‘Hams' Provide Vital Link for UP 200
Many volunteers with NMU connections brave long and late hours – not to mention frigid February temperatures – to ensure that the annual UP 200 sled dog race runs smoothly. Employees and alumni affiliated with the Hiawatha Amateur Radio Association (HARA) provide a critical communication link between checkpoints along the route and race headquarters in Marquette.
One contingent of ham operators even constructed an igloo from scratch last year as a creative wind block at their remote location on the Rapid River truck trail off M-95. Pictured are Carol Hicks (Engineering Technology, kneeling) and (back row from left) NMU alumnus Pete Kotila, Steve Smith, and Mike Cauley (Engineering Technology).
“The operators report in all of the bib numbers and times that sledders come through our locations,” said Hicks, who recently retired as a professor emeritus. “They also take care of emergencies that come up. One time, a sled came through with no rider. We ran out and stopped the dogs and called it in. About a half hour later the driver jogged in looking for her team. Now and then racers also drop out, so you have to call in and get a support team to truck out there and haul the dogs and sleds away. We also assist with traffic control when teams cross a road.”
Eric Smith (Broadcast and AV Services) said ham radios are more viable than cell phones for relaying the progress of the race, in part because there are no disruptions in signal or service between Marquette and Grand Marais.
“And unlike cell phones, which only allow point-to-point communication, ham radios are all tuned to the same frequency,” Smith added. “The information is shared among all of the operators simultaneously, so they can follow up with questions or helpful feedback immediately, if needed. It has worked out very well.”
Cauley, a fellow HARA member, said the camaraderie of interacting with others who share a similar interest is another benefit of volunteering for the UP 200. Cauley and Hicks are in the same “posse” that built the igloo last year. They will follow up that novel feat with a geodesic-type dome for the 2006 race (pictured right).
“It’s made of a strong geometric triangle shape with clear 3 mil and 6 mil plastic over the top and around the sides,” Cauley said. “Hopefully it will protect us from the elements and give us easier access with more room to work so we can set up the radio inside.”
After a snowmobiler traversed the entire UP 200 course with a GPS unit and battery pack mounted on his machine, Bob Marlor (Engineering Technology) assisted the organization by creating a map from the data using a GIS program. Cauley printed a large-format version in the computer-assisted design (CAD) lab at Northern. Laminated copies are posted in Marquette, Munising and Grand Marais to indicate the locations and call signs of ham operators.
HARA members use a similar system to assist with two other prominent Marquette County events: the Noquemanon and Ore to Shore.