Here it is, my page on the John Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, and more specifically, the Beargrease Amateur Radio Coalition (BARC). If you're a BARC volunteer looking for more information, please click here.
I had a great time this year. A good year began with a good start. At the pre-race meeting I was nominated and elected the BARC Road Crossing Chair for the 2004 race. The responsibilities include putting together new member packets and placing people into positions where required to cover the road crossings throughout the race course. I'm very excited about this opportunity to learn and grow with BARC, and I look forward to spending many more years working with all of the wonderful people involved with the race.
After the usual pre-race dinner and meeting, I headed to my hotel in Beaver Bay. I receive a great deal from Barb at the Inn at Beaver Bay. She gave me a fixed price for the duration of the race including Saturday night. Last year I slept in the back of my truck Saturday night, and then headed up to County Road 11 on Sunday morning. That was miserable at 20 below, and 30 mph winds. In those conditions, it was all I could do to keep warm. Anyway, Saturday night I headed up and dropped my things at the hotel then ventured out to scope out Beaver and London Crossings. I marked the coordinates for these road crossings as well as getting myself familiar with the area. After that, I went back to the hotel and worked on my time tracking spreadsheet some more. I fell asleep about 2:00am and left the radio on next to the bed.
I woke up at about 10:00 to hear Russ, NØQK talking to someone on the radio as he was headed up to the Sawbill checkpoint where he was working this year. I leisurely packed some things up, and took a nice long shower. This is part of what I love so much about working this race. It's a perfect vacation in my book. I didn't need to be up to County Road 11 until about noon, and only then so early because I wanted to start shoveling snow up on the road. Other than your assignment, you really have no place to be and nothing to do. In this respect, the race is very relaxing, and I'm doing exactly what I love; talking on the radio and volunteering.
About noon I arrived at highway 11 where I was assigned to work this year. I started shoveling snow onto the road while the race was getting started. I used my new radio cross banding to a 440 HT. I could hear all the action as if it was happening next door. Here's where I had my first problem. My brand new Yaesu couldn't take the heat of nearly continuous duty while cross banding. When it was time for roll call, I tried to transmit, and I was getting into the repeater system well, but was told my signal was unreadable. I switched to my other Yaesu and everything was fine. Throughout the rest of the race, I repeatedly used my new radio and it continued to act up. Way to go Yaesu, a radio that can't take the heat of amateur radio community service work.
The rest of the up-bound mushers came through within about 4 hours. I think the last musher came through shortly after 5. The slowest musher was the lady from Florida, who was moving just over 5 mph between Beaver Crossing and Highway 11. Most of the mushers ran between 8 and 17 mph. The straggler slowed down dramatically after coming through Highway 11, down to 2.6 mph. At that pace, it took her over 6 hours to get to Finland. The operators that work the race stay behind at their post until we know that the musher made it to the next area worked by a ham. In other words, I spent 2 hours waiting for the first team, 4 very busy hours getting teams through the road crossing, and over 6 hours waiting for the last team to make it to the next crossing. I guess it takes quite a bit of dedication to do this race.
After clearing Highway 11 just shy of midnight, I headed up to Finland checkpoint to see Bruce, Roland, and Marilyn. This is a great bunch of people! They're a ton of fun to be around. After visiting for a few minutes, I headed to Lower Cramer and Upper Cramer and marked the locations on the GPS and recorded the coordinates. I also took mental notes since I'm the crossing coordinator next year. From Upper Cramer, I headed up to Sawbill Checkpoint and visited with Russ and Gladys for a while (Gary, Gladys' husband, was sleeping). At about 3:00am I headed back to my hotel room and called it a night.
Monday morning I woke up at about 10:30 and just hung out in the hotel room for most of the rest of the daylight hours. I made changes to my calculation spreadsheets, watched some television, and called home. Being a night owl, my day actually started at about 4:00 when I ventured out. I didn't have any responsibilities to work anywhere until Highway 11 again when the down-bound teams came through. I headed up towards the devil track area to check out the road crossings up there. I first went to Campground Crossing where Bob and his girlfriend were. I hung out there for a while with them plus Jolene, the Beargrease crossing coordinator, who was also there at the time. A short time later, Alex, the race coordinator showed up there. I talked to Alex briefly, marked my GPS coordinates, and then headed to Two Island crossing. I spent about 5 minutes there, talked to the operator working it, and recorded my coordinates again on the GPS.
From Two Island, I headed back down to Devil Track Lodge. At the lodge I hung out with Corey and Tim for a while. It was very busy there so the 2 of them spent most of the time working instead of socializing. These 2 guys worked very hard, and deserve a lot of commendation! These checkpoints can be very busy and downright relentless at times. It takes a bunch of very dedicated individuals to work so hard on a voluntary basis.
After spending some time at Devil Track I headed down to Caribou Crossing to see Len and Joan. Caribou is way, way, way back in there. Bob gave me some good advice. He said, "If you think you've gone too far, keep going, it's a long ways back in there". He couldn't have been more right. At caribou, Len and Joan volunteered to warm up some water for me so I could eat some dinner. I was prepared to break out my little stove and go to work, but instead they volunteered their nice warm camper to me. These two people are of the highest quality. They're so incredibly kind and just a pleasure to work with.
From Caribou, I headed back to my hotel. It was shortly after midnight when I got back there. Tuesday morning, I got up and put all my stuff back in the truck and was prepared to head home straight from my road crossing. I headed up to Finland about 10:30 and had some breakfast. I also compared notes on GPS stuff with Bruce and Roland. The first team left Finland about Noon and I headed to Highway 11 very shortly after that. The remainder of the race was fairly uneventful (that's the way we like it). The teams were spread just far enough apart that you could start to get bored. They were however close enough together that there wasn't enough time for a nap. I did manage to find about a 2 hour break to run up to Heffelfinger and mark the GPS coordinates of that crossing. To my knowledge, we very seldom cover that crossing.
All in all, it was a very good race. Unfortunately, it went way too fast. The race was only about 2 1/2 days long. We spend all year planning and building the excitement for this race, and it's all over so quick. I'm looking forward to next year when I'll be deeply involved in the planning and execution of our volunteer activities. I've already begun getting myself organized and planning for next year. The summertime will be very busy because I volunteer so much and usually spend a lot of time working on my house and in my yard. Next fall, I'll be getting excited all over again and start the massive planning effort involved with this race. I'm looking forward to working with all the great people of BARC and the dedicated Beargrease volunteers.