September 13, 2017

100 Miles of Heaven and Hell…

…or 18 hours of hanging out with friends playing radio nerd in the mountains.

100 Miles of Heaven and Hell…

This weekend I had the opportunity to help out with some communications for the Wasatch Front 100 Mile Endurance Run. Just like the name says, it’s a 100 mile race, and the course has folks running from East Mountain Wilderness Park near Kaysville, UT down to Soldier Hollow in Wasatch Mountain State Park. Some friends of mine have been volunteering for this event for a few years now, and have asked me if I was interested in the past, but I haven’t been able to help until this year.

Our assignment was to work the Pole Line Pass station. There would be two teams working there, one working the aid station, helping the runners with fuel, medical, delivering the drop bags of supplies the runner prepared, or just about anything else the runner needed. The other team was to provide radio communications with the race operators, and to log the entry and exit times for the runners arriving at the station.

About half of the radio team met at the mouth of American Fork Canyon around 3PM, then traveled up the canyon to Pole Line Pass to begin setting up our gear. One of the guys brought up a nice big tent, and once that was up, we got to work with our gear, setting up the antennas, getting the tables loaded down with radio gear, and more importantly, a buffet of junk food and caffeine. After all, it was going to be a long night.

The view from inside the tent, as Jared explains our setup to one of the aid station volunteers, who also happened to be a ham.

For those curious about the more technical side of things, some info can be found at the W100’s communications page.

We setup a pair of antenna masts, one connected to a standard dual band radio for voice communications, the other to the radio used for the networking. Most of our work was done on the computer, logging the runner’s times. We’d also prepare lists of incoming runners for the aid station folks, so that they could get the runner’s drop bags ready to go for when the runner arrived.

Remember those dialup days? We got to relive the early days of them this weekend, as the runner tracking system is a packet radio network, that runs a bit slower that the old 14.4k modems did. Using a Raspberry Pi-based machine, we’d connect to the W100 system, and issue various commands through the computer as needed. Our gear could run off of batteries if needed, but we ended up using a generator to keep things going all night.

The radio hut.

Once we got things setup and verified that the system was working, the smoker was fired up to get some chicken going for dinner, and we waited for the first of the runners to arrive. The first guy came through around 8:30PM, about 90 minutes ahead of when he was projected to arrive. At first, the runners were trickling in, but eventually the pace picked up, and we had a steady stream throughout the night. We took turns taking naps to get a little sleep, but still, I only really slept from about 11:30PM to 2:30AM, sneaking away to the bed of the Bronco for a bit.

We were pretty busy until the last of the runners came through, and at 9AM, we had to stop the runners, as that was the official cutoff time for our station. Anyone arriving after that point would receive a Did Not Finish status for the race, and could try again next year. Once we were only expecting a handful of runners, it was time to fire up the grills again, and get some breakfast burritos going. Somehow, we had ended up with a ton of bacon, and even with 8 of us, there was still plenty to go around.

There were only a handful of folks that missed the cutoff at our station though, but we'd need to stick around a bit longer to make sure that they had a ride down from the mountain to the finish line before we could leave. By the time that rides were arranged, and we had stuff torn down and packed up, it was about noon.

This was my first time using my radio skills for something other than just shooting the breeze and staying in touch with folks while out on the trail. It was a fun experience helping to support an event, and it was even better that I got to spend that time hanging out with my friends. Definitely looking forward to next year, and working with the guys to see how we can improve our setup. Even though it was pretty awesome to start with.

…even scored a new belt buckle to commemorate the event.