After being gone for more than a month, it took me nearly two weeks to regroup. At first, the heat was oppressive here in Carson City. I have one cool room in my house, the living room. The portable A/C is sufficient to keep that room cool, but not the remainder of my house. In general, I am able to cool the rest of my place by opening the windows at night and drawing in the cool evening air.
But on 16 July 2021, the Tamarack Fire bloomed from a single isolated tree to a raging wild fire. I happened to be in Gardnerville to have Sera’s ears checked. I could not get a vet to see her, so we left. As I stepped outside the office, I saw the plume rising in the south and the winds blowing it over the Pine Nut Mountains. I had no idea how bad it would get.
Over the next few days the fire grew as the crews sought to protect structures in and around Markleeville. The aggressiveness of the fire and the rough landscape made fighting it difficult. Winds from the southwest blew the smoke into Carson Valley, Carson City, Washoe Valley, and Reno. At times, Mount Scott is invisible from my house, just a couple miles away.
The air quality has been in the very bad range. We had a few reprieves when the winds turned westerly and moved the plume to the east (poor folks east from us). The management team projects they will have things under control by the end of August. That is a long time to deal with this smoke.
We continue to walk in the morning. I am rising earlier to get us out before the heat rises. Sera does not handle the heat well. So I carry water for her as well as myself. So far, I have not felt the impact of the smoke too much. I can tell it affects me, but not badly.
My friend called and asked to to meet him, his bride, and another couple at Stampede Reservoir Saturday. I was concerned that the smoke would be bad, but agreed anyway. The worst case scenario would be I turned around and returned home. So I agreed.
Sera and I got an early walk Saturday, then I loaded the rig. I made a mistake of driving SH 28 along the northeast side of Lake Tahoe. Traffic was awful and unnecessarily slow. I knew much of the route because I have a project on the Truckee River near Boca Reservoir. It is a pleasant route once off the Interstate.
Boca was very busy with the campgrounds and dispersed camping fairly full. However, because it is a little farther out, Stampede Reservoir was not bad. There were a few rigs down by the water and a few watercraft on the lake.
I found a copse of trees to shelter in. The smoke was bad, but less so than at home. I parked the rig, set up my radio, and watched Sera chase the local squirrels. I made a couple of contacts with SOTA activators before my friends arrived.
I turned off the radio and visited the remainder of the afternoon. We got a little westerly wind and the smoke was a little better. The wind also provided a little cooling.
Before we broke up to head back home, I made a capture of the lake through the trees. It was my only photograph of the day.
Field Day 2021 was different than the last two years. The previous years involved an expedition to a relatively remote location. The expedition involved significant planning and preparation to ensure everything needed (for both radio and camp) were assembled and loaded into the rig/camper. Once at the operation point, we setup camp and stations far from the noise of civilization. There was much fun and fellowship.
This year I was in Springfield, Missouri, visiting family. I had no plan. I did not even know if I wanted to do any radio activities so far from my friends. After waffling about what I should do, I elected to visit the Southwest Missouri Amateur Radio Club (SMARC).
But first, I need to present a little backstory.
While in Springfield, I programmed two of the local repeaters into my HT — the SMARC repeater and the Nixa Radio Club repeater. Older Son, who has a license, told me he tried several repeaters and did not hear much traffic, with the exception of a Skywarn net during a heavy thunderstorm.
After programming my HT, I regularly listened for traffic and heard little. When in the 4Runner, I called on both repeaters to see if anyone was monitoring them. I knew my programming was good because I could hear the repeater radio respond to my transmission. What I learned is that these repeaters are not heavily used. More on that below.
I checked into the Friday evening SMARC net. There were a few stations checking into the net, but even Net Control remarked that traffic was light. However, Net Control took my call and asked a me a few questions. He was curious about my visit and my background. He also invited me to attend their Field Day operation. It was to be held at the Salvation Army gymnasium not far from my kids’ place.
Saturday morning, I took Sera and we navigated to the Salvation Army gymnasium. When I arrived, I gave Sera a little time to sniff around and eliminate. (I did police up after her.) Then we entered the gym and looked around. There were about dozen folks inside, some working and some just chatting. An additional dozen personnel were outside wrangling a couple of multiband beam antennas.
No one greeted me. No one asked me to pitch in to help and showed me where. I was not quite an invisible person, but close.
After trying to start a couple of conversations without success, Sera and I stepped back outside where we surveyed the scene. The two groups wrangling beam antennas were still wrestling with their prey. Another group started erecting a vertical antenna. A young man was working on a wire antenna. He was raising a fan dipole for the 40m, 20m, 15m, and 10m bands using a hitch-mounted telescoping mast. (I thought “Ah, a portable operator.”) He introduced himself as Mike, but I cannot remember his callsign. I helped with one end of the antenna and another person pitched in on the other end. We helped Mike get his antenna deployed and then joined him in the gym where he began assembling his station.
Mike was personable and engaging. He is an active Parks on the Air (POTA) activator and often operates portable. He is a doer.
I didn’t get the other young man’s name, but he works in the SKYWARN (storm spotter) network. He needs his General license and wants to get it. He is also a doer.
After giving Mike a ride to a nearby convenience store to get a drink and some lunch, Sera and I met the kids for lunch at a local Italian restaurant. I really like it and will visit again. Then we returned to the gym to see what was up.
There was not much. Mike was one of three operators who were working the bands and was focused on what he was doing. So, Sera and I left the building and walked the perimeter of the large field adjacent to the gym building.
When we returned to the parking lot, we found another ham, Patrick, assembling a portable antenna. He uses a vertical wire either wrapped around a Black Widow mast or suspended from a tree limb. He uses one of two low power radios (QRP rigs). As he prepared to setup his station in the back seat of his vehicle, I asked him if he thought the pavilion with a roof and shade might be more comfortable than the back seat of his vehicle.
“Maybe,” he said.
I moved my rig near the pavilion and then got out my Elecraft KX2, a telescoping mast, my end-fed halfwave antenna, and a battery. I had my station set up in about fifteen minutes. Patrick was working on his as well. He had moved to the pavilion.
“I won’t bother you will I?” he asked.
“No, I often operator portable with other operators.”
“Do you have a log?” he asked, “I’m going to see if I can get some sheets of paper to keep my log.”
“I think I’ll use my iPhone. I don’t think I’ll make that many contacts.”
I ran my KX2 at about 10w. I started searching and pouncing and after a couple of hours had 15 contacts or so. It wasn’t bad.
Now and again I heard Patrick transmitting or one of the stations inside the gym on my radio. But there was not a lot of interference.
I decided to walk Sera around the perimeter again before calling it a day. Patrick offered to watch my rig while I walked.
As we walked along the back lot line of the nearby houses, three dogs ran up to their fence aggressively and Sera got away from me. When she turned to respond to me, one of them nailed her hip through the fence. If I had realized that it got her, I would have kicked its teeth in. I should have carried my pepper spray and hosed them down.
Tired, soaked to the skin from the humidity, and hungry, we returned to the pavilion and I tore down my station. I said good evening to Patrick and Mike and we headed home.
On the way home, I heard an operator call on the Nixa repeater asking for help with the Field Day exchange. No local ham answered his call. He called again and no one answered. So I answered his call and we had a nice chat. He had been away from the HF bands for awhile and wanted to play during Field Day. But he could not figure out the exchange and was having trouble navigating the ARRL website. I think I got him straightened out. At least he had an idea of what to do.
Sunday morning I thought about visiting the Nixa club to see how they were doing. It was threatening rain, so I stayed home.
I sat at my Elecraft KX3 station running 15 watts into a magnetic loop antenna. I tried several times on previous days to raise a call, but no one answered my call on any band that I tried. Sunday morning I worked another slug of stations with the KX3. I logged my contacts on my iPhone as they were made. I quit about 1000h local.
On Monday morning I moved all of my contacts (36 of them) to my computer. Then I prepared the log for submission to ARRL as my contribution to Field Day. It was quite different than my previous Field Days, yet I still had fun — even with the disappointment in the club.
I learned a few things again this year.
Amateur radio clubs are their own worst enemies. Survival of the service requires new people participating. New operators need a community where they can receive instruction (answers to questions as well as more formal work) and fellowship. They need a place to belong.
Clubs that don’t dedicate personnel to capture new people and greet visitors are not going to add members. This is a critical issue to bringing in new operators and getting them active on the bands.
I still have work to do on my Morse code skills. I was uncomfortable with the idea of running a frequency. I would have made more contacts if I had. I still had fun and it was challenging.
It’s a good idea to have a computer that can run logging software and reads data from the radio. A phone logging program can be used, but all the data fields have to be entered manually. N1MM+ will read the radio if connected via USB. Even a low power Windows computer can run N1MM+.
I was not prepared for this Field Day. Normally I prepare a few weeks in advance. I have my station organized, know what I am going to use and what I am going to do, and I have the rules and supporting material printed and in a notebook for reference. Still, I had fun and made a few contacts. So it ended well.
Next year will be different again, I suspect. I am sure I will learn more on the next Field Day.
While in Missouri last month, SiL took us out to the old family place. Dean’s Ford is now abandoned and the right-of-way for the ford and the county road returned to the landowners. Access to the ford is blocked with a berm and it and the old county road are gated to prevent trespassing.
However, the family still has access by the kindness of the current landowner. So, SiL took us out to the old family place to look around and reminisce.
I made a few images while there and will probably post a few of them along with a few words. This capture is a view downstream from the old ford. I took the kids down here to play on the sandbar many times when we lived up the road or, later, when we were visiting. They loved chasing tadpoles and splashing in water to cool off from the summer heat.
Dad and I spent a lot of time fishing just downstream from this location. There was a long pool deep enough to have catfish as well as bass and perch. We often fished with rod and reel, but sometimes would set out limblines to leave out overnight in hopes of catching a large catfish.
I sure miss those times hunting and fishing with Dad. We had a lot fun together and told lots of stories and tall tales.
Greetings from Lubbock, Texas. I am at the KOA here in Lubbock for a couple more days. I stopped here to visit some friends and to pause before the trip back home.
It was a great trip in many ways and sad in a couple more. I might elaborate later on some parts of the trip. I certainly have a few more images to share.
But for this morning, this is it. I’ll share an image I made as the kids and I left Ozark, Missouri on our way to Durant, Oklahoma and then on to Lubbock. The kids came to visit my DiL’s folks and I was headed this way anyway, so we shared the road together.
We stopped over at Durant to visit Young Son and DiL-to-be. I enjoyed the night at Lake Texoma, where I camped before.
Older Son has his Technician license, so we were able to chat 2-meter simplex all the way. It was a reason why I think an amateur radio operator’s license is a good investment of time and energy. The Technician license is not difficult to acquire and provides privileges at 50MHz and above.
Now I need a late breakfast. The Girl needs an outing.
This is one of my favorite images of Ki and me. I do not remember who made the image and the composition is not very good. But we were together and bonded. Of course, she was on the lookout for squirrels.
Both of us look so young.
Now and again, Ki comes to mind. We had such a good run together. Now she waits on the other side of the Rainbow Bridge.
The plan for Winter Field Day 2021 started late in the fall of 2020. My friends and I drove out to the potential site and spent a few days camping there over the Thanksgiving holiday. We cleaned up the old tank and they played on the dirt bikes while I played with The Girl and a little radio.
But project work got busy so I could not leave Friday to camp and enjoy the weekend. My friends went out Friday, setup camp, and threw a couple of tarps over the tank to keep any weather out and some heat in.
I received a call yesterday morning that the generator they were using to power the stations was generating so much interference that it was affecting operations. So I decided to load up my smaller generator (a Honda) and drive it out there. The outing would do me and The Girl some good and I thought I might play a little radio before returning home.
It took me an hour to collect things and run an errand, but we headed out by about 1030h. The drive was a bit more than an hour. The trail was mostly snow-covered or damp sand/gravel. There were a couple of places that were slimy, but the 4Runner had no trouble traversing them.
Camp was a muddy mess, though. There was enough sun to melt the snow and the surface freezing, so they were left with sandy mud. The Girl did not mind and took off to check all her favorite sagebrush clumps for critters.
With one eye on The Girl, we got my generator running and providing power for the equipment. I learned that my friend’s radio was having an audio issue and not working reliably. This is odd for an Icon 7000. It had been a solid performer for the last couple of years we have been operating portable.
I offered to leave my Elecraft KX2, but he declined. He encouraged me to setup my rig, though, and make a few contacts. So I setup the rig and used his antenna (a very quick setup). I heard a number of loud stations calling and answered a few calls. I worked stations in California, Nebraska, Illinois, Florida, and Texas before deciding it was time to pack up and head home. I wanted to be off the trail before dark.
So I broke down and stowed my radio equipment, called in The Girl (who was very happy), and we said our goodbyes. She was not too muddy with just a little bit on her feet and a few splashes on her tummy. She mostly snuggled next to me on the way home, as she usually does. Most of the sand had fallen off her by the time we arrived home, just after dusk.
It was an easy unload, then supper for both of us and some rest. I watched a little Netflix while I ate some supper and she laid on her mat next to me, lightly begging for a bite of pizza. After supper and my show, I stayed on the sofa awhile longer, simply enjoying the quiet and the company of my dog.
I made about a dozen contacts over the couple of hours I worked the bands. Most of them were on the 20m band, which was nicely open yesterday.
Today I need to get a little work done, as well as take care of both of us. I am hoping for a little sun later today so we can enjoy that on our walk.
Many years ago I received a book by Robert Foothorap, Independent Photography: A Biased Guide to 35mm Technique and Equipment for the Beginner, the Student, and the Artist. I think it was a gift from Wife, but it has been so long ago that I cannot remember.
The book arrived not long before I received some training from another, more experienced, and serious amateur photographer. I can no longer remember his name, but the interaction occurred at the University of Missouri — Rolla photography club.
Foothorap’s book provided a wonderful background into basic photography, filled with a perfect combination of technical details, lots of photographs, and interesting stories. I read it many times before giving away my copy to a friend.
I later regretted giving away the book and found another copy, which I still have. It remains one of my favorite photography books, even if the technology of film is left behind. Much of what Foothorap taught remains applicable.
I learned that he died a few years ago. I am reminded that I am at a stage of life when my heroes are dying and leaving behind their legacy. I suspect all of us experience the same thing.
A few weeks ago (seems like forever now), after the Nevada QSO Party, I was not ready to settle down for very long. I started working up a new outing almost as soon as I had the camper unpacked and the laundry running. My friends suggested that I was not working hard enough, but I am not quite sure what they meant.
Given that everyone in our little group was tied up or busy doing other things, I planned a little outing to a SOTA summit south of Carson City near Lake Topaz in Douglas County. I posted an alert on SOTAWatch that I would be attempting an activation and emailed a few of my CWOps Academy friends to be on the lookout for me.
Saturday morning arrived and I loaded up the rig, put some dog food in a baggie (The Girl will not eat before an outing), and made sure we had plenty of water. The route was in the GPSr and I had everything needed. So, out the door we went.
I stopped at McDonald’s for a biscuit and a coffee. I ate on the way south, saving a bite of my biscuit for The Girl, who was watching me like Snoopy on his doghouse.
I did not miss the turnoff for the trail and it was a fairly easy trail drive to up near the summit. In the spirit of SOTA, I schlepped my radio equipment to my selected operating point and then paused to give The Girl a short walk around the summit to burn off some energy.
We found a CalTrans benchmark on the summit. I thought that was pretty cool. I never tire of finding the old benchmarks on top of mountains or near highways as I travel around.
The Girl settled down a little, so I put out her mat and assembled the station. I have put together the little Elecraft KX3 station so many times that I think I could do it blindfolded. I tested the setup and everything looked to be operating normally.
I did not connect the microphone to the radio. I determined that I would operate code only and do my best. I found a frequency on the 40m band that was quiet and asked a few times if it was in use. Nothing heard, so I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and posted my spot on SOTAWatch.
Then I began calling CQ (general call) SOTA (identifying myself as a SOTA activator), sent my callsign, and listened. It took only a few calls before a pileup of stations were returning my call. My hands shaking and my breath a little ragged, I responded to the fragments of callsigns I could pick out, sending the fragment plus a question mark indicating that the calling station should send their callsign again so I could copy it.
One by one I worked these stations, putting each one in my log (on my knee) with their signal report, my signal report, and the time. I heard a few S2S calls (summit-to-summit, cherished contacts for double points) and worked those stations the best I could. Some were just too weak for me to hear, but I worked everyone I could hear, including one of my CWA instructors.
I made a dozen or so contacts on 40m, more than enough to qualify my activation. As I fished out the hole, I called a couple more times “last call before I change bands” and listened. I cleared the frequency and moved to the 30m band.
Again I called CQ SOTA and listened. Several station returned my call, but not as many as on 40m. Many chasers had their contact for my activation and were looking for other activators. I worked another of my CWA instructors and that was a treat. With that hole fished out, I cleared the frequency and moved to 20m.
I worked a few more chasers on 20m, but I could tell that the herd was thinning. Then I heard a call that sounded like “EA2…” and listened a couple more times. The station was fading in and out of my noise floor and I had trouble getting a full callsign. I returned the call and we worked and worked until I got the callsign. I was reasonably sure I also copied the signal report.
At that point I decided to call it a day. I cleared the frequency, looked over my log, and shut everything down. The Girl was ready for some movement so we walked the area again a couple of times. I took her to the rig and got her some water. She was ready to go home. So I tore down the station, stowed my gear in the rig, and then did one last walk-around to be sure nothing was left behind. I paused one more time to take in the view, even with the smoke. I made sure I had captures of the area.
Then we returned to the rig and headed down the trail. I was tired, hot, and sweaty, but deeply gratified that I had completed my SOTA activation in CW mode only. It was good to be home, get a shower, enjoy a little cooler air in the house, and settle down for the remainder of the day. With a shower and some food, I was nearly done. But I worked on my log a little, played with The Girl a little, and then called it a day. It was a really good day.
I learned a few things as well:
I should tie my pen to the kneeboard. I kept dropping my pen in the dirt.
I got hot in the sun even if it was a little cool when we got to the OP. I should have setup the station in the shade even if I needed a cover to be warm. It was too much sun that day.
Headphones would probably make copying the calling stations a little easier. I do not like to be isolated from my surroundings, so perhaps just one phone or earbud would help without disconnecting me from my environment.
I should determine my own pace. Chasers will either wait to work me or they will not. I only need four contacts to make the activation. I can afford to slow down my pace a little so I can breathe and have fun. I had fun anyway, but I let myself get stressed.
I had plenty of power with the 15w that the KX3 makes. I might have worked a few more stations with a few more watts, but I made my activation and it was a lot easier without having an amplifier along too.
Late last week, The Girl and I got away a little late for our daily walk. Work kept me busy much of the morning. Yet I wanted a walk and The Girl was insisting on a walk and I knew that cold weather was on the way. So I put us into the rig and we headed out to our favorite area, the Carson River at Silver Saddle Ranch.
There was almost no one on the trail that day. I guess the cooler temperatures and the wind were keeping them away. As we approached the trail, I could see that much of the fall color was gone. There were still a few stragglers, hanging on to their leaves while others had given up and dropped theirs. The riparian area is taking on the colors of winter — more browns and grays, more earthy looking, more like waiting for the winter snow.
Yet we had a good walk. There were periods of sun and shade as the clouds blew in, foreboding the coming colder temperatures and the prospect for rain or snow. When the sun shone, it was plenty warm and I was tempted the shed my outer layer. But then a cloud would obscure the sun and I felt chilled. I elected to keep the outer layer on.
The Girl ran from place to place, hunting lizards. “They’ve all bunkered in,” I told her. But she hunted anyway, enjoying the activity as much as the prospect of jumping something to chase.
We jumped a brace of mallards from the Mexican Ditch and she started off in chase. “Come-on back; you can’t catch those…” I called. She broke off her chase, and returned, bright-eyed and wolfy-looking.
Near the Mexican Dam, we paused for a moment for me to look out over the river. She stepped up onto the spoil berm and I noticed. She stayed long enough for me to make the capture. We walked on a few more steps to within spitting-distance of the dam, then turned and headed back.
I was struck by the quality of the light and the mix of clouds and blue sky. So I paused to make another capture, which went to my Instagram account.
The Girl rushed me on, “There are lizards to hunt…” she seemed to say.
We had a good walk back to the rig. She was ready to hop in and head home, as was I. I came away with two good captures, plenty of fresh air and exercise, and a tired dog. It was a good day.