Anyone who dedicates precious time and energy to help with an event like Cycle Oregon is an exceptional person. But someone who commits more than two decades to the cause is nothing short of extraordinary. Ham operator Ken Westby has been at it for 21 years. So what’s the story behind Cycle Oregon’s most experienced volunteer? Let’s find out.
Q: What do you do for Cycle Oregon?
Ken: My job on C.O. has always been as a member of the “Ham” team, which is the group of a dozen or so “amateur” radio operators that make sure C.O. has the on-course communications needed to keep event officials in touch so that the event runs smoothly, and so that emergency responders are aware of any accidents/incidents as soon as possible for the safety of the riders.
It is possible through this network for a message to be passed from one point on the route to any other point on the route. Specialized communications methods and techniques are needed on C.O. because cell phone coverage is spotty in many remote areas of Oregon, and the distances are too great for “family-type” walkie-talkies to operate.
Most of my years as a radio operator on C.O. have been spent as part of the two-person team that operates one of the eight SAG (Service and Gear) vans that follow the route and provide assistance to riders on the course. Each SAG vehicle has a radio operator and a driver. In addition to making sure the vehicle is always in radio contact with the rest of the team, I assist the driver with loading bikes, keeping track of exactly where we are at all times, answering rider questions and making sure that we stay with a cluster of 200 to 300 riders as they move along the route.
Q: How did you get started with Cycle Oregon?
Ken: I started on C.O. #3 at the invitation of radio team leader Randy Stimson, who had joined C.O. the previous year to help solve the problem of inadequate communications along the route. He realized that in order to have better communications more operators would be needed. “Ham” volunteers need to have the right kind of radio equipment, experience in public service message handling, and the willingness to commit to eight 12-hour days. I was one of perhaps four who signed on that year.
Q: What keeps you coming back year after year?
Ken: The strong sense of teamwork among all the C.O. volunteers, the outstanding leadership skills of the C.O. staff, the effort directed by the organizers toward making the ride a safe activity for all participants, the evidence of a good time being had by everyone, the appreciation shown by the riders, and being able to visit places in Oregon that I’d probably never see otherwise. I’ve helped out with other bicycling events over the years, and none can hold a candle to Cycle Oregon.
Q: What do you do when you’re not helping Cycle Oregon?
Ken: I’m a retired electronics engineer.