ECX Sled Dog Race 2017 – Part 1

IMG_3248As long-time readers may know, I’ve been volunteering for a sled dog race for the past couple years. This year, I was determined to be more prepared, but things don’t always go according to plan…

My preparation started in the fall, when I ordered a AA battery pack for my handheld radio. While it was designed to be filled with AA batteries to replace the rechargeable pack, I had other plans. You see, last year my radio wouldn’t transmit. I could listen all I wanted, but when I pressed the button to talk, it died. Despite having a fresh, full charge, IMG_3234the temperatures were just too cold. Even a hand warmer against it, inside my overalls could not coax it into functioning!

I found a Youtube video and blog post from a Russian who had built his own lithium ion battery pack, so I endeavored to do the same. I started by removing the inner wiring from the pack, preserving the terminals that touch the radio, and saving the parts.

IMG_3235Next (after much measuring) I cut two lines on the center of where my new batteries would go. I would be using two 18650 cells. I use these same batteries in my headlamp, and am getting other high-end flashlights that use them too. I continued to use my Dremel  rotary tool to cut and remove the inner framework.

Then I widened each slot through trial and error, until each battery poked out a little, while still fitting snug against the radio too. (I didn’t want them rattling around.) IMG_3237Lastly, I reused the wiring leftovers to place the batteries in parallel. This gave me a range of 7.4-8.4 vDC. The stock battery performed from 7.2-8.6 vDC with 1400 mAh of capacity. I would now have more than double the capacity (3000-3600 mAh) at half the weight!

Concerns: “It’s not water resistant anymore!” Yep, but it’ll be on my hip, inside my coveralls, so unless I take the polar plunge, it should stay pretty dry.

IMG_3237“Aren’t lithium ion batteries dangerous, and can start fires?” Yeah. Which is why I buy the cells with the protection ‘button’ on them to prevent under/over charge, etc. I won’t be charging these inside the radio, ever.

As to performance, I’m happy to say that the 4-hour test in 3-degree temperatures was more severe than the race conditions. The radio held up fine, and I was able to call things in from anywhere around the checkpoint!IMG_3246

The week before the race, I went to start my truck. (I try to let it warm all the way up, every week or two.) I drained the batteries without success. The block heater and battery charger could not coax it into starting, either. After a new PMD, starter, batteries, & fuel filter, I figured it must be the glow plugs. With only days left before the race, I was spending my free time wrenching on the truck in 13-degree weather. I managed to replace half the plugs, with still no success, so I called the shop, and told them to come get it!

IMG_3252How would I get to Salt Creek Summit? (Just prior to the race, an ice storm had literally frozen the region, and it was advised that ONLY 4×4 vehicles attempt the journey.) Swallowing some pride, I let the director know that I had no operable 4×4 this year. Wednesday, I showed up to help out as needed, but was unable to do much without transportation to my checkpoint. The other guys were well equipped and had no trouble without me, despite the constant winds.


Thursday was the start of the race, and they moved my start time up, and found me a 4×4 to borrow. Driving extra careful, I reached the checkpoint to find much more advanced gear than the previous year. In addition to a couple radios, there was a tower, camera, motion-sensor bell, HF setup, & more! IMG_3255

The generator had troubles starting earlier, but was running by the time I got there. I hauled the borrowed one to the parking lot, fueled & started it, to power the repeater. The parking lot is about 300 yards away, so everything of weight gets transported on a plastic sled. This is also where search and rescue (SAR) and the toilet is.

IMG_3257Once the race starts at noon, there’s still an hour or more before mushers arrive at my checkpoint. This would be enough time for spectators to travel here, and see the mushers twice! Before that happens, we see the “Point” team. Each race has a ‘point’ team that leads the way, and a ‘sweep’ team that follows them. Therefore, the 200 mile race has a “200 Point” and “200 Sweep” snowmobile team. These trail teams are tireless, and provide critical services out in the forest.IMG_3261

The next many hours would be busy. Volunteers would note the time, bib #, and number of dogs of every musher in all the races, and I would relay them to ‘Race Central.’ By the time all 24 mushers passed us for all 4 races, others were starting to return from the Haas Owl Loop for the 31 mile Pot Race journey.

I had just a couple hours at the end of my shift, which I used to make a weather report, split wood, setup the trail camera, and enjoy a Mountain House freeze-dried dinner. (Lasagna is my favorite, so far.) I also had a great chat, getting to know some fellow volunteers. My shift ended at 8, but after briefing my replacements, thawing the loaner vehicle, returning to race central, then thawing my own vehicle, I didn’t get home until about 10pm. (13 hours after I had reported for duty.)

Stay tuned for my account of the next couple days!


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