Parks on the Air

Shot with the Fujifilm X100V.

A couple of weekends ago I decided it was time to not work all weekend. On Saturday morning, The Girl and I headed out, not knowing where I might end up. We walked for an hour out at Silver Saddle Ranch, then headed east on US 50. I was on the phone with my buddy Dick and indicated that I needed to get out and do something away from the house.

At first, I thought I would drive down to Yerington and activate the wildlife management area north of town. But, as I turned south on US 95, I decided that either Buckland Station or Ft. Churchill were both closer and needed to be activated.

Buckland Station won the coin toss. I parked the rig and looked for a place to deploy a wire. Seeing none, I retrieved the drive-on mast mount and the 10m SOTAbeams mast from the rig and set them up. I also retrieved the Elecraft KX3 and a small battery from the rig.

A little wider shot of the Buckland Station deployment. The KX3 is in the foreground and the SOTAbeams mast, random-wire antenna, and part of the drive-on mast are in the background. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.
I used the Sagebrush Antenna deployed to near vertical with the distal end affixed to the top of the mast. The opposite end went to a cobrahead adapter and direct to the radio. I threw the counterpoise on the ground around the rig.

I sat down at my folding table with my back to the sun (it was chilly), started a log on my iPhone (HAMRS), and listened on 20m near the QRP watering hole of 14.060MHz. With nothing heard, I called QRL? (“Is the frequency in use?”) a couple of times, then hit the message button to transmit “CQ CQ POTA DE AG7TX AG7TX POTA K” a couple of times, then paused to listen for a caller.

The KX3 station setup at Buckland Station for a POTA activation. Shot with iPhone 13 Pro Max.
While the radio was sending my general call, I spotted myself on the POTA network. After a few minutes, the calls began to come in. I worked each station as I could and even managed a few DX (foreign country) contacts. The most memorable being an OH1 station located in Finland.

I worked the bands for an hour or so and made my quota for an activation. I was cold, so The Girl and I headed home after a brief pit stop.

The door of Buckland Station. This is what arriving travelers and Pony Express riders would have seen a hundred years ago. Shot with Fujifilm X100V at f/8 with Reggie’s Portra film simulation.
I woke Sunday morning again not wanting to spend the day working. So I puttered a bit over my morning coffee and then decided to get The Girl out to walk and do another POTA activation.

I grabbed a snack because my blood sugar has been falling unexpectedly, some water, and a battery for the radio. We loaded up into the rig and headed west to Spooner Summit. I pulled off onto the forest road and parked the rig at the staging area where I like to work.

The Girl and I then headed out to walk before I set up a radio. Again, I talked to my buddy in Montana as I walked. But I kept my eyes open for critters as I have seen a big coyote who is not afraid of humans several times.

She was ready to rest when we returned to the rig, so I gave her some water and put her in the 4Runner. She settled right down for a nap in the sun.

I retrieved the new line-throwing kit from the 4Runner, stretched out the line, and affixed the throw weight. After four or five throws, I was unable to hit my target branch. Instead of fumbling more, I retrieved the drive-on mast mount and the 10m mast from the rig and setup a wire antenna. I again used the Elecraft KX3 barefoot (10-15w of power) and set up my table and chair.

A wind had come up, maybe gusting to 10–15mph, but variable direction. It was kinda-sorta from the south, but was curling around to the point I could not get shelter.

So I put on my heavier hoodie, put my back to the wind (and the sun), and worked the radio. The higher bands have been good lately, so I started on 10m and worked my way down.

Again, it took an hour or hour-and-a-half to make my activation quota and work the bands dry. The sun was falling lower in the sky and I was cold, so I quit.

It did not take long to put away the station and get The Girl out for a last bit. She looked for critters and peed until I called her in and we got into the rig.

It was another good day and a good day for me to get outdoors. The Girl loved it, too.

I learned a few more things.

  • I need practice with the throwing kit. I suspect there is something of an art to using a throw weight and line to hit a particular target.
  • I need some kind of shelter for cool-weather activations. I looked at a fishing hut last year, but did not buy one. A small fishing hut that folds up would make a good operating shelter. I could deploy a heater (I have one) and place a mat for The Girl.
  • My principal reservation about a hut is the lack of windows. I like being outside because (in part) I like the sun and the light. I do not want my activation shelter to cut those things off.
  • I need the means to heat water and make coffee, tea, soup, or a hot meal. I have used the Trangia burner in another stove I have in my inventory. But it is not as handy as I want. Hence, I am working on an upgraded kit and some of the results are posted on this weblog.
  • The iPhone works for spotting myself and for logging, But I think a Rite-in-the-Rain notebook and pencil should be in my field kit. I am thinking again of reducing my dependence on technology, although it is good to be able to spot myself for SOTA/POTA activations.
  • HAMRS is well suited to logging POTA activations. It has features that display other activators and make it easy to log their information for park-to-park chasing.
  • I am not sure I ever documented my post-processing of POTA logs. Most of my activations are multiple parks, at least two. I have a couple of favorite places that are three or four park activations. That means the post-processing of my log requires some editing so that chasers get credit of more than one park. I also get credit for activating multiple parks.
  • The new field cooking kit is coming along. I will have the ability to make a hot drink or food in the field. This is a critical safety issue as hypothermia is real and it does not have to be very cold for it to strike. Hot food and drink are part of combating environmental dangers effectively.
  • I am really enjoying Morse Code. I still operate phone part of the time. But the ability to deploy a small radio kit and make contacts thousands of miles away with a few watts means everything is smaller, lighter, and simpler than a more powerful radio kit.

That is all I can think of. It was a good couple of days in the field. Life is good.

Before I left the park, I walked around Buckland Station for a few captures. This one is of the north-facing side of Buckland Station. Shot with the Fujifilm X100V at f/8 with Reggie’s Portra film simulation.

Daily Image — 10 September 2023

I love textures. This old log attracted my attention with the combination of surface texture and the play of light on the surface. I made the capture with a Fuji X-E4 and a Voigtlander Ultron 27mm f/2 at f/8. I used the Kodachrome 64 film simulation.

The Girl and I are hiking up near Spooner Summit a lot lately. It is cool up there. The lodgepole pines give a lot of shade and I love the sound of the wind in them. The risk of snakes is less than it is in the sageland. There are lots of things to photograph and the offering changes often with the change in light.

The area was burned a few years ago. Many of the trees are undamaged. But there are plenty of downed trees that can be interesting (both for The Girl and for me). There are also lots and exposed rocks that provide interesting textures.

It will take me a while to exhaust the area of photographic subjects.

On this particular day, The Girl and I hiked our regular trail from the staging area. She sniffed about looking for critters while I explored visually. I found this downed tree and like the texture and play of light across the surface. I made the capture. Post-processing was light with a little change in contrast and a little boost to the color.

When we returned to the staging area, I setup a radio station and activated the park. The site is also a designated Parks on the Air site (actually it is a double — two parks). It was a good day. I am grateful. Life is good.

The Girl Poses

She would rather be hunting. But she needed a break because she was overheating. Shot with Fuji X-T5 and the Fujinon 33mm f/1.4 at f/4.
While I work through my first morning coffee, I decided to post a capture of my lovely Girl. She will pose for me if I ask. Well, maybe sometimes I have to tell. [Heh]

We have been spending some time every weekend in the national forest at an elevation of about 7,000 feet. It is much cooler there and the pines provide shade and that soothing shooshing sound when the breeze blows through the needles. The lagniappe is that I can play radio a little, hike as much as I want, and enjoy being away from the sounds of Carson City.

I already have enough backlog of photographs to post for weeks. Those are just the captures from the last couple of weekends up there near Spooner Summit. I have many more from our walks at Silver Saddle Ranch.

I am already looking forward to the weekend. I plan on going back to this place. Although, as I think on it, my friend Greg mentioned Hermit Valley out south of us. It is also at elevation and is a new place to explore. I will have a look this week to see if there is a park or a summit to activate. Then I might plan a day trip out there to explore.

Down the (NVIS) Rabbit Hole

Here is another short entry I wrote some time ago. I am not sure when I wrote it nor why I never posted it. But it turned up when i did a search for draft articles. It is complete, so here it is.

It all started so innocuously. The May edition of the SNARS Crackin’ Static arrived in my email inbox. I started reading it and came across an article about Near Vertical Incident Skywave (NVIS) antennas.

NVIS is very useful for short range high-frequency radio communications. The military uses it for their communications and the Amateur Radio Emergency Service (ARES) uses it for emergency auxiliary communications for their served agencies.

It is also useful for contacting close stations when activating a park (POTA) or a summit (SOTA) when the stations have intervening topography or are beyond ground wave propagation. Ground wave works out to about 50 miles or so (depending on frequency). The first skip is out somewhere over 500 miles or so (depending on both frequency and ionospheric conditions). So there is a gap in between the 50–500-mile range.

This is where NVIS comes into play. The trick is to choose an operating frequency such that the ionosphere will refract near vertical radio waves back to ground. If the frequency is too low, then it is absorbed by the ionosphere. If it is too high, no refraction occurs.

So, the Goldilocks principle applies — the just right frequency is needed.

And so off I go down the rabbit hole, reading about ionosondes (radio stations that test the ionospheric conditions) and the data they produce.

And here I go learning about Lowest Usable Frequency, , and Maximum Usable Frequency plus a host of associated data and technology.

I love looking at graphs of data as well and learning how to interpret what I see.

This research will probably result in a short note on how to read the data and the charts. If one is a radio operator, then this is important material… provided you want your signal to get through.

A SOTA Weekend

The Girl passing by my KX1 station while we were on Hot Springs Mountain for a SOTA activation.

I wrote this over a year ago, but never got around to posting it. I am not sure why. Perhaps I set it aside to look for a photograph for the header. Or, perhaps I simply forgot about it. Nonetheless, it is not a bad story so I think I will tell it.

This weekend was a study in contrasts. Saturday, a friend and I drove up to the activation zone of Prison Hill, at the south side of Carson City. The trail to the top is no challenge for the 4Runner and I’m not a hard driver.

So I had the luxury of computer logging, full output power from the KX3, a table to work from, and a nice chair. The antenna was a kit-built EFHW in inverted-L using a SOTAbeams 10m travel mast. It was a fun afternoon with a friend and my dog, although neither of them participated in the radio fun (the friend is licensed; the dog is not).

This morning I decided I had so much fun yesterday that I would do it again, this time Hot Springs Mountain. It was just doggo and me. I attempted an approach from the west side, but the last half-mile was a rough trail of scrabble and I did not think the 4Runner would traverse it.

So I drove around to the south side and up a sand wash. The sand had a little moisture from the last snow and I was able to stay on top of the sand by keeping up my speed.

I expected the sand ravine near the top and there it was. I was sure I could get down to the bottom of the ravine, but figured that’s where I would stay.

So, I got out my KX1 kit (shack in a small Pelican box), a bottle of water, a 3Ah LFP battery (gives just a little more output power from the little KX1 and will run forever), and the SOTAbeams mast.

The SOTAbeams travel mast leaned up against a rock cairn atop Hot Springs Mountain. An end fed random wire is affixed to the top of the antenna for the activation.
Doggo has four-paw drive, but not so this old man. She sprinted back and forth urging me on while I trudged up the remaining quartile mile of trail, pausing now and again to catch my breath.

There was a cairn in the activation zone and I found a way to stabilize the mast against the cairn with a Voile strap I brought along, just in case. I stretched the wire I carry in the kit along the mast and threw the second bundle of wires I use for a counterpoise on the rocks.

The radio matched the antenna readily and the 40m noon net (7.2835MHz) NCO heard me. So I knew I had a working station.

Over the next hour and a half I worked 17 stations on 40m, 30m, and 20m, including a couple of summit-to-summit operators. Doggo sat patiently next to me, enjoying the sun and the view.

I was on 20m when the antenna was blown over by the wind a second time. It had come up near the end of my operation.

I finished landing the fish I had on the line and announced my QRT, followed by a post to the SOTAwatch portal. It only took me a few minutes to tear down and head back down the hill.

I should mention that I used the backup key for this activation. The key I had been using failed during the first part of my activation. Fortunately, I keep the factory key in the kit as a backup. It’s not my favorite key, but it is a working key.

The contrast in the two ops is striking. Saturday was what I’ll GLOTA (glam-SOTA), with all the luxuries one could want in the field. Today I earned my contacts the hard way — by humping up the last, steepest, part of the hill.

Both days were good. Today was better. I’m whupped!

Daily Image — Antenna Testing

A fellow member of The Tech Prepper’s Discord sent me an antenna to test. The Girl and I took it to Washoe Lake.

I sat on this project for almost three weeks. A fellow member of The Tech Prepper’s Discord channel offered to send me an antenna to test. It is a linked, end-fed, half-wave antenna. It covers the 20m, 30m, 40m, 60m, and 80m amateur radio bands. It is intended to be set up low so that the low bands will provide regional communications (near vertical incident skywave, which is technical talk for bouncing off the ionosphere).

So we drove up to Washoe Lake where I would have room to deploy the antenna. I did not get out a radio, but used the antenna analyzer to test it.

After about an hour of playing with the antenna, I got Sera out to play in the water a bit. It was hot.

Parks on the Air AAR

The Girl and I stopped briefly at the south side of Mono Lake for a short break. There is still a lot of snow in the Sierra Nevada.

This week I was tasked with travel to Southern California for a field walk. The project is just getting started and doing a site visit is a critical part of forensic engineering.

I activated Manzanar National Historic Site for Parks on the Air. The place is a testimony to the mistreatment of Japanese-American citizens about 80-years ago.
On the way down, I stopped at K-0845, Manzanar National Historic Site. In 2014, Ki and I visited Manzanar on our way back from Ash Meadows National Wildlife Refuge, where I had a project. It was in January, so the weather was good for a visit to Death Valley, which we did. On the way north we spent an hour or so at Manzanar, walking the site and taking in what we, as a country, did to our Japanese-American fellow citizens. It was wrong. The site feels wrong.

Be that as it may, Manzanar is also a designated Parks on the Air park. I wanted to activate it. And time spent outside the rig for a few minutes is always good on a long trip. Sera got out of the rig for a run around while I got out the station. It was hot enough and there was enough traffic that I put her back in the rig.

I setup my folding table and chair under the rear hatch. Sera found a spot in the back out of the sun. It did not take long to put out an antenna and get the station on the air. In less than an hour I made my activation running 15 watts. I put everything away, gave Sera a drink, got one myself, and we got back on the road.

We spent the night at a Best Western in Sherman Oaks. It was noisy with city energy and the neighbors had a small dog that barked. This irritated Sera… she growled and grumbled several times that night. I rested some, enough to be up early to deal with accumulated email and the market.

There is a Denny’s in the facility, so I got some coffee and breakfast. Of course, I took The Girl some of my bacon and sausage, plus a couple of scrambled eggs for her breakfast.

It took about 45 minutes to get to the site and a couple of hours to see what I needed to see. I visited with my clients a bit, then headed back home.

Wisely, I had a reservation for a hotel in Lone Pine, California. This is about halfway between the site and home. I knew I would not want to drive all the way home after spending the morning on the site. So I did the easy thing and stayed over.

The Girl and I had a nice visit of the Alabama Hills National Scenic Area in Lone Pine, California. I also activated the park.
I checked out early Friday morning, got Sera out for a little constitutional, and then bought a biscuit and a coffee from McD’s. I shared my biscuit with Sera and drove over to K-8300, Alabama Hills National Scenic Area, another designated park. I found a spot to setup the station, got Sera out for a bit. Again, there was a little too much traffic so she had to stay in the rig. But it was cool in the morning so it was not too bad.

Again, I had my quota after about 45 minutes. The 20-meter band was the go to band for this activation. I worked an Indonesian station and that surprised me. But DX is always welcome.

I put away the station and was able to make a meeting (virtual) using my iPhone at 1100h local. That did not last long, so Sera and I puttered a bit before heading north towards home.

At the north end of Independence, California (I think) is a BBQ place called the Copper Top. It was lunch time as we passed, so I turned back and bought a tri-tip sandwich. With pickles, onion (red onion), and a few jalapeños (and some sauce) it was good. But it was not as good a slow-cooked Texas brisket. I shared a bite of sandwich with Sera, of course.

Then it was time to slug out the home stretch. I was tired, of course. I stopped a few times to stretch, give Sera some water, and get her out of the rig. Still, it was a tough slog.

I learned a few things, of course.

  • I need to either add another set of blue Voile straps, or add a longer set of Voile straps to the antenna kit. The blue straps were not long enough to go around the 4×4 or 6×6 posts at the Alabama Hills site. I had to double the blue straps and then find a rock to keep the mast in place.
  • I really think it would be better to log on the computer than my iPhone, particularly for POTA activations. The larger screen of the computer is simply easier to see.
  • In addition, I was checking the Reverse Beacon Network for my spots. RBN is a great way for CW and digital operators to determine whether their signal is getting out to the spotter stations. The spotter stations decode the signals they hear and post the calling stations callsign, mode, signal strength, and speed to the webpage. If I am spotted, then I know the station is working because other stations are receiving my transmissions. It would be a lot easier to have multiple browser tabs open on the computer than it is to flip back and forth between tabs on my iPhone.
  • I prefer a more leisurely activation, one where I have (and take) time to operate multiple modes and work through all the open bands to take the calls of the park hunters.
  • But, when traveling, it is also a good break to stop for an hour, make at least ten contacts, be out of the rig for awhile, and get Sera out too. This type of activation has a place as well as the more deliberate, longer activation.

In all, the radio play was a nice break from the drive. I gave a few hunters an opportunity to chase a couple more parks. And Sera got a chance to be out of the rig for a while too. It was good. Life is good.

Washoe Lake SP AAR — 18 June 2023


A little wider view of Washoe Lake and my operating position.

I had not intended any radio play when I rose Sunday morning. But, after getting some work done and then getting The Girl out for a walk, I sat at my work table thinking about what I should do and what I wanted to do.

I have an antenna provided by a colleague in The Tech Prepper Discord channel. It is intended for NVIS (near vertical incident skywave) operations, which is a useful tool for regional communications. The ability of a station to reach others in a range from local to about 500 miles out (or so) is critical for emergency communications.

It turns out this is a useful range for park activations (and summits).

NVIS uses frequencies below about 10MHz, which includes the 30m, 40m, 60m, 80m, and 160m amateur radio bands. I often see other activators using 60m, which is in the 5MHz range and is often available during the daytime hours.

But… I really did not feel like working that hard. (That is, working at testing an antenna.) I have been so busy the last few months that I am a bit burned out. I had a lot of fun in Missouri with my family and working parks on my way out and on my way back. But, there was quite a bit of pressure to get back and get work done (another report).

The report is nearly done (review comments on Monday) and another project will be completed shortly thereafter. But the bottom line is that I am mentally fatigued and need to regroup and recharge.

Field Day will be the coming weekend (24–25 June) and there will be some camping. That will help. But the following week is travel to SoCal for another field walk, then reduce results from that and prepare for upcoming field work.

So, OK, enough whining. The bottom line is that I wanted to get outside (the weather is gorgeous), maybe play a little radio, and not do anything like work.

At that point, I found myself stuck in a mental loop. The question “What do I want to do?” was quickly followed by “What radio do I want to take?” I went round and round, mentally, and could not make a decision.

Eventually, and this took some time, I decided to use whatever was already in the rig. I got Sera and we headed out. I bought a sandwich to share with Sera on the way and we drove up to Washoe Lake State Park (K-2640).

Portrait view of my operating position and Washoe Lake in the background.

I was astounded by the amount of water in Washoe Lake. I know we had a lot of snow over the winter (the melt is not yet done), but all of the areas I normally use were under water. I found a little bit of dry ground, set up the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 in its vertical configuration (thought about using a wire, decided to use the vertical), and setup the ELecraft KX3 with the KXPA100 amplifier.

The island in the water is usually dry and I often setup the station near it… not on this trip. Probably not on any trip in the near future either.

I talked to my buddy Dick a bit while getting equipment out of the 4Runner. But I had to end the call to work on the station. I forgot my earbuds.

The bands were a little noisy. The Sun is busy right now, although the geomagnetic field of the Earth is relatively quiet. I set the radio to calling CQ and spotted myself.

None of the higher bands produced any calls. I had only one on 15m. When I got to the 20m band, things perked up. I worked a couple of nice pile-ups and found I could still copy Morse Code. I struggled with my sending, though. My key kept slipping on the surface of my folding table.

I quit about 1630h local (before we turn over a new day on UTC). It did not take long to put away the station. I got Sera out to play a little. She wanted to get in the water, but I did not want to have a wet dog in the rig… nor did I feel like using the towel on her and getting her all rowdy. (Heh)

In the end, it was a good day. I left with 28 contacts (plenty for my activation), a good deal of Sun and fresh air, and a happy dog.

I did learn a few things, as usual:

  • I really need to have a plan for these outings.
  • My propensity to get caught in a mental loop will be averted if I make such a plan.
  • I need to plan for experimental time, such as testing of the antenna provided by a friend. This is more like work, but is necessary if I am to learn more about radio.
  • The back of my rig is now disorganized. I need to spend some time sorting out the gear in my 4Runner and using the space efficiently.
  • The top of my folding table is too slick for the Begali Traveller key. I need a pad of some kind in the kit for this key. I could have gotten out the N3ZN key and bracket for the KX3 and used it. (It will not move because it is attached to the radio.) But I was already in the thick of the activation when I noticed the key moving.
  • I encountered the usual number of LIDS who will call, send their exchange, and then assume I copied them and logged them. I do not log these callers.
  • I know I had one operator who had a similar call to another I was working. He/she will think I logged the contact; but I did not because I did not copy their call or their exchange.

It was still a good day, even with the mental loop that trapped me for a half-hour. I enjoyed the outdoors. Washoe Lake is beautiful with all the water. The weather is absolutely gorgeous this spring — it is hard to believe it is nearly summer. We are usually much warmer by now. But, I will take it! Life is good. I am grateful.

Contact map for the 18 June 2023 activation of K-2640, Washoe Lake State Park.

Washoe Lake SP, K-2640, AAR 21 Jan 2023

This is my Yaesu FT-897D deployed at Washoe Lake SP.

The Girl and I finally got outside some yesterday. It the first time in a few days. Both of us need the exercise, but there was so much winter the last few weeks that a nice day was difficult to find.

The mornings have been very cold for here, between 0–10oF. That is just too cold to be out early. The afternoon high temperatures were in the 30oF range, but that was still cold without sunshine.

But yesterday the sun was shining and it was warm enough by late morning. So I took Sera over to the Station 51 park and we walked a couple of laps around the perimeter. She was off-lead part of the time (good to get more exercise) but I called her in when other handlers and their charges arrived. Her energy was way too high and I knew she would bolt to engage.

I just never know how the other dog will react. Confident dogs are great — they will run and play rowdy with her. Dogs without confidence nearly always start a fight and then Sera gets blamed.

After this bit of exercise, during which my front leg slipped out from under me and I took a knee (no harm), we packed back into the 4Runner and headed north. This weekend is a Support Your Local Parks weekend and I knew there would be lots of activators out for POTA.

I stopped at Subway and bought a sandwich to take along. It took only a few minutes to get out to Washoe Lake SP. Access to the shore is still dicey given how much snow is on the ground. So I elected to park in the western staging area and deploy my rig.

I used the Chameleon MPAS 2.0 in a vertical configuration. The stake was driven into the pavement shoulder and I ran the counterpoise to the west. There was enough wind that I did not want to be out long. I thew the coaxial cable through Sera’s window and set up the Yaesu FT-897D on the dash. It took only a few more minutes to connect the battery, microphone, and key. I logged contacts on my iPhone. (HAMRS does the job for me.)

I could tell the North America QSO Party was active on the major bands. The phone section of each band was pretty busy with participants. Nonetheless, there were a few POTA activators spotted, so I started tracking them down. I was able to make my activation (10 contacts) hunting other activators. So I knew that whatever additional contacts I made would just be for fun.

I called my buddy K7ULM during a lull and got out my sandwich. We chatted a bit while I ate and then tried to find a frequency or two to make a phone contact. We finally did make the exchange, but the signal was weak. I think he was in the skip zone for the bands that were available.

I picked a frequency and started running. Dick spotted me and it was not long before a few calls trickled in. By the time we ended the call, I had quite a few calls in my log… more than enough. When I glanced down at my log, I saw the day had turned over on UTC time, which meant I started a new activation.

“Oh, I see that it’s now tomorrow, UTC. I have one contact on Sunday. That will not do — I need to make at least nine more.”

Dick laughed.

I spent the next hour or so calling on both phone and CW modes to make the second activation. I was blessed with a couple of pile-ups, which are always fun to work. I also had a couple of nice chats on phone with other operators.

The sun dropped behind the Sierras something about 1700h local. I knew it would get cold fast, so I called QRT (I’m done), posted QRT on the spotting website (so other operators knew I had closed shop), and got out to put away the antenna and rig.

This took about 15 minutes. I started the 4Runner to warm up the engine and interior while I stowed equipment.

Before we ended the phone call, Dick asked me “So what will be your reward for this?”

“I have a Cognac and some tiramisu for this evening.”

“Oooh, that sounds nice.” We both laughed.

I reflected on the day as I drove us back home. It was getting a little dark and a little cold. When we got home, I let Sera sniff around a bit while I gathered up some of the gear. The battery needed to be recharged and I prefer to keep the radio indoors when it is this cold.

As always, I learned a few things. I really want to have a better way of operating from the 4Runner. That will take some work to sort out. But it will be worth it. When it is this cold, operating in the open is generally not feasible.

A Tale of Two Radios

Alright, so I might be working the Dickens metaphor a bit too much. But I cannot help myself. It works for what I am writing.

Last weekend I was quite sick. I was sick enough that I thought I finally managed to catch the COVID virus. I tested myself Thursday a week ago and it was negative. I continued to decline, although I remained active but for one day. Saturday morning I thought “I’m going to be miserable. But I am not bedridden. I can be miserable laying about the house or I can be miserable outside.”

I elected to take Sera back to Washoe Lake State Park where we could be outside. I also decided to take along a radio in case I felt like activating the park.

We left late in the morning, arrived on site, and found bunch of folks decided to be at the park for the day. So we drove north along the shore for a half-mile or so until I saw the herd of feral horses a few hundred yards out. I decided to pick a spot between the crowd of people and the crowd of horses. I parked the rig. Sera and I got out and walked a half-hour so she could burn off some energy and I could get a little exercise and some sun.

We returned to the rig and I got out my chair, some water, and her mat. We both had a nice drink and she laid on her mat. After a few minutes I decided I was not ready to go home, so I gout out the table, the Elecraft K1, the SOTAbeams 6m mast, then antenna bag, a battery, and my Begali key.

The K1 legacy radio is still a very good QRP radio.
I deployed a random wire antenna, end-fed, in a sloper configuration and deployed it to the mast. The feed end was connected directly to the radio. I connected the battery and key to the radio. It took me about ten minutes to deploy the station. Then I checked the location of the horses, put some more water out for Sera, got some for myself, and sat down at the table. I was partly in the sun and partly in the shade. The sun felt good. It felt good to be outside.

I sent at text message to my buddy Dick that I was going to activate. Then I chased a few other activators that I could hear. I then spotted myself of the Parks on the Air (POTA) website and started calling.

After an hour or so I noticed the horses moving south, towards us. I knew that Sera might go chasing them and that would likely not end well. So I put her in the rig and closed the doors.

Part of the herd of feral horses that wandered by the station. Slide Mountain is in the background.

They passed, but decided to linger a hundred feet in front of the rig. So I stepped around the rig and told them to “git!” They ignored me. So I took a few steps forward, and started waving and flapping my hat. They did not care for that. I stepped forward again and repeated the process.

They decided to move along.

With them far enough away, I got Sera back out of the rig to be close to me. She returned to her mat, a happy dog. I then sent Dick a text that I was short a couple of calls for the activation. He put out word that I was at a park and needed a couple more contacts.

Friends in New Mexico came through and I had more than my required ten contacts. I was tired and sick, so I took down the station while chatting with Dick. Then Sera and I took a very short walk and headed home.

The Elecraft K1 radio feeding an random wire antenna at Washoe Lake State Park.

I decided to stop at the CVS for a few supplies. That done we returned home and had some supper. I tested myself for COVID a second time with a negative result. I did not feel well at all and shut down quickly.

Sunday morning I woke about my normal time. My fever broke during the night and I felt better, but not great. Again, I decided I might as well be miserable outdoors. So after breakfast we headed back to the park for a walk and maybe some radio. At the very least I could sit outdoors next to the rig and enjoy Washoe Valley.

When we got there, we found the herd of feral horses near the place I usually park on the lake bed. Of course there was a buttload of happy-lookers for the “wild” horses. So again we headed north along the shore to get away from the squatters.

Aside: The “wild” horses are not truly wild. They are feral horses that escaped or were abandoned. There have been no native horses in North America for a very long time. There is some debate on the issue and there is a reasonable article here. But, I digress.

We basically returned to the same location as Saturday. I parked the rig, and we got out to walk. The sun and air felt good. The Girl was quite happy and bounced me a couple of times wanting to rough house. We got in a good half-hour walk and I returned to the rig.

For the Sunday activation, I deployed an end-fed half-wave antenna as a lazy inverted-L. I used the Elecraft K1 again with the same battery as Saturday, although I added a small solar panel to recharge the battery while I operated. I used the same chair, table, and key. The K1 readily adjusted for the slight impedance mismatch with the antenna and I was off chasing a few other activators.

I sent Dick a text message and chased a few other activators. I then spotted myself and started calling.

This time I stored my call in one of the memories of the radio. That meant a press of two buttons on the front panel sent my call. That is what is in the video in the header of this report. That saved me quite a bit of effort. Given I am sick, that was a good choice. It was also very easy to do.

I worked Dick a couple of times, but he could not hear me on the 15m band. He said “Can you do 17m?”

“Not with the K1.”

“Too bad.”

“Not to worry, let me get the KX2 out of the rig. Then we can try 17m.”

Swapping out the radio took only a couple of minutes. It was a very difficult copy, but we were able to make the exchange on 17m for another log entry. I then returned to the 20m band to try a little more.

I worked maybe one or two more stations, then sent “LAST CALL ON 20M” and listened.

In my experience, every time I send last call, I get a bunch of calls. As expected, my frequency got busy again and I spent maybe a half-hour working another ten or so stations. I made maybe 30 contacts Sunday. That was with 7-12w of power.

After the last station, I listened for a bit. I then posted myself QRT (done for now), shut down the radio, and put away the equipment. It does not take very long, maybe 15-minutes for this deployment.

Sera and I walked a little more. Then headed home. It was a good day and a good weekend.

After working with the K1, I setup the KX2 for 17m.

As always, I have a few lessons learned:

  • The Elecraft K1 is still a great QRP radio.
    • It has a great receiver.
    • It is easy to operate
    • It has a built-in speaker
    • It has two memories
  • But it is a legacy radio, is code only, and only covers the lower portion of its four bands.
  • The Elecraft KX2 is a modern, full-featured radio that covers the 80m through 10m bands and all modes.
  • The tradeoff between the K1 and KX2 is that the latter is more complicated for the additional features.
  • Both are excellent radios.

It is fun to take the legacy radios out to work. I am surprised that they are quite capable, given their limitations. The receivers are good. The KX1 will decode sideband (phone) transmission and covers the entire range of frequencies in its bands (unlike the K1, which only covers the lower portion). I really like both of them and have no intention of letting either go.

I believe that if Elecraft developed and marketed an updated KX1, with four or five bands, an equivalent receiver, and in kit form, they would sell. I would love to have two of them — one with 10m, 12m, 15m, 17m, and 20m and another with 17m, 20m, 30m, 40m, and 80m. Or I would use a compromise, like the K1, with the 15m, 20m, 30m, and 40m bands. With the increase in solar activity, the 15m band is working again.

In any event, it was fun and illustrative to run the K1 and then the KX2 from the same park on the same activation. I realized that I like both radios, that they are both excellent performers (surprising given the age of the K1), and that the limitations of the K1 come with lighter weight and simplicity.

It was a good weekend, despite being sick.

Sera posed prettily for me on her mat. She was a very content dog.