You can always tell summer is coming to its end when Grinduro weekend comes around. The air has a cool crisp feel, the smell of pine hangs heavier in the trees and the colors of the mountains turn to blazing yellows and oranges with touches of red sprinkled through the forests of evergreen. Fall is my favorite season of the year.
I started out on Friday with a heavy heart, having a growing need to be in the mountains and trees to recenter and ground myself. Ken’s father passed away Friday morning and I received word from my home state of Michigan that my uncle was in serious condition in the hospital after having an accident at work. While I finish packing up and taking care of the final details for home while I am gone, I push through the emotions. I have committed to working this race and despite my nerves, anxiety and sadness in my heart, I must steel myself up and proceed. This is going to be the first race event I work on my own, so my nerves are even more on edge. I give my daughter a big hug and head out to rendezvous with Ken to pick up an antenna. Larry will be loaning me a mast. I tried unsuccessfully to program the Mt Hough repeater into my TYT handheld. I’m hoping the simple frequency will work and that my portable radio will function without issues. I really need everything to work without a glitch this weekend.
After picking up the antenna from Ken, I take the scenic drive to Quincy, CA via Hwy 89 from Truckee, CA. Driving through winding mountain roads is a moving meditation for me and before too long, my body begins to settle down and the shakes and trembles subside. I arrive at Plumas-Sierra Fairgrounds feeling like I have just arrived home from a long journey. I find a place to set up my tent and get busy settling in for the weekend. Once my camp is set, I check-in at the volunteer check-in, sign the waiver and collect my t-shirt, dinner ticket and beer tickets. I like to walk around the event just to see the changes and reacquaint myself with the surroundings.
The organizers have thought of every detail – bulletin/message board, a new vendor row with representatives for several bicycle related companies, an expanded beverage garden, new signage around the fairgrounds complete with battery powered lights for night illumination. Purple is in every detail and the bathrooms are completely decked with all sorts of paraphernalia – stickers, photo booth pics from previous Grinduro races, sections of the Grinduro Gazette taped to walls and stall doors for your reading pleasure. The showers were decked with purple shower curtains emblazoned with Grinduro stickers. The PA is system has been expanded to cover a wider area and Marty, the roaming MC, can be heard with from a much broader distance as his voice booms out race-related announcements and appointment calls for this year’s hippest new addition – a pop-up barber shop complete with a bar and lounge area for waiting patrons. I never knew this was a thing but it did add a jovial spirit to an already entertaining event. Seeing some burly mountain guys get freshened up with a nice trim and beardscaping is a new change of pace for a bike race event.
There will be a comms briefing at 6:00 pm. I have plenty of time to grab some dinner and an ice cold beer, review the ops plan one more time and start organizing my notes for tomorrow. The comms meeting is pretty basic. We run down the list of aid stations and which medics and ham radio operators are stationed where. Dr. Rob gives the protocol for handling injuries and other important instructions are communicated.
Debbie provides us with race specific details for each stage. I had an opportunity to meet Hailey, who will be the medic assigned to the same station that I am working. Larry from PARC gets busy with some last minute radio adjustments for members for the Sierra Buttes Trail Stewardship. Their crew members are all licensed hams too, which is a unique partnership with the Plumas Amateur Radio Club. Many are new hams, so Larry steps up to help program handhelds. After he has finished with radio tune-ups, we chat briefly and plan to meet again at the 6:00 am morning briefing and I will grab the mast from him before heading out the my station in the morning.
The festivities start on Friday night with evening entertainment in the pop-up shop from the band Mattson 2. I regret that I did not linger to enjoy this band a little bit longer than I did. I really did not stay up too late on Friday. Saturday morning will be a very early start and a very long day. Another addition to this year’s event is the Grindurito, a mini-course within the Grinduro course, just 18.5 miles. My station must be operable by 8:00 am. I leave from the fairgrounds at 7:00 am sharp and proceed directly to my aid station, which is a pleasant drive into the mountains. My station is on the downhill portion of the race, in the middle of Stage 4 timed segment. Unfortunately, I am not able to witness the mass start this year. The mass start is of of the highlights for this event. Check out this video of the mass start from the 2016 race.
Racers are pushing hard for a good time in this section but it is also a high potential of injuries due to the terrain and speed of the racers. Since my station is near the end of the course, it is a short drive to start/finish and only takes about 20 minutes to travel. I arrive at 7:20 am and get busy with setting up. I take my time, making sure to double check myself to ensure I am doing everything right the first. Despite taking my time and being thorough, I do my signal check at 7:40 am. The station is ready and operable. At that point, I break for a little happy dance by myself and take a big sigh of relief. I am feeling super accomplished so far. I got my station running in the field by myself with a borrowed mast and antenna. I send out some vibes for smooth operation for the rest of the race. So far, things are looking good. The first Grindurito rider passes through my station at 9:21 am and I kept busy for the rest of the day.
I try to keep a log of the radio traffic that I am monitoring and I also try to keep track of bib numbers as they pass through my station. It was a lot of multi-tasking, but I like to keep a detail log of what is happening. I am not required to keep a log of this information but Ken and I have found it useful in previous events for questions or issues that arise and as a way to keep track of what has been happening through the day. So, we keep to our logs and find that it helps to keep this log of detailed information about the day in general as well as having a timekeeping record of bib numbers as they pass through our station. It also helps to keep us sharp and focused on the race.
Riders streamed through the station at a steady pace all day. The radio traffic was busy. There were a couple of injuries in the earlier stages of the race as well as lots of drops along the way. Finally, at around 4:00 pm, I took a moment to step away for a quick potty break. When I return to the radio only one crew person was there. While I was taking care of business, word came in from another rider about an injured rider about a half mile up the trail, a possible broken collarbone. Hailey the medic at my station was already en route on foot.
Really. I sat at my station ALL DAY and the ONE TIME I step away for a break, we have an injured rider on our section.
I immediately get busy working the radio as I report the injury and gather more information about the rider. Typically when we receive word of an injury it is from another rider who stops briefly. They don’t usually know the bib number of the injured rider. I had limited information and needed more, so as riders passed through, I asked questions like approximate distance, did you see the the medic with the rider, are they on foot? All these questions and answers were asked as riders were flying past, with a shouted responses coming from the trail behind me. I transmitted the info to net control as I received it from the passing riders. Dr Rob sent a medic and moto down from Station Q, the station just above mine. They met with Hailey, who was on scene with the injured rider and the injury was stabilized. I got the bib number from the bike medic and moto, who arrived shortly before Hailey with the injured rider. The decision was made to have Tyler transport the rider directly to the emergency room.
The last rider passed through an hour later and I was given permission to secure my station. I loaded quickly and headed back down to net control to turn in my logs and return the mast. By the time I got there, the race was pretty much done. Net control started to pack up and several other radio operators were also turning in their logs. Once net control was packed, we all met for dinner and conversation afterwards. I do not get much opportunity to visit with the members of the Plumas Amateur Radio Club (PARC), so it was a welcome treat to have dinner with everyone and get to know them more. A special connection is developing and I do plan to work more race events with PARC next summer.
After dinner, I finally make my second run to bathroom but bump into my buddy Monty, the trumpet player for Mojo Green. I find him and the lead singer checking in with Debbie, the volunteer coordinator. We chat for a little bit, then I excuse myself to finally make it to the bathroom. It’s been a long day already and the evening is yet to begin. I decide that it’s time to get out of these dusty clothes so I head back to my tent, grab my bag and run over to the showers to get cleaned up and put on some comfy clothes for the evening. I head back to the main stage area. The opening band is wrapping up and I am surveying the crowd as people are lingering for the awards ceremony but I can also hear the excitement building as the crowd eagerly awaits for Mojo Green. The awards ceremony commences, but I decide to wander around to hang out with Monty backstage. Mojo Green will be hitting the stage directly after the awards ceremony, which is a very toned down version of awards ceremonies in previous years.
Mojo Green hits the stage and the crowd goes nuts!! The booty shaking commences and the crowd comes even more alive. It is amazing to me that these guys have all raced 63 miles today and still have the energy to party into the night. I opted to watch from behind the stage this time, just not feeling in the mood to be in with the crowd tonight. I’m tired and wore out but don’t want to miss my friend’s band perform. And, I have to hear my favorite song of theirs – The Burgle. Once the band finished their set, I wait around to say good bye and good night. I’m tired and it’s past my bedtime.
Sunday morning came around too soon. Packing up camp did not take much time. I wanted to stay and linger for a while before rolling out so I grabbed some breakfast, another cup of coffee and sat at the picnic tables to take in the scene one more time and jot down some more notes. After one last walk around the main event area, I solemnly crawl into the driver’s seat. I really needed this weekend. I needed the therapy of the mountains and the trees. While I enjoy working these events with Ken, I was meant to work this one by myself this year. I needed this time for myself for many reasons. Before I turn to leave, I pause to send a little prayer to all my loved ones dealing with a difficult time and I remind myself that life is good and to enjoy more of every moment.