1996 AFCA TOUR
In April 1996, the ARMED FORCES CYCLING ASSOCIATION rode its second Tour of the Southeast. The ride started in Miami, FL and ended in Ft Eustis, VA... 1100 miles. Ten riders participated, each taking a turn driving one of two support RVs. We averaged a little over 100 miles a day. I was the only member to ride on a mountain bike (with road slicks for easier riding) and definitely the only rider with ham radio equipment. The bicycle-mobile station weighed in at 47 pounds, a reduction from my previous 65-lb project. The other riders were riding sleek, lightweight racing bicycles. Therefore, they were taking bets on when I would start removing the heavy equipment. I suffered a knee injury on the second day of the tour due to the extra weight and a seat misalignment. To somewhat recover, I took my turn driving on day three. I returned to the road on the fourth day and rode every other mile that the other riders did. The only time I had trouble keeping up was on the climbs. If the climb was followed by a descent, I sprinted until I caught up (one bridge yielded a 44-mph sprint). If there was no descent, I rode at 30mph in the draft of an RV until I caught up (yes, I cheated... I'm so dirty!).
Both RVs had signs on the rear which read, "KE4WMF 146.52 MHz." I programmed my scanner to monitor 146.52MHz while my HT scanned the repeater band, stopping at active frequencies. I didn't carry a repeater book or anything because I didn't want to fidget too much with lists or radio controls while riding. I simply waited until I heard repeater activity. Then I gave my callsign, introduced myself when acknowledged, and then stated the purpose of the tour. I managed to make 64 radio contacts along the Southeast coast through this "passive" operating technique. Most of the hams out there were quite surprised to learn I was bicycle-mobile and that I was able to hit the repeaters from certain distances. Two of them even set up campground reservations for us (using their own credit cards) and came out to visit for a while. Only two of my contacts were on simplex from passing motorists.
Besides the 44 mph sprint down the bridge into SC and a few cheers/chants from bystanders who thought we were the National Team in our Star Bangled Banner themed jerseys, my most memorable moment included a break-away. Remember, most of us were either current or past competitive cyclists. Part of that mindset included a few times where a rider or two would want to up the pace and break ahead of the main pack. Often that rider would either fall back to regroup, be joined by another rider, or the pack would gain speed and catch him. Well, I was feeling a bit froggy one day and decided to chase down one who had broken away. We were once racing teammates; so we were well acquainted. It took a while, but eventually caught up to him. I knew he knew a rider was behind him and probably figured we'd work together to maintain our pace. Suddenly, he "jumped" and sprinted forward a bit. Riding 47 pounds of mountain bike, there was no "jump" in my efforts. But I DID manage to accelerate and catch him. This repeated two more times. He slowed down to ride beside me once we were good and winded. Then I found out why he jumped (besides the head-games racers usually play with one another). He said, "Yeah, I heard you behind me, but I didn't know who was there. Then I heard something flapping and caught your orange flag out of the corner of my eye (standard safety flag to support my ham radio antenna...). There was NO WAY I was letting you stay behind me on that thing!" HAHA! What fun! Oh, I was also the designated "waste management expert" since I was not squeamish about handling/connecting the RV's sewage hoses. I could usually count on hearing someone say, "Hey, Clark, sh*tter's full!" (quote from "National Lampoon's Vacation") at least once a day.
We all had a good time. When it was all over with, one of the riders showed an interest in ham radio. He has since received his Technician Class license and was pursuing the creation of a bicycle-mobile station. Due to the deployment of my ship, I was unable to ride in any further AFCA Tours of the Southeast. Perhaps one year I will be able to return and set a new personal record for radio contacts made.
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