Saturday was both the 2020 Hawaii and Ohio QSO Parties. After our morning walk, The Girl and I rested a bit. After waking, I decided to go out to one of my perches in the Pine Nut Mountains. I wanted to play radio a little and be outdoors.
Lately I have eschewed outdoor activities beyond those necessary. The California fires are impacting our air quality and I really do not want to breathe a lot of smoke. But Friday and Saturday were a little better and I was tired of being indoors. So we headed out mid-afternoon on Saturday for some additional outside time.
I set up my vertical antenna and the Elecraft KX2 with my miniPacker HF linear amplifier behind the radio. That gives me about 35w out output, which should be enough for either phone or code operations if propagation is decent.
I know the antenna well enough that I can set it for the 20m and 40m bands without an antenna analyzer. I used one, of course, but I was close enough just “eyeballing” it.
I got The Girl settled on her mat next to my operating position and started listening to the 20m band. I quickly worked three loud Ohio stations. Then I heard a weaker, but readily heard station activating a park (POTA — Parks on the Air), so called him. We made the exchange although he gave me a signal report of only 22 (that’s weak and difficult to copy), but he got the information correct so I put him in my log.
I heard a few Ohio stations calling in Morse code, but none of them could hear me. But I heard HI3T calling and giving signal reports, but not identifying as one of the QSOP stations. When I checked QRZ (online database) on my iPhone, I learned this was a Dominican Republic station. He was working stations very quickly.
During a lull in the action, I sent my callsign. I was stepped on by a stronger station. I waited a few moments and sent my callsign again, during another lull. He returned my call with a signal report of 5NN (best possible signal and probably not a true sigreport). I responded with TU and 5NN (thank you and my real signal report) and he moved on to the next station.
I puttered around the bands for a little longer. I heard no Hawaii stations calling and could not work any of the others stations I could hear. So I packed up the station and The Girl and I made a walk around the knoll.
She glided from sagebrush to sagebrush, sniffing and hunting for lizards. I looked over the Carson City valley and the Prison Hill complex, thinking about the California fires and the smoke we suffered from. Fire is a natural part of the desert ecosystem. Regular burning reduces the fuel load and results in less serious fires (from an ecological perspective). Over the last century, we interfered with that natural cycle. Now wildfires have access to greater fuel loads and are very serious.
Last weekend I watched the Loyalton Fire sending smoke into the sky. This week and this weekend Carson City suffered a lot of smoke. I will be happy to see it go. But I will also be happy to know that the fires are under control and extinguished because I read the heartache they cause for those affected by them.
Last Saturday was the North American SSB QSO Party for 2020. The objective of a QSO party is to make contacts. The exchanges are generally short and simple, in this case first name and state or province. Those stations outside North American gave name and “DX”.
I readied almost everything Friday evening, but was slow getting moving Saturday morning. I can tell fall is coming — my fall allergies are beginning to act up. So I was slow and didn’t leave as early as I intended.
I stopped at McDonald’s after placing an order through their iPhone application. I checked in at the curb and waited. Nothing happened. So I walked inside and asked about my order. No order. But the manager gathered my order together, replacing the water with an orange juice. I returned to the vehicle to head north to Reno, shaking my head.
The Girl perked up as I got into the car. Food! I could hear her thinking. You WILL share that with me, won’t you. It was not a question; it was a statement of fact.
When I crested the pass into Washoe Valley, I called my friends through the 2-meter repeater network to let them know I was on the way. As I left Washoe Valley and dropped into Truckee Meadows, I could see a lot of smoke on the horizon, past Peavine Mountain.
I switched my radio to the Peavine repeater and called again. My friend Mike returned the call and I asked about the smoke.
“It’s on the other side of the Peterson Range,” came the reply.
As I climbed out of Reno toward Lemmon Valley, the smoke began to concern me. I have a little asthma and am sensitive to smoke. But I drove on, hopeful that it would not blow toward the operating area.
I pulled in to my friends’ place and what a gorgeous place they have. Sharen is an animal lover and has a few dogs and a few horses on the place. It is plenty big enough. She met me at the house and guided me up to the operating position. Greg was mostly set up and Mike had a place picked out for me.
I really had not intended to run the radio this time. After the last couple of outings, we have not had enough separation between radios and they interfered with each other. But this time I was more than 500 feet from the others, so there might be a little increase in the noise floor, but I could operate.
So I pulled the rig up close to a juniper tree and set up my station. I had a simple setup, as usual. I used the Elecraft KX2 radio, the miniPackerHF — a small 35w amplifier, the battery, charge controller, and a solar panel, and paper and pen to log any contacts I made.
I could tell right away that I would need more shade, so I stretched a small tarp between the back of the 4Runner and the juniper tree.
It was still hot.
I chased a few stations who were calling CQ for contacts. I probably made ten contacts or so, plus I spotted a VE station activating a SOTA peak. That was a fun contact and one that I always enjoy. After an hour and change, the wind shifted slightly and I smelled smoke.
I stepped around the 4Runner to check and could see smoke drifting through the valley in the Lee of the Peterson Range. I watched for a few minutes, hearing the sounds of HF radio in the background. I did not like the way things looked. I was not concerned about the fire (yet), but did not want to get a bunch of smoke in my lungs.
So I shut down the radio, packed everything up, and drove over to where the others were operating.
Mike was at the radio, so I sat down. I had about decided to head home when lunch break was called. We walked down the hill the their house and enjoyed the cool air inside while we had a sandwich and chatted. Mike and Sharen were concerned about the fire, but not overly concerned yet. The Girl and the other dogs packed right up and played and wandered the place while we recovered from the heat.
The wind shifted a little more to the south so the smoke mostly cleared and I elected to stay and visit and let The Girl wander over the place. Mike and Sharen’s place is completed fenced because of their dogs, so The Girl had free roam. I kept an eye on her anyway because I do not like her to be out of sight. But I was confident she would not go too far.
The fire generated enough heat to cause pyrocumulus clouds to form. We have been having some monsoonal flows as well and a few popup thundershowers formed. The clouds gave us a break from the heat, although the additional lightning was some cause for concern — not only for the radio but for additional fires.
About 1700h Greg called an ending to the day. We broke down his station. I worked on the antenna while he worked on the radio end of the station. I remembered I had a spare shirt (and socks) in my pack, so I took off my sweaty old t-shirt and replaced it with something clean. I was thankful for a dry shirt. With the station put away, we drove down the hill and shared a meal of Papa Murphy’s Pizza and some wine.
I did not realize how tired until about 2100h. I was really tired. But I was not too tired (nor had I too much wine) to drive home. I turned on the air conditioner to cool the 4Runner and paused at the gate to visit with Mike a minute. We could see flames cresting the Peterson Range. Now it was time to be a little concerned.
In the end, it was a good day. My station performed well, although I did not have enough power to break some of the pile-ups. That is portable operations, though. I enjoyed the fellowship of friends and the breaking of bread as a community.
As I write this, the fire still rages. It has not affected Mike and Sharen, yet, and I pray it does not. I also pray for others who are dealing with the effects of the fire.
Last Saturday the group drove the long trail out to McTarnahan Hill, SOTA W7N/TR-042. Our original plan did not look feasible but all of us wanted to go outside and play radio somewhere. So out to the Pine Nut Mountains we went.
I was much better prepared for this outing. I bought ice and a sandwich on Friday. I loaded the cooler with ice and had everything else ready to go. On Saturday morning, all I had to do was prepare myself. This time I even packed a little food for The Girl.
We met the others at KG7D’s place, visited a moment, then headed out. We paused at the east end of Johnson Lane and for the first time I aired down the tires to 25psi. The idea was to make my ride a little more compliant by using the tires.
The trail was not bad. It took us awhile to get out there. By my estimate, the trail was about 13.5 miles to the operating point. This one was pretty easy, not requiring much hike at all.
While the others selected their operating point and scouted for antenna placement, I moved off 50 feet and began setting up my station. For this outing I used the Elecraft KX2, the minipackHF linear amplifier (to get me 35w), and the Wolf River Coils vertical antenna. I did not think stringing out the wire dipole would work as easily.
Power was provided by a couple of Bioenno 28w panels to a Genasun GV-5 charge controller and a 15Ah Bioenno LFP battery. The battery was topped off by the time I assembled the other components of the station. My setup time was about 20 minutes.
I checked on the others and they were still setting up. I checked on The Girl and she was busy hunting lizards and chipmunks. So I prepared my notebook for logging and sat down at the radio.
“Is the frequency in use?” … “Is the frequency in use, AG7TX” … “Is the frequency in use, Alpha Golf Seven Tango Xray?”
“Nothing heard! CQ SOTA CQ SOTA, this is AG7TX calling CQ for Summits on the Air,” began my call on the 40m band. While listening between calls, I spotted myself on the SOTAWatch website.
Then I had a call from a nice operator. We chatted a couple of minutes before I excused myself to work a few more station. I called again and then I pileup of several stations. I worked them one by one, making notes as I went of callsign, time, signal reports, and any information I got from the other operator.
After a few minutes the calls stopped, so I switched over to 20m and started over. After I spotted myself, I took another seven or eight calls, some from as far away as Indiana.
I checked on The Girl periodically to be sure she was still in sight. She was.
“CQ Summits on the Air, CQ SOTA, AG7TX calling CQ SOTA hello 20 meters and listening…” went my call. “OK, last call, last call… AG7TX calling CQ SOTA and listening…” I paused for a few seconds. “OK, nothing heard. Thanks for the calls and AG7TX is clear.”
I turned off the radio and went over to my friends. I had been operating about a half hour and had 15 contacts in my log. They were just about ready to start, so I brought over my table and chair and sat under the EZUp with them.
About that time The Girl wandered over to ask for water. As I gave her a drink, I noticed some blood on her tummy and leg. On inspection, I found she had cut the inside of the left rear leg, probably jumping around on the rocks or in the pine trees.
It was a nasty little laceration, about 25mm long, but without heavy bleeding. It had wept a little but was open enough that a butterfly suture was not going to close the wound.
Mike said “that’s going to need a stitch.” That was my thought also.
So I headed back to my rig to pack my equipment and head to the vet’s office. Once the equipment was packed (about 15 minutes), I called the vet’s office to let them know I was coming.
“You going to come back out after the vet?” Greg asked.
“Probably not — it’s a long way out and back and I’ll probably just go to the house and get a shower.”
“You’re still welcome for supper, if you’re up to it.”
“We’ll see how Sera does.”
It took more than an hour to get to the clinic. There we got checked in and the tech took Sera’s vitals and looked at her wound.
“Yep, that’s going to need stitches,” she said.
“I knew it would.”
Soon the vet came in and checked Sera carefully. “She’s a little fluffy around the chest,” he said. “You need to keep an eye on her food.”
I’m still laughing about my “fluffy” dog and teasing her. But I did cut back her ration just a little. Hmmm… maybe I am too fluffy and need to cut back my ration. Nah…
They kept her to put her in the queue for the sutures and sent me home. I went home and got a shower. Then I drove over to Greg’s to share supper with friends.
It turns out they had trouble making their quota of contacts. Apparently the ground plane of Greg’s antenna was not installed. Therefore the vertical antenna had nothing to work against and did not produce a good signal. But they were able to get their contacts with the 2m handheld with a little help from friends recruited through the repeater system.
While we were finishing supper, the vet called and told me Sera was ready to be released. So I said my goodbyes and headed south to Gardnerville to retrieve her. The vet met me at the door, then handed Sera off to me. “You can call in and settle up tomorrow. We have a lot of very sick dogs tonight and everyone is really busy.”
This is not my first rodeo with a damaged doggo. I knew she would need to restrict her activity a bit and to be on watch for licking or pulling at her sutures. But I also know just how tough these animals are and that she would be fine and pushing at me to be active in a day or two. I cannot remember now many times Ki cut herself in the field. I know we had many, many trips to the vet for sutures, notwithstanding all the skin excisions she had because of her skin cancer.
The Girl will be fine. As I write this, she is snoozing on the bed. We have been walking in town so she is not tempted to run through the sagebrush. In a few more days we will be back to our normal trail out by the river. I would much rather walk out there.
Introduction: The middle of last week, our fearless leader sent out an email that our intended SOTA activation, Fred’s Peak, was not going to work. Another team member had scouted the area and found a locked gate blocking access to the area.
Therefore, an alternate site, Genoa Peak (W7N/TR-007 and an eight-pointer) would be the target if the group agreed.
I am generally agreeable and am interested more in the activity and the fellowship than the particulars of the event. I knew we would have fun. I knew it would be refreshingly different from my normal routine. I knew the sights would be beautiful. (Now can they not be with Lake Tahoe visible from the site???)
I already had most of my radio gear ready to go, if not well organized. I intended to use the Elecraft KX2, the MiniPackerHF linear amplifier, the Bioenno 12Ah LFP battery and Genasun GV10 charge controller, and a Bioenno foldable 28w panel as the station equipment. I would log my contacts on paper.
What needed to be done was figure out provisions and water for The Girl and myself, get everything staged (so as not to forget something), and gather the last minute needs on departure.
I decided to take a small sandwich, the snacks that are always in my pack, plenty of water, and some iced tea. I would use the Yeti cooler to keep the cold-things cold and figured I would be able to hike back down to the 4Runner at the staging area to retrieve food and drink.
It has been hot here during the day and the west side of my unit is warm until at least 2200h local. So I do not go to bed until sometime between 2200h and 0000h. I knew that getting up early would be a challenge and that I would not get as much sleep, nor would I get an afternoon nap.
But, I got what sleep I could, woke about 0600h, and figured I would be good if I met the rest of the group at the departure area by 0800h. I puttered around a little, drinking some coffee, gathering up a few last things, and generally waking.
The Trip Out: Then I realized suddenly that it was 0700h and it was time to go! The Girl knew I was hustling about, so she woke and her energy level immediately came up. On these kinds of mornings, she will generally avoid food because our routine is that we are back home by noon and she eats a late breakfast. Well, not so this day…
I schlepped the remaining things to the 4Runner, loaded up The Girl, and made a last pass through the house to ensure I did not miss something. Then we headed for the fuel depot to refuel, get some ice for the cooler, and buy a sandwich and drinks for the day.
The cooler filled and secured, I used the iPhone McD’s app to order a couple of biscuits and another coffee. I was still running about a quart low. After I placed my order, I realized that the app put in my order at the north McD’s, not the south store, which took me out of my way. Poop!
So I drove to the north store and checked in for curbside pickup. Of course, it was my day for the s.l.o.w. service. The phone rang… it was Greg…
“How’s things? Are you still planning to come along to Genoa Peak?”
“Yep. I’m picking up a bite and should be there in about ten minutes.”
“Good, see you then.”
About that time, a server brought my goodies. I thanked her and we were off. The drive south through Carson City was a little slow. Carson Street is all torn up for construction. But at least there was little traffic. So I caught up to the group about on time.
We chatted for a few minutes and then were off. The Girl was doing her excited-bouncing-on-the-seat-and-back-seat-and-front-seat thing. I am hopeful that will wear off a little as she gains experience on our trips and gains a little age. But, we will see.
The trip up the hill to the trail was short and uneventful. Once on the trail, the dust was awful. Nevada is normally a dusty place; this powdery dust was worse than usual and my 4Runner looks like it. I think I blew dust from my nose for several days. But the trip was not bad except for a wrong turn that took us up a reasonably sketchy bit of trail. Mike’s pickup had a little trouble traversing one portion, but it was just rough, steep, and rocky other than that.
Setup and Operation: We arrived at the staging area. The hike was about what I expected, something short but fairly rough and steep. I hoped The Girl would not get into trouble on the way up. But there is only one way to learn to be a trail dog and that is to hike trails.
I grabbed my radio pack and then stuffed the battery and solar panel into it. I did not take time to repack the bag nor to examine what was in it before we headed up the trail. I learned an important lesson from this.
Most of our group was already on the trail to the peak by the time The Girl and I headed up. We readily caught up with Subrina and Sharon. Sharon was particularly struggling to get up the trail. I stayed with her a good part of the way to help her with some of the big steps that were required. As we walked together, I thought “It would not be good for her to fall.” The trail was rocky with plenty of scree and a fall (for any of us) would be a bad thing.
Sharon apologized for being slow so many times I finally had to tell her “Stop! I don’t mind walking with you and I’m not in a hurry.”
We laughed about that fact I might have to grab-a-handful-and-push several times on the hike up. We are both old enough and good enough friends that I would have immediately grabbed her had she slipped or failed to make the step. But, eventually she sent me on and I permitted it. She has a right to do things her way without an old man hovering.
When I hit the summit, I took a moment to take it in. I was facing south. To my left was Carson Valley and to my right was Lake Tahoe and its basin. Both were stunning and well worth the trip, even if no radio happened.
I set myself to setting up my station. I found a relatively flat rock not far from a large boulder that I thought would support my telescoping antenna mast. I got out the linked dipole (20-30-40m bands) and started unspooling the wire and coaxial cable from the wire winders. I then affixed the center support and balun to the top of the mast and ran it up. I secured the mast by wedging it next to the large boulder with some smaller rock and walked out the antenna. It was easy to find brush or boulders to secure the ends.
I assembled the KX2 and linear amplifier, added the battery, DC distribution block (fused), and the solar panel. With everything connected, I tested the station and everything was working. I was ready to operate.
In the meantime, the other part of the crew were busy assembling Greg’s DX Commander, an all-band vertical antenna that does not (when properly constructed) require an antenna matching unit, or tuner.
I puttered with the radio a little, sending some Morse Code to determine if a frequency was in use. I checked into the 40m noontime net (via phone). The other station was coming together and they did not need my help.
The Girl and I headed back down the hill to get a bite to eat and some water. The others were kind enough to give her some water from their supply, but I needed water and the bottle I mooched was not sufficient.
So down the hill we went. The Girl scampered ahead, looking for lizards and the chipmunks that live on the summit. I called her back several times because I am so much slower than she is. All-wheel drive is a thing.
We took time to rest a little, or rather I rested while she hunted lizards around the staging area. I made sure she got plenty of water while we were there and decided to carry a liter back up the hill with me.
So we humped it back up the hill, this time with water.
The remainder of the group was ready to go. They got started while Greg headed back for lunch while others activated the mountain.
The Girl was hungry. As usual, she ignored breakfast in her excitement to get on with the day. Sharon is an animal-lover, so she asked “Can she have some cheese?”
“Of course, just make her behave.”
Being hungry, Sera was a little grabby, so I told Sharon how to handle that. “Just palm it if she’s grabby. She knows how to behave, but sometimes needs some instruction.”
The Girl does not get a lot of people food, but she gets a lot of little bits as a treat. I think this also bonds her to her people because we share our food with her. She understands.
When my turn came to operate the radio, I fired up my KX2 and got started calling CQ SOTA. I made several contacts after Greg spotted me on the SOTA network (we had cell service). All of my contacts were phone. I am still too chicken to call CQ with Morse Code. I made my quota quickly and even had a couple of summit-to-summit contacts. Those are fun, even if sometimes difficult to work, and give double points.
After I turned operation over to the next operator, I realized that my linear amplifier was in bypass mode. I could not see the front panel well and missed it. So my contacts were made with five watts — I was in QRP mode. Hah!
Mike got into a rag chew with an operator in San Diego. Most SOTA operators do not get into rag chews, preferring to make the exchange and move on. Not Mike, though. They talked about all kinds of things, especially about vehicles. I was amused.
I got a second shot at operating and this time made sure the linear was inline. That gave me 35 watts and made it a lot easier for other stations to hear me. I made a few more contacts and one more summit-to-summit and then the well went dry.
Teardown and Return: So I turned off the rig, satisfied with the day. It did not take me long to tear down and prepare to repack my pack. This time I took everything out and packed it properly. That made the trip down the summit easier because my load was balanced and the weight low and close to my back.
At the bottom of the hill and at the staging area, for the last time this trip, I paused, wanting a photograph of The Girl and myself at the end of the trip. Another group were standing around visiting and enjoying the day. So I asked.
“Would one of you please take a couple of pictures of my dog and me?”
A large man smiled and stepped over to us, “Sure.”
“I assume you know how to run one of these,” I asked as I passed my iPhone over to him. He smiled and nodded. Then he proceeded to make a few images of my dog and me. She was still in patrol mode, but we got one good one of her looking at the camera.
He handed back my iPhone and The Girl immediately began greeting the group. They asked me all about her, what breed was she, where she came from. So I told her story, at least what part of it I know, while she absorbed all the attention and affection.
[Soapbox] People think pit bulls, and all the bully breeds, are nothing but aggressive dogs who should be banned and destroyed. Those who know the breeds understand their breed traits and work with those traits to help these dogs become the wonderful companions that they can be. [End soapbox]
They went back to their visiting. A couple of other groups drove in, stayed a bit, and wandered off. I waited.
Before much time passed, I saw the rest of the group heading over the summit and back down the trail. The two female members of the group struggled with the steepness of the trail. I was particularly concerned about Sharon. But she had help, took her time, and made it just fine.
They stowed their gear and we headed back down the trail, this time avoiding the sketchy portion for the better trail. Once down in the trees, Greg found a wide spot in the trail and pulled off.
“Who wants wine?” I had to laugh. I have not been known to turn down a glass of red wine. Greg likes red wine, too. I pulled out a folding chair from the back of the rig and plopped into it. The Girl immediately took to hunting. So I watched to make sure she did not wander off too far. She is doing really well.
We talked and laughed and drank a little wine and enjoyed the coolness of the forest after all the sun of the day. My knees were a little sunburned given they do not get much sun on my daily outings. Well, they did this day.
The wine bottle empty, the snacks gone, and everyone tired we saddled up for the short drive (for some of us) home. I stopped by the Aloha liquor store and bought a sixpack of Coronas and a bottle of Cognac. I intended to celebrate the day a little after I got home, stowed the equipment, and showered.
Lessons Learned: I learned a few things on this activation. They are:
Always, always, always carry some water. Even for a short trip from the rig.
The pack carried a lot better on the way down, after I unloaded and repacked everything. I need to mind my pack and how it is loaded.
I can probably do these activations with a lot less radio. I think I should try working with just the KX2 and a wire antenna. I could do an end-fed half wave or just a random wire. I would still need a mast for many locations, but it would lighten my load a lot.
Operating a SOTA activation with more than one radio is difficult. We could not both operate at the same time. My KX2 would bypass the receiver to protect the itself.
I should put some orange tape on the cap of the telescoping mast. A black cap is easily lost in the shadows of gray rocks.
I should wrap the bottom section of the telescoping mast with something protective. I have a roll of orange Gorilla Tape that would work and would make the mast easy to see if I put it on the ground.
I need some kind of platform to work on. I could not see the front panel of the linear, so I made a few mistakes along the way. A working platform would also mean I could have a low chair to work from.
I need water bottle carriers on the sides of my radio pack. I should carry at least a couple of liters of water and a foldable dog bowl… always.
I should have completed my activation while the others were assembling the second station. I could easily have filled my quota for the day and then torn down my station and just played. DoH!
It was a great day, a good activation, and I am grateful. I leave the story with a view of Carson Valley from my operating position.
One of my wonderful little Elecraft KX1 radios needs a little love. The AF Gain potentiometer is no longer smooth, but drags over certain portions of its range of travel. The RF Gain potentiometer also feels a little rough and its effect on gain is limited to the last 20 percent of its travel. I also discovered that one of the faceplate screws was sheared below the faceplate. So a few repairs are needed.
So I ordered some parts and have been consulting the Elecraft KX Reflector for advice on how to proceed. It seems I might need to peak the receiver section of the radio as well as replace the pots.
I pulled the radio apart yesterday to start work and found that the desoldering pump does not work on the potentiometer pins. So I ordered some desoldering braid (a wick) and will pick up the work later this week.
I have another of these small radios in my inventory that is a three-bander (20m, 30m, and 40m). I bought the four-band module for it and will pull the 30m module and replace it with a 30m/80m module. Then I’ll have a second four-band KX1 in my inventory.
These are Morse Code only (CW Mode) radios. They will receive CW Mode and SSB (both LSB and USB) very nicely, but only transmit in CW Mode. That means one needs to know Morse Code to transmit with the radio.
So I have been learning Morse Code. My copy speed is between 8 and 10 words per minute at this time. I’m continuing to work on my copy speed to get to the point where I can operate well. I’m still several months out. But I am learning.
The plans for a Field Day 2020 expedition started a couple of months ago. Greg, KG7D, was (and is) our fearless leader, as always. The plan was to head out to camp at Smith’s Creek Dry Lake on Thursday, set up camp, relax Thursday evening, set up radio stations and test on Friday, rest Friday evening, and commence operations Saturday morning, running through Sunday morning. Sunday afternoon would be an opportunity to rest and socialize a little and then tear down stations in preparation for a Monday morning departure.
I started my preparation for FD2020 a couple of months ago. There was some new equipment I wanted to bring online after my experience last year. So, the equipment was bought and was delivered over the course of a couple of weeks. Then followed several rounds of assembly, testing, and adjustment over the period of a few weeks.
Work intensified during the two weeks before FD2020. I repaired a lot of power and coaxial cables, assembled the power systems (solar panels, charge controllers, batteries, and cabling), and tested everything. I deployed and tested a new antenna a couple of times because of an issue with coupling of the antenna and the new mast.
Then there was food preparation, loading everything into the camper and 4Runner, and making sure that I did not forget some important component. It was all done Wednesday evening, with the exception of loading my personal kit.
Thursday morning I woke, made some coffee and a little breakfast, and puttered around a little bit. Then I hooked up the camper, loaded the dog, and we headed east from Carson City on US50 toward Middlegate, Nevada.
On the way out, I listened to some chatter on the SNARS repeater system. The Mt. Rose machine was available to me all the way past Fallon, Nevada. I heard KG7D call so I called him when he finished his conversation. He was about a half-hour behind me.
I made a brief stop in Fallon to pick up some iced tea (bottled) and a sandwich. I got Sera out for a brief walk and then we passed through Fallon and east past Sand Mountain. After a couple more basins and ranges, we arrived at Middlegate Station, Nevada. I pulled into the lot of the bar and grill, went inside, and ordered myself a bar burger and a beer.
Then I went back to the rig and retrieved Sera. We sat down at an outside table and looked at the surrounding terrain and did a little people watching. A small group of cruiser-riders was gathered at the station, which is common as it has quite a reputation as a great way-stop.
One of the riders wandered over with a beer. He asked (which I really appreciate) to pet my dog. Of course, Sera was all about that. She is such a people person, like all of the APBTs I have known. He asked to sit down as my food arrived and I invited Rick to sit and visit a bit. It was one of those pleasant interactions I often have on the road.
Greg arrived shortly thereafter and came over to visit. Rick asked if he should leave, but we both said “no, that’s not necessary.”
My burger was great, of course, and I shared my fries with Sera. She loves fries and got the last bite of my burger as well.
We saddled up and headed east the short distance to NV722. I think that is the old US50 and it runs through Eastgate, then up into the mountains again. After a few more miles, we arrived at the entrance to Smith Creek Ranch and shortly after that the turn off to the Dry Lake. As one turns onto the access road for the playa it does not look like much. However, there is a group of “islands” that I called “hummocks” near the middle of the playa that provides an excellent area to camp and set up radio stations. Because of the hummocks, it is unlikely that vehicles will be driving out there and that they will be running fast. That is a good thing.
Two other members of our party were already on-site and set up. Wes and Eric had their camps established and I saw antenna masts as were approach the camp area. Greg pulled in to a likely location and I moved on toward where I camped last year. It did not take me long to set up my camper and deploy the solar panel to keep the house battery charged.
I climbed into my camper and moved the equipment stowed inside my “house” outside to make my space livable. Once that was done, Sera and I walked over to the other camps to check in with our compadres. We had a short visit as everyone was busy getting organized and then returned home to our camp.
I set up my solar panels so that the batteries would charge. The house battery is charged by a single 160W Renogy panel through a Genasun GV10 configured for lead-acid battery chemistry. The station battery is charged by a pair of Bioenno 60W panels through a Buddipole Mini that was part of my new equipment acquisition. The Mini will display the input voltage, current, and power from the panel and the battery voltage, current, and power used by whatever is attached to it. I am an engineer and I want to know these data so I can evaluate how well my system is working and whether adjustments are needed to improve the performance of the power system.
I also pulled out my radio equipment and station computer. It did not take long to set up the station inside the camper. I had time to deploy the vertical antenna so I could play a little radio in the evening after sunset. The remaining equipment — a military mast and 80m off-center-fed-dipole — would have to wait until Friday morning for setup.
For this deployment I brought the Elecraft KX3 with the PX3 panadapter and the KXPA100 amplifier. This system is completely integrated and operates as a signal unit. It can produce up to 100w of radio frequency energy and the radio operates in all modes and on all the standard amateur bands. The radio has an excellent receiver as well.
All that done, I warmed a little supper of chicken and rice and sat down at my operating position to listen to the radio while I ate supper. Supper was cooked before departure, the chicken in the slow-cooker and the rice in my relatively new rice cooker. I recently bought a Japanese rice cooker and it does such a great job with the rice. There are a few appliances in my inventory that I consider essentials — a slow-cooker (crockpot), a toaster oven, and a rice cooker. The remainder might be useful, but they are not essential. While I ate, Sera ate her kibbles (seasoned with a little chicken and rice from my supper, of course), then climbed onto the bed to watch me eat (and hope I might drop something).
I tuned the bands a little while eating my supper. I heard a ZL station (New Zealand) calling and talking to other operators. He was working the pile-up well. During a pause in the action, I answered his call and he heard me! So, I worked my first New Zealand station the first night out.
After supper, I stepped outside to look at the sunset and stretch. This also gave Sera a chance to exercise a little and relieve herself before we settled in for the evening.
Friday morning started early. I woke with the opening of morning twilight and stepped outside to look at the morning sky. It was cool, so I was happy I brought a heavy sweatshirt. Sera looked up at me as I opened the door and went back to sleep. I can only imagine what she must have thought.
I made some coffee to help me wake and listened to the radio a little. There was not much traffic, but I heard a few stations chatting, particularly on the 80m band. That is a noisy band much of the day, but it is often quiet in the morning. I heard the usual Asian broadcast stations on the upper part of the 40m band. I cannot tell if they are Chinese or Japanese from the language. I do not know the differences well enough to identify them.
We had a bite of breakfast and then I started the last of my setup. I put up the military mast, which is a repurposed support for military camouflage. My kit is about 32ft tall and is raised by pivoting on a spike driven into the ground. I guy off two of the three lines, walk up the mast (with additional guys and a pulley to raise the wire antenna), then walk out the third guy line and tie it off. I can then walk the three guy points to tension and straighten up the mast.
With the mast erected and secure, I raised the 80m OFCD antenna. I checked the antenna for resonance and it was not working correctly. I made a couple of adjustments but could not get it working. So I did what any intelligent operator would do. Sera and I walked down to Greg’s place to confer with my smarter brother.
Wes and Eric were already there, visiting a little. When I described my problem, Wes said “it is your coaxial cable.” I was fortunate that Greg had a 100ft run of spare cable along, so I took that and Sera and returned to camp for me to try again.
That fixed my problem. The antenna does not have great SWR, but it is certainly good enough to operate.
The remainder of Friday was spent playing a little radio, resting, walking Sera through the hummocks, and visiting with our friends. In the late afternoon, a meeting was called to partake of some QSO-enhancing elixir made by and provided by Greg. We also spent time relaxing and shooting the bull.
Sufficiently elixed, Sera and I headed back to camp to make a little supper and settle in for the evening. I walked her to the north edge of the hummocky-area so she could exercise and burn of some energy. The walk is always good for me as well. I had done a lot of heavy lifting the last few days in preparation for the trip and in the morning wrangling the military mast and antenna.
As the afternoon waned into evening, I stepped back for a few moments to reflect on the beauty of the location. Sera continued her hunt for the local rodents while I ruminated a bit. I also just enjoyed the view and listening to her chuff and run about.
I decided to test the tiny shower in my camper, so I turned on the water heater and assembled the shower curtain. There is not much room in the latrine and it feels even more claustrophobic with the curtain installed.
Unfortunately, I did not wait long enough for hot water, but it was not well-water cold. I was able to get wet, soapy, and rinsed without using much water. I am really spooky about water use in the desert, but it was so good to be clean.
The shower works.
Saturday morning came, with much the same routine as Friday morning only without the work. I rose, started water for coffee, and stepped outside to greet the morning Sun. I made some breakfast and poured most of my bacon fat over Sera’s kibbles. Yes, she is spoiled — just a little. We got out of the camper and walked the hummocks, giving Sera a chance to hunt and burn off her morning energy. We visited our fellow operators’ camps and enjoyed the companionship.
A little before 1100h local, I started listening for calls. I worked CW mode for quite a while. I am not very fast, but given enough repetitions I can get a callsign and exchange. Then I can send my callsign and see if I can make the exchange.
I do not make a lot of contacts this way because it takes time to get the information before making the call. But it is a way for me to learn Morse Code and so it is worth the investment.
I worked CW until my brain rebelled and switched over to phone. I could have set up on a frequency and ran the frequency, but I was having fun just searching-and-pouncing. I worked phone until I broke for a bite of lunch.
The wind was coming up, as forecast. I knew it was going to be windy. I did not know how windy it might be. Well… it got WINDY… and DUSTY. The wind blew so hard that I stepped out of the camper to check the guy lines on the mast. I walked the anchors and tightened up the taut-line hitches I had tied. I also made sure (I thought) that the solar panels and other equipment outside were properly lashed down. Then I went back to operating.
I cannot remember if it was lunch or supper, but I received an invite to share a meal with the group at Greg’s Place. I had not expected a communal meal, but I did have an extra bottle of Cabernet along with me so that was my contribution to the event. Again, it was good food and fellowship.
It was also hot, particularly in the small camper. I decided to fire up the generator and run the air conditioner a little to keep my camper cool. Sera was panting and I was sweating, so it seemed the thing to do.
But the generator would not start. Fortunately, Greg came up and gave me hand diagnosing the problem. After futzing about for a bit, he suggested I check the oil. I had changed the oil before the trip and was fairly sure I had put enough in it, but we had eliminated everything else and the Honda does have an oil sensor.
It was a D’Oh moment for me. The oil level was just low enough to trigger to the low oil sensor and prevent the engine from starting. With the oil topped off (yes, I had some), the engine started and so did the air conditioner. I was grateful for my friend and for the cool air. So I went back to operating.
I worked until about 2300h local then called it a night. With the falling of the Sun, the wind fell as well. I slept well as did Sera.
I woke early Sunday, again. When the light rises, so do I. As before, I started water for coffee and stepped outdoors to greet the day. Although the image was made early Monday, this was my view each morning on Dry Lake.
I turned on the radio, enjoyed my coffee, and made a couple of contacts. I made breakfast for us again and got Sera out for a short walk and some exercise. I knew it was going to be windy again Sunday, perhaps worse than Saturday. So I check my equipment again to be sure it was secure.
I operated a combination of phone and CW the remainder of the morning. About 1030h local I was tired and done. I shut down the radio and Sera and I got out for a walk and a visit. The others were gathered at Greg’s Place and the wind was UP!
It was a good visit. Eric and Wes were mostly torn down and getting ready to leave for home. Greg and I were not about to wrangle out camps in the wind and dust so were prepared to stay over until Monday. I contemplated staying and extra day and enjoying camping. I was not really ready to go home.
Sunday afternoon was pretty rough. The trailer rocked and buffeted in the wind. There was a lot of dust blowing in great clouds as well. My part of the event ended at 1100h local, so I turned on the generator, ran the air conditioner a little, took a nap, listened to music, and read.
One of the solar panels blew over, even though it was lashed to the camper. The second set of panels blew over as well, damaging the props a little. Everything still functioned, but I laid them flat on the ground to prevent them falling again.
Greg came up for a visit, bringing cookies! I shared some of my treats with him and we visited about the weekend and things. It was a good visit, again, and one of the reasons I continue to go out on expeditions with these friends. They are good people and good operators.
The wind fell a little with the Sun, so I got Sera out and we made another pass through the hummocks for some exercise. The sunset was gorgeous again and I saw a smear of smoke to the northwest, at a high altitude. That meant there was a fire out there somewhere.
Fire is a big hazard in the west. I remember them from my childhood in California. There have been several since I came to Nevada. It is a danger of living here and one to take seriously.
I listened to the radio a little more Sunday evening. I heard an Australian station calling and taking calls. After he worked a big pileup, I called and he answered. We had a nice chat for a few minutes. He asked a lot of questions about Nevada. It was fun.
I turned in, satisfied with the Field Day operations and thinking about whether to stay another day or go home.
Monday morning came and there was little wind. I made coffee and breakfast and then dressed to go take down the military mast and wire antenna. I decided to go home while sleeping Sunday night. I could tell that Greg was ahead of me and sure enough he came by about 0930h to check on me. After confirming that my 4Runner would start, he headed out for home.
Sera puttered about the hummocks while I finished taking down the equipment. In the process of lowering the mast, it got away from me and split two of the fiberglass segments. They will have to be repaired or replaced. But everything else went fairly well, if a little slowly.
With everything loaded up and the camper hooked up to the 4Runner, I decided to make one last walk around the campsite. Given we were alone, I took off my shirt to get a little sun on this old white body and started my tracker. Sera was so excited. We started off toward the south and walked along the perimeter of the hummocky-area. She darted from hummock to hummock, returning on call. She is such a happy dog and a joy to have in my life.
With the work done, I could relax and just enjoy the site. So, that is what I did. The weather was about perfect. The sun was warm, but the air temperature was about 55F. Without the sun I would have been cold without a shirt. With the sun shining so brightly, it was wonderful.
After the boneyard, we came across this monument. It was there last year when we camped here at Dry Lake. I do not know what the significance might be. But it is certainly interesting and worth a photograph. I actually think this would be a good site for a geocache.
Sera ran all over the hummocks. I followed along, keeping an eye on her and enjoying watching her run to and fro. When called in, she got a little scratch or pat on the head or butt (or both), then ran away again to go back to the hunt.
I enjoyed walking the perimeter. I stopped and made a few photographs with my iPhone as we walked. The sky was just gorgeous and the contrast of the white clay with the blue sky was striking.
I also thought about the lessons I learned from the trip. There are always lessons to be learned. Here are some lessons I learned:
Be sure that the generator has enough oil in it after an oil change.
Bring extra oil for the generator (I did).
Bring spares for the generator. (I have them; put them in the kit.)
Assemble a small mechanics toolkit for the camper. It should include both SAE and metric wrenches and sockets. Some appropriate screwdrivers and maybe some simple test equipment would be useful.
Work on my technique for lowering the mast. I think it was more operator error than anything else. I also think I can do better on lowering the mast.
Bring spare charge controllers for the camper and the station. I had a spare for the station and that was a good thing.
Have a set of jumper cables in the 4Runner.
The failure of the Buddipole Mini was not expected. I knew I would have to call about that. I also knew I would want that unit or a similar unit in my inventory so I can track my station power usage and determine if I have enough battery and charge capacity for my application.
As we drew back to the 4Runner and camper, I knew this trip was about over. Sera was ready for some water and to get into the rig. I was ready for some water and to head home. I would not be satisfied until the rig was unloaded, or mostly unloaded when we got home. I also wanted a shower and some downtime after all the busy-ness of the last few weeks. But, I was (and am) a happy old man.
Last Saturday Older Son and I drove the 4Runner up to the Prison Hill summit to setup and activate Prison Hill for Summits on the Air. SOTA is a game played by amateur radio operators who operate from designated mountain/hill tops for chasers to contact and make a pre-defined exchange. Both activators and chasers receive points for the contacts.
But the real fun is getting outdoors, setting up for portable operations, and making a few contacts with other radio operators. I enjoy the activation part of the game and try to get a few activations in whenever I can.
The image is one from our hike up Prison Hill (and helluva hike, by the way) where I setup the Elecraft KX1 radio and the Elecraft AX1/AXE1 antenna and checked in to the 40m noon net using Morse code. That was a good day. On Saturday, we setup my KX3 portable station a few tens of feet from this location and put up a proper wire antenna. I listened to the 40m band for awhile and picked out a couple of CW stations callsigns. But I was too chicken to respond. I am still learning Morse, so am not up-to-speed (literally) yet. But I can copy and send a basic exchange if the other operator is patient.
So I moved to the phone portion of the band, found a quiet frequency, and asked if it was in use three times. That is good operating policy. Hearing nothing, I started calling “CQ” and then spotted myself on the SOTAwatch website.
In just a few minutes I was working a pile-up. A pile-up occurs when there are multiple stations calling a running stations to make a contact. It is difficult to separate out the calls and get callsigns. So, one has to work a pile-up. This was my first time working a pile-up, but I have heard them worked plenty of times so I knew the basic procedure.
In less than half an hour I had almost a dozen contacts, including three summit-to-summit contacts, which are highly desirable. After a few more calls, I heard no more stations. I thought for a moment about switching bands to 20m and doing it again, but decided that I had achieved my objective and would tear down and go hike a bit and search for a geocache.
Older Son and I had one in mind. We hiked the few hundred yards to the site and searched for almost an hour before deciding that it was no longer there. The last log was four-years earlier. So we were not particularly surprised that the cache had gone missing.
The hike back up to the rig was strenuous, given it was a big climb. But that was good for me too and I don’t mind the exercise.
We put away our things and started back on the trail out when a good friend and amateur operator pulled up in his rig. So, we practiced social distancing and visited from our respective vehicles for an hour before calling it a day and heading back down the trail.
It was a really, really good day. I am so very thankful and grateful for it.
Older Son and I hiked up Prison Hill yesterday. We parked the 4Runner at the staging area, donned our packs, and headed up the hill. The summit is about 1.7 miles from the staging area and the elevation gain is about 1,000 feet. The hike took us a bit and we were pretty hot and winded by the time we made the summit.
It was about noon, so I put up the Elecraft AXE1 and AXT1 antenna and coil for the 40 meter band. I brought the Elecraft KX1 transceiver along with me and hooked it up. The little radio was featured on my Instagram feed some time ago, but it is a Morse Code only transceiver and makes about four watts of power.
I tuned the band and found the frequency for the noon net. I heard the net control station calling for any check-ins. So, I sent my callsign.
“Who’s the CW station? Come again.” came the direction from net control. So I sent my call again. The operator got part of it, “I heard ‘TX’… is that a thanks?”
I sent my call again, twice. “A something TX, you’re fading old man. Come again.” So, I sent my call again.
“AG something TX, is that AG7TX? Send a roger if so.” I sent two ‘R’s to indicate ‘Roger, roger.’”
“I didn’t get it. Did anyone get that?” Another station came in (one of the relay stations) “He rogered! That’s the only code I know.”
“You’re in the log Dave. Next station…”
I was so pumped up that I could get into the noon net using Morse Code and a four-watt radio. My study of Morse Code is beginning to pay off. I can send a few important bits of information with some confidence. I am learning to copy Morse by listening to it. I hope to be a proficient code operator in a few more months. It is a useful skill to know.
Older Son and I puttered around the summit for a few more minutes. We found several locations that would make good places to hide a geocache. I think the next time we go up there (maybe Saturday) we will take some materials and make a hide. The area deserves to have a geocache.
After drinking some water, we started back down. I chattered quite a lot, being excited to be heard using Morse Code.
As we walked down the hill, I remarked “There’s only one thing that would make the day better… The Girl would have loved poking around up there. ‘What’s this? What’s this?‘ She would have been all over the place and had a blast.”
Yes, I still miss The Girl. Her cremains were returned last Friday and have a memorial on my bookcase next to Wife’s memorial.
A week ago (yeah, it has been a week) I drove out to Burnt Cabin Summit where my friends Greg and Subrina were camping. Greg asked if I wanted to come help with the antenna we’ve been working on.
So of course I drove out there.
We worked on the antenna most of the afternoon. I think it is working on all the bands (that he wanted) with the exception of 80-meters. For some reason, the element won’t tune properly. We worked on that a long time.
As the sun drifted below the mountains to the west, we put away tools and equipment. I paused for a moment to make a couple of images with my iPhone. To the east, the moon was rising over the northern Nevada desert. I liked the light, so I made this capture.
“How about chicken alfredo for supper?” my friend asked, “I think I have enough wine for two glasses.”
“Of course,” I replied, it didn’t take me long to think about it.
We enjoyed supper in their camper, The Girl resting on the floor where it was warmer than in my 4Runner. The food, wine, and fellowship was fun and I enjoyed it.
The Girl and I then headed home for the evening. It was a little later than I am usually out (about 2130h when we got home), but it was totally worth it.
Thursday night was COLD! Greg told me it was 11F when he rose Friday morning. Diana was tent camping!
I made some coffee and sat down at my table. I had not setup my radio yet so I put on some music, sat, and relaxed a bit before making some breakfast and setting up the station.
I setup my radio on the dinette table, put the (very heavy) AGM batteries on the seat across from my operating position, and then started working outside. I assembled my portable vertical antenna and tuned it for the 40m band. I decided to put up my end-fed wire antenna as well. The intent was to provide both vertical and horizontal polarization for the outbound signal. So I threw ropes over two juniper trees and hoisted the wire antenna up to about 12 ft off the ground.
I setup the solar panel to keep the station batteries charged. As soon as I connected the charge controller to the panel and batteries, the controller showed that current was passing to the batteries. This was confirmed by meters I installed in-line on both the input and output sides of the system. I now have solar power for my station.
I crawled up on the front storage box of my camper and assembled the mesh network antennas and router. We used the Broadband-HamNet software flashed to old Linksys home WiFi access points/routers so we could use a networked contact logging software, N1MM+. In testing, the mesh nodes permitted communications locally through the mesh net and the intent was to allow all of us to work stations and log contacts to a common database and under Greg’s callsign.
After connecting everything else and double-checking all the connects, I powered up the radio, the panadapter, and the station computer. Everything seemed to be working and I was able to check into one of the nets that was operating.
I headed down to the Greg/Subrina camp to see if help was needed down there. They had everything under control so Greg sent me up to Diana’s camp to help setup her mesh node and antenna. This required some jury-rigging to get the antenna up high enough for line-of-sight with minimum interference from vegetation. Duct-tape always works. Because of the relatively high frequency, the cable run from the mesh router to the antenna has to be short, so I had to “hang” the router from the antenna mast.
After some fiddling and a few trips back and forth, we had a working mesh network. It was time for a lunch break and a rest. Then it would soon be time to start operating for the Nevada QSO Party.
For the next couple of days, I played some search-and-pounce (listen/look for signals and then call for a contact) and also called CQ many times. The voice recording feature of my K3 was wonderful because I could transmit a standard call and then call using my voice and microphone every few calls to keep from being bored to death and to provide some variety in my calls.
Friday and Saturday nights we gathered at the Greg/Subrina camp to share meal, take break, and fellowship. Then it was back to the stations and try for a few more contacts.
I slept really well. The camper’s heater kept us plenty warm. The Girl and I got enough exercise walking between camps over the rough ground. Some care was required because we found a few cacti that grow really close to the ground, are almost invisible, and have nasty spines. One of those in The Girl’s foot would have made a very bad day.
As the event wound down Sunday afternoon, the contacts dried up. I had been calling CQ for awhile when a voice broke in during my pause to listen.
“Are you going to answer all those foreign stations calling for North America?” came the call.
“If I could hear them, I would!”
“You goin’ to sit on this frequency all day?”
About that time my noise level came up and I could no longer hear the caller. He did not give his call sign and was therefore in violation of Part 97 of the CFR (the rules that govern amateur radio).
Yes, I did camp on the frequency the remainder of the day. We had been spotted by another station and had as much right to the frequency as anyone else. I made a few more contacts before the end of the event.
Sunday night we gathered at Camp Greg/Subrina, broke bread together, and drank a little wine in celebration of the weekend. It was a successful event. We made contacts. We solved problems. We spent time outdoors with people who matter.
I never could get my wire antenna working. It needs some work and measuring to figure out what I did wrong. I will be working on that.
We broke camp lazily Monday morning and headed for home. The trip home was largely uneventful, with the exception that Diana’s handheld radio stopped working.
I parked the camper in my driveway and then unloaded. It was nearly dark but I do not relax well until the bulk of the unloading is complete. But once I was done, I poured myself a Cognac, sat in a comfortable chair, and relaxed.
It was a good trip and a good experience. And now that experience is shared.