Author: Dale Cox (KH7LZ).
The annual Big Island Multiple Sclerosis Bicycle Race was held on Saturday, 29 October 2016, in North Kohala. The purpose of the annual event was to raise awareness of this terrible disease. Normally, the race is held in August, but it was changed this year in hopes of cooler weather for all participants.
Race coordinator Candice Schwalbach asked Hawaii Island amateur radio operators (hams) to assist with communications in the cell phone dead zone in North Kohala between mile markers 16-20. Amateur Radio operators set up a communications network to send priority and emergency messages for participants needing technical repairs, first aid, or ambulance/police services should the situation arise. According to radio amateur Dale Cox (KH7LZ), the event was a great opportunity “to brush up on general operating procedures as well as operating in a controlled net.” Cox said Hawaii Island hams staffed five field units, a net control station (NCS), and one mobile unit.
Race officials said there were 90 contestants registered for the Saturday event, a slight decline in participants possibly due to the schedule change. The event was delayed for 30 minutes because of rain and gusty winds. The Amateur Radio net became operational around 8:15 a.m. on the 146.94 MHz repeater disconnected from the BIWARN network. Fortunately, there were no requests for tech support, first aid, or emergency first responders. Scout cyclists asked the Amateur Radio communications net to inform race coordinator Candice Schwalbach that high winds and rain were prevailing in the communications zone to Kapaau. As a result of these Amateur Radio updates, many contestants turned around before reaching the radio zone, though it’s unclear how many turned back.
After all contestants passed through the cell phone dead zone, towards Waikoloa Village, the Amateur Radio communications network was shut down around 11:00 a.m. It’s noteworthy to mention that at Mile Marker 20 cell phone service usually works, allowing the net control station (NCS) to communicate with race operations when needed. Dale Cox (KH7LZ) adds “cell phone service is spotty or unavailable 200 feet beyond that.” A special mahalo goes to these Hawaii Island Amateur Radio operators who participated in the bike race communications network: Marc Maloney (WH7CA), Michael Sumja (WH7WW), Norm Cobler (NH7UA), April Lee (WH7WZ), Jim Williams (WH6TAT), and Dale Cox (KH7LZ).