AAR: 2021 NJQRP Skeeter Hunt

My station for the NJQRP Skeeter Hunt.

The NJQRP Club hosts an annual event for low-power (QRP) radio amateurs. The event lasts four hours and the objective is to make as many contacts with other low-power operators as possible.

QRP generally means five watts or less for CW Mode (Morse Code) operators and 10w or less for voice (phone) operators. Operations can be home or portable.

With only a few watts to work with, signals can be very weak and operating in a low noise environment with a good antenna becomes important to making contacts. Because of the noise at my home, I usually operate portable. I have some favorite places to set up my portable station and play radio.

This morning I woke about my normal time, rose, made a cup of coffee, and working through my morning routine. I decided to get out and walk Sera, then go up in the Pinion Hills and set up a station and play a little.

It was smoky this morning, but not as bad as it has been. The day promised to be smoky and hot, with afternoon temperatures near 100F. We got in a good walk and then headed for the operating point just after 0930h local.

On the way, I decided to deploy my kit-built EFHW in an inverted “L” configuration using a 10m telescopic mast. I found a anchor point for the mast (an old juniper tree that was cut off at about 4ft. I ran the wire from the wire winder along the mast, tied it off near the top of the mast, and then lashed the mast (and vertical portion of the wire) to the juniper. I tied a bit of cordage to the end of the wire and used that to tie off on another juniper, forming the leg of the inverted “L.”

This is a good antenna and is reasonably tuned to resonate on 10m, 15m, 20m, and 40m. The 30m band was not in the band plan for the event, so there was no loss not having access to the 30m band.

I deployed my Elecraft KX2 with power from a 4.5Ah Bioenno LFP battery and a PowerFilm foldable solar panel. (I was not sure of the state of charge of the battery.) Given I was going to run only 5w, I knew that power usage would be minimal. My station was set up in the shade of the open hatch of my 4Runner.

Doggo was tired and hot, so she laid in the dust out of the sun. I moved an old furniture blanket to give her some relief from the dust. I also retrieved water and her bowl from the rig and both of us got a drink.

I was about an hour late getting started. I am not a serious contester anyway. I just like to play some radio. I started by searching for a few SOTA (Summits on the Air) activators, but quickly noticed two things: First, some kind of contest was ongoing and there were a lot of stations on the air. Second, I heard a couple of stations calling “CQ BZZ” and that meant I could hear Skeeters!

So I abandoned the SOTA chase and focused on the skeeters! I had not prepared a digital log, so paper would have to do. I worked the runners steadily, looking for the loudest first since they were easier to copy. The operators were patient with me as my code skills are still developing. I noticed that a few operators were running slowly, so I added some space between characters to give them a chance to copy my callsign and information. Good operators accommodate slower operators. It is the right thing to do.

Over the course of the next three hours, I logged a dozen contacts. The farthest was in Florida, which is not bad for five watts. I spent most of my time on the 20m band as that is where I heard them. I checked 40m and 15m, but heard no skeeters calling.

Tired, hot, and hungry, I shut down about 1350h local. There was only another ten minutes and I was ready to be out of the heat. So was The Girl.

I took my time packing the station, gave The Girl some more water and drank some myself. The smoke had worsened as the day wore on.

I put the transfer case in 4L and we eased back down the trail to the pavement. Then I switched back to AWD and we drove over to DQ for a bite and a treat. Of course, I ate dessert first (love me some Blizzard) and shared with The Girl. (I always share with her.) Then I nibbled at some chicken strips and shared those with her as well.

It was a good day, despite the heat and smoke. Some of the contacts were difficult, requiring multiple repeats. The signal would fade into the noise and I could only copy part of the exchange. But we worked the radio waves and made the exchange.

One operator called me over the runner’s frequency just as I finished working the station. I thought “how rude!” (oh my, that sounded like Jar Jar Binks!) and did not answer the call. I am not quite sure how I should have handled that call. Perhaps I should have sent “up one” and changed the frequency. I do not know but will ask one of my more experienced operator friends.

In all, I made 12 contacts in 10 different states/provinces. The KX2 performed. I practiced my code. I had fun, even if some of the exchanges were a challenge. I think that is part of the fun or radio and QRP (low power).

Random Wire Antenna Build

This is a random wire antenna I built for my Elecraft KX1 kit.

After walkies on Friday morning I met Tom for a radio demonstration. He wanted to see my RaDAR (Rapid Deployment Amateur Radio) setup and see my Elecraft KX3 in action.

Tom is interested in portable operations and that is about all I do. Lately I setup my little radio, the Elecraft KX1 (a four-band CW-only transceiver), with a random wire antenna to a 6m mast. I use the counterpoise wires from the Elecraft AX1/AXE portable antenna as the radiator (40m counterpoise) and counterpoise (20m counterpoise) to form the random wire antenna.

So I used this approach with the KX3 setup. When I checked into the 40m Noon Net (7.2835MHz), I noticed the KX3 threw a “High Current” warning and rolled the power back to 5w. That sent me on a hunting expedition later in the day.

I think the 40m counterpoise from the AXE is too close to 10m long, which is one-quarter wavelength at 40m and a half-wavelength at 20m. That’s not going to work because a half wavelength will be resonant and the impedance will be too high at the end of the wire.

I remembered seeing some work on random wire antennas (which really are not so random in length) so I retraced my path through the Internet. Mike, AB3AP (https://udel.edu/~mm/ham/randomWire/), wrote a small C program and a Matlab/Octave script to calculate the wire lengths NOT near a half wavelength.

I tried to get the Octave code working once before, but failed. This morning was too smoky to be outdoors, so I worked on it some more. I was able to get the code working and calculated the wire lengths that will work for my application. I decided on a 17ft counterpoise and a 42ft radiating element. That should work for 10m–40m on the ham bands.

With the target length of wire, I gathered up my materials (wire, open terminals, shrink tube, mast ring, and link) and tools (diagonal cutters, pliers, wire stripper, crimper, soldering gun and solder) and laid my 100ft tape measure on the floor of the garage. The counterpoise (17ft long) was easy and readily completed.

The radiating element required a little more engineering. I wanted to affix a tab that will fit on the top section of my telescoping masts. I also wanted to affix a link and leave a leader so I can add another 42ft of wire if I want an 80m antenna.

I decided to use a larkshead knot with shrink tube to make the antenna-to-mast connection and also a larkshead knot and shrink tube to fasten the tag to the link. If I add another section of wire for 80m, then I can use the link for strain relieve and an Anderson Powerpole connector or a pair of alligator clips to connect the two segments. I think the 80m add-on radiator will be something I deploy occasionally so I want the ability to attach and detach it when needed.

After a couple of hours of work, I had the antenna assembled and ready to test. It was too hot and smoky this afternoon, so I will probably test it in the morning after we walk.

It was a fun little project to build. I have a couple more of these planned, including a lightweight end-fed halfwave antenna. I have the matching transformer for that antenna. I just have to work out how I want to engineer the remaining parts.

Activating Prison Hill, W7N/TR-075, 27 July 2021

This is one of my favorite radios — the Elecraft KX1. It is code-only, will operate on four bands (20m, 30m, 40m, and 80m), has an internal antenna tuner, and makes about four watts.

On Tuesday, 27 July 2021, I woke to relatively clear air. The smoke was so bad for so many days (and nights). There were nights when I either would not open the windows or when I woke during the night smelling smoke. On those nights, I rose, walked the house, and closed any open windows.

I know we do not have it as badly as those either near or directly affected by the fires. Yet I am careful with my respiratory health having had asthma as a child.

I miss those evenings with the windows open. It cools here about 2200h local and I can shut off the air conditioner and let nature cool the house. So many mornings I will need a blanket because of the wide temperature spread of the high desert. It is one of the things I love about the west.

So Tuesday morning was better regarding smoke. Some overnight clouds kept the temperature from falling as much as it might. But the lingering clouds meant that the sun would not be beating down during morning walkies. So I rose, made coffee, and began my day.

I got The Girl out about 0700h to go walk. She is always excited about our walks and I really enjoy walking her and working with her. We had a good walk, pausing a few times for a little water before we returned to the rig.

With our walk done early and the pleasant morning, I decided to go play radio a little. It was a year ago that I activated Prison Hill, which is not far from my home. I decided it might be fun to do it again this year. So off we went.

This was the view from my operating position on Prison Hill on Tuesday, 27 July 2021. We had some clouds and smoke is visible in the distance from the Tamarack Fire. But the air was much better than on previous days.
I inadvertently took the long way up to the top of the hill and traversed a few parts of the trail that a pickup truck would not be able to do (too long). But the 4Runner is a beast and had no difficulty making the slope changes and crawling up the steep parts. It was a little nerve-wracking though as I intended to find a place to operate the radio and not play on the trails.

Nonetheless, we made it to the activation zone about 1000h. I decided to go simple, so I got out the Elecraft KX1 (a code-only radio), a telescoping mast, and some Bongo ties. I keep a couple pieces of wire in the case with the KX1, so I used a random wire antenna, with one end affixed to the top of the mast with a Bongo tie and the second connected directly to the radio. A short piece of wire served as the counterpoise (the other part of the antenna).

I called QRL? (is the frequency in use) a couple of times on 40m at 7.060MHz. Hearing nothing, I began the process of spotting myself. I knew with only four watts I would not be loud. So some Internet assistance would be useful.

Then I thought the 40m noon net might be warming up, so I tuned to 7.2835MHz. Sure enough, they were taking early check-ins. So in a gap, I sent my callsign. Someone stepped on me. So I sent it again. The Net Control Operator heard me calling, so he said “There’s a CW station trying to check in. Everyone else be quiet while I try to copy him.” It took a few tries before Net Control copied my signal and signed me in. That meant that everything was working well enough. Those 40m Noon Net operators are all very good operators.

So I returned to 7.060MHz, listened a bit to ensure the frequency was not in use, and spotted myself on the SOTA website. I took a deep breath, and called CQ CQ CQ SOTA de AG7TX AG7TX AR. That means I’ll take a call from anyone working SOTA stations and am waiting for a call.

It did not take long before my call was answered. A small pile-up got started and I worked the stations one by one. I admit I was a little bucky and had to call for a few repeats.

I heard an S2S, which means summit-to-summit (highly desirable) so I sent S2S in return and waited for the callsign. He was faint, so I adjusted the filter to improve the signal-to-noise ratio. He was very readable and I recognized the callsign as an active SOTA operator. We made the exchange (which made me quite happy) and I sent TU 73, which means thank you and best regards.

This was my view of Carson City from my operating position on Prison Hill on 27 July 2021. There is some smoke up towards Eagle Valley and Washoe Valley, but Mount Scott is visible and the air was so much better than on previous days.
This went on for awhile. My code copy was pretty ragged as was my sending. The copy was because I have not been doing much radio the last couple of months. The sending was just ragged.

I logged 11 contacts. I decided to stop for the morning and not switch to another band. Had I more time, I would definitely have run 30m and 20m. That would have given some chasers an opportunity to hear me and then call. But I had a 1300h appointment and did not want to be pressed for time. I knew I still had to get down off the hill, get home, and prepare myself for my appointment.

So what did I learn?

  • I need to make a lapdesk or something similar. That will give me a better platform from which to send.
  • A lapdesk would also make logging with either my iPhone or a paper log easier.
  • A short length of coaxial cable (maybe even three feet) would take some pressure off the BNC connector of the radio and I would not feel like the antenna was trying to drag off the radio.
  • A lapdesk would also provide a solid place to hold the radio.
  • I could wind the antenna wire around the mast to stabilize the wire. The short length of coaxial cable would permit me to sit near the base of the antenna and everything would be more secure.
  • I should sit in my chair. I would be more comfortable. I know this would improve my sending and might improve my copy as well.
  • I need to get back to practice copying Morse Code. I also need to operate more.

All in all, I still had fun. I had only one station who called that I just could not get an exchange. It was not all my fault either. His/her sending was choppy and irregular, so I suspect he/she was not an experienced operator… or they were having a rough day like I was.

What a good day it was. The air was much clearer than it had been. The temperature was pleasant. The sun was at bay. Sera was wonderful.

Life is good.

Stampede Reservoir

This is the view from my OP at Stampede Reservoir. It was a nice view, even with the smoke.

After being gone for more than a month, it took me nearly two weeks to regroup. At first, the heat was oppressive here in Carson City. I have one cool room in my house, the living room. The portable A/C is sufficient to keep that room cool, but not the remainder of my house. In general, I am able to cool the rest of my place by opening the windows at night and drawing in the cool evening air.

But on 16 July 2021, the Tamarack Fire bloomed from a single isolated tree to a raging wild fire. I happened to be in Gardnerville to have Sera’s ears checked. I could not get a vet to see her, so we left. As I stepped outside the office, I saw the plume rising in the south and the winds blowing it over the Pine Nut Mountains. I had no idea how bad it would get.

Over the next few days the fire grew as the crews sought to protect structures in and around Markleeville. The aggressiveness of the fire and the rough landscape made fighting it difficult. Winds from the southwest blew the smoke into Carson Valley, Carson City, Washoe Valley, and Reno. At times, Mount Scott is invisible from my house, just a couple miles away.

The air quality has been in the very bad range. We had a few reprieves when the winds turned westerly and moved the plume to the east (poor folks east from us). The management team projects they will have things under control by the end of August. That is a long time to deal with this smoke.

We continue to walk in the morning. I am rising earlier to get us out before the heat rises. Sera does not handle the heat well. So I carry water for her as well as myself. So far, I have not felt the impact of the smoke too much. I can tell it affects me, but not badly.

My friend called and asked to to meet him, his bride, and another couple at Stampede Reservoir Saturday. I was concerned that the smoke would be bad, but agreed anyway. The worst case scenario would be I turned around and returned home. So I agreed.

Sera and I got an early walk Saturday, then I loaded the rig. I made a mistake of driving SH 28 along the northeast side of Lake Tahoe. Traffic was awful and unnecessarily slow. I knew much of the route because I have a project on the Truckee River near Boca Reservoir. It is a pleasant route once off the Interstate.

Boca was very busy with the campgrounds and dispersed camping fairly full. However, because it is a little farther out, Stampede Reservoir was not bad. There were a few rigs down by the water and a few watercraft on the lake.

I found a copse of trees to shelter in. The smoke was bad, but less so than at home. I parked the rig, set up my radio, and watched Sera chase the local squirrels. I made a couple of contacts with SOTA activators before my friends arrived.

I turned off the radio and visited the remainder of the afternoon. We got a little westerly wind and the smoke was a little better. The wind also provided a little cooling.

Before we broke up to head back home, I made a capture of the lake through the trees. It was my only photograph of the day.

It was a good day.

Dry Fork Creek

This shot is from a reach where Dad and I used to fish regularly.

While in Missouri last month, SiL took us out to the old family place. Dean’s Ford is now abandoned and the right-of-way for the ford and the county road returned to the landowners. Access to the ford is blocked with a berm and it and the old county road are gated to prevent trespassing.

However, the family still has access by the kindness of the current landowner. So, SiL took us out to the old family place to look around and reminisce.

I made a few images while there and will probably post a few of them along with a few words. This capture is a view downstream from the old ford. I took the kids down here to play on the sandbar many times when we lived up the road or, later, when we were visiting. They loved chasing tadpoles and splashing in water to cool off from the summer heat.

Dad and I spent a lot of time fishing just downstream from this location. There was a long pool deep enough to have catfish as well as bass and perch. We often fished with rod and reel, but sometimes would set out limblines to leave out overnight in hopes of catching a large catfish.

I sure miss those times hunting and fishing with Dad. We had a lot fun together and told lots of stories and tall tales.

Winter Field Day 2021

The portable station I used for a couple of hours of Winter Field Day fun.

The plan for Winter Field Day 2021 started late in the fall of 2020. My friends and I drove out to the potential site and spent a few days camping there over the Thanksgiving holiday. We cleaned up the old tank and they played on the dirt bikes while I played with The Girl and a little radio.

But project work got busy so I could not leave Friday to camp and enjoy the weekend. My friends went out Friday, setup camp, and threw a couple of tarps over the tank to keep any weather out and some heat in.

I received a call yesterday morning that the generator they were using to power the stations was generating so much interference that it was affecting operations. So I decided to load up my smaller generator (a Honda) and drive it out there. The outing would do me and The Girl some good and I thought I might play a little radio before returning home.

It took me an hour to collect things and run an errand, but we headed out by about 1030h. The drive was a bit more than an hour. The trail was mostly snow-covered or damp sand/gravel. There were a couple of places that were slimy, but the 4Runner had no trouble traversing them.

Camp was a muddy mess, though. There was enough sun to melt the snow and the surface freezing, so they were left with sandy mud. The Girl did not mind and took off to check all her favorite sagebrush clumps for critters.

With one eye on The Girl, we got my generator running and providing power for the equipment. I learned that my friend’s radio was having an audio issue and not working reliably. This is odd for an Icon 7000. It had been a solid performer for the last couple of years we have been operating portable.

I offered to leave my Elecraft KX2, but he declined. He encouraged me to setup my rig, though, and make a few contacts. So I setup the rig and used his antenna (a very quick setup). I heard a number of loud stations calling and answered a few calls. I worked stations in California, Nebraska, Illinois, Florida, and Texas before deciding it was time to pack up and head home. I wanted to be off the trail before dark.

So I broke down and stowed my radio equipment, called in The Girl (who was very happy), and we said our goodbyes. She was not too muddy with just a little bit on her feet and a few splashes on her tummy. She mostly snuggled next to me on the way home, as she usually does. Most of the sand had fallen off her by the time we arrived home, just after dusk.

It was an easy unload, then supper for both of us and some rest. I watched a little Netflix while I ate some supper and she laid on her mat next to me, lightly begging for a bite of pizza. After supper and my show, I stayed on the sofa awhile longer, simply enjoying the quiet and the company of my dog.

I made about a dozen contacts over the couple of hours I worked the bands. Most of them were on the 20m band, which was nicely open yesterday.

Today I need to get a little work done, as well as take care of both of us. I am hoping for a little sun later today so we can enjoy that on our walk.

Wild Oat Mountain, W7N/TR-065 SOTA Activation

The Wild Oat Mountain operating point and station. The CalTrans benchmark is visible near the station.

A few weeks ago (seems like forever now), after the Nevada QSO Party, I was not ready to settle down for very long. I started working up a new outing almost as soon as I had the camper unpacked and the laundry running. My friends suggested that I was not working hard enough, but I am not quite sure what they meant.

Given that everyone in our little group was tied up or busy doing other things, I planned a little outing to a SOTA summit south of Carson City near Lake Topaz in Douglas County. I posted an alert on SOTAWatch that I would be attempting an activation and emailed a few of my CWOps Academy friends to be on the lookout for me.

Saturday morning arrived and I loaded up the rig, put some dog food in a baggie (The Girl will not eat before an outing), and made sure we had plenty of water. The route was in the GPSr and I had everything needed. So, out the door we went.

I stopped at McDonald’s for a biscuit and a coffee. I ate on the way south, saving a bite of my biscuit for The Girl, who was watching me like Snoopy on his doghouse.

I did not miss the turnoff for the trail and it was a fairly easy trail drive to up near the summit. In the spirit of SOTA, I schlepped my radio equipment to my selected operating point and then paused to give The Girl a short walk around the summit to burn off some energy.

We found a CalTrans benchmark on the summit. I thought that was pretty cool. I never tire of finding the old benchmarks on top of mountains or near highways as I travel around.

The Girl is also a SOTA Dog. She is learning to sit on command and loves to have a mat for said sitting.
The Girl settled down a little, so I put out her mat and assembled the station. I have put together the little Elecraft KX3 station so many times that I think I could do it blindfolded. I tested the setup and everything looked to be operating normally.

I did not connect the microphone to the radio. I determined that I would operate code only and do my best. I found a frequency on the 40m band that was quiet and asked a few times if it was in use. Nothing heard, so I took a deep breath, steeled myself, and posted my spot on SOTAWatch.

Then I began calling CQ (general call) SOTA (identifying myself as a SOTA activator), sent my callsign, and listened. It took only a few calls before a pileup of stations were returning my call. My hands shaking and my breath a little ragged, I responded to the fragments of callsigns I could pick out, sending the fragment plus a question mark indicating that the calling station should send their callsign again so I could copy it.

My radio, power supply, key, log, and Topaz Lake from my operating position.
One by one I worked these stations, putting each one in my log (on my knee) with their signal report, my signal report, and the time. I heard a few S2S calls (summit-to-summit, cherished contacts for double points) and worked those stations the best I could. Some were just too weak for me to hear, but I worked everyone I could hear, including one of my CWA instructors.

I made a dozen or so contacts on 40m, more than enough to qualify my activation. As I fished out the hole, I called a couple more times “last call before I change bands” and listened. I cleared the frequency and moved to the 30m band.

Again I called CQ SOTA and listened. Several station returned my call, but not as many as on 40m. Many chasers had their contact for my activation and were looking for other activators. I worked another of my CWA instructors and that was a treat. With that hole fished out, I cleared the frequency and moved to 20m.

I worked a few more chasers on 20m, but I could tell that the herd was thinning. Then I heard a call that sounded like “EA2…” and listened a couple more times. The station was fading in and out of my noise floor and I had trouble getting a full callsign. I returned the call and we worked and worked until I got the callsign. I was reasonably sure I also copied the signal report.

At that point I decided to call it a day. I cleared the frequency, looked over my log, and shut everything down. The Girl was ready for some movement so we walked the area again a couple of times. I took her to the rig and got her some water. She was ready to go home. So I tore down the station, stowed my gear in the rig, and then did one last walk-around to be sure nothing was left behind. I paused one more time to take in the view, even with the smoke. I made sure I had captures of the area.

Then we returned to the rig and headed down the trail. I was tired, hot, and sweaty, but deeply gratified that I had completed my SOTA activation in CW mode only. It was good to be home, get a shower, enjoy a little cooler air in the house, and settle down for the remainder of the day. With a shower and some food, I was nearly done. But I worked on my log a little, played with The Girl a little, and then called it a day. It was a really good day.

I learned a few things as well:

  • I should tie my pen to the kneeboard. I kept dropping my pen in the dirt.
  • I got hot in the sun even if it was a little cool when we got to the OP. I should have setup the station in the shade even if I needed a cover to be warm. It was too much sun that day.
  • Headphones would probably make copying the calling stations a little easier. I do not like to be isolated from my surroundings, so perhaps just one phone or earbud would help without disconnecting me from my environment.
  • I should determine my own pace. Chasers will either wait to work me or they will not. I only need four contacts to make the activation. I can afford to slow down my pace a little so I can breathe and have fun. I had fun anyway, but I let myself get stressed.
  • I had plenty of power with the 15w that the KX3 makes. I might have worked a few more stations with a few more watts, but I made my activation and it was a lot easier without having an amplifier along too.
I stepped away from the station as I started tearing down for this view. It was still a little smokey from the fires and it was fairly hot in the sun. Still, it was a good day.

Fall

The leaves are mostly gone, with just a few stragglers hanging on. Between the sub-freezing temperatures and the recent winds, the trees have shed their fall colors and donned their winter garb.

Late last week, The Girl and I got away a little late for our daily walk. Work kept me busy much of the morning. Yet I wanted a walk and The Girl was insisting on a walk and I knew that cold weather was on the way. So I put us into the rig and we headed out to our favorite area, the Carson River at Silver Saddle Ranch.

There was almost no one on the trail that day. I guess the cooler temperatures and the wind were keeping them away. As we approached the trail, I could see that much of the fall color was gone. There were still a few stragglers, hanging on to their leaves while others had given up and dropped theirs. The riparian area is taking on the colors of winter — more browns and grays, more earthy looking, more like waiting for the winter snow.

Yet we had a good walk. There were periods of sun and shade as the clouds blew in, foreboding the coming colder temperatures and the prospect for rain or snow. When the sun shone, it was plenty warm and I was tempted the shed my outer layer. But then a cloud would obscure the sun and I felt chilled. I elected to keep the outer layer on.

The Girl ran from place to place, hunting lizards. “They’ve all bunkered in,” I told her. But she hunted anyway, enjoying the activity as much as the prospect of jumping something to chase.

We jumped a brace of mallards from the Mexican Ditch and she started off in chase. “Come-on back; you can’t catch those…” I called. She broke off her chase, and returned, bright-eyed and wolfy-looking.

Near the Mexican Dam, we paused for a moment for me to look out over the river. She stepped up onto the spoil berm and I noticed. She stayed long enough for me to make the capture. We walked on a few more steps to within spitting-distance of the dam, then turned and headed back.

I was struck by the quality of the light and the mix of clouds and blue sky. So I paused to make another capture, which went to my Instagram account.

The Girl rushed me on, “There are lizards to hunt…” she seemed to say.

We had a good walk back to the rig. She was ready to hop in and head home, as was I. I came away with two good captures, plenty of fresh air and exercise, and a tired dog. It was a good day.

On the way back from the Mexican Dam, I saw this scene. Fall images do not get much better for me.

Playing a Little Radio

The Elecraft KX1 is small enough to hold on my knee for operating.

Last weekend I really wanted to get out and play some radio. But, I also wanted to get my 4Runner cleaned up after a full summer of desert running (and the ensuing layers of dust) before the fall snows/rains come.

So, Saturday I worked some in the garage, at least enough to create a staging area for the radio equipment carried in the 4Runner. In the process, I opened a couple of the remaining cartons from my move to the duplex. I found my Garmin Montana 650t, which I planned to sell but now think might be a good GPS receiver to keep for trail driving.

I set the GPS unit and dash mount aside. I would deal with that later.

The Girl played around in the front and back yards while I unloaded the gear from the 4Runner and staged it on and around a folding table. With the 4Runner empty, I closed up the house, put The Girl in the rig, and we drove down to Minden to let Melvin’s do their thing. When I pulled into the queue, the operator gave me my ticket and said “That’s a lot of dust. I don’t know if we can get it all.”

“I will pay extra…”

“We’re just so busy…” He was right — I was probably sixth or seventh in the line.

“That’s OK, I’ll take what I can get. I’ve been in the desert a lot.” I left the keys on the dash and The Girl and I went into the shop to pay our bill. Whatever I got for my 25 bucks would be so much better than what I had.

Next for the 4Runner is getting the replacement tire in the shop and on the ground. (That was a left-over from the Bald Mountain activation. I broke a sidewall on a tire coming down the trail.) I am looking into a roof rack and air bags for the rear axle and the passenger’s seat has a parting seam in the leather that needs attention.

We waited outside (what a beautiful afternoon) for the rig to be washed. I listened to the local repeaters while folks chatted about small matters. There is a jammer in range of the Carson Valley repeater who was interfering with a couple of local hams. So they switched to another repeater that has coverage. I switched too so I could follow the conversation.

There was also some chatter on the CARLA network. A group of California hams assembled a complicated but useful network of repeaters that will cover most of the state and a lot of Nevada and Oregon. I monitor that network regularly as well.

The rig clean, The Girl and I visited Ronnie McD’s place and headed north toward home. She was antsy, but settled as I shared my fries with her. We pulled into the Koontz Avenue access to the Prison Hill Recreational Area and parked. I finished my late lunch (sharing of course) and then we got out for a walk.

It was a good day.

Sunday was rather a repeat of Saturday, except that I worked on some battery packs for my portable operations. I am reorganizing my portable radio kits and had some new materials in hand. I used some velcro to attach a power distribution box and a solar charge controller to the new 6Ah LFP battery. The velcro will permit (difficult) removal of the attached pieces if I decide that I do not like the setup. I also attached a distribution box to the 15Ah LFP battery, which is used when I want to run a 100w radio. The 6Ah battery will power my radios (and maybe a computer) with up to about 35w of power (or barefoot if I do not want to run power).

That only leaves the little 3Ah LFP battery to work with. I will probably add a charge controller and power distribution box to that pack as well. Or I might leave off the distribution box because I’ll likely be running on a barefoot radio.

I also got the Montana 650t updated and put onto a charger to see if the LiON battery is still serviceable. The unit has been in storage for several years so I am not sure about the battery.

The Girl was pestering, so I loaded her into the rig and we headed off to get in a walk. At the upper Silver Saddle Ranch staging area, I let her out, donned my EDC pack, and we headed down the trail. She ran herself hot and returned to me several times asking for a drink. But I knew that we would be at the Mexican Ditch in a few minutes and would not be on the trail that long before returning to the rig, where I can a water bottle for her.

She jumped into the ditch, of course, cooling herself and getting a drink. Then, as usual, she trotted past me and shook, giving me a shower as well. I always thank her for the shower and then we walked on.

At the ranch compound, I put her on-lead because there were a bunch of horse trailers parked in the lot. She is not sure about horses and I do not want an incident. But we saw no horses, yet the leash time was good because it gave us some practice working on-lead.

I gave her a bowl of water back at the rig and put her inside. I retrieved the KX1 go-box from the rig, threw a wire over the sage and bitter brush, and thew a counterpoise wire out on the ground. I sat on an old cottonwood stump, put the KX1 on my knee, and started chasing POTA (Parks on the Air) and SOTA (Summits on the Air) stations.

The Elecraft KX1 is a code-only radio, so I was using my newly acquired Morse Code skill. I worked five stations, including a park in Alabama being activated by one of CW Academy instructors, Ken K4EES with only about 3w of power. It is amazing what can be done with a little wire and a radio.

I thought about chasing a few more, but decided it was a good day. So I packed up my gear, got The Girl out for one last short outing, and we headed home. I made some early supper and fed her, then settled in to update my log and relax before the week started. It was a good day and a good weekend.

I keep the little Elecraft KX1 in this sealed box. In the box are the radio, battery, key, headphones, and an antenna.

An Absence Too Long

Here is my setup for the CWT mini-contest.

I am in the migration process of my bullet journal. That means I am closing out the October pages of the journal and opening the November pages. The ink in use is a little slow in drying, so I thought I would work on a weblog entry before I continue working on November. Why, well last week I sat at my worktable one morning, reflecting on what I have been doing, what I am currently working on, and what I want to be working on. One of the latter is that I want to post something here more frequently than once every two months.

I know there are not a lot of readers of my words, but there are a few friends and family who enjoy the words and photographs. So I want to continue documenting this journey through life. My original reasons for keeping a weblog have not changed either.

I was graduated from my Intermediate Class in the CWOps Academy a little more than a week ago. I am signed up for the Advanced class that will begin in January. However, I will probably be assigned to my previous teacher and he will begin informal class the first of December, then reset when we begin formally in January. That gives his students a head start on the work.

In addition, the regular practices will run on other days of the week. There are four practice sessions on Sunday evenings for the various levels of students. In general, everyone is welcome to participate in those practice sessions. I generally make between one and three of them and think I will continue that effort. There are other practice sessions that run through the week as well and I try to make at least one of those. There are also two class sessions per week as well (although we are on break now).

Every Wednesday there are three CWT mini-contests spread through the day. These last one hour and the objective is to make as many contacts as possible. The exchange is simple and the CWOps operators exchange is tabulated on their website. So, I can chase the runners (the operators who are calling) and once I have their callsign (which might take me a few tries to get at speed), I can lookup the remainder of the exchange if I cannot copy it.

I typically operate from home morning and evening, but for the noon session we go to one of my portable operating points and I work the CWT from there. I can hear much better. The image above is from the 02Sep2020 noon contest. I setup my portable radio, a place for The Girl, and an awning to keep some of the sun off (it was hot and smokey too).

Learning Morse Code started the beginning of this year. I did not realize how big an effort this would be. It has been a big effort and has challenged me. This is a good thing. The challenge is good.

At the end of walkies one afternoon, The Girl and I paused for a little radio play in the shade near Carson River.
On many days, after walkies, The Girl and I pause for a few minutes for me to setup a radio and chase some of the Summits on the Air (SOTA) and Parks on the Air (POTA) operators. They are listening for contacts so they can get the required quota to count the activation. Chasers also receive points for making those contacts. It is a fun game (on both sides) and I am enjoying it. There is a challenge to making these contacts with low power (typically a few watts) and the exchanges are simple.

On this day, The Girl and I paused in the shade near the staging area for Mexican Ditch Trail and the trails on Silver Saddle Ranch at River Park. It was pretty warm the afternoon of 22Sep2020, but there was a little breeze and it was pleasant to rest after the hike in the shade and listen to the radio and the wind rustle the leaves of the trees. What a good day it was.

The Ruminator on the Steamboat Hills Summit, playing a little radio.
On 22Sep2020, The Girl and I drove up towards Reno to activate Steamboat Hills. It was a short trail drive up to a staging area and then another couple hundred feet hike to get to the top. I used the little magnetic loop antenna with my Elecraft KX2 (and no amplifier) to make quite a few contacts (more than my quota). I also chased a few summit-to-summit contacts as well.

My friend Dick sent me a text message and commented “It’s as intimidating as hell to call CQ in CW mode (Morse), knowing that there will be a pileup, isn’t it?” I responded to him that it was and I was nervous about making a call. But I wanted to get started making Morse contacts on the summit (one of the reasons I decided to learn Morse Code), so I thought about it for a few minutes, then said (to myself) “F-this, I’m just going to do it!” I sent Dick a text, then posted a spot of myself requesting chasers to respond slowly.

My CQ (general call for any station) was responded to by two patient operators. They put up with my stumbling and bumbling and request for a repeat. We made the exchange and I put them in my log.

The weekend of 10–11Oct2020 was the Nevada QSO Party. Greg, Subrina, and I drove out east of Ft. Churchill to camp and operate on the Lyon/Churchill County line. I think that expedition deserves a story of its own, so I think I will write that later. I do have photographs as well.

The following weekend I did not want to stay indoors, despite the heat and smoke. So The Girl and I drove south to Wild Oat Mountain. There I setup my portable station and activated the summit. This time I used Morse Code only; I did not make a single phone (voice) contact.

I had plenty of butterflies as I readied to call CQ on 40m. I checked that the frequency was open, then spotted myself on the SOTAwatch website. I started calling CQ SOTA and after a few calls the pileup happened. There were too many stations calling me, but I caught part of a callsign and responded with that fragment and a question mark.

The operator filled his callsign and we made the exchange. After my “TU” (thank you), the pileup started again. So, I caught another fragment of a callsign and repeated the process. I cannot remember how many contacts I made on 40m, but it was quite a few. And, eventually, I fished that hole dry. When I heard no more calls, I announced that I was changing bands and cleared the frequency.

The Wild Oat Mountain operating point and station.

I repeated the process on both the 30m and 20m bands and worked more stations. On 20m I worked a station in Spain with the 12w that the Elecraft KX2 produces. He was difficult to hear and kept fading in and out, but I think we made the exchange.

In the end, I made 21 contacts that day. I was tired, sweaty, and hungry. So I broke down the station and The Girl and I made a few rounds about the top of the hill, enjoying the weather, the sun, and the sights.

Beyond the radio activities, work and walkies keep me busy. There has been a little drama in the firm that I support, but I think that things are settling out. (No, the drama does not involve me.) I appreciate the work — the pay is good and the intellectual stimulation from working on technical problems is good for my old brain too.

The Girl must be walked every day. She needs the exercise to burn off that young-dog energy. I need the exercise to keep my body moving and limber. The time outdoors is good for me as well.

My goal is to write a little more here, at least once or twice per week. There are lots of things to write about and photographs to post. I simply need to set aside an hour or so from other things to assemble my thoughts and images so I can make the posts.