. There’s someone setting the course and designing the tasks, someone supervising, someone drawing the map and, together, it’s possible to set a criteria that will prove to be very important for the final product. At least in some small details, this map would be different without this work together. The definition of common criteria turns out to be something really interesting.

Have you ever felt, for some reason, that a map was taking care of you, invading your personal sphere, demanding the time and availability that you didn’t have?

N. P. - Some maps are more demanding than others, even from a physical point of view. Some maps challenge you so much that you reach the end of the day completely exhausted. It may seem nonsense, but even the fact that you take the computer to the forest makes you reach the end of the day practically unable to move your arm.

J. A. – I’m willing to give up from maps, just because of the level of demand they require, the time they impose. Otherwise, there’s a commitment to the club and you can't disappoint the people who trust you and count on you. At the beginning you have an empty sheet of paper and it will be necessary to fill it up. This is really hard. You start to reach some enthusiasm when you see the map growing, the paper begins to colour up. This means that the mapped surface is growing every day. The end is approaching and you say to yourself that you can do a little more, there is a particular area that deserves one final effort. But, at the beginning, things are always very difficult.

N. P. - Yes, the first day is always the worst. As we are not professionals, we need some recovery time to embrace the challenge of a new map. And when that day arrives, you look like a duck (laughs).

The map’s construction follows some kind of logical principle? Firstly there’s a path, for example, which works like an axis, and you draw the whole from there?

N. P. – Things can vary a lot. We may choose a small area and we draw it. Sometimes we take the paths and, from there, we draw all the vegetation. It is very variable.

J. A. - When we left to the terrain, we usually have some ideas heard from people who did some previous visits. Based on these information, we have to establish the map limit, which depends on the course itself, if it’s a Middle Distance or a Long Distance, for example. After that first moment, the plan is set from home, on the computer. Little by little, we try to fix the time we have, according the working area, but the truth is that things never happen as planned. We start in a certain place, then we go to another, the work estimated in two hours will last four or five, we need to constantly readjust the project and all this turns out to be very complicated, and especially because we have deadlines to meet. For me, as a cartographer, the hardest part is to find the best way to take the next step. From where I am, how do I finish the closest areas of the map and how can I make sure that nothing is left behind. This is the most complicated part.

Working together and knowing each other so well, what are the most valuable qualities that you see in the other?

N. P. - Well, besides having much more practical than me, Javier is also much more in love with cartography. He works much more efficiently, he’s quicker making decisions about what symbols or colours should be chosen. And I’m not just speaking about the field work, but at home he devotes much more time than me to the mapping work and the use of computer programs, which turns out to give him the easiness that I don't have.

J. A. – Nati’s advice is often really important because she reminds me about the rules. As I mentioned before, it is essential to keep homogeneity in terms of criteria when drawing a map and I should say it's very easy to forget these principles in some circumstances. It’s in those moments that she reminds me what things should be done, according to this or that principle, and everything become clear again. If we escape from the criteria, the result is the impoverishment of the map quality. It is therefore important to keep a cool head throughout the work and Nati’s collaboration turns out to be precious. In this point, she’s better than me.

Let's talk about Trail orienteering. Despite all the suffering that you've mentioned before, will you come back to a TrailO map?

J. A. - Yes. It's true that, every time we finish a map, we swore to ourselves that is over. But we ended up coming back. When a big event, like the Spanish Trail orienteering Championships, comes to an ending, we are able to ensure that we won't embrace another adventure like that, but the next week we are already looking for new challenges. And with the mapping is the same. We are committed with the Trail orienteering's promotion in Galicia and this leads us to admit that, surely, we'll come back to the maps and to the Trail orienteering events. We have to attract people, start with simple tasks, basic problems. And we are sure that, little by little, things will evolve, people will demand more and the bar will rise.

So, you're optimistic about Trail orienteering in Galicia, in the near future.

N. P. - I think so. The number of participants in this event was very important and motivating. Many volunteers, despite their small knowledge of TrailO, showed a great interest in learning more in order to help better. People will realize the challenge behind TrailO. The fact that it also open doors to people who, until now, couldn't practice any kind of sport, makes that Trail orienteering can be seen in a very special way. We can't find this inclusive value in any other sport.

J. A. - Above all, it's a way to integrate people that occurs naturally. It's amazing that people with reduced mobility can participate in the same way as the so-called “normal people”, facing the same demanding challenges and fighting for the best possible result at the same level. In Trail orienteering everybody is equal, there are no differences and this is the most important. It integrates, in fact, the person as a whole and not just in the specific aspects related to the practice of Orienteering.

N.P. - Furthermore, it allows to length the sport life. Speaking about Trail orienteering and thinking only of people in wheelchairs is a terrible mistake. There are people who have walking problems but they don't need, necessarily, wheelchairs to move from one place to another. There are competitors moving at their own pace but, for reasons of health or age, are forced to reduce or abandon Orienteering. To them, Trail Orienteering can be the solution to hold the sport they love.

Joaquim Margarido

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