A few weekends ago, Lynn and I made our annual trek to Pahrump, Nevada, to help man Stage 12 for the Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay. Baker to Vegas is a Relay race involving law enforcement officers and personnel, including judges, probation officers, district attorneys, US Attorneys and full-time civilian police personnel. According to its creators, it’s the most “positive” event offered to law enforcement officers today, because it gives them a reason to maintain a physical fitness program so they can better perform their duties. I grew up in Chicago, town of Al Capone and the fat cop. Their police officer’s MO is to shoot you in the hip, rather than chase you down. So it’s refreshing to watch the physically fit law officers do their thing–if the participants can complete this relay, then they can chase down a perp, easy!
The Baker to Vegas Challenge Cup Relay celebrated its 25th year, with close to 255 teams in attendance. So where did we come in? Well, since Lynn and I are amateur radio—Ham—operators (his call is KG6DNY, mine is KI6OIL), we assisted in radio communications between the stages. There are 20 stages that stretch from the 15/127 in Baker, California, all the way to Las Vegas, Nevada, so lots of Hams are needed.
This Relay race is particularly popular with the local Hams, although we come from all over. The race itself attracts law enforcement teams from Germany and the UK, so I’m sure the communications response is probably equally far flung! It’s a lot of fun, you get to meet some great people, and polish your radio communication skills. We did the event for the first time last year, and thoroughly enjoyed it. We were stationed at Stage 12, and Gene Sweich, WB9COY (call signs are literally your calling card in the Ham world) asked us to do the Early Warning (EW) station. This station involves sitting in a car one mile from the stage, and using your radio, broadcast each runners’ Bib number and time back to the stage, so that the other team runner can be in place to take the baton and start running to the next stage. Pretty straightforward, and we made a good team doing it. So we looked forward to repeating the role for this year.
We did the 300 or so mile drive from our North Hollywood home, up Interstate 15, through Las Vegas, to Highway 160 West for the last leg to Pahrump. Pahrump is a sleepy suburb, that’s only on the map because of this race (and they love it), and the housing boomlet that unfortunately, is now pretty much defunct. I’ll leave the subtext up to you, dear readers.
Like any good Ham (and my husband is a good one), we came equipped. Our main radio was what is called a 2-meter radio (a Radio Shack HTX212), and we brought our twin handy-talkies—similar to walkie-talkies, but with a bit more technology (Icom IC V8) and a hand-held 440 meter radio that Lynn brought in case we needed to broadcast on that band (Yaesu VX5). We left NoHo about 11:30 a.m. and after grabbing breakfast at Jack-in-the-Box (cause it was cheap), we hit the road, hopping on the 134 to the 210, and the taking the 210 to the 15, and then to Highway 160, until we reached our stage.
We arrived around 4:30 p.m., only to discover that Gene had thrown out his back, and wasn’t able to make the trip up from San Diego. What a bummer, as he and his wife had an RV and a slew of antennas that helped to enhance the communications. Joy Matlack, KD6FJV, is the race’s Communications Director, and has been for over 20 years, cause she’s just that good. She, of course, was already on it, and pulled the lead from Stage 11 to handle the action at Stage 12. There seemed to be a lot of that going around, as Lynn and I heard via our ARES Net the Monday after the race, that some of the Hams on the earlier stages ended up going to the later stages to assist. We introduced ourselves to the new Stage Lead (also named Gene), and told him where we had worked last year, and that we were willing to do it again. He was amenable to this, and gave us the paperwork, then let us know that the race was actually running early. He recommended we head out to the EW Mile spot by 5:45 p.m.
After grabbing a bite to eat, and Lynn a quick nap, we headed to the EW Mile marker, and sat, watching the road, and watching the sunset. It was quiet, and our buddy Steve Wardlaw (KN6Y), who was our point of contact at the stage, thought it was too quiet. He kept checking in on the radio to make sure we were okay and still able to reach the stage. This lasted till about 7:15 p.m., when the first runner was spotted in the distance. Each team has lead vehicles that follow the runner to ensure they’re okay, are equipped with water, or to transport an injured runner to get medical help. So when we spotted the flashing lights coming along Highway 160, we knew the first runner was headed our way.
By 7:45 p.m., runners were trickling in at a steady pace, and by 8:00 p.m., we were nonstop, with me looking for Bibs and writing down times, and Lynn calling them in to the stage. This lasted a good hour and forty-five minutes, to the point that we had to just relay only the Bib numbers in order to keep up. Once we got another lull, which wasn’t until about 10:00 p.m., we relayed the rest of the information to Stage 12, to ensure all the records were accurate.
It was a dark, moonless night, and we had to use our headlights in order to see the runners. Some of the lead vehicles that followed the runners didn’t appreciate it, but what could we do? Between that, and the non-stop communications for close to two hours, our car battery died, so Steve drove up from the Stage to give us a jump. We also had some technical troubles in the form of another Ham (not part of the B2V Event) on a nearby frequency who was using too much power, which disrupted our communications to Stage 12. A bit frustrating, but we worked around it.
At 2:30 a.m. (yes, AM—we’re crazy that way), the last runner trickled past our EW spot, and Dave Greenhut, N6HD (he relieved Steve after working an earlier stage), radioed that we were free to return to the Stage, and so we did: feeling exhausted, but that our mission had been accomplished.
I love being a Ham, not only because you get to play with cool electronic toys and gadgets, but you’re a part of a supportive community that’s commited to service and excellence. Whether it’s on a Net—an organized communication forum to practice your programming and radio skills—or during a communication event, everyone is always helpful, clear and encouraging.
It’s the type of positive reinforcement that I need these days!