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.