Tuesday, August 23, 2011

THE TECHNOLOGY BEHIND THE BLUE RIDGE BREAKAWAY!

Route and Safety Director Larry East

(Safety and Route Director Larry East monitors ride action)

This year’s Blue Ridge Breakaway “behind the scenes” action was bolstered by increased use of technologies for GPS tracking. We had a great partnership with…

the Haywood County Amateur Radio Club for the second year in a row. This group of Ham operators provided a ramped up service for 2011. In 2010, we relied heavily upon their ability to communicate in the mountainous terrain of Western North Carolina. While cellular technologies work fine in and around the more populated areas and areas where the topography is more spread out, there are still major “dead spots” where cellular simply doesn’t work.Notably, the climb up to the Blue Ridge Parkway from Lake Logan is so deep and narrow that cellular signals simply don’t get out. In fact, the Ham operators had to set up mini-repeaters at various sites just to get the Ham signal out to civilization.

The ability to communicate with these sites was imperative during the 2010 ride when a rogue weather cell dropped heavy rain and temperatures into the 50’s on the Blue Ridge Parkway.The Ham operators on site helped us get much needed evacuation vehicles to the Blue Ridge Parkway and enabled us to stop further cyclists from climbing into the messy and dangerous weather. Ten riders were treated for hypothermia last year but it could have been much worse.

This year newer technologies were available and we had GPS trackers on each of the 6 Moto-Sag vehicles. We had site based operators at each aid station and another 6 SAG vehicles with mobile Ham operators moving from area to area. Thanks to Best Buy, we had a large screen TV connected to the internet and were able to monitor all of these sites as the vehicles and riders moved around the various courses.

The software also had a weather overlay so we were able to track incoming weather cells and know how and where they might affect the riders. We continued to utilize cellular technologies and Smartphones. For instance, I was able to monitor the progression of the ride from my HTC Thunderbolt as I helped to coordinate the finish line or as I made trips out to assist riders on the road.

BRB routes on the big screen!

(Image of the internet stream used to monitor the ride in progress)

Given the technologies, we were able to speak with the SAG vehicles but not “see” where they were located so we relied on cellular connections to reach them. On the other hand, we could “see” the Moto-SAG’s but not speak with them. On the motorcycles, they couldn’t take cell phone calls so we would contact the nearest aid station via the Ham operators and have the Moto-Sag’s call in to “command central.”  This enabled us to deploy and redeploy supplies, SAG support, and volunteers as the ride unfolded. As soon as the Fines Creek aid station closed down we deployed them to the Yellow Face station with more supplies and assistance. This was about a 25 mile drive and an elevation gain of 3000’ plus.

The Ham system worked off of the FEMA model for communications that would be used in a disaster. For us, this meant having an operator at our side in the room as we monitored the ride. This person was the link from the ride organizers back to the communications center where messages were transmitted to the appropriate sites or vehicles. The day’s events provided an excellent training opportunity to put the FEMA guidelines into real time effort. I’ll be looking forward to the debriefing results on our communications aspect of the ride.

Finally back on the bike…

Monday brought me a chance to finally get back on my own bike and get some miles into my legs. I’ve been quite lax in setting priorities to ride over the past six weeks or so. We’ve had a nice cooling off and I was able to spin my way home last night in 79 degree weather with blue skies and fluffy white clouds. I was pleased to see that once I warmed up, my conditioning had not dropped off as much as I feared. Still, I probably couldn’t have ridden the Breakaway this week. I noted that some of the trees are beginning to get some yellows and the late summer plants that flower with purple colors are making their presence known.

I’ll be looking forward to some more riding. Maybe I’ll get that Salsa Fargo ordered and here in time to get some fall riding done on it.

Until later,

- Zeke

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