2009 Alamo Ride to the River – Wrap-up Report

One View of the 2009 BikeMS: Ride to the River

ms150_2009_alamo_to_the_river2By Milton Johnson – N5HMJ

The structure of the BikeMS Amateur Radio volunteers has changed over the last two years, without really changing.  What does that mean?  

In 2008, the final year of the Bike to the Beach, we had 81 Amateur Radio Volunteers not counting the Motor Marshalls who have their own organizational structure.  This year we had 64 volunteers.  Any school of management will tell you that a group that big is too large to effectively manage. 

Fortunately, the group has informally functioned around teams, and beginning last year we formalized the teams with team leaders which this year broke down as follows:

  • Breakpoint Team: Bob Rodriguez-K5AUW;
  • Net Control Team: Shane O’Neal-NS5D;
  • Safety Team: Curtis Rabenaldt-N5QPN;
  • Medical Team: Neil Martin-WA5FSR;
  • Officials & Logistics Team: Alfred Horn-KG5QW;
  • SAG Team: Gordon Dial-K5SUZ and Milton Johnson-N5HMJ. 

Coordinating and organizing these teams was the task of KG5QW, K5SUZ and N5HMJ. 

This last group would make sure that the volunteers completed the required paperwork and received their t-shirts, etc.  The thought was once a volunteer was recruited and assigned to a team, that volunteer would then communicate with their team leaders who are the subject matter experts for that team.  It is their team leader that would be directing them during the ride and the team leader would be responsible for solving the team’s problems that arise during the actual ride.  

So how did this work out?  Overall fairly well from my view point which is all I can comment about.  This year’s ride was filled with last minute changes due to the weather.  So here is my tale of the ride and how it unfolded.

This year, unfortunate events in the personal life of Gordon Dial-K5SUZ forced him to step aside as Team Lead for the SAG Team.  Alfred Horn-KG5QW agreed to join me in being team lead for the SAG Team.  The team consisted of 21 SAG vehicles with 30 volunteers, eight of the SAGs where operated by thirteen volunteers from Austin and Houston, including Houston’s SAG Queen, Susan Shirk-KB5ICO. 

The size of the team, it being mobile and strung out over the length of the course has made it difficult to manage in the past.  Added to this were some unique aspects of the Day 1 course that created further challenges.  The course has the riders leave the Alamodome, go by the Alamo and enter Ft. Sam Houston.  However SAGs and Motor Marshals are not allowed on Ft. Sam.  The riders exit Ft. Sam at the Walters St. gate and continue to Breakpoint 1.  

This was the just the start of the ride. 

Railroad_CrossingAt the then end of the ride on Greune Road is an approximate 28 mile Century Extension that was also complicated. 

Riders would leave Breakpoint 6/8, go north on River Road to Breakpoint 7 and then turn around and go south on River Road back to Breakpoint 6/8.  The obstacle is that a quarter mile from Breakpoint 6/8 you go under a train trestle.  It’s 7’ 10” high and one lane wide.  A SAG van with antennas would not be able to go through that opening.


Our game plan for handling this was:

  • Lee Besing-N5NTG, would lead a team of four SAGs that would cover from the Start to the Ft. Sam entrance.  They would patrol that section until the Turtle swept to the Ft Sam entrance.
  • A lone police car would SAG inside Ft. Sam until the Turtle swept to the entrance.  The police car would take any riders/bikes requiring a SAG to a waiting SAG van at the Walters St. gate.  A SAG van would remain there until the Turtle and the police car made their final sweeps.
  • Also at the Walters St. gate was a fleet of six SAGs lead by Alfred to start supporting the riders as they left Ft. Sam.
  • The remainder of the SAGs waited at Breakpoint 1 for the riders to arrive where I dispatched them.  This group was mostly comprised of operators from Austin and Houston.
  • After Lee’s team finished their preliminary assignment, they would make their way north to patrol the River Road.
  • The course between Breakpoint 6/8 and River Road (where the railroad trestle is located) would be patrolled by Motor Marshals.

I arrived at the Alamodome shortly after 6:00 am to drop off a battery for the AMR Shadow, (David Pederson-KE5VDR) and an antenna for Carl Worley-KF5BAU to use as the Start Line operator.  Bob-K5AUW arrived to help Carl-KF5BAU set-up as this is his first year.  Lee’s team assembled at the dome and over the radio I could hear that SAGs at Walters St. and Breakpoint 1 were arriving.  After dropping off the equipment and distributing some shirts, I left for Breakpoint 1. 

Did I mention the weather?  It started pouring!

I arrived at Breakpoint 1 around 7:00 am and gave the Breakpoint Operators Barbara Rabenaldt-N5RZH and Frances Draper-KB5TMI their shirts.  Barbara was having issues with the mobile radio in her car, it wasn’t powering up.  I gave it a quick look and did not see an obvious problem so I punted the issue to her Team Lead, Bob-K5AUW, so I could attend to the nine SAGs positioned across the street.  Bob stopped by on his way to his post at the finish line at Schlitterbahn, an example of the team concept in action. 

Did I mention that it was still pouring?

I went over to SAG staging zone at the Sam Houston High School across the street from Breakpoint 1.  I introduced myself, distributed t-shirts and SAG signs, made sure everyone was fueled and passed the time until the ride started. 

Did I mention that it was still pouring?

The ride started and by monitoring the main net and the simplex channels I could tell that Lee-N5NTG had his team operating smoothly.  Eventually you could tell that the riders started clearing Ft. Sam and Alfred-KG5QW was dispatching SAGs with no problem.  Eventually the riders started arriving at Breakpoint 1 and I dispatched the SAGs telling them to patrol between Breakpoints 1 and 3.  Did I mention that it was pouring?

After the last Breakpoint 1 SAG was dispatched I was ready to leave when Safety 1 came on the Net requesting a SAG van to the scene of a multi-car accident on the course.  The accident was on E. Houston just west of I-10, about two thirds of a mile west of (before) Breakpoint 1.  I proceeded to the accident scene and positioned myself in the parking lot of a church on Houston about 100 feet from the accident. 

Luckily the accident did not involve any riders!  After a couple of minutes a rider came over with a broken wheel cause by some rider rubber-necking.  I got him off the road and used the simplex channel to flag down a passing SAG van to transport him.  I had decided I would stay on scene until the accident was cleared.  A few minutes later another rider came over, she was beat and wanted a ride to Breakpoint 1.  I put her in the SAG and when the accident cleared transported her to Breakpoint 1.  Did I mention that it was now raining intermittently?

About this time the Net came alive with some changes. 

Breakpoint 4 had been moved because it would have been located in what was now a mud hole on the side of the road (Breakpoint Operators Ed Ringgold-N5LVQ and Herme Haertel-N5CNH were able to find the new location). 

Lunch at Texas Lutheran University was being moved from a soggy field on the campus to a drier location still on campus. 

The Century Extension was being scrubbed along with the Gruene Road route to Schlitterbahn.  Instead riders would take Common Street into New Braunfels to Schlitterbahn. 

This meant that Lyle Turner-KB5BSU would be very busy remarking the course.  Lyle was supposed to function as the Turtle after marking the course.  That would not be happening anytime soon.   This also meant that Lee’s team would not be needed on River Road so Lee-N5NTG integrated his team into general SAG duty and Lee assumed the role of Turtle. 

Yes, it was still raining intermittently.

I continued west from Breakpoint 1 and came upon the scene of the ride’s one serious accident, a possible broken collar bone.  The Safety and Medical Teams were already on scene so I just picked-up the rider’s bike for transport to Lunch.  I then proceeded to Breakpoint 2, picking-up riders on the way, it was obvious that flat tires were the order of the day.  The rain lightened but did continue.

As I proceeded north, monitoring the simplex channel revealed an interesting behavior with the Austin-Houston SAGs.  They had formed their own team and appointed Susan-KB5ICO as their lead.  They bounced between Breakpoints 1 and 3, and when they had to transport someone to lunch, they consolidated riders when possible so that the minimal number of SAGs had to leave their patrol zone. 

When the Turtle (Lee-N5NTG) entered their zone they just bounced off the Turtle and patrolled up to the next 2-3 Breakpoints, advancing up the course as the Turtle advanced.  This was an effective way to patrol the rear part of the course and keep SAGs in position. 

I should mention that when we reached out to Susan-KB5ICO to recruit SAGs, she did steer her more experienced SAGs to us.  This group included SAG-2 (Darrell Kirk-KC5JAR & Anita Kirk), SAG-4 (Kathy Clark-KF5CYG & Todd Cates), SAG-11 (Bill Sauerbrey-KD5LOC & Lorolie Wong-KD5ZWX), SAG-12 (Susan Shirk-KB5ICO & Chuck Mountfort-N5GCQ), SAG-16 (Jeff Walter-KE5FGA), SAG-17 (Scott Pederson-KI5DR & Alex Pederson [Scott’s son David Pederson-KE5VDR was the AMR shadow]), SAG-18 (Scott Reeve-KT5SR) and SAG-19 (Paul Fenrich-KA5FZU).

I continued north picking up riders.  The rain continued off and on, and then in the afternoon it started raining heavier.  I got to Schlitterbahn around 2:30 pm, transported a couple of riders to their hotel and proceeded south.  The weather continued to deteriorate, fog started to set in and it was actually becoming fairly dark. 

The Turtle reached Breakpoint 5, which is after Lunch, and a count showed that we had in excess of 300 riders still on the course.  It was decided that while the course was not closed we would start suggesting to the rear riders that they allow us to sag them further up the course.  Shortly after we started that, it started pouring with lighting striking the ground.  At that point the course was closed and the SAGs started removing riders from the course. 

Approximately 60 riders were under the shelter of an interstate overpass where SAGs and a box truck transported them to Finish.  During this same time frame, Shane O’Neal-NS5D put out a request for a SAG van to pick-up two wayward police officers that got left at Lunch with the bicycles.  Since I had a Tom-Tom and could get their by a direct route I headed to their rescue.  While driving there I monitored the SAGs picking up the riders.  They entire SAG team truly worked well under very difficult circumstances and the stranded riders were quickly moved to safety.  I picked-up the two riders and returned to Schiltterbahn about 6:00 pm. 

Did I mention it was raining?

I got to sleep about 9:30 pm and was quite tired.  At 5:15 am I received a call to attend a 5:30 am meeting about the weather.  I opened the motel door and found that the current downpour made yesterday’s rain look like a spring shower.  At the meeting the news from the National Weather Service was to expect up to 5 inches of rain per hour for hours, flash floods, lighting and conditions labeled as “unsafe”. 

Canceled_Stamp_GraphicAdditional reports included the power was out at Lunch, I-35 was flooded at several points, an unknown number of breakpoints would be unusable and we could expect some problems with breakpoint volunteers showing up. 

At 5:47 am the decision was made to cancel Day 2.

Day 2 - Schlitterbahn - SAGs wait for instructions to load riders for return to SA

Day 2 - Schlitterbahn - SAGs wait for instructions to load riders for return to SA

Shane-NS5D put the word out for the SAGs to report to the Lincoln Street curb side at Schlitterbahn and all other Amateur Radio volunteers were released to go back home.

Several of the breakpoint operators were already on the road, a tribute to their reliability.  All SAGs were told to use safe, sound judgment in reporting to Schlitterbahn.  We ended up with twenty SAGs lined up on Lincoln Road waiting for their assignments. 

Now there was an estimated 1,300 riders with bikes and luggage to transport to the Alamodome.  It would have been inappropriate to use the SAGs as primary transportation for that large a number of riders. 

N5HMJ organizing the evacuatioin via SAG vansOur job was to provide expedited transportation to riders that required it and as a back-up to the primary transportation system of buses and trucks. 

By about 9:30 am all the remaining SAGs were released except for Alfred Horn-KG5QW, Charlie Land-KC5NKK and myself.  The last bus left at 10:30 am and we stayed until 11:30 am in case the last stray rider showed up.

All things considered I think the teams worked well under difficult circumstances.

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