Global Skywatch

Ted’s essays

Darby Dog Derby … after action report


The Bitterroot Mushers put on another fun and interesting dog sledding and skijorning event last weekend (Jan 14-15, 2017).

Brandi and Nicki do an impressive job of pulling this event together and making it run smoothly and efficiently.

I was happily able to provide radio communications to and from workers spread out over 30 miles of mountain trails.

My hero on the comms side is Rick who both days hitched a ride on a snowmobile to the COLD mountain top where he set up the radio repeater that enabled signals from hand-held radios reach to and from the entire course.


I spent most of the two days in The Beast where I could monitor all the radios. I deployed one other motor unit 7 miles up the highway, or 12 miles as the dog teams run it. Other radios were ferried to key positions via snowmobile, and operated by members of The Bitterroot Ridgerunners snowmobile club.

The Most Important Aspect
for me is the opportunity to test my radios and my ability to handle the weather – on somebody else’s schedule. That is, I don’t get to pick a time or location that is easy, comfortable and convenient, nor do I get to pick the weather we have to handle.
WE WILL PROVIDE COMMS OVER A LARGE AREA ON THESE DATES.
No rain-checks, no excuses, no half-measures.

This is more than a wee bit like the real world. If radio communications are needed in an emergency, it will not be on our schedule. Events will determine the timing, as well as the environment. Communicators will have to be ready for whatever that means.

This was my fourth year of running the comms side, and I still have work to do before we get it right.

The Beast is a work in progress. I’m not overly concerned about how it looks. If I were, I sure started wrong. I have much of the functionality close, but not there yet.

The public address system was installed late Friday afternoon. The microphone plug needs repair or replacement, but if I leaned on it just so, my announcements were heard where needed at the Start/Finish line. It would have been nice to have a second speaker pointing to the rear.

The amplifier is an older ex-government unit that has switches and circuits enabling me to use it for powering a second speaker and several auxiliary lighting systems. That will be inspire me, as you might guess, to add a second PA speaker some auxiliary lighting systems.

The radios I need are installed, but their programming had holes in it. That will be corrected soon. I was using the 2-meter ham radio in the console and two GMRS (general mobile radio service) hand-helds. One, the loaner, worked through the mountain-top repeater. The other was for short-range communicating with the race organizers in the parking lot. The repeater duty should have been handled by my console-mounted GMRS radio.

The Cold
Temperatures this year were zero to twenty, more or less. Wind chill took it down to minus 17. To my way of thinking, that qualifies as cold. I know there are rougher places and ours can be worse, but this certainly tested our gear pretty well.

I was very nearly THERE with my weather handling, but still not good enough. Certainly my age (too much) and physical conditioning (too little) are factors that I am not likely to change significantly. But I sure could have added the coveralls I had in my emergency gear bag right behind the driver’s seat!

But noooooo. I intermittently ran the truck engine, keeping the temperature in the cab between 30 and 50 degrees. I made frequent trips all over the start/finish/staging areas relaying information, but I really couldn’t leave the cab without risking missed communications.

Note to self: put on the coveralls. Too warm has yet to be a problem up there. Second note: arrange communications to where I have a hand-held radio that backs up all the comms in The Beast.