ULCER 2009

ULCER (Utah Lake Century Epic Ride) is an annual cycling event typically attended by 1,300-1,600 cyclists. It’s one my favourite rides as the event is well run and the course not demanding. The August heat intrudes on an otherwise perfect event.

Behind the Scenes in Radioland

Instead of riding in the event this year, I accepted the opportunity to help as a communications volunteer. I was curious to see “behind the scenes” of a large event, and practice my radio skills.

About three dozen radio volunteers were required to staff the event, and drew volunteers from the surrounding counties. Radio volunteers were stationed at rest stops, in the sag wagons (roving repair and transportation vehicles for cyclists with trouble), transportation shuttles, roving medical vehicles, and as shadows for the UCLER organizers. A supply truck driver turned out to be an amateur radio operator, and joined the net which proved useful.

Because of some of the terrain difficulties due to radio shadows, the scale of the event, and other reasons, the local ARES (Amateur Radio Emergency Service) organization classified the event as a “simulated emergency training”.

My Setup

From my experience as a cyclist, I know that rest stops can become hectic. I didn’t want to get in the way, so I decided to set up my own pop-up canopy for shade right behind the rest stop canopies. Since I didn’t have a lot to do at first, I decided to test out my bigger emergency radio and put it to the test. I didn’t want to risk having cyclists tripping over guy wires, so I used a velcro strap to connect the antenna to the canopy.

My radio setup for the aid station

Busy from the Get Go

Radio traffic filled the airwaves with few silent spells. The net control operators uniformly ran an impeccably professional show while juggling many demands for resources.

The rest stops had questions about their operations, and supply requests and one might expect, but a good deal of traffic had to do with riders. I took information on a teen rider who had become lost. That information was relayed through the net, helping the rider to be found and reunited with her parents.

Sag wagons kept their status and location up-to-date, and helped monitor the riders and road conditions. Shuttles were kept increasingly busy as the event progressed and bodies and/or bikes could go no further.

Medical Emergencies

Bicycles are dangerous. Consequently every cycling event has a good number of injuries. The majority of them are due to riders falling off their bikes. (I’ve seen enough fall injuries at every event that I’ve participated in that I’m glad I ride a recumbent trike. They have rock-solid stability.) This year there were perhaps a score of injuries, including a broken collar bone. I didn’t keep count, but it seemed there were four or six ambulance calls.

The Combine

I wasn’t expecting to send emergency traffic when I showed up that morning. My station lies in a semi-rual part of the county with fields of alfalfa and grain. One sees farm machinery on the road regularly. Said machinery is big and fortunately slow; just a mobile road hazard that one becomes accustomed to giving a wide berth. So, when a combine lumbered past us on the road, nobody really thought much of it.

About a half-block down from us, the road turns ninety degrees, which the bike course naturally followed. There are a lot trees there, making it a blind corner. A few minutes after the combine passed, we got word from a cyclist that as the combine turned the corner, another cyclist was struck. I jumped to the radio, waited for the person speaking to unkey, and spoke those words I wasn’t expecting, “Break. Emergency.”

Net control responded with,”Emergency traffic, go.”

“This is Bible Church,” (the name of the rest stop). “A cyclist has been hit by a combine.”

The next few minutes were hectic, but worked out well for the cyclist. Net control instructed me to call 9-1-1. As I was getting my phone out, a sag wagon reported that medic was on scene. The sag wagon’s report was perfunctory, and I was still concerned about things. I drove to the corner to assess things myself. A roving medical vehicle happened to be coming down the road at the same time of the accident. The medic team jumped into action without mentioning anything on the radio. One of the sag wagons happened to arrive moments afterward from the other direction.

The cyclist had a lot of road rash and was being treated by the medic. He refused emergency transport at the time, but after resting at the rest stop a bit he agreed to be taken to the hospital. His bike was unfortunately a total loss, but the rider didn’t receive serious injuries.


In retrospect I’m glad for my decision to volunteer this year. The real-world experience can’t be gained elsewhere. I don’t know for the future; perhaps I will trade off volunteering and riding. I’ve found that I really enjoy both sides of cycling events.

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