Wyoming is a state with incredible beauty, panoramic vistas and rugged terrain. It is also the home to some of the strangest weather around. Trying to schedule around the weather is a real challenge, and starting a deployment in late fall was pushing the boundaries of sensibility. My first trip to the mountaintop east of Laramie to install equipment ended up with me and the tower climber hiking five miles back from the tower on a very cold February evening when our ATV quit on the mountain. The sheriff’s department came out on snowmobiles to pick us up, and the trip made an impression on me. Do not mess with Mother Nature in the wilds of Wyoming and make sure that everything is well organized ahead of time.
The first week of October, we loaded up two pickups and the gear for our project and headed for Laramie. The idea was to split up into two teams, one on each side, so that we could get our antennas aligned correctly the first time and try to get everything installed at once. First stop was in Cheyenne, to upgrade our backhaul to Laramie and add future capacity. The upgrade went without a hitch and the weather was great. A little bit of cleanup work was required on the Laramie side to get the Rock River backhaul installed and we had a hard time determining the exact bearing to point the dish in. By 5pm we were off the mountain and planned to get Rock River going in the morning.
We headed to the Rock River tower the next day, and it was pretty obvious that we were going to be dealing with some crazy weather. The wind started gusting up to 50mph and combined with intermittent rain and snow to force us to shut down the rest of our work. We did complete all of the inside work and were able to pick up a weak, but usable signal from the Laramie tower, 42 miles away, with a dish temporarily mounted on a fence post. With a forecast of more bad weather coming, we loaded up and went back to Scottsbluff.
My lead tech and a tower climber headed back to Medicine Bow the next week when the weather cleared up and finished up the work at the Rock River tower, and also mounted the equipment on the Medicine Bow water tank. The wind started coming back and the temperature dropped by the end of the day, but the work was mostly done. As they got done at Medicine Bow, one of the locals came up to the tower to find out if they were “putting in the Internet” and could they go to her house and put it in tomorrow. Our techs were the talk of the town in the dining room at the Virginian that night, as the word had come down that CenturyTel had pulled out of the Community Connect grant process and was not going to put DSL in Medicine Bow. Our wireless service was their last hope for broadband.
It was pretty clear that the link from Laramie to Rock River was not quite good enough, so I planned one last trip to get it aligned and also install the equipment in Hanna. I left my house at 5:45am to meet our Laramie tower climber up on the mountain east of Laramie. Six years after my last, unpleasant hiking trip up the mountain, we found ourselves hiking the last 2 miles to the tower due to an overzealous landowner that had put a large, impassable gate across the road. The weather was better this time, so I was not going to complain. After an hour or so on the tower, we were able to dial in the dish pointed to Rock River and headed back down the hill. We hit I-80 and headed to Hanna, 80 miles to the west.
We were on the tower at Hanna by 2pm, and finished everything up around 7pm. However, something was not right, so we ran over to Medicine Bow to check on the setup there, and found that a card was in the wrong slot on the board there. The new tower climber is fearless, so he put on a headlamp, climbed the tower in the dark, replaced the card and came back down. There was still no link to Hanna. So we drove back to Hanna, found one last configuration error and completed the final link. It was nice to be able to finally get my emails for the day. Despite being about 1000 feet from the nearest cellular phone tower, there was no data service available and no other access to Internet in Hanna, so I had gone without email or Internet access the entire day. It was a good reminder of why we were here in the first place.
I had the tower climber home in Laramie by midnight, and drove on to Scottsbluff, where I finally ended my day at 3am. It was a very long day – most of my trips to Laramie are – but this one was especially satisfying. We were finally ready to start putting customers on the new segments of the network and we were able to overcome all of the hurdles that were placed in front of us. Over a period of two weeks, we deployed 100 miles of wireless backbone, six backhaul radios and three access points. At the end of the day in Hanna, I was able to pull 18meg download speeds from our NOC in Cheyenne and initial tests on the client radios showed the network was easily capable of delivering 2-4meg speeds to the end users.
I slept well that night.