I'm one of those people for whom early is on time, on time is late, and late is unacceptable. So I left Camp in time to get to Augusta well before 3:00 for my 4:00 test. I was below Sherman when I got a call from Gloria; IF&W had just called to say that the tests were going quickly today, and that if I could get there at 3, there'd be a good chance they could test me then. Sweet.
I arrived at the IF&W headquarters a little after 2:00. My alter ego took care of a couple of calls to Virginia, and I (we?) headed in. I checked in and apologized for being early for even the earlier testing slot, and the lady behind the counter (Marianne, I believe her name was) said, "That's ok. Would you like to take your written test while you're waiting?"
I had no idea that was an option- I was expecting to wait a few days or weeks and then take the test up in Ashland. I had studied for the oral exam, but there were plenty of things I still needed to review for the written. Still, I could always re-take it if I bombed... Sure, why not? She handed me the two test booklets (recreational and fishing), and I sat down at one of their little desk cubicles. I had finished the recreational test and had gotten about 9 questions in on the fishing test when they came to get me for my oral exam.
I was ushered into the testing room and greeted by two very nice gentlemen (whose names I've already forgotten- I apologize). Introductions were made, and the two examiners began organizing the testing papers and topo maps. I caught a glimpse of the map that I'd be using for the map and compass and lost person scenario.
No way... Couldn't be...
The papers shuffled some more, and the examiners wrote my name on the top of the exam sheets.
It was. I had to ask. "Are the exam maps generic for all of the tests, or are they specifically chosen for each test candidate?"
He gave me a funny look. Fair enough- it was a funny question. "We pull from a group of general maps. Why do you ask?"
Home sweet home. I was staring at a topo map of the Deboullie Township.
I told you serendipity ran in the waters of Red River. *grin* I explained exactly where on the map I live, and we all had a good chuckle. They decided not to switch maps on me, and I tried to calm my nerves. Map and compass was up first and got me off to a rocky start.
Unless you do something often enough that it becomes second nature, there are two ways to remember things- rote memorization and understanding. Rote memorization is faster to pull from the ol' filing cabinet in the brain, but it'll also fail you more often, especially when you're counting on it not to. Foolishly, my brain jumped right to it as I began the map and compass portion of the test. I first had to pull a true and magnetic bearing from the outlet of Gardner to the inlet of Fifth Pelletier. The true bearing was simple. Then I started shaking- do I subtract the declination from the true bearing to get the magnetic, or from the magnetic to get to the true??
I was sweating bullets. I had no idea where the line was drawn between fumbling because of nerves and fumbling because of incompetence. I had to avoid that line. Think, think, think.
My mind went blank, blank, blank. Numbers, options, and basic high school geometry jumbled in my head like cars on the DC Beltway. I couldn't get away from the rote memorization to the understanding!
On the Gardner quadrangle topo map, the declination is 18 degrees west; that means that a magnetic bearing of 360 (or zero) degrees equates to a true bearing of 342. Hence, to get from true to magnetic, you add the declination. I can't believe how long it took me to get back to that simple knowledge in a high-pressure situation. I'm still shaking a little because of it.
Comparatively, the lost person scenario went very well. (In fact, I think I can say that the lost person scenario went pretty well in general.) My lost person had accidentally taken a spur off of a decent approximation of the Ridge Loop trail and then sprained her ankle when she got down to the small pondlet between Galilee and Gardner.
On my wildlife and pfd identification exam, I missed the lake trout and almost called a bobcat a lynx, but otherwise, it was uneventful. I was amused to see that one of the "what type of pfd is this" flash cards showed the pfd's label- including the fact that it was a Type II (in small print). Always the honest one, I pointed it out to them. Sorry, future test-takers!
I do need to hone up on water rescues- I just don't deal with them a lot. I guess I'll be heading out into the pond this summer to flip some canoes over! That used to be a fun pastime when we were kids, and I bet it's still fun now that I'm an adult.
When everything came out in the wash, I passed the oral exam, nerves and all. My examiners were very kind and said that they would both be comfortable with me guiding their families, which I take as a high compliment.
I wasn't done, though. I went back out to the front desk, where Marianne told me that I'd passed the recreational portion of the written exam. That was pretty darn exciting- no matter what happened with the fishing portion of the exam, I was licensed. I sat back down and hammered out the remainder of the fishing exam. I'll admit that I didn't do nearly as well on the fishing written exam as I would have liked, but I guess it wasn't too bad for a spur-of-the-moment situation. I passed that as well, and I left IF&W with my two-category license and my spiffy patch.
Today was another good day. Thanks a million to all of the guides who took the time to chat about the test with me! I couldn't have done it without you guys.