Volunteer Guide

Instructions for Rachel Carson Trail Challenge volunteers


The Rachel Carson Trail Challenge is an endurance hike where the participant's only goal is to finish. As a volunteer, your goal is to help them do that.

Along the Full Challenge course (5:30 AM start) there are four checkpoints, about seven miles apart. The Homestead Challenge course (10 AM start) uses two of these checkpoints. The Friends & Family Challenge course (noon start) uses none of the checkpoints, a separate aid station is provided for it.

Each checkpoint has a designated opening and cutoff (closing) time. Any participant arriving after the cutoff time will not be allowed to continue.

The checkpoints and the finish all have radios to provide communications between all the checkpoints, the logistics trucks, Event Central, and the director.

Every participant is issued an RFID tag that is scanned at the start, each checkpoint, and the finish. It allows us to capture their completion time and allows us to see the participants who are due to arrive at a checkpoint and the finish.

Note that each tag must be manually scanned, it does not report its location to cell towers or satellites. Scan data from each checkpoint is automatically synced between the event computers via the internet.

There are portable toilets at the start, every checkpoint, and the finish, for participants and volunteers.

If you have questions, contact your Supervisor or call/text Director Steve 412-512-4544.

Setting up the Checkpoint

  1. Make sure the checkpoint is set up in the proper location. The Logistics Marshal will meet the Checkpoint Supervisor at the designated place 30 minutes before the checkpoint opening time.
  2. Set up the checkpoint so the Recorder table is closest to incoming participants.
  3. Checkpoint Supervisor: Direct arriving volunteers and crews/spectators to park where they aren't blocking hikers, water buffalo access, or regular traffic.
  4. All volunteers should wear Marshal t-shirts and the provided name tags (spares are available).
  5. Install signs to identify checkpoint location, and food & beverage options.
  6. Place another trash container 200 feet down the trail. Be sure to check and empty it as needed.
  7. Make sure you know how to give directions to your checkpoint in case of emergency.
  8. Review the Participant Information page so you can answer participant and spectator questions.

Operating the Checkpoint

  1. Water Marshal: Ensure the water containers don't run out.
  2. If ice or food supplies run low, notify the Logistics Marshal via the ham radio operator. Ice and food replenishment may take up to an hour, so don’t let stocks run out before calling.
  3. Be aware of the condition of arriving Challengers, especially if it’s a hot day. Any that appear pale, weak or sick should be told to wait and rest. If they seem “out of it”, ask questions that can help determine if they’re okay, such as, “what is today’s date” or “spell ‘world’ backwards”. If they don’t respond appropriately, refer them to medical staff or call for emergency assistance (911).
  4. Internal medications (e.g. ibuprofen) will be available in the first aid kit for Challengers to take voluntarily. If you have no medical staff, volunteers are not to provide these to anyone. Instead, simply direct the requester to the first aid kit. If you have a Medical Aide at your station, refer participants to them for assistance.
  5. Recorder: If a Challenger drops out, be sure to scan and collect their ID tag. On the computer, select their entry and press Enter, then fill in the Drop Location and Tag Disposition fields.
  6. Aide: Prepare food and drink and make them available to Challengers. Otherwise, set it out so Challengers may do it themselves.
  7. Aide: If you don’t have a water buffalo, dispense water and Gatorade into separate 1-gallon jugs from the drink coolers in order to quickly refill participant’s bottles and packs.
  8. Aide: Cut bananas in half, oranges in quarters or sixths, depending on size.
  9. Water Marshal: Take bottles and hydration packs from participants and refill them, freeing them to get food or tend to other tasks.
  10. Remind participants to dispose of any trash they may be carrying.
  11. Challengers may leave items at the checkpoint to be forwarded to the finish. The items may be placed in a white plastic bag and labeled with the Challenger name and number. Give these to the Logistics Marshal.
  12. Tell any Challengers that don't arrive at the checkpoint by the designated cutoff time that they cannot continue and must drop out. A missed cutoff may be waived at early checkpoints by the Supervisor, but not at the last checkpoint.
  13. Challengers who need a ride may need a cell phone to make their own arrangements.
  14. Checkpoint volunteers are not obligated to provide transportation for anyone!
  15. If a Challenger cannot arrange transportation, have your radio operator put out a call to see if a Challenger or volunteer on the course is willing to give the person a ride.
  16. If you’re willing to transport participants in your vehicle, bring towels for the seats and newspapers for the floors. Your passengers may be wet and muddy.
  17. If a lost item is turned in, have the radio operator announce it so later checkpoints will know it has been found if the owner inquires about it.
  18. Bring food if you’d rather eat something other than checkpoint food.

Closing the Checkpoint

  1. Recorder: Shut down the computer by briefly pressing the power button. There’s no need to close the application.
  2. The Checkpoint Supervisor cannot leave until the trail sweeps have arrived. Any Challengers arriving after closing must drop out. If they refuse, tell them they are on their own.
  3. Clean up any trash dropped in the vicinity of the checkpoint.
  4. Dismantle the canopies. Note: The canopies are easily damaged. Please do not force them closed. If the unit doesn’t close smoothly, stop and seek assistance.
  5. Recover the trash container placed down the trail.
  6. Take leftover supplies and food to the checkpoint(s) that need it.
  7. Dispatch the trail sweeps after the checkpoint closing time. Participants arriving after the sweeps depart cannot continue.
  8. Trail Sweeps: Arrange with your sweep partner (contact info is on the roster) to leave a car at the end of your sweep leg. Before departing the starting checkpoint, pick up some energy snacks in case you encounter hikers who need nutrition. Carry a few small bottles of Gatorade and water too. Call Event Central 412-347-4000 to report issues such as injuries, dropouts, or delays from slow hikers.
  9. Contact the next checkpoint and tell them you are closed and the sweeps have departed.
  10. Be sure to stop by the finish and enjoy the cookout!


  1. Turn on the laptop. If presented with a screen that says Desktop, click it to get to the Desktop.
  2. Double-click the Pathfinder icon to launch the software.
  3. Select your station.
  4. Plug the scanners into the USB ports on the laptop.
  5. Confirm your station and event show in the header at the top. Your laptop name is shown (e.g. RCTC14). Below that you’ll see the serial number of each scanner plugged in. If it says “No readers”, make sure the USB cables are firmly seated on both the laptop side and reader side, or try another USB port. If you see a circle with a slash through it next to the node name, it means this laptop isn’t syncing with the Internet. Press F5 to restart, or power off and restart by pressing the power button.
  6. The Arrivals pane shows who has arrived at your station. The Pending pane shows the participants who arrived at the previous checkpoint and are now due at your station. The Results pane shows the current standings, sorted by elapsed time, of participants in each course.
  7. The computer will announce the number of each scanned arrival. Ensure you hear the number of the tag so you know it was properly captured.
  8. If the scanners aren’t working, manually enter the participant’s tag number as they arrive. Click in the Manual Entry field or press Alt-M to put the cursor there. Just type in the tag number and hit enter, one after another.
  9. If a participant drops out, collect their tag and enter the tag number in the Search field to locate their arrival scan. Double-click their name and fill in their Drop Location (they may have dropped before or after your station and been given a ride), then enter the disposition of their tag and click Close.
  10. If a participant loses their tag, enter the number manually as described above to record their arrival. Then, double-click their name and fill in the Tag Disposition (e.g. “Lost in Harrison Hills”) and click Close.
  11. If you need to adjust an arrival time, double-click on the time to edit it.
  12. If you manually entered an incorrect tag number, right-click on the arrival row and choose Delete. Be careful to delete the proper entry!
  13. If more than one laptop is scanning, to distinguish between them you can change the tag announcer voice under Settings.
  14. If your radio is not working, you can broadcast an audio message to all other stations by pressing and holding the Shift and Ctrl keys, speaking into the laptop microphone, then releasing the keys. A microphone icon will appear in the top header when the mic is open. You’ll hear your message and replies through the laptop speaker. To replay the last reply, hold down Ctrl and press the < key.
  15. Press the power button briefly on the laptop to initiate the Windows shutdown process. There is no need to save or exit the application first.

Operating the Finish

  1. Recorder: Scan each participant as they finish. Direct them to the Shirt Distribution table to turn in their tag and receive their shirt.
  2. Announcer: Turn on the microphone and read the name of the finisher displayed on the computer screen. Keep the mic close to your mouth and speak clearly. You may need help from the participant to pronounce their name properly.
  3. Shirt Distributor: Collect the participant’s tag and scan it with the computer, which will display the person’s chosen shirt size. If they want a different size, they can come back at the end of the day, after all shirts have been distributed.
  4. Bus Marshal: Announce the departure of the shuttle buses from the finish to the start parking areas. Make sure the bus drivers know where these areas are, and to stop there only if any passengers need to be dropped off there. Passengers should not be picked up anywhere but the finish. Also, five minutes before each bus departs the finish, turn on the microphone and announce that the bus will be leaving in five minutes. Buses should leave about every 30 minutes, but only if there are passengers aboard.
  5. Ice Cream Marshal: Hand out ice cream bars from the freezer. They are free to participants and volunteers.
  6. Merchandise Marshal: Set up the table to sell stickers, trail guides, hats, etc. Accept cash and checks, dispense change as needed.
  7. Water Marshal: Make sure a water cooler is always available containing with water & ice, and another with Gatorade & ice. Replenish as needed.
  8. Recycling Marshal: Place paper and uneaten food in the Compost container, bottles and cans in the Recycle container, and everything else in the Trash container.
  9. Cookout Leader: Ensure the cooks are preparing sufficient hot dogs, hamburgers, etc. for the anticipated finishers. Check the computer screen at the finish line to see how many are still pending. This is especially important after 7 PM, to avoid preparing excess food or running out.
  10. Cook: Cook hot dogs, hamburgers, etc. on the grill.
  11. Aide:On the serving table, set up the chafing pans and put the cooked food in each to keep it warm. Cover with foil, and identify with a sign. Place potato salad in an ice bowl. Place chips in bowls. At the end of the serving table, set up ice chests containing cans of soda pop. Put up signs. Set up a hose at a nearby spigot so finishers can rinse off. See Finish Supervisor for Covid instructions.