So you are putting on an event in the middle of nowhere with no APRS RF coverage, terrain which is simplex challenging and the repeater is on the opposite end of the county – what do you do?
This was our last weekend! The www.joshbillings.com is a triathlon in “south county” of Berkshire County of Massachusetts – a picturesque vacation area known for the beautiful hills and backroad countryside. Just wait for the leafs changing colors in the Fall and these roads are standstill in traffic. This is also where the bike course for the triathlon is located. Most of the ham radio interest is in the middle and north side of the county and the south end has taken second priority for the area’s ham club. Thus, the once flourishing Gt Barrington repeater, which was no longer welcome on state land on top of Butternut Ski Area, has been given a new home at the hospital, but a greatly reduced coverage area. For us, it is useless. This sets the tone for the complications we face for the almost 50 year old race.
Our SAG operation places 7 vehicles on the bike course in a leapfrog operation in the last 1/3 of the race (about 10 miles span.) Additionally, we coordinate the bike repair truck full course length of 30 miles and 4 towns. A racer will call in a bike repair to race command who contacts us. As always, the challenge is to track resources and the tail end of the race. We place cell based trackers in the “Tail End” SUV, the Bike Repair truck and SAG Coordinator car. With about 80%+ of cell coverage the map was accurate 80%+ of the time. The key is to have a cell modem and TNC system which will reestablish connection as it experiences outages. So could we do better yet – absolutely! The N1ATP tracker boxes also have the ability to transmit APRS by RF and function as an I-Gate. See the idea? When one vehicle enters a no cell area it should still transmit position by RF which can be received by the next vehicle which may still be in cell coverage. Ideally, the APRS transmitter will be 10+ watts (50w would be great), but this also de-senses the VHF comm radios. We have not yet used this option, but it is available. Next year?
The challenge for the local ham club could be to expand the APRS Digi Network to support the race. Hum, food for thought!
On the voice side we again used VHF DMR Simplex. It is amazing how DMR deals with obvious picket fencing and white noise. The manufactures claim an additional 20% usable range on DMR over analog and analog’s noises, and our experience confirms this again and again.
Dang – is it fun to use our technology!!