Burnt Cabin Summit Moonrise

Just before supper, I captured the moon rising over the northern Nevada desert near Burnt Cabin Summit. Image captured with iPhone XS Max.

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.

NVQSOP Finale

Diana, KJ7GVY, wins the IRON WOMAN award for tent camping at sub-freezing temperatures. Photo credit KG7D.

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.

My campsite and vertical antenna. Photo credit KG7D.

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.

The mesh node and antenna at the KJ7GVY camp.
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.

My operating position, plus some coffee ready to drink. Photo credit KG7D.

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.

A Long Way Round

This is my little camper setup at Lake Texoma near Durant, Oklahoma. It worked well on the long road trip.

Now that I am back home again, I can write about my long roadtrip and the first long trip out with the new (to me) camper.

Much earlier this year, I started seriously looking at a camper. The requirements were straightforward — housing for The Girl and me, perhaps one other (most likely Older Son), not too heavy for my 4Runner, a galley, and a bathroom.

I did not want a pop-up camper with the tent bedrooms. I wanted a hardside.

I looked at a new Forest River Rockwood hardside, but did not want to pay new price only to find out I did not like it. But I found a used unit in Los Angeles, so I bought it. Older Son and I did a short, fast roadtrip to LA and back to pick it up.

We used it on Field Day as housing for our operation. It was only a couple of days in the field, so that outing was not a proper test.

But on this trip I left the house on 10 July. I returned home on 05 August and I think that was a suitable shake-down trip.

The first leg was from Carson City to Lubbock, Texas. On the way out I stayed at KOA campgrounds. I made the choice, but it was expeditious. My friends in Lubbock were planning a get-together of old friends and I wanted to be there on time.

Of course, I did not plan well and did not understand how long it would take me to assemble the kit for the new camper. So I was a day late in my departure. The trip out took me through Ely, Nevada (a favorite place), where I spent my first night. It was then off through Green River and Moab, Utah, and on to Cortez, Colorado where I spent my second night. Both KOA campgrounds were better than expected. I also began learning how to setup my camper quickly so that it would be easy to take down the next morning without too much fussing.

My third night I stopped at a state campground, Oasis State Park, near Portales, New Mexico. That was a real treat. The sites were much farther apart and it was very quiet. I liked that quite a lot. The showers were nearly new and because there are not too many sites at the campground, they are not heavily used.

I set up my radio and listened to a number of calls. I made a couple contacts before settling down for the night.

I set up the camper in my friends’ front yard between Lubbock and Tahoka, hooked up to their electricity and water. It was a hard test for my camper because it was in direct sun. I learned that the camper air conditioner will struggle with temperatures approaching 100F and when the unit is in direct sunlight. But it does fine after sunset even with elevated temperatures.

I was busy almost the entire time in Texas. I scheduled meals with most of my closet friends, missing only a couple of those I wanted to see. I will go again, God willing, and spend a little more time there. I really need to stay at least two weeks, but a month is better.

I learned that my favorite pastor and wife team, John and Sylvia, sold their place and bought a motor home. They were in Lubbock for medical care before heading out on the road. I got to spend some time with them, time always well spent.

Older Son was in Lubbock visiting with DiL’s family. I picked him up and we headed for Durant, Oklahoma, to spend time with my youngest and his girlfriend. It was a hot, uneventful leg from Lubbock to Durant. We spent a few days in Durant, went to the movies a couple of times (rare for me), and had a great visit.

My SiL graciously allowed me to park the camper in her yard. I had plenty of room and a tree in which to hang an antenna.
We left Durant and went north across Oklahoma to the southeastern corner of Kansas, where we found a municipal campground with power and water for a ten-buck fee. The power at the first site I chose did not work. On closer inspection, the utility box appeared to have been submerged, probably over the winter or with spring floodwaters in the adjacent river. A quick check revealed another site that was slightly (a couple of feet) higher with a clear utility box. We moved the rig and had power and water. Those jurisdictional campgrounds can be very inexpensive and have decent services. Plus they are not as developed as the commercial campgrounds, meaning the spaces are generally farther apart.

We met my uncle in Springfield, Missouri for breakfast the following morning. It was a good visit and I try to pass through there anytime I’m in the area to check in with my extended family.

The drive to Rolla was short (a couple of hours) and uneventful. Older Son and I found a decent spot at my SiL’s place and got the camper setup. We were able to get it level and used my generator to power the air conditioner. The weather was really humid, especially for a desert boy.

It was good to see family and I had all three of my children and both of my grandchildren together for the first time since Wife died. We had lots of laughs and lots of talk.

Too soon it was time to leave. We said out goodbyes and headed out. Older Son and I crossed Kansas on U.S. and state highways. I dropped him in Denver, said “hi/bye” to DiL, and headed north towards Wyoming to avoid the steep grades in the front range of the Rockies. Of course, there was an accident on I-25 north from Denver, so I stopped for the night at the KOA at Wellington, Colorado.

The camp is too close to the Interstate. Although I do not know if there was anything management could do about it, the campground was infested with common houseflies. It was bad enough that I had several get into my camper during the short time it took to raise the roof and sides. But the campground was available (I got the last spot) and I was tired. So it was a good stop.

I took US 287 north to Laramie, Wyoming the next morning. It is a stretch of road I love and the grades are not too steep. I took a few minutes to drive through Laramie, wondering if it was a place I could live if I decide to leave Nevada. Who knows, I might (leave Nevada)…

Sunset from the Lyman, Wyoming KOA.

I had planned to stop for the night in Lyman, Wyoming. There is a KOA campground there. It is one of the smaller KOAs I visited, but was far enough away from the highway to be quiet. It was also not full and that added to the quiet. It was nice enough that I spent an extra night to recharge a little.

I drove on to Wendover, Nevada then turned south to Ely, Nevada where I spent my last night on the road. The Ely KOA is pretty good. It is clean, quiet, and the spaces are far enough apart (not far, but far enough). I did a hasty setup and did not unhook from the 4Runner because I knew I would leave early to get home.

The Girl and walked a few rounds around the perimeter of the campground. Both of us needed some outside time.

I woke early, of course, hit the head, then got The Girl out (who looked at me like I was crazy being up so early). She brightened when she learned we would walk as we made a round about the campground perimeter. I finished loading out the rig, dropped the camper into travel mode, and we headed into town. It was a quick stop to refuel the 4Runner and grab a biscuit from McDonalds before we left town.

The drive home was uneventful. I turned on my handy-talkie when we approached Fallon, Nevada, thinking I might be able to hear the Mount Rose repeater. I was just in time to hear the Sierra Nevada Amateur Radio Service noon net. I was surprised that I could talk to the repeater with my HT and the magnetic antenna mounted to the roof of my rig.

I was able to check in and confirm that we would run the new operators workshop the following Saturday. My signal was not great (a little scratchy, no surprise), but copyable.

Another operator and I run a workshop for newly-licensed amateur operators every couple of months. We give them a chance to operate their handheld radios with assistance (and encouragement) from a couple of more experienced radio operators. It is common for new licensees to have mike fright. The only way to gain experience operating the radio is to operate the radio. The regular nets are there partly to provide operators experience in running their radios.

After another hour or so, I backed the camper into my driveway and unhooked. Before I unloaded, I got my air conditioner out of the garage and put it in my workroom. I do not need central air conditioning so long as I can keep one room cool. If I have a place to cool off, I am good.

It is good to be home.

Mead Cafe

I am sitting in my (new-to-me) camper at the KOA Journey in Lyman, Wyoming this afternoon. I am heading home after a long roadtrip that took me to Lubbock, Texas, to Duran, Oklahoma, to Rolla, Missouri, to Denver, Colorado, and now the last leg back to Carson City.

I have been on the road for more than three weeks. All of my nights were spent in my camper, a 2017 Forest River Rockwood. It is an A-Frame that folds down and is compact in the down position. The 4Runner pulls is pretty will, slowing only on the steepest hills. I will write more about it later.

I am learning a lot about the camper lifestyle. There is a lot for me to learn about setting up my rig. It is interesting to think about a small house and how to make it work for me efficiently.

One thing I learned is that there are many campgrounds operated by county and municipal governments that are very inexpensive. I stayed at a number of municipal campgrounds where I had both electricity and water for about ten bucks a night. That is a bargain compared to what I was paying for lodging.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I want to write about an interaction I had with Marylinn and Anna, who work the floor at the Mead Cafe. The Mead Cafe is located between Durant and Lake Texoma. Older Son and I stayed at one of the Corps of Engineers campgrounds at the lake. That was an interesting experience in and of itself that bears some additional writing, too.

We met Young Son and his girl at the Mead Cafe on a Saturday morning for breakfast. I was sufficiently impressed that it became our go-to breakfast place during our stay there.

On our last morning in Oklahoma, Older Son and I stopped in for breakfast. It was a quiet morning and both women working the floor stopped to chat several times while Older Son and I drank coffee and prepared for our day.

The younger, Anna, told us about the dog she lost to an automobile and the new dog she had taken in. She asked many questions about The Girl and her service work. It was my pleasure to listen to her story, share her grief for her lost companion, and share her joy with her new companion.

The older, Marylinn, told me stories about “service dogs” — one in particular about a dog whose handler put her plate on the floor for the dog. (Yes, that caused even my eyebrows to rise!) She asked many questions about The Girl, as well. She told me that she would not have known The Girl was there but for Anna telling her there was a dog under our table.

The Girl is the real deal. She is not perfect, but neither am I. We are a good team. She knows her job and she knows me, sometimes better than I know myself. She knows what I will do before I do and anticipates our comings and goings. She knows to stay out of sight when working and she knows to play like all hell is loose when we play.

Again this morning, while I had breakfast at the Cowboy Cafe near my campsite, one of the young women working the floor came by. She told me “If I had not seen her come in, I would not have known there was a dog in here.” The Girl looked at her from the top of her eyes, staying on the flood near my feet like she always does.

After breakfast, The Girl and I drove to the Lyman Cemetery. I figured there would be a geocache there and we both needed some outside time. While I was searching for the geocache, The Girl got all rowdy, running around me on the grass like a crazy dog.

I paused my search, crouched, and said “I’m gonna get you…” and we had a great chase there on the grass. Finally, exhausted, she laid on the grass, panting and enjoying the coolness of the green.

I found my geocache, signed the log, and we headed off to Fort Bridger to walk the site and enjoy some of the history of the area.

Yes, she knows how to work and how to play. She is a good teacher for me and the best companion I could ask for.

Three Men, One Dog, One Mountain

I shot this image from the portable operating station for the Mount Davidson SOTA activation. The view was spectacular.

A few weeks ago, my friend and amateur operator suggested we do another Summits On The Air (SOTA) activation. He had chosen a mountain not far from Carson City.

Yesterday, Older Son and I had just started our walk with The Girl out at the Mexican Ditch Trail on Silver Saddle Ranch. I had a handheld radio with me (of course) and called another friend to see if he was walking his dog.

My SOTA-hunting friend responded to my call and we chatted about a group meeting he had been to when he asked if I was interested in the SOTA activation we discussed a few weeks ago.

“When would you like to do that?”

“How about today?”

I looked at Older Son, he nodded. “We just started walking The Girl. We’ll go pick up a sandwich, load up some radio equipment, and give you a heads-up.” We shortened our walk a little because I knew there would be plenty of exercise for everyone. On the way home, we stopped at Subway for a couple of sandwiches, then went home, ate, and gathered up my radio gear.

We met where the pavement ends on Goni Road. After a pause for an introduction and rough plan, we headed out with our friend in the lead. The first part of the road is well-maintained. But it turned to a trail after a mile or so.

The trail varied in condition but was not technically difficult, with the exception of one short segment. Just before we reached the aspen grove, there was a snowbank. At this time of year, the snow is very dense. I had some trepidation about it, watching the Scout cross gingerly. So, I headed down the trail and crossed the snow crabwise with little traction to steer or slow. I knew there was nothing to be gained by hitting the brakes except to exacerbate the slippage and find myself stuck sideways off the trail — or worse.

After traversing the snow, I knew there would be no going back that way for my 4Runner. Our friend called on the radio “We’ll find another way back. We have options.”

We crossed the intersection of Jumbo and Ophir Grades and he told us how the Bonanza writers got much of the history of the area right. Before long we started up the last bit of grade, which had a couple of rough places but nothing the 4Runner could not handle.

There is a turn-around/staging area a couple hundred yards from the summit of Mount Davidson. We pulled up there.

Older Son and I are setting up my portable vertical antenna for the Mount Davidson SOTA activation.
“Should we just haul gear up or go scout first?” he asked.

“I’m always in favor of scouting so there is a plan,” I suggested. So, we added a layer of clothing because the wind was fast and cold and started up the slope.

It is not a particularly difficult hike, but there is some elevation gain and many sharp rocks to deal with. I worried a little about The Girl, because she is sometimes not the brightest bulb in the box and could fall on some of the steeper sections. But she proved to be mostly careful and does have full-time four-wheel drive. She needed a little encouragement/help at a couple of locations and I kept an eye on her the remainder of time lest she wander off and fall.

The summit of Mount Davidson is interesting. There are remnants of a couple of antennas up there, perhaps from either temporary installations or old repeater locations. But of significant interest is an old flagpole that was first installed in the late 1800s. At some point, the pole bent about 10-15 feet above the base and was repaired by placing a second pole (or the remnants of the first) adjacent to the base and tying them together. There are many names and dates embossed on the steel of the flagpole. We spent a few minutes looking at that and then planning our station.

We then humped it back down the hill, retrieved the appropriate equipment from the rigs, and hauled it all back up the hill. Older Son and I began assembling my antenna (a vertical all-band base-loaded whip with a lot of ground radials) while the third component of our little company assembled the station.

The Girl stayed on overwatch and made sure no gnarly squirrels or other riffraff ambushed the company.

We tuned up the antenna for the 40-meter band and gathered around the radio. Fortunately, I brought log materials and Older Son brought water, so we were ready to go.

This is the operating point for the Mount Davidson SOTA activation. The Mount Davidson repeater is in the background.
As we prepared to begin operations, Older Son pulled a packet of Lorna Doones from his kit. Before he could get the wrapper opened, The Girl was sitting in front of him in her please sit, looking at him, and humming. We know what that means, “I can has cookie???”

Of course. We all shared some of the cookies.

Our leader called CQ-SOTA several times and got an answer from a British Columbia station. I had log duty and made the log entry. He called several more times and then offered me a shift on the radio.

The Girl came back in from perimeter duty and sat next to us, shivering a little. Older Son called her over to snuggle and warm up. We had some sun and shelter from the wind, so it was cool but not cold.

While I called CQ-SOTA, he logged into the SOTA website and “spotted” us. That means he logged an entry that we were working the Mount Davidson SOTA site so other operators could find us. I then proceeded to make five contacts, some of them contacts I had made before, some of them new contacts. I needed four contacts to log the activation (and get the points).

I handed the microphone back to our leader and took up my position with the log.

Not long after he took up operations, The Girl sat on a flat spot and looked at Older Son and I. I know my dog. She was sending a definite message. She said “I’m done now. The perimeter is patrolled and there is nothing to do. I’m ready to go home. Why are we still here? Don’t you understand, I’m done — I’m ready to go home. Take me home.”

He made another contact before the battery went dry. He and Older Son started over the hill to retrieve my battery. I stayed on the summit with The Girl and the gear. It was not long before their voices grew louder. I knew they were returning.

“We’re losing daylight,” our leader said, “I hate to give up, but we better tear down and pack out.”

On the way down from Mount Davidson, we paused at potential operating area to look back where we had been. The staging area is to the left of the rocky outcrop and we operated from near the peak.
On the way down from Mount Davidson, we paused at potential operating area to look back where we had been. The staging area is to the left of the rocky outcrop and we operated from near the peak.[/caption]It did not take long to pack up the gear and haul it down to the staging area. It was portable operations, after all. I have enough repetitions with my gear that I know what order to do things and how to pack it up. Before long we were headed back down the trail. At the Jumbo-Ophir junction, we turned east toward Virginia City on the Ophir Grade.

We chatted over the radio now and again as out leader pointed out various sights along the way. At the bottom of the hill we pulled up. “I’m whooped,” he said, “coffee will have to be another time.”

We said our goodbyes, he teased me about “stealing the glory” on this one, and we headed down the hill.

I still wanted coffee and pie, so Older Son and I drove through Carson City to Bodine’s Casino and hit the restaurant there. I like it because the coffee is good and they have a wonderful berry cobbler. I was also hungry, so I ordered off the plate menu (and bargain) and gobbled my food. It was a lot of work in the cool air to set up and run that SOTA activation.

Filled with warm food, coffee, water, and cobbler, Older Son and I headed home to pack it in. We got home about 2200h. It was a good day.

Amateur Radio Service Examinations

These license manuals occupied most of my off-time for the last several weeks.
Several weeks ago I was sharing breakfast with a friend when he mentioned that he was preparing to sit the Amateur Radio Service Technician Class examination. He had purchased a software defined radio receiver and found himself an Elmer (radio slang for mentor). I was intrigued.

Several years ago I picked up a copy of the ARRL Technician Class license manual. It occurred to me that if the mobile telephone system were to go offline that I would have a difficult time getting word out to my family that I was alive and well. I knew that unless something deeply catastrophic occurred the amateur radio bands would be open and that I could get a message out to my family via that avenue.

But, life being what it was, I set aside the manual and did not pursue the license required to operate radio equipment on the amateur bands. My friend’s revelation motivated me.

“I’ll do it with you,” I said. I reflected my initial interest from a few years before. I also mentioned that I played with radios when I was a teenager and remembered something about them.

I quickly learned that my license manual was out of date. I ordered a fresh copy and began working in my old copy. When the new version arrived, I picked up the thread.

After a week, I decided I could probably do enough work to pass the General Class examination as well. General Class privileges include a lot more of the HF (high frequency) bands. While I was buying books, I went ahead and ordered the Amateur Extra Class license manual as well. I knew that the questions were valid for another year, so I thought I would work on that after working through the other two levels.

About the end of February I attended my first SIERA radio club meeting. The exam coordinator belongs to this club and invited me down to visit. While I was visiting him, I mentioned that I thought I might attempt all three examinations. He said “That’s very difficult. I can be done, but I don’t recommend it.”

A few minutes later, the club secretary wandered by. “What was your name?” she asked. I told her. “You are going to attempt all three examinations in March?”

“Well, yes I am” was my response. “I might not pass all three, but I think I’m going to try.” So, my intent was logged into the club minutes. There’s nothing like a little pressure, is there?

The technical level for the General class is a bit greater than the Technician level, but it was not awful. I started work on the General Class material when I started passing the Technician practice tests with scores in the 80 percent range.

A couple of weeks ago I found myself passing the General Class practice tests in the 80-90 percent range. So, I thought to myself, I might as well start on the Extra Class materials.

Those materials were quite a lot more technical. There was a lot of basic circuit theory, radio equipment theory, antenna theory, propagation theory, and operational policy. The Extra Class examination comprises 50 questions; the other two classes only 35. The pass rate for all of them is 74 percent.

I failed my first practice examination. “I don’t know if I can be ready for this in time,” I thought. Yet, I continued plugging along, working through the material, working all the example problems, and preparing for the next practice test.

I passed the next practice test. My score was not great, but it was sufficient to pass. The HamStudy website and iPad application provided a lot of practice. The app indicated that I had seen about 65 percent of the questions in the pool and my aptitude was less than 50 percent. I still had work to do and only a week to get it done.

I kept after the material. Once I made it through the book, I continued using the Hamstudy flashcards and practice tests. A few days before the examination date I was passing the Amateur Extra practice tests with results in the 80–90 percent range. I stopped trying to learn new material and spent my last few days reviewing, adding to the holes in my knowledge, and practicing problems.

Saturday morning, I met my friend for an early breakfast. “Are you ready?” he asked. “About as ready as I can be,” I responded. We continued chatting about the radios and the world over breakfast and then headed for the venue.

We gathered with a fairly large number of other attemptees. After a few minutes, Greg, the coordinator, called us to attention and began handing out the paperwork. There were some forms to complete and then we were to hand in our forms and pay the examination fee.

One of the proctors looked at me, “Are you the guy attempting the trifecta?”

“Yep, that would be me.”

“There are about 12-hundred questions in that pool. There’s no way anyone could memorize that many questions,” he remarked.

“Well, I studied all the material,” I responded.

“Good luck…”

The first exam was distributed. I wrote my test number on my answer sheet and opened the examination. Ten minutes later I handed in my examination. Then I waited while the proctors reviewed my answers. The second proctor looked over the shoulder of my inquisitor, then gave me a thumbs up and took my answer page to check.

A few minutes later I was handed the second examination (General Class) and answer sheet. I repeated the process. I spent a little more time on the General Class examination because I wanted to be sure I caught all the words. I handed it in after maybe 20 minutes.

A few minutes later I received another thumbs-up. I waited for the third examination, knowing it would be more challenging. Soon I had the examination booklet and answer page in hand. Again I filled out the required information and opened the examination.

I do not know how long that exam took me. I know that one of the new proctors (they had two new guys sitting in for experience) was watching me carefully. It was not that he thought I was cheating, he was curious about my approach to the work.

In the 50 questions, there were some I could not remember. (Some of the material is rote memorization.) There were quite a few soft-balls in the lot that were easy to answer. There were a number that I knew, not just from remembering, but I new the material.

I handed in my exam. Again, I got a thumbs-up from the second proctor as the first finished correcting my examination. I did all three classes in one sitting. I was told that does not happen often.

The man watching me smiled. He said “I knew you were going to pass the last examination. You were very focused on the work. Congratulations.”

I am an engineer. Most of my life has been spent figuring out ways to solve problems. Some of them are amenable to mathematical solution. Others require a more intuitive approach. All are based on my understanding of math, physics, and chemistry. This exercise in the Amateur Radio Service licensing examinations was no different. They were not as difficult as my engineering license exams, nor my Master or Ph.D. exams. The Extra Class examination was challenging and there was a real risk I might not pass.

But, I did. I was reminded of an aphorism another operator shared with me. “Do you know what the call the person who graduates at the bottom of their medical class… doctor.”

All I had to do was pass. Once my license is issued, then the practicals begin. I have to learn to operate the radio in real space, not in book space.

I am pleased the ordeal is over. I am looking forward to the issuance of my license and call sign. Then I can operate my radios. It is fun stuff.

Postscript — Six Years

As I worked through my day, a few more thoughts occurred to me. Perhaps they are worth sharing, so here goes.

The Girl and I walked more than five miles today. We had a long walk this morning down by the Carson River, which remains a favorite place. We greeted doggie-friends along the way. She had plenty of opportunities to sniff, pee, and explore her usual haunts.

On the route back to the rig, she split off on one of our favorite alternate paths, which takes us right down to the river but off the main trail. I particularly like this place and often walk this side path. But today I was ready to get home so I stayed on the trail.

She trotted our a couple-dozen yards, then turned to look at me. I know that look… “This way!” she says. But I stayed on the path, so she came running over to me, “encouraging” me to go the other way. So I played the this-way, that-way game for a bit, pretending to walk first one direction, then another.

She played, first leading me one way and then the other. After a few iterations she ran a large-circle zoomie and returned to my side, at least for a moment. Then we were back down the trail toward the staging area and the rig.

I laughed with her and played a little of the grab-ass game, with me grabbing either a little ass or a little tail. Either works and causes a big laugh from both of us. Dogs are such physical creatures and I love that about them.

I picked up a print job and a sandwich on the way home. The Girl was a little tired, but not too tired to pass the chance to beg a little of my sandwich, which I happily shared.

After lunch we had a nice nap. One of the things I love about my life is that ability to take a break and sleep for a few minutes in the afternoon. That time spent with The Girl is another small thing that gives me some joy.

We walked again in the evening, over that the old orphanage. It was a beautiful winter afternoon, with a few clouds, some sun, not much wind, and 55F. I noticed Squirrel’s memorial as we passed and thought about all the things I wrote earlier in the day. I spent some time praying as I walked and remembered Wife’s life as well.

These thoughts passed as the sun fell behind the Sierra Nevada and we returned to the rig. I elected to treat myself to supper and drove out to Applebee’s. I have not had a steak in a long time and wanted one. So, that’s what I did. The Girl worked for me and spent her time under my table, as good as always.

So, now we are home again. I ate all the steak, so I got out a Greenie after we got home, made her work for it, and then treated her. She earned it. And now she is sleeping under the table next to me.

As I sat in the restaurant, I recalled Becky’s comment and how I went to a grief group a couple of times. The hospice sent me a couple of invites after Wife died. I resisted at first, but then decided “what the hell” and went.

The first meeting was very small. There was a couple of women, another man, and me. The group leader went through her materials. We talked a little about our grief. Then the leader offered a few things and we broke up.

The second meeting was different. There were a lot more women, maybe ten or twelve. Then there was that other man and me. The dynamic was different, although I would be pressed to describe why and how. It was just different. I then realized practically something I knew intellectually — men and women process their grief differently. I realized that the other man (a bit older than me) was stuck. He was not going to move through his grief until he either learned to let go or got professional help. The women were not going to be much help to me.

When the meeting broke, I walked out of the hospice center where it was held. My back was straight and turned to the exercise and I knew I would not return. It was not right for me. I was doing what I needed to do to process my grief and the group was not going to help me with that.

And so it was. I did not go back. I read my books for advice. I did the work. I knew that no one else would be able to do that work for me. It was mine and mine alone to do. So, that is what I did.

Becky’s friends who recently lost loved ones have a hard path to walk. I do not envy them that path, but I know that can traverse what is before them, do the work, and be healed. Their loss will suck, it will continue to suck, it will always suck, but the suck will decrease with time and work (hat tip to Jim for that one). They will be stronger for doing the work. I pray that they can.

In reflecting on my day I realize how blessed and thankful I am. I have more than I need and about all that I want. My dog and I spend a lot to time together. I have enough work to pay my bills and then some. The work keeps me intellectually engaged. The dog keeps me emotionally and spiritually engaged. I am blessed. I am grateful.

Squirrel — And Six Years

The best little dog ever…

It does not appear that I wrote about the scene above. I looked in my archive, because I thought I wrote about the sad story of Squirrel, but found nothing. Perhaps that is because I talked to Older Son about what happened quite a lot and I am confusing conversation with writing. Therefore, if the story is familiar to you please feel free to pass this story.

Late last year, The Girl and I were walking our circuit(s) around the old state orphanage one evening. I noticed a marker, a pot with some dianthus in it, and a paper fluttering in the evening breeze. I am the curious sort (not nosey, I promise), so I stopped to read.

What I read caused my heart to sink. It was the heart-wrenching story of another park visitor whose little dog was attacked and killed by a pair of larger dogs at this spot. Two “pet bulls” charged Squirrel, grabbed him, and tore him between them before they were called off by their handlers. “They must have thought he was a toy,” was what they were reported to say before they hurried away.

So, this man stayed with his little dog as the life left him, shocked and dismayed. I do not know this man, although we interacted a few times over the last couple of years. He is one of the afternoon visitors to the little park, where several others bring their dogs each day. He had three dogs, as I recall, and they would follow and play as he walked the circuit as part of their daily routine.

Later he returned with the marker to celebrate his little dog and remember what happened at that spot. I came across the marker only a few days after Squirrel died. Since that time, I have been quite watchful for the two white “pet bulls” and their “heavy” handlers. I have not seen them.

I spoke to one of the DPS troopers (Capitol Police Unit) who patrol the area every day. He was aware of what happened and asked if I had seen the dogs and their handlers. So, the authorities are aware of a couple of aggressive dogs who attacked and killed another.

I reflect on this almost every time I walk past the memorial. Since November, it has been enhanced and made relatively permanent. The groundskeepers seem to leave it alone. Passersby added some stones and other things to the site. I will probably bring a rock from somewhere and leave it as a token of respect for this man’s loss. I can imagine his grief at the violent loss of his beloved little dog. It saddens me to think of it.

And I know grief. One cannot live six decades and not experience a variety of loss. My grandparents are all gone. My parents are gone. My sisters are gone. I am the last of my generation’s nuclear family. I have a brother-in-law and an uncle still alive, and of course, my children and grandchildren.

But the most difficult loss was Wife. She died six-years ago, today. That loss, and the grieving that followed, was crushing. Losing my parents and my sisters was hard, but those losses paled in comparison to the loss of Wife. I recall the sound that emanated from me the moment she died. My sons heard it. I still have difficulty believing that I made that sound.

Like the moment of Wife’s passing, that sound did not last long. It marked my passage from caregiver to widow. And then… the grief-work began.

I learned to enter into my grief, not to let it possess me, but to fully experience it, to work it because that is the only way to get through it. Grief cannot be put away or buried. It must be lived in order to be healed. I did that work and it was not easy. It was a way to honor Wife’s life and the relationship that we shared for all those years.

It took me nearly two years to work through my grief. The first year was absolute hell. The second had moments of clarity and moments of darkness. But, near the end of the second year, life began to be interesting again.

The holidays remain difficult because of Wife’s love of them. They always bring memories of her joy in that season. I know I am not alone in that perception of a mix of joy for the season and sadness at my loss. I am alright with that and accept it as part of the gift that came with spending most of my life with her. Then, today is difficult as well, marking the anniversary of her death. But it does not hurt like it did five- and six-years ago.

I will grieve a little today as I remember Wife’s life and our life together. It is a good thing to do, so long as I do not let that affect me negatively. But, I am healed of my grief. I did that work and it was a good work. It celebrated and honored Wife and our communal life as a family. I think these are honorable actions.

And, I am reminded of another old man who lost his little dog, whom he loved. Maybe those dogs are his only family. Maybe he spends all of his time with those dogs and has little human contact. It would not be the first time such a thing occurred. In any event, I understand and relate. I nod at the memorial in salute every time I pass it, thinking about my own relationship with The Girl and often of Wife’s life and that relationship.

And today I celebrate and remember Wife, who died six-years ago today. I will grieve a little, but only a little. Wife would chastise me for dwelling on the negative. She would be right.

Baski-Robo

The fall colors are fading fast. So, I’m collecting what frames I can so I’ll have stock for the next few weeks.

Fall progresses. The colors are fading quickly. I am capturing every frame I can. I should have material to keep me busy for a few weeks. But I feel the change coming as the landscape dons its winter colors.

A couple of years ago I read The Way of the Peaceful Warrior. There were many scenes in the book that captured my attention. One of them came to mind yesterday afternoon.

The Girl and I left the house around 1600h for an evening outing. Now that we are back on standard time, the light begins to fall about 1700h. Therefore, I will adjust our evening schedule so we are not walking in the dark (at least, not often).

I had a late lunch/early supper and she was fed, so there was no rush for supper. We took our time walking around the park, playing, loving, enjoying the cool evening air, and watching the light fade as the sun worked off to the west.

She did the squirrely pit bull thing, wriggling around on her back in the grass, snorting and coughing. I knelt beside her and played a little, then started a tummy rub. I have a smiling dog when she is pleased and I saw the corners of her mouth turn up into that little smile when she is happy and content. We played our little games as we made our way back to the rig.

I offered the ball, but she was not very interested. Well, sometimes she is interested and other times not. So we packed it in and headed away from the park. I decided I wanted a treat, so we drove down the Baskin-Robbins.

I no longer keep ice cream in the house. I like it too much and do not need to eat it every day. So, if I want ice cream, we drive over to the shop and pick it up.

Yes, I said we… wait for it.

I parked the rig and walked into the store. “Do you have black walnut ice cream,” I asked.

The first young woman said “Ummm…” The other, working the register and the drive-up window answered “Yes!”

“I’d like a scoop of Rocky Road and a scoop of Black Walnut in a cup, please.” The first young woman busied herself with my order while I paid the other working the register.

The first returned with my order and handed to me. “Could I have a second spoon, please?” I got a flash of a puzzled look, me being by myself, but she complied.

I walked out to the rig, sampling the Rocky Road as I walked. The Girl was waiting in the back of the rig, watching for me. As I opened the door, she stretched way out “sniff, sniff, sni-sni-sniff” as her nose worked, wondering what wonderful delight I might have returned with.

“Are you going to eat that?” she asked.

We sat there in the lot, me nibbling at the Rocky Road and watching the light change as the sun traveled further west. In between bites, I paused, loaded the second spoon with a little Black Walnut, and offered it to the Girl.

The first bite was funny. She s-n-i-f-f-e-d tentatively, then tried a light lick. Then it was GAME ON and she worked the spoon clean. I placed her spoon on the console and took a bite of Rocky Road for myself.

I took my time, enjoying each bite. I remembered the scene from Peaceful Warrior in which Socrates savors each bite of his food while Asshole just shovels his food in, never noticing anything about it. After each of my bites, I loaded The Girl’s spoon with some Black Walnut and held the spoon for her while she enjoyed her share. Then I would get one for myself while she watched me carefully.

“You are going to share that with me, aren’t you.” It was not a question, but a statement. It is one I hear often. Heh…

We continued working through the treat with me sharing the Black Walnut after the Rocky Road was depleted. It seemed the scoops were much smaller than I recall. I suppose that is just progress.

I was also reminded of a favorite musician, Warren Zevon, gone now for too many years. After being diagnosed with terminal cancer, he admonished those around him to “Enjoy every sandwich.” It is the same lesson Socrates was teaching Asshole in Peaceful Warrior. Life is short. We do not know what tomorrow will bring. There is wisdom in practicing gratitude, in reflecting on the moment, and on savoring each and every bite. Each is a gift from God.

Last night I was paying attention. The Girl cleaned up the cup after we finished. Then we drove back home. I gave her the last bit of her rawhide chew as I began to settle down for the night.

I am grateful.

Key|Smart

I have carried this Key|Smart for several years. The anodizing is wearing from high-friction areas, but it is holding up well and is one of my better purchases.

A couple-three years ago I carried my keys on a ring a-jumble in my left front pocket. They were on the opposite side from my front-pocket wallet. They were forever bouncing around the bottom of the pocket and I cannot recall the number of times they poked my leg, sometimes painfully.

They also subjected my pocket to a lot of wear. I have had more than one pair of jeans lose the pocket to my keys and need repair.

About that time I became aware of the EDC “thing” and the community that grew up around it. I did not that Every-Day-Carry was a “thing” — but it is quite a thing. Keys and wallets are two significant components of EDC, along with knives and other tools. I could write several articles about this and I might.

In any event, I came across the Key|Smart. It is a small device designed to hold several keys in a compact, secure holder that is easily clipped to a lanyard or other retaining device. I bought one and it was delivered a few days after my purchase.

I read a few horror stories about users who had their Key|Smart loosen and floor sort all of their keys, some of them lost. These were individuals who carried their keys outside the pocket. If the device loosened, then there could be a loss of keys. However, for the life of me, I cannot understand why one would not hear them drop to the ground.

So I assembled the set of carry-keys (I have another non-carry keyring that holds the remainder), organized them in a fashion I thought would be optimal, and started carrying them in my KeySmart.

After a few days, I build a lanyard from some paracord that permits my keys to ride in my left-front pocket but they hang from my belt and do not lie on the bottom of my pocket. This works for me. I use an S-biner to clip to the lanyard (a loop-lanyard) so I can one-handed release the upper portion of the S-biner, retrieve my keys, and flip open the housekey without needing both hands.

This works for me.

I have reorganized the keys as the number of keys changes with time. I also have the most-used keys away from the clip end of the KeySmart.

Yesterday, I removed an unused key (probably an old Post Office key) and rearranged the spacers to put one between each key. This means the keys no longer ride against each other and they are a little easier to roll out with one hand.

Besides not having a jumble of keys rattling around in the bottom of my left front pocket, the Key|Smart is nearly silent. I rarely hear it unless it bounces against the Bestech Kendo that I currently carry clipped to my left front pocket. The silence is a boon.

I can readily recommend this handily little device.