Out standing in the field with ham radio

The BigFoot-120 course map
The Bigfoot-120 course map

I had the pleasure of supporting the Bigfoot-120 race, last weekend. For those who, like me, have never heard of such a thing, it’s a 120-mile race that takes place over mountain trails—in this case, the mountain trails between Mt. Adams and Mt. St. Helens in southern Washington state. I was part of the volunteer radio-operator team who set up 10 two-way amateur radio stations around the course. In that part of the state, there is zero cell-phone coverage so, as on my trips to Honduras, the volunteer amateur radio operators provided the only reliable communications to support the race as a public service.

The race

The race started Friday afternoon and the competitors ran on hiking trails through that night, the following day and night, to finish Sunday morning. As if running mountain trails day and night isn’t enough challenge, Mother Nature contributed a series of rain squalls on Saturday. This made it interesting for the runners who had to brave the elements as well as for the radio operators who had to keep their tents, radio equipment, and antennas dry. Fortunately, the weather cleared on Sunday to provide some amazing views of Mt. St. Helens. I admire the competitors for their ability to endure over 36 hours of these conditions…while running up and down a trail through the mountains.

The radio operations

The radio operations were also a challenge. We had to set up our equipment in the rain and dark of Friday night and keep it working throughout the passing rain squalls on Saturday. We used the radios at each of the aid stations to relay information about the participants’ progress to the race coordinator. As runners would pass through each of the stations along the course, their times would be relayed back to the coordinator to make sure every one was safe and accounted for. The radio crews were also used to coordinate the spur-of-the-moment activities that are inevitable when you have almost 100 people running through the woods…at night…in the rain…in October…in the mountains. The radio crews handled their challenges quite professionally.

The radio geekery

The relatively short distance for the radio signals to travel allowed us to use 2-meter (146 MHz) and 6-Meter (52 MHz) VHF/FM frequencies; however, the mountainous terrain required us to relay messages sometimes. Every station could talk to at least one other station, but no station could talk to every other station. The professionalism of the radio team made relaying messages very effective. I sent my wife some email using the WinLink station I took to Honduras; but I didn’t find out until after the race that I could have also used it to send race updates to the outside world. At least we’ll know for the next race.

This adventure was the first in a lot of ways for many people and we all learned from it. The professionalism of the organizers and volunteers made it a success and a great adventure for all.

Official photos from the race

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