Monday, May 31, 2010

This is Major Tom to Ground Control...

"You're not going to be stopping to blog and tweet from the trail, are you?" My son, who I can always count on to provide a skeptical counterpoint to my sometimes excessive enthusiasm, is casting a wary eye at the array of tiny gadgets I have strewn across the kitchen table. "Well," I reply as I plot which device will fit in which pocket of which pack, "I'm not counting on any of this stuff. But I have to stop some anyway, to get food or to sleep. If I can connect, I may blast a picture or an update back..."

When I raced the 2005 Great Divide Race we all called in via pay phones and the main way fans followed the race was via the voice mails we left and Joe Polk's excellent coverage on MTBCast. Now, in the world of 2010, the original GDR still is a border to border race, and still maintains a no cell phone rule. But the race I'm racing, the Tour Divide, covers the longer 2,745 miles from Banff, AB to Antelope Wells, NM, and has no such technical communication prohibitions. A variety of options exist for folks wishing to electronically track a racer's progress.

As before, one great way to follow the race will be via MTBCast. Joe Polk summarizes the day's action, combines it with the racers call-ins and publishes a daily post at:

Even though the race covers terrain that is well beyond the reach of even the most sweeping of cell phone coverage maps, most (maybe all?) of the Tour Divide racers will be carrying SPOT trackers. These devices let the page at:

update in real time, showing each racer's location on the course. In the event of a dire back-country emergency the SPOT trackers also have a 911 button that can be used to call for help. Every racer is, of course, hoping that they never need to press that 911 button, but it does provide an extra measure of assurance for those who race and those who track us from back home.

Each SPOT can be tracked individually and anyone who is interested can

Click this line to go to my SPOT tracking page.

I'll turn on my SPOT each morning as I head out and shut it down each night when I stop. Every ten minutes the SPOT tries to send out a tracking signal. In the tree-covered Pacific Northwest I've found the signal coverage is spotty (hah!) but long-time SPOT user Matthew Lee assures me the devices work much better along the route of the Tour Divide.

In addition to the SPOT, I have a few other gadgets that may or may not connect, since they rely on cellular phone networks. My Peek Pronto will let me send email, post updates to Twitter and this blog. Even if I don't have cell coverage at a given time, I can write updates to the Peek and the next time I pass through an active cell node, it will connect and send the mail. Additionally, the Peek provides some back up tracking in case the SPOT malfunctions. Clicking this line reveals the location of the last cell tower that my Peek Pronto connected to.

In addition to the Peek, I'm carrying a Verizon cell-phone. If you believe their commercials, Verizon has the best coverage in the US of any wireless carrier but even so their coverage map has a lot of holes in the area that the Tour Divide covers. But when I can connect I'll be able to call Christine and also maybe upload some pictures to Twitter or the blog. BTW, my Twitter ID is @kentsbike and my latest Twitter updates show up in a sidebar on this blog.

In addition to the low-res camera on my cell-phone, I'm carrying a small Nikon camera and some SD cards. I plan on mailing (real world mail, with stamps and envelopes) a few cards of pictures back to my friend Mark, who will upload some of the best shots to this blog.

Speaking of Mark, I've given both Mark and Christine admin rights to this blog while I'm on the trail. So even though I may be out of communication, Christine and Mark will keep this blog going in my absence.

I've got batteries and solar chargers for these gadgets. Mostly, I'll be riding, eating and sleeping. Now and then, when I can, I'll try blasting some signals back. If all these systems break down, that'll be OK. I'll tell you the story when I get back. But if some of this stuff works, I'll tell you part of the story while it's happening.

Keep 'em rolling,

Kent "Mountain Turtle" Peterson
Issaquah WA USA
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