This was the first year working the Tahoe Rim Trail Ultra Endurance Run and it definitely will not be my last! I am already looking forward to next year! This race event will be added to my regular schedule of events to work. Vic Bausell, K7VWB, had been trying to get me to work this event for the past couple of years. Typically, radio communications for this race is provided by the local ARES chapter. Unfortunately, the annual Nevada State Convention (NVCON) was also scheduled for the same weekend. Vic and Doug, KA7FOO, both active members of the local ARES group, teamed together to recruit enough radio operators to provide radio communications for this event. It was a Hail Mary effort by Vic and Doug but they successfully recruited enough operators with experience working race events to cover the primary aid stations.
I meet up with Ken and we head out to rendezvous with Vic, Rob and Kristen in Carson City. We met up at the Chevron gas station, exchanged hugs, put our backcountry travel permits on our windows so we can get through the ranger station at Spooner Lake and wait for Ken to fuel up before we continue to our final destinations. Ken has been in radio contact with Mark, our final radio operator for the event. He catches up to the convoy from the parking pull out shortly after the turn onto Highway 50 towards Spooner Summit. Spooner Lake is the start/finish for the race and where we stop to check-in with Doug, KA7FOO, before proceeding to our respective stations. Doug will be fulfilling net control duties at start/finish for the weekend.
Once we’ve checked in and I get a hug from Doug, we proceeded up the forest service road to get to our stations. Normally, these roads are closed to vehicle traffic. Hikers and mountain bikers are using the road and we have strict travel rules on our trek to the aid stations. Rob, Vic and Kristen are assigned to the Hobart Station. Ken, Mark and I are assigned to Snow Valley Peak. The main forest service road is an easy road to traverse. After about 5-6 miles, we come to the turn for Snow Valley Peak. Snow Valley Peak sits at 9,214’ elevation. The last mile to the peak was a different story. It’s a rarely used, steep Jeep trail with tall sage growing between the tire tracks, boulders and large rocks scattered along the way and wicked tight switchbacks near the peak. It was a slow and easy climb. All three of us made to the top, piece of cake, including Ken with his trailer. He’s pretty proud of his FJ. Mark and I were never worried. We drive Jeeps. We crest the top and park at the tent that is already set up for the aid station.
The view of Lake Tahoe is incredible yet somewhat obscured by smoky haze from the summer wildfires burning in California. We are on top of the world and nothing obstructs our view of Tahoe. We busy ourselves with assessing the area and deciding the best location to set up the radios. With the 3 of us, it doesn’t take very long to get everything set up despite having so much to deploy. Ken’s HF antenna, 2 VHF/UHF dipoles, a portable 70cm repeater and it’s antenna, Ken’s radios, my radio, Mark’s HF radio and antenna. Oh. And the solar panels. Phew. We had a lot of radio gear but I’ve been setting up in the field with Ken on several occasions now and we’re starting to get into a good groove. Things keep getting easier and easier. Once the radios are up, we do our signal checks with net control and we’re ready for the weekend.
The evening winds blow in, clearing the smoke and finally blessing us with the amazing view of Tahoe that we will be enjoying for the weekend. With the radios all done and plenty of daylight burning, I take a little hike up the trail to get a different view of the Lake. The summer alpine flowers were in full bloom and the meadow was carpeted in a sea of purple lupine. I scrambled to the top of some rocks to get another view of Tahoe and am awestruck when I see Marlette Lake just below. Stunning. Absolutely stunning. I was not prepared to see all this glorious splendor working a race. I am having darn near a religious experience on the top of this mountain this weekend. After sitting on rock and taking in the view for a while, I wander back to my home for the weekend and highly recommend the short hike to the Ken and Mark. Over the course of the weekend, both find an opportunity to take in the incredible views.
Ken gets a message from the race organizer. They have their own radios for communications too but their repeater at the peak is not working. He’s asked Ken to go check on it for him. I joined Ken on the short but steep hike to the top of the peak. While he trouble shoots the repeater, I take in the scenery from the peak. The sun is setting and I have an unobstructed full view of Lake Tahoe. I have blessed once again.
The Tahoe Rim Trail Ultra Endurance Run is an incredible 100 mile run with spectacular views of Lake Tahoe and Marlette Lake. There is also 55k and 50-mile runs. Weather was problematic this weekend and wind is ever present when on a mountain peak. Smoke from burning wildfires in California permeated the air. The skies loomed as the build up of thunderstorms were a threat all day Saturday. The race director put all stations on notice to report any thunder or lightning. Thank goodness our aid station is staffed by the Boy Scouts. Their leader posted several of the older Eagle Scouts on lightning watch when the thunder cell passed dangerously close to the south of us.
Saturday started out with a brisk, sunny morning. Winds were prevalent on the peak all day and the constant threat of lightning had us on edge. The race gets started at 5:00am. We won’t see runners for several hours because our station is the last aid station before start/finish. Vic, Mark and Doug utilized the slower times of the run to test the digital modes that ARES is working with. Doug sent digital transmissions, emails, maps and other data via radio to Vic and Mark. These race events provide a great opportunity to test the range of our equipment, hone communication protocols, and practice handling formal transmissions so that we are ready and proficient in the event of a disaster.
There’s a steady flow of runners all afternoon and into the evening. Runners trickle through in spurts during the overnight hours. Ken, Mark and I sleep in shifts so that someone is available to work the station through the night, manning the radios and keeping an eye on the runners. To keep ourselves awake during those overnight hours, we amused ourselves by scanning the AM radio bands. From that elevation, we picked up radio stations broadcasting from Tokyo, Russia and New Zealand!
The Snow Valley Peak station is slow with radio traffic compared to the other aid stations. Diamond Peak, Tunnel Creek and Hobart are large aid stations with medical staff and shuttle pick-ups. Snow Valley Peak is a rest break with water/electrolytes and food, an opportunity to rest and catch your breath before continuing the final stretch to finish. They Boy Scouts have been working this aid station for many years and are well known for running a top notch station. They did a great job tending to the runners’ needs. Ken and I secretly enjoyed spying on a couple of the boys as they pranked one boy sound asleep on his cot, getting some rest from a long day of supporting runners.
Sunday was a quiet morning as the 100 milers were finishing the course. The last runner came through our station at 2pm Sunday afternoon. The aid station captain gave us permission to secure and we started the task of packing up all that radio gear. We had busied ourselves throughout the morning packing up non-essentials. When it came time to secure the station, it did not take very long to pack up all that radio gear. While I was ready to go home, I was also sad to leave. I was in my happy place, somewhere on a mountaintop, with the wind in my hair and the sun on my face. This is where I am at the most peace.
Driving down the mountain, I had that moment where I finally knew what I was going to do. The idea of starting a website and writing blog had been turning around in my brain for several years but the inspiration and content was never clear to me until I started to drive down that mountain. As we were slowly winding our way out of the forest, it came to me clear as day what my website would be about. When I returned home, I immediately grabbed my notebook and started laying out the site design and finally had a plan. And A Chic and Her Radio was born.