ARRL Centennial Convention Full Report

 

“Hey you guys. We should go to the ARRL Centennial Convention in Hartford, CT in July. It’s an historic event – 100 years of amateur radio. I can stay with my kids and you two can bunk in a nearby motel.”

Those words of wisdom were spoken by Dick Christopher, N1LT, the founder of the Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club. Dick, Jim Cluett – W1PID and I were sitting in a booth in a small restaurant in Laconia, NH having lunch on a spring day in May when this profound advice was brought up in conversation.

“This sounds like a perfect adventure. Tim, why don’t you book the room for us,” said Jim.

This is where we were headed, the convention center in downtown Hartford, CT. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is where we were headed, the convention center in downtown Hartford, CT. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

A few days later I had locked in a room at the Holiday Inn in East Hartford. The location turned out to be magnificent as it was just a ten-minute walk across the Connecticut River from the hotel to the convention center.

Little did we know that people from all around the globe were making, or had already made, plans to attend. I have no idea all of the countries that were represented, but I personally talked to radio operators from Australia, Japan and the UK. Jim, Dick and I would only have to travel 189 miles to the convention while others would come over 11,000 miles to become part of history.

No real need for a caption, wouldn't you say? Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

No real need for a caption, wouldn’t you say? Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

As the convention loomed, Dick decided he was not going to be able to make it, so it was just Jim and I that decided to make the sprint the first day from the misty and foggy Sanbornton, NH down to Hartford, CT.

It was just before 6 a.m. on Thursday July 18, 2014 when I picked up Jim at his house and showed him where to hang his dress shirt, pants and blazer in my beastly Ford F-250 Super Duty truck that would whisk us to the gathering of amateur radio enthusiasts.

“Good morning! Are you ready for our little man self-discovery trip?” Jim was awake, but it was still early and too much conversation at this hour of the morning was probably not a great idea.

“Yes. Let’s get going!” And off we were!

Three hours later we were pulling into the hotel parking lot. Brenda checked us into a great room on the second floor, we stowed our backpacks and were walking to the convention center by 9:20 a.m. to get our badges and show program.

Once at the convention center, Jim and I got our credentials that gave us access to the exposition hall, the lectures and all special events. Jim happens to know Kay Craigie, the current president of the ARRL and has known her husband, Carter Craigie for nearly twelve years.

Kay Craigie, current ARRL president, is presenting me with the rare gold ARRL Centennial coin commemorating the historic convention. Photo credit: Carter Craigie

Kay Craigie, current ARRL president, is presenting me with the rare gold ARRL Centennial coin commemorating the historic convention. Photo credit: Carter Craigie

Because of this relationship, Jim decided it was a good idea to attend the fancy banquet on Friday night and the President’s breakfast on Saturday morning. I didn’t have those events printed on my badge so I was on my own for both of these times. I decided to have dinner with a couple of my AsktheBuilder.com newsletter subscribers on Friday night.

Minutes after walking away from the registration area, who do we run into but Carter Craigie! He was wearing his official ARRL staff gold polo shirt and he and Jim exchanged gracious “Hellos!” and “How have you beens?”.

Jim introduced me to Carter and he said, “My, you have a wonderful last name!” His distinctive and friendly western-Virginia accent was a perfect match for his vibrant personality. Jim and Carter met years ago on the air working each other in CW sprint contests. It didn’t take long for them to become great friends.

The three of us entered the exposition area and started to look at all of the glorious eye candy at each of the booths. New radios, antennas, and hand-crafted CW keys from the master craftsman, Pietro Begali were all on display. It was Christmas in July.

Here is Pietro Begali, founder of Begali Keys. Jim was entranced by the deluxe works of art, almost too beautiful to use. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here is Pietro Begali, founder of Begali Keys. Jim was entranced by the deluxe works of art, almost too beautiful to use. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

“Are you guys ready for some lunch? Let’s go over to that Subway restaurant that’s attached to the Science Center.” Jim is always full of sensible advice. It was about 11:35 a.m. and his intent was to beat the lunch crowd.

Other ham operators had the same idea not wanting to eat the pricey food offered at the convention center and we sat with a husband/wife team who had come from southern California to the event.

Here's a nice wall people could post their QSL cards and business cards. My QSL card is right there in the middle. Look closely. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s a nice wall people could post their QSL cards and business cards. My QSL card is right there in the middle. Look closely. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Soon we were back on the convention floor walking by each and every booth. Along the way Jim would stop and talk with old friends, especially the men manning the New England QRP Club.

Jim loves QRP (radio work done with 5 or less watts of power) and has become good friends with many of the people who gravitate to this part of the hobby. He’s gotten me deeply interested in low-powered radio and the magic of making contacts with just a few watts of power.

“I need some fresh air,” Jim mumbled after a couple more hours of roaming the giant cavern some call a convention center. We’d been inside the exposition hall now for a while and it’s devoid of any windows or connection to the outside world.

Carter, Jim and I decided to take the escalator down to the lowest level and sit on a wall that was under some shade trees in a nice oval raised garden that was at the street entrance of the convention center.

I led the way and was quick to notice the grass was flattened by something. Soon it was clear to me from the soft soil the underground sprinkler system has just given the grass and trees a drink of water.

“I’m ready for some ice cream. Find us some Tim.” Jim declared. Carter said he’d gladly imbibe on some of the soft and cold belly expander looking at his Fitbit pedometer.

“I’ve already walked 3,874 steps today and burned 854 calories, so I deserve some ice cream,” he proclaimed.

I pulled out my smart phone and used it to locate the closest ice cream stores.

Out of the corner of my eye while doing my research I noticed Jim was taking off his shoe. What the hell? Why was he doing that?

“Whoa! This grass is WET!” Jim had decided to soothe his sore feet by walking around the soft grass. But now he had saturated his one sock and everyone knows how horrible cold wet socks are.

The arrow tip marks the spot where Jim saturated his sock. You can see the drying wall to the right, the curved white line. Image credit: Google Maps

The arrow tip marks the spot where Jim saturated his sock. You can see the drying wall to the right, the curved white line. Image credit: Google Maps

“Take it off and go put it on the wall over there in the sun so it will dry,” I said. The sun was intense and a nice constant breeze would have that sock dry in no time.

Jim put the sock on the wall in the sun and came back over to sit in the shade. Minutes later he was up walking towards the sock.

“What are you doing?”

“I’m getting ready to go get ice cream.”

“There’s no way your sock is going to be dry. Are you an idiot?”

By now Carter was howling with laughter at the banter Jim and I were exchanging about his wet sock.

Jim came back, sat down on the wall, and held his sock trying to will it to dry.

“There’s no way the sock is going to dry in your hand. Get it back in the sun you languid dolt.”

“I’m going to go get ice cream and don’t try to stop me.”

Minutes later we were on a crusade to Yogi’s Dairy Bar at 187 Asylum Street.

This is the way to Yogi's! Image credit: Google Maps

This is the way to Yogi’s! Image credit: Google Maps

“Where is it?” We were standing confounded at 185 Asylum Street and there was no Yogi’s, just a tall sterile office building that had a bank on the first floor.

“Oh Tim, you and your phone let us down. There’s no ice cream here.”

I was frustrated that I’d not called to make sure Yogi’s was still in business. The three of us started to turn around and walk back.

“What are you guys looking for?” A complete stranger had come up to us after noticing our confusion and overhearing our conversation.

“We’re trying to find 187 Asylum Street and Yogi’s Dairy Bar, but the building number here is 185,’ said Carter.

“It’s right up there on the second level. Go in the door, up the escalator and right at the top you’ll be greeted by a beautiful woman, the owner.” Little did we know it, but a lifelong Hartford, CT resident named Dean had come to our rescue.

Minutes later a gorgeous middle-aged oriental woman was dishing up ice cream for us. Jim was kind enough to pay for it and while we were enjoying the frozen treats at small tables next to the shop, Dean came up and sat with us.

He told us stories of him growing up in Hartford and how when he was a kid, the entire city was ruled by the Italian mafia. You didn’t spit on the sidewalk or litter without being punished.

“The streets used to be so clean here you could eat off them, but now it’s all changed. Hartford is nothing like it used to be when I was growing up,” lamented Dean. His long gray hair, accent and tough attitude made it clear he was connected and was telling the truth about everything Hartford.

It was time to head back to the convention center and hotels to get ready for the evening.

Around 4:20 p.m. Jim and I found ourselves back at the Holiday Inn and were trying to unwind. We had both been up for nearly twelve hours and on the go for the past ten.  It was time for a little siesta.

I set my alarm for 5:30 p.m. which would give me plenty of time to wash up and make it to my dinner engagement at 6:00 p.m. Believe it or not I was to meet my friends at the wet-sock oval.

“Why didn’t you warn me that you snore? I may have to call down and get a separate room for myself.” Jim was giving me a play-by-play of me drifting off to sleep on my back 30 minutes before. The short power nap was just what I needed.

“Oh, you’ll get over it like a bad cold,” was my reply.

Jim continued to rib me about it and seemed genuinely worried that his slumber would be submarined by my creation of countless ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZ’s that would fill the room in about four or five hours.

We headed out the door, walked across the grand pedestrian walkway bridge just across the street from the hotel parking lot and within minutes we had split up Jim going to the banquet and me to have dinner with my friends. We agreed to meet back up at 8:30 p.m.

I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Tyler (in red) and Michael Lorello at dinner. We shared great stories and fantastic food fare! Thanks Tom and Mike for sharing your evening with me. Photo credit: Our nice young waitress

I had the pleasure of meeting Tom Tyler (in red) and Michael Lorello at dinner. We shared great stories and fantastic food fare! Thanks Tom and Mike for sharing your evening with me. Photo credit: Our nice young waitress

I arrived at the empty convention center at 8:20 p.m. that was being attended to by the convention janitorial staff. They were working very hard to make the building spotless for all of us the next morning.

Minutes later Jim texted me wondering where I was in the building. Soon we were walking back across the bridge in the dusky light and joined in a conversation with an Australian ham operator. What a wonder to talk to a man who felt the need to travel 12,000 miles to be part of a celebration of another country’s radio society! I don’t know if I’d ever even consider going to an Australian Radio 100th-year anniversary!

“I hope you don’t keep me awake all night. I’ve got these four pillows to throw at you if you try.”

“Hah, my daughter tried that years ago when she’d go with me to building and remodeling conventions. I’ll tell you now I’m immune to pillow strikes.”

“Hey, let’s see if Mark, W1DDI is on D-STAR,” Jim exclaimed.

Unfortunately Mark was back in NH riding his Harley in the glorious warm and dry NH weather. He texted Jim saying he was out on his bike.

“Hey, who put the thermostat at 69 F?” Jim had set it to 70 and really wanted it probably closer to 74 F while we slept.

“I don’t know.” I was lying of course.

“Well, you don’t have the arctic blast of air blowing across you.” Jim had taken the bed closest to the window and the wall HVAC unit air ducts were aimed at him just six feet away.

Minutes later I was comatose. My guess is Jim fell asleep not too much later.

“You slept like a baby. You snored a little when you first fell asleep on your back, but then you rolled over and it stopped.” Jim was one happy guy that his sleep had only been minimally disturbed.

“Do you want to hear my new plan? I say we go down and eat breakfast here at the hotel then I go over and just grab a cup of coffee at the President’s breakfast.”

“That sounds good to me. Let’s head down about 7:30 or so,” I replied.

Before we left for breakfast I uttered, “I discovered something last night.”

“What?”

“That I can sleep in a room that’s 94 F with zero air circulation.”

“Oh come on, it wasn’t that hot. But I guess the room is a little stuffy now that you mention it.”

An hour later, after Jim had checked news on his tablet and I had caught up on email on my laptop, we were downstairs eating a hot buffet breakfast.

“Look who’s over there Jim! Pietro Begali!” Next to the window eating his breakfast was, perhaps, the finest craftsman of hand-made CW keys in the world. Mr. Begali hails from Italy and has been making precision radio gear for nearly five decades.

We sat at the table next to Pietro and Jim thanked him again for his contributions to the hobby. After saying goodbyes to Mr. Begali, Jim and I went back to the room, grabbed our gear, checked out and stowed it in my truck. We then headed back to the convention center.

Once there, Jim headed up to grab his cup of coffee at the President’s breakfast and I decided to go down into the main lobby and interview some fellow hams.

The first two I found were Japanese radio enthusiasts, Ritsu Seo and Nozomu Takahashi. We chatted about why they came so far and I thanked them for their diligence and determination to make such a journey.

They bowed to me and Ritsu handed me a gorgeous dual flag lapel pin that features the American and Japanese flags. Nozumu gave me a small snack bag of crispy french fries that I’ve yet to open. I felt like a loser having no gift other than my business card to give in return. The Japanese are so very polite and gracious. I could learn volumes from these two men.

Ritsu is on the left and Nozumu is on the right. Two very polite men. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Ritsu is on the left and Nozumu is on the right. Two very polite men. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

I then found several other hams to interview. I could have spent the entire time doing interviews if I wanted, there were so many interesting folks at the convention.

Just after 9 a.m. Jim texted me and we found each other in the lobby.

We visited a few booths again, talked with some of Jim’s QRP buddies and then headed down to the lower level to board the bus that would take us to the ARRL headquarters several miles from the convention center.

The trip to the ARRL headquarters was the highlight of the trip for me. Seeing the massive antenna farm surrounding the historic W1AW brick building was inspiring. The inside of this majestic building was bustling with activity. All of the radio studios were busy with hams that had scheduled time to operate using the legendary W1AW call sign.

Built in 1938, this could be the epicenter of amateur radio in the entire world. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Built in 1938, this could be the epicenter of amateur radio in the entire world. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Each of these operators left the building with a fancy inscribed certificate noting their achievement of being on the air at W1AW. I can’t wait to come back to do this myself and plan to organize a club outing to do just this possibly in the fall of 2014.

Here I am just outside of the main door of the ARRL headquarters. The man in the granite is the father of amateur radio - Hiram Percy Maxim. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

Here I am just outside of the main door of the ARRL headquarters. The man in the granite is the father of amateur radio – Hiram Percy Maxim. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

“What the hell? How did you get in the magazine?” I stood there astonished looking at a full-color page of the upcoming QST magazine and there was a full-page article written by Jim about what’s not going to change about the hobby in the next 100 years.

Jim and I were in the editorial department of the ARRL headquarters and on the wall was a full-color print out of the September edition of QST. It’s scheduled to go to the printer on July 22nd, so I guess they print it out one page at a time to see exactly how it’s going to appear.

“Maybe that green magic marker line through the page means it’s been cut from the issue.” Since many of the pages had this same slash across it, I felt it meant the draft copy was fine and free of errors.

I’ve known for a few years Jim’s an excellent writer, but I had no idea I was in the presence of a celebrity. It’s a big deal to have a full-page column in the QST magazine!

An ARRL staff member sorting traditional paper QSL cards to be sent to ham operators in the USA and around the world. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

An ARRL staff member sorting traditional paper QSL cards to be sent to ham operators in the USA and around the world. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

After the tour was over, we were dropped off by bus at the convention center. We made one last trip to the exposition hall where I was able to get five additional gold commemorative ARRL coins to give away as prizes at club functions.

Jim and I grabbed another lunch from Subway eating it outdoors under some trees on the plaza immediately between the convention center and the pedestrian bridge that separated us from the waiting truck that would take us back to NH.

As we drove back home, Jim fired up his D-STAR HT and he talked with a gentleman from Wales. The audio on D-STAR was so clear I thought the man was sitting behind us in the truck.

Jim and I grabbed a celebratory coffee ice cream at the NH liquor store rest stop just north of the I-93 toll booth. Have I ever told you about Jim’s addiction to ice cream? It’s bad, real bad.

Here I am clowning around taking notes about what I saw at the convention. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

Here I am clowning around taking notes about what I saw at the convention. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

An hour later I had dropped of Jim at his house and was on my way home. During the remainder of the drive, I reflected on all the laughs and good times we had in the past 36 hours. In that short time period we had so much fun and saw so many cool things, it’s probably illegal.

My only regret is not attending some of the great one-hour presentations made by some of the leaders in the hobby. I can tell you I’ve been to many conventions before, but this one was the best value of all I’ve attended in my entire life. If you have the opportunity to attend a future amateur radio convention, be sure to do it and take a friend. Just watch out for wet socks and those who like to sleep on their backs!

 

Portable Multiband Antenna Mast and Support

I’ve been doing public service amateur radio work since June of 2011. Frequently we need to erect a stable 2-meter antenna to get great simplex coverage at some of the events we work.

A few years ago I was introduced to the durable and versatile military surplus aluminum tubing that connects together with male / female ends. There’s even an interlocking tab so the tubes don’t spin.

Here's a section of the aluminum tubing. Each piece has an effective length of 29.5 inches. It's 1 and 5/8-inch OD. The male end extends into the female end of the next piece 4 inches. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s a section of the aluminum tubing. Each piece has an effective length of 29.5 inches. It’s 1 and 5/8-inch OD. The male end extends into the female end of the next piece 4 inches. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

At one event I saw a fellow ham use a patio umbrella stand to support the mast tubing. To ensure the mast didn’t fall over, the base plate of the umbrella stand was held to the ground by the tire of the ham’s truck.

I thought the umbrella stand design could be improved upon so I talked one day with a fellow ham, John Haven, KC1AAG. I drew up a rough sketch on a piece of cardboard to show John and he thought about how to add the bolts and make the base as light as possible using a ring of metal instead of a solid plate of steel.

The steel ring was a brilliant idea. My guess is the entire support weighs less than 20 pounds. You won’t be taking this backpacking, but for a field setup where you operate in the vicinity of your car or truck, it’s a good thing to consider. I think the photos do a good job of explaining what’s going on.

Be sure to watch the video below of one of these masts being erected by my fellow club members.

Here's the completed antenna mast support. The yellow and black iron ring is 17 inches in diameter. The galvanized pipe is 17 inches tall and has an ID of 2 inches. Holes were drilled into the side of the pipe so the bolts can secure the mast to eliminate wobble. It's one-half-inch bolt material with a nut welded to the pipe. A small piece of grounding rod is welded to the end of the bolts so you need no tools in the field to secure the antenna mast. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s the completed antenna mast support. The yellow and black iron ring is 17 inches in diameter and 3/8-inch thick steel. The galvanized pipe is 17 inches tall and has an ID of 2 inches. Holes were drilled into the side of the pipe so the bolts can secure the mast to eliminate wobble. It’s one-half-inch bolt material with a nut welded to the pipe. A small piece of grounding rod is welded to the end of the bolts so you need no tools in the field to secure the antenna mast. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Here's a close up of the bolt setup. You don't want to tighten these too tight as the aluminum tubing is soft. You're just trying to prevent movement. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s a close up of the bolt setup. You don’t want to tighten these too tight as the aluminum tubing is soft. You’re just trying to prevent movement. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Here's the male end of the aluminum tubing. You can see the tab that interlocks with a notch on the female end. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s the male end of the aluminum tubing. You can see the tab that interlocks with a notch on the female end. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

John Haven, KC1AAG, fabricated this mast support based on a design he and I collaborated on. He was able to stamp my call sign into the base! He had to use a letter "E" for the number 3. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

John Haven, KC1AAG, fabricated this mast support based on a design he and I collaborated on. He was able to stamp my call sign into the base! He had to use a letter “E” for the number 3. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Here's the mast up without my truck parked on the base. There was no wind, so it was safe to put this up for the photo. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s the mast up without my truck parked on the base. There was no wind, so it was safe to put this up for the photo. The tubing you see here is 25 feet tall. If you go any taller, you should stabilize the mast with guy wires. If you operate where it’s windy, you should probably attach guy wires to a mast this tall. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

CRK-10A CW Transceiver Review

 

Yesterday my good friend Jim Cluett, W1PID, gave me a very cool present. It’s a crystal-controlled tiny pocket radio – the CRK-10A CW transceiver. It transmits on a single frequency, 7.030 Mhz, and it receives across a wider band.

Here is the little guy. This radio measures just a tad over 4 inches long, it's just under 2.5 inches wide and about an inch thick. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here is the little guy. This radio measures just a tad over 4 inches long, it’s just under 2.5 inches wide and about an inch thick. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

The CRK is an acronym for Chinese Radio Kits. The tiny rig operates on a wide range of power levels from 9 to 15 volts DC. At 12 volts DC power, the manufacturer states it will output 3 watts.

The case seems to be made from a painted aluminum channel. It’s hard to tell since it has a black finish on it. Whatever it is, it’s LIGHT! The little rig can’t weigh but 8 ounces, maybe less.

This radio is a power MISER. When you transmit, it only gobbles up 500 mA and while you listen for stations to operate, it gently tugs just 15 mA of power from a battery pack.

You can read all the technical specifications and see great color photos of the circuit board before, during and after assembly of all the tiny parts by clicking here.

The tiny SW button on the front of the radio allows you adjust the speed of a paddle keyer like I use. You can use a straight key too. This same button allows you to also enter in your call sign so the radio will automatically start to send out a CQ for you.

The CFM button allows you to determine where an incoming frequency is either up or down the frequency range of the receiver. You do this by listening to a tone change as you press the button. It’s a very cool feature.

The antenna connects with a standard BNC connector on the back of the radio.

Why would you be interested in this radio? I can think of several reasons:

  • it’s challenging to gather QSOs on just one frequency
  • it’s challenging to pull out a signal from other background signals that are competing for your attention
  • it’s a dandy emergency radio if you’re out on a hike as the preset 7.030 frequency is quite active

I tested it using my large multi-band dipole antenna that I use for my primary shack radio. I tuned it perfectly to 40 meters then connected the antenna to the BNC connector on the back of the radio.

In a few seconds I had my micro Pico Paddles connected as well as my earphones. The last thing you want to connect is the power supply via a 2.1 mm standard jack.

The little radio is powered up, connected to the antenna and it's receiving. I just need to put in the earphones and start sending CQ! Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The little radio is powered up, connected to the antenna and it’s receiving. I just need to put in the earphones and start sending CQ! Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Instantly I heard signals! I called CQ  and within 15 seconds was answered by K1PUG in CT. He was so loud I had to pull the earphones out of my ears. Realize there’s no volume control with this little rig.

In less than a minute, I had my first QSO with this fun radio.

My friend Jim told me this is a copied design from the Rockmite radio first introduced by Dave Benson, K1SWL, the founder of Small Wonder Labs. Dave introduced the Rockmite at the 2002 Lobstercon.

 

Breathe NH Seacoast Bike Tour 2014

 

“W3ATB, KA1VJU calling. Where are you?”

I could barely hear Dave Megin, the CNHARC club president, over the pounding raindrops pelting my Ford Super Duty F-250 truck and the windshield wipers swishing back and forth at their highest speed.

It was 6:15 a.m. Saturday May 17, 2014 and I was straining to see through the sheets of pouring rain as I was driving towards the Tradeport in Portsmouth, NH. In less than an hour courageous bicyclists would be starting to ride in this foul weather towards Ongunquit, Maine. While the cyclists could choose from three routes (25, 40 or 55 miles), those deciding to take the longest route would experience hours of torture if these conditions continued through the morning.

“Dave, I’m only about five minutes away passing exit 4 right now.”

“Good. I thought I was going to be the only one providing communications for this race and radios really work best with at least two people.”

Breathe NH is a non-profit organization that uses the annual two-day bike ride to raise money. Riders have a choice of three different courses depending upon their fitness and endurance.

Most riders who participate, no matter which route they take to Ongunquit, ME, accomplish this feat in about six hours. Lunch, massages, a heated pool and giant hot tub await them at the Meadowmere Resort.

The cyclists, Breathe NH staff and support crew, volunteers and us ham radio operators take over an entire wing of the spacious resort just one-half mile from the heart of Ongunquit. The following morning they would bike back to Portsmouth, NH on their choice of two routes, one 35 miles and the longer one 52 miles.

The rain began to get worse as I pulled into the parking lot. I didn’t see many other cars, trucks or bike riders. The weather brought out those who undoubtedly have the three D’s:

  • Diligence
  • Determination
  • Discipline

I wandered inside the Registration area. There were far more volunteers there than bicyclists. That’s not a good thing. Up ahead I saw Dave and wandered towards him.

“Who else is working the event,” I asked.

“Besides you and me, Mary Sheldon – N1RKO, Cliff Dickinson – N1RCQ, Bob Murphy – N1RWH, Steve Davidson - K1SMD, and Peg Brown – KB1GQV are supposed to be here.”

That seems like a lot of ham operators but in reality it was a razor-thin crew. The cyclists get spread out during the event and we need to have ham radio operators at the front, middle and behind the last riders to make sure they all get to the finish line safely.

What’s more, there were two courses that needed safety coverage by our crew. This would stretch our communication resources to the limit. It would have been much better to have at least ten 50-watt radios shadowing the cyclists, but that was not to happen on this weekend.

To add to the complexity, we work this event primarily on simplex frequencies. This means it’s common for messages to be relayed to and from the ham operators who are not only mobile, but are also often 20 or 30 miles apart. While that may be a walk in the park on the flat plains of Montana or Kansas, it can be a challenge on the hilly and rocky coastline of Maine.

This was my second time working this fascinating public service event. Two years before it had been a picture-perfect warm spring day. This year, it was gloomy, rainy and depressing.

This is the famous Nubble Lighthouse in Maine. You're 2/3rds of the way to Ongunquit, ME from Portsmouth, NH when you stop here for water. This photo was taken in May, 2012. In 2014, the fog was so thick you could barely see the lighthouse from shore. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is the famous Nubble Lighthouse in Maine. You’re 2/3rds of the way to Ongunquit, ME from Portsmouth, NH when you stop here for water. This photo was taken in May, 2012. In 2014, the fog was so thick you could barely see the lighthouse from shore. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

The forecast, however, was encouraging. The relentless heavy rain was to end by mid morning and the front producing the precipitation might push all the clouds off the coast by afternoon. As Kenny Chesney said in his hit song, “Only time will tell, but it ain’t talkin.”

The start of the race was delayed about fifteen minutes because the heavens opened up with a drenching downpour. Dave had me head out to get ahead of the pack of the serious riders. He wanted me to drive out to the first rest stop at Greenland Central School in Greenland, NH.

A new feature this year were assigned navigators. Lindsay, a 25-year-old graduate student in museum curation, was to be my north star on this day. We raced to my truck trying to avoid the raindrops drilling into us, but both of us got soaked in the process.

It didn’t take long to get to the school where rain was keeping the water and snack volunteer inside her van trying to stay dry. She had wisely placed cases of bottled water on the legs of the collapsible canopy keeping it from blowing away.

I'm in my truck at Greenland Central School looking out at Mary's, N1RKO - truck. You simply didn't want to be standing outside unless it was necessary. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

I’m in my truck at Greenland Central School looking out at Mary’s, N1RKO – truck. You simply didn’t want to be standing outside unless it was necessary. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Lindsay and I exchanged the customary “Who-I-am-and-what-I-do” conversation as we awaited the first riders and our relief, Mary – N1RKO. Ten minutes later, Mary showed up pulling alongside us in her green Ford Ranger pickup truck. Mary’s a seasoned ham operator and has worked this event for years. She loves the outdoors and volunteers to work many public service events.

Here is the first part of the 55-mile route from Portsmouth, NH to Ongunquit, ME. Image credit: Google Maps

Here is the first part of the 55-mile route from Portsmouth, NH to Ogunquit, ME. Image credit: Google Maps

Once Mary arrived, Dave had me follow the lead riders as they clawed their way through the rain and wind on the circuitous route towards the coastline.

Lindsay and I made it to Wallace Sands State Beach just south of Portsmouth, NH. We were on the lookout for warm coffee and a place to make a nature stop. The rain had turned to a drizzle, but it was cool, and the ocean was a steel gray. The cloud ceiling had to be less than 200 feet.

We discovered a general store in Rye, NH that was open and deserted. There we made the exchange of liquids and got back in my beast heading north up the coast. The rain had stopped, for now.

If you work a public service event like this, the outcome all desire is no serious problems. As it would turn out, we achieved that goal. The only injuries suffered were several flat tires over the course of both days. That’s a very good thing.

Our next stop was Ft. McClary. You don’t have to be a military expert to understand why the fort was built at this location. Ships trying to approach Portsmouth harbor were staring directly into cannons that could pick off the ships like fresh steaming lobster off a plate.

Here's the second leg of the 55-mile bike trip from Portsmouth, NH to Ogunquite, ME. Image credit: Google Maps

Here’s the second leg of the 55-mile bike trip from Portsmouth, NH to Ogunquit, ME. Image credit: Google Maps

We stayed at Ft. McClary for about 20 minutes waiting for Mary to relieve us once more so we could leap frog up to the historic Nubble Lighthouse at York Beach, ME.

When we arrived at the Nubble Lighthouse, the weather looked grim. The fog was thick and you looked out to sea into a ghostly gray sheet of nothingness. If I were on a ship moving at 20 knots in that soup, I’d for sure be working on a mild anxiety attack wondering if my radar and GPS were really working. Imagine how sailors of old must have felt without the technology we enjoy.

After Nubble, we started to sprint towards the finish line.

This is the final stretch of the 2014 Breathe NH 55-mile long course from Portsmouth, NH to Ogunquit, ME. Image credit: Google Maps

This is the final stretch of the 2014 Breathe NH 55-mile long course from Portsmouth, NH to Ogunquit, ME. Image credit: Google Maps

“Lindsay, look. I can see blue sky!” I was looking out my driver’s side window and sure enough there was a patch of glorious blue. Mother Nature had decided to move on and punish our allies to the northeast in the Maritime Provinces of Canada.

Just after 12:30 p.m. Lindsay and I pulled into the parking lot at the expansive Meadowmere Resort on the main drag at Ogunquit, ME. I’d guess that 15 cyclists had already made it to the finish line. They were getting rehydrated and some were getting ready for the complimentary massages to work out any cramps that were lurking in their legs.

After eating lunch, Dave released me from duty and I headed down to Ogunquit Beach to do Morse code with anyone that might hear me on my low-powered HB-1B radio. By then the skies had cleared and it had turned into a gorgeous warm afternoon.

It still looks a bit overcast, but those were clouds hanging out over the ocean. Overhead on the land, it was blue sky and sunshine. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

It still looks a bit overcast, but those were clouds hanging out over the ocean. Overhead on the land, it was blue sky and sunshine. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

This is one reason I love volunteering for this event. You get the afternoon off to enjoy the ocean before it gets clogged with the summer tourists. But realize it’s important to get back to Meadowmere by 5 p.m. to enjoy dinner with the cyclists and all others who participated.

I thought dinner was at 6 p.m. and wondered where everyone was when I got back to the motel from my afternoon of invisible radio waves and conversations about my strange green kite string (halyard for my antenna) that seemed to be snagged in a tree. It was about 5:10 p.m. when I arrived and it was a ghost town in the parking lot.

This is late day as the tide was almost out at Ogunquit Beach. The stiff wind had no problem supporting this kite! Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is late day as the tide was almost out at Ogunquit Beach. The stiff wind had no problem supporting this kite! Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

The next day was uneventful as I had the glorious job of working sweep on the long course headed back to Portsmouth. The advantage of sweep is that you get to creep along behind the last rider.

This allows you to really see what’s on either side of the road. Typically you zoom past all the houses, horses and hayfields at 40 or 50 mph. Among other things I saw a tiny cemetery right up against the road.

Here's a very small cemetery just feet from the edge of the country road. Stout granite posts have been cracked off by cars or snowplows. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s a very small cemetery just feet from the edge of the country road. Stout granite posts have been cracked off by cars or snowplows. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Once back in Portsmouth at the Tradeport finish line, a delicious picnic lunch with grilled hamburgers awaited us. We sat in the sun and regaled in another safe CNHARC public safety event. If you’ve ever wanted to see the NH and southern ME coastline, this is the way to do it. Volunteer next year and see what I mean!

Sky Pond NH, Lunch and Black Flies

The morning of May 12, 2014 my Morsementor (new word) and good friend Jim Cluett, W1PID, emailed me asking about going out for the day to do low-powered QRP radio. The forecast was excellent. The temperature was going to be close to 80 F and abundant sunshine was in store. After five months of the white death, I needed to see lots of green and blue.

Jim suggested we go to the ledges above Sky Pond, a place I’d not yet seen. Apparently there are countless small hidden oases of pleasure hidden on the small mountains of New Hampshire. In several hours I would be introduced to yet another one.

This is a view looking north northeast from the end of the Bald Ledge trail above Sky Pond, NH. Lake Winona is in the foreground and you're looking out at the Squam Mountain range with Mt. Morgan the highest peak towards the left. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is a view looking north northeast from the end of the Bald Ledge trail above Sky Pond, NH. Lake Winona is in the foreground and you’re looking out at the Squam Mountain range with Mt. Morgan the highest peak towards the left. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

It was decided we’d eat lunch along the shore of Sky Pond at the foot of the trailhead. Jim had me copy directions over the phone as he was about 15 minutes ahead of me. When I pulled into the small parking lot adjacent to Sky Pond, Jim was at the shore looking out over the glistening water topped with diamonds courtesy of the sun reflecting off each wave top.

“You wore shorts. You’re an animal! I’m a little fearful the black flies will have learned to bite by now and don’t want my legs peppered with welts,” Jim said.

“It’s too hot for me for long pants. I guess I could change into my hiking pants with the zip-off legs.” I have three pairs of these synthetic fiber pants and they’re made for cooler mornings and hotter afternoons. They’d stop black fly bites too no doubt. I stuck with my shorts, and would later regret it.

Lunch didn’t last long. Before departing up the trail Jim asked if I wanted a squirt of some insect repellent that looked like a thick coffee with cream.

“I put it behind my ears. That’s where the flies seem to bother me,” Jim pronounced. I applied some to my ears, arms and should have put more on my legs.

Minutes later we started to head up a typical Class VI (6) NH road. These are private roads made for rugged jeeps or beat-up 4×4 pickup trucks. Only an idiot would take their Lexus or nice car up these bumpy rutted roads that have paint-scratching branches reaching out from the edges.

It didn’t take but ten or fifteen minutes to get to the cutoff for the short trail to the ledges. Ledge is the local term used to describe outcroppings of solid bedrock.

Here I am at the trail cutoff that takes you to the Sky Pond Ledges. You can miss this trail if you get distracted walking down the roadway. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

Here I am at the trail cutoff that takes you to the Sky Pond Ledges. You can miss this trail if you get distracted walking down the roadway. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

“Do you see this rock here Jim? This is the same as you find all around my house. It’s the Meredith Porphyritic Granite. A porphyry is a hard igneous rock that almost always has large crystals in it. The giant white crystals you see are orthoclase feldspar.”

Here's a piece of the Meredith Porphyritic Granite. The red and white scale divisions are centimeters. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s a piece of the Meredith Porphyritic Granite. The red and white scale divisions are centimeters. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

“I think a better name for it is the Meredith Pyrotechnic Granite.” Jim obviously doesn’t enjoy the finer points of igneous geology.

It didn’t take long to get to the end of the very flat spur trail that would deliver us to a stunning vista. Most of the elevation gain happened on the Class VI roadway. As we crested the trail, I could see ahead peeks of the vista view through the majestic evergreen trees.

This is the view as you break out of the forest on top of the Bald Ledge Trail. I knew the view would be spectacular once you got to the last tree. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is the view as you break out of the forest on top of the Bald Ledge Trail. I knew the view would be spectacular once you got to the last tree. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

I walked to the edge of the ledge and looked out at the stunning view. Below us was Lake Winona and off to the left and center were the majestic Squam Mountains. You could also see water in Hawkins Pond beyond Lake Winona.

“Do you see the railroad tracks? That’s our line going up to Ashland from the Meredith yard.” Jim was referring to the Hobo Railroad line. I thought to myself that within 30 days of that moment I’d have already completed my second or third day of being a new conductor on the Hobo Railroad. Jim’s been a conductor for several years and suggested I apply for one of these rare positions. I jumped at the opportunity back in late March.

“Oh, there they are the other side of Lake Winona.” I made the mistake and was looking out over Lake Winona to the roadway. I should have known better having driven that road and never seeing the track. I had a clear image of the narrow one-lane overpass the tracks use to cross Winona Road about one-half mile from where we were standing.

In a few minutes we were unpacking our radio gear and getting antennas up into trees. Jim had his deluxe KX3 Elecraft and I was using my HB-1B radio that was limping along with a bum button that’s used to switch from VFO to Memory mode.

I roamed 20 meters hoping to get a quick QSO, but the propagation to Bald Ledge left much to be desired. The band was pretty much dead.

Here I am being frustrated by the lack of activity on 20 meters and the infernal black flies that were nipping at my legs. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

Here I am being frustrated by the lack of activity on 20 meters and the infernal black flies that were nipping at my legs. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

I could hear Jim completing QSOs an 15 and 17 meters. When two operators are nearby on the same band, I can hear a dull impulse in my earphones of him sending his call sign and other letters. The best description are ghost signals.

“Tim, look! There’s a hawk flying right here in front of us!”

I looked but saw nothing. The predator had dipped behind a tree. I’m sure it was a gorgeous sight to see with the winged creature swooping and gliding above Lake Winona.

I was having no luck. I could hear strong signals, but when I transmitted I got no response. It appeared I might get skunked. Nothing is worse than an afternoon outdoor radio session that ends with a skunk. I was to find out soon enough two other things could add to this misery.

“I think I’m going to stop operating for the day.” Jim usually pounds out about four or five DX QSOs like I’d hammer five 16d sinker nails.

“What are you going to do?” I was curious because there was still lots of time and I needed a QSO.

“I’m going to goad you.” Ouch! Jim was just kidding, but he decided he was going to come help me get a QSO.

Minutes later he was next to me with his backpack.

“Why don’t you move and get out of the sun?”

I was sitting in the sun. It wasn’t too hot, but it’s easy to get sunburned early in the spring.

I moved, almost tripping and falling over backwards stumbling across a small rise in the granite bedrock ledge.

“That was close,” I said. It could have been a serious situation had I fallen and hit my head. Help would not come fast to the ledge and Jim couldn’t pull me back to the vehicles on a lashed limb sled. Not on his best day with me being 40 or more pounds heavier than him.

Soon Jim was sitting next to me and was sharing one of my earphones. Minutes later he did a quick QSO with a friend of his in Michigan, Ken, WA8REI.

“Here, send your call sign. Ken’s waiting for you.”

I was nervous and frustrated. What’s more, my little HB-1B transmit speed was set to Jim’s hypersonic send speed.

I sent what Jim said to send and Ken responded. I could only catch every fifth character, but Jim was committing the entire QSO to his head. He rarely has to write anything down with his expert CW skills.

Minutes later the QSO was over. It was ugly. Ken gave me a 579 signal report and I gave him the same. My dismal sloping antenna was radiating towards the west and it working into Michigan.

It was time to pack up. Every now and then I had to move my legs to get the circulation going and to avoid the insects. Soon I was to discover the black flies had feasted on me.

We tried to get down my antenna, but it became snagged in the white pine tree. Jim yanked it and got it down, but one of the legs on the choke winder broke.

“You can glue this up with a splint and it’ll be fine,” Jim mentioned as we surveyed the damage. The end of the antenna also suffered stripped insulation.

Soon we were walking back to Sky Pond. It took maybe 20 minutes at the most to make it back to the vehicles. We ended the outing munching on two ice cream sandwiches sitting on the shady grass at the local gas station.

Fortunately Jim helped me avoid being skunked. The outing was a teaching experience to put it mildly. I discovered I still have much work ahead. I need to be able to HEAR an entire QSO at 15, 18 and even 20 WPM.

I know I’ll get there, but it’s not going to be overnight. The key is daily practice and I’m not only doing QSOs in my shack, but working with some nice AD5RX Morse Trainer software.

Soon I’ll be very respectable on air and able to do QSOs like Jim. You’ll see. Wait until you see a future post of mine this coming August!

 

Knox Mountain, Lady and the Landslide

Two days ago Jim Cluett, W1PID, and I were on top of Steele Hill where Steele Hill Resorts treats its guests to commanding views of the area. We had met with the owner, William Cutillo, finalizing the details concerning the installation of a D-STAR digital repeater up on this very high point in central New Hampshire. It was a stunning blue-sky day.

“I’ll see you later,” Jim said as he slid down out of the seat from my beastly Ford F-250 Super Duty 4×4 to walk over to his car. Moments before we had taken my truck up to see where the repeater would be housed.

An hour later my phone rang. Jim uttered, “Can you go right now to Knox Mountain?”

“I wish. I’ve got to send my newsletter and then I have to leave the house at 4:30 p.m. for a meeting. We’ll be super rushed.”

“You don’t want to rush Knox Mountain.”

knoxpondjim

You can see why you don’t want to rush your visit to this hidden palace in central New Hampshire. The pond is but one part of the experience. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

“How about tomorrow, Jim? I’m wide open.”

“Okay,” Jim said, although I could sense disappointment in his voice.

He knows Knox Mountain well, as I’m certain it’s his favorite place to hike. He knows about black flies and when they learn to bite in the spring, he knows about the finite number of blue-sky days, he knows about cool temperatures, he knows about open forest and he knows when it’s best to go to Knox Mountain.

That tiny tidbit of time that would pass after we would hang up was one of those rare afternoons when it’s perfect to go to Knox Mountain, and little did I know I was throwing away the opportunity like you might toss a greasy paper towel into the trash.

Fast forward 24 hours and early in the morning via email we made plans to meet at 1 p.m. to drive to the parking area at the Knox  Mountain trailhead.

“I’m going with Jim this afternoon to do outdoor radio at Knox Mountain,” I mentioned to Kathy, my wife.

“Why don’t you take Lady? She’d love the outdoor hike through the woods.”

I pondered that for about two seconds knowing that Lady, our German Shepherd, loves to be outdoors. But a nagging thought surfaced about how on past outings Jim had mentioned to me how wonderful his dog was and how much he missed her. Would Lady throw a wet blanket on the outing?

“Jim, would you mind if I brought my dog along on the hike?” I called him about 90 minutes before we were to meet.

“Sure. I don’t mind.” I wasn’t convinced. Jim sounded a little distant and his voice lacked his normal overlay of humor. Perhaps it was very insensitive of me to bring along a third wheel, but the words had crept into the cell phone and it was too late to pull them back through the ether.

I left the house trying to get to the post office before 1 p.m. I also needed to grab some lunch. As I was walking into the local Subway to grab a sandwich, I noticed I had just missed a call from Jim.

“What’s up?”

“I wanted to apologize for my earlier curt response about Lady. She’s more than welcome. You caught me at a bad time down at the stream. My hands were full of muck as I was trying to clear out a few blockages.”

“Well, she’s with me now and we’ll see you in a few minutes!”

Lady and I followed Jim to the trailhead. It didn’t take long as it’s just ten minutes from Jim’s house and up a well-maintained dirt and gravel road.

“Hi Lady! Are you ready for a hike in the woods?” Jim wasn’t faking it. He was happy to see Lady who came over to him pelting his legs with her high-speed wagging tail doing the obligatory sniffing of Jim and taking in all the new smells of the area.

We were on the trail in 90 seconds.

Soon we crossed the log bridge that at one time was strong enough to support a heavy pickup truck like mine. Time has taken its toll and one of the main support logs has fallen into the stream and the others are spongy. Soon the bridge will collapse.

The fallen log is in the shade under the bridge in the center of the frame. You cross this bridge on foot at your own peril. Photo by: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The fallen log is in the shade under the bridge in the center of the frame. You cross this bridge on foot at your own peril. Photo by: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Knox Brook flows under the bridge and it’s like so many mountain streams in central New Hampshire. It’s noisy, it’s clean and it’s tasty eye candy.

As we hiked through the woods on the leaf-littered roadway leading to the Knox Mountain cabins and pond, Jim shared stories of past bear and mountain lion encounters. It’s deep woods and thousands of acres of forest connect to where we were walking. No doubt wildlife finds its way here looking for food, companionship or to patrol.

“Oh my! That wasn’t here the last time we I was here. When was that?”

I replied, “I thought you came here while I was away last week down in Maryland.”

Jim was referring to 100 tons of clay hillside and trees that had slid down towards the stream and was now blocking the roadway.

Mother Nature at work trying to get all of the land down to the oceans. She's very patient and persistent. Photo credit: Tim Carter-W3ATB

Mother Nature at work trying to get all of the land down to the oceans. She’s very patient and persistent. Photo credit: Tim Carter-W3ATB

Lady, Jim and I picked our way around the mucky mess and soon we had to cross the brook because a second bridge had succumbed to Mother Nature’s whims. Its rotted logs had been removed a few years back and you now had to cross the brook the way the original settlers did.

In just minutes we were at an old concrete dam structure that created the stunning pond. Lady decided it was time to swim as she loves doing so at our home.

Lady is a natural swimmer, but the still cold water shortened her stay in the clear pond water. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Lady is a natural swimmer, but the still cold water shortened her stay in the clear pond water. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

After soaking up the view of the pond, Jim, Lady and I wandered over to the small cabins next to the pond.

“Here’s a good tree for you. You have the taller antenna.” Jim was right. Moments later I had my water bottle sailing up and over one of the highest branches.

“When I heard that bottle smash into the ground, I thought you had a bum throw. You got a perfect throw the first time,” Jim said as he looked at my green microcord hanging straight down from the tree. When it comes to wire antennas, straight is good. Sloping antennas don’t work as well.

Jim took his time setting up on the other side of the cabin because he didn’t want his ghost signals to interfere with me getting my first QSO. Soon we were both on the air and I could hear Jim making contacts. He’s a DX pro and with his skills and with his Extra licensing privileges he’s able to work that part of the 20-meter band where the pros go to make fast QSOs.

I avoided getting skunked by working K9MY, Jerald in Antioch, IL. All I got, as he was probably sending at 15 WPM, was his call sign and my RST. He gave me a 559.

“I couldn’t get what he was sending because he was too fast,” I lamented to Jim sauntering over to announce I made a successful QSO.

“I need to find slower operators,” I added.

“No you don’t.”

Jim knows the way. He knows the way to success. Success is me learning to HEAR Morse faster. Success is NOT me trying to find slow operators who peck away on their paddles or keys. It’s up to me to practice and push myself to be able to comprehend Morse code sent at 18, 20 or 25 WPM speed.

We munched on some QRP Energy Capsules (peanut M&Ms) and thin potato chips laced with sour cream and onion flavoring. The scenery was feeding our souls, but doing nothing for our bellies. Lady enjoyed some of the potato chips as well.

The radio bands were not favorable in central New Hampshire at that point in time, so we decided to pack up and find a store that had an ice cream bar or two.

The walk down the brook was delightful and the mid-afternoon sun was bathing the brook with slanted rays of light that produced perfect opportunities for epic photographs.

The look on Jim's face says it all. He loves everything about Knox Brook. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The look on Jim’s face says it all. He loves everything about Knox Brook. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Jim has told me for over a year that this hike, this location and this brook is his favorite place to go. As I walked through the cathedral carved by the brook, I can now see why. If you’re lucky to enjoy what the three of us did, you’ll no doubt have the same opinion of Knox Brook and Mountain.

Sore Butts Potter Place Eagle Pond and QRP

Just after 8:30 am yesterday an email dropped into my inbox from my outdoor radio mentor and friend Jim Cluett, W1PID. Journalism was one of Jim’s many jobs before retirement, and he excels at using a few watts of power with radio waves as well as with words when communicating clearly with the written language.

As you can see, Jim has great skills and magic when it comes to using just a few characters to extract needed data.

As you can see, Jim has great skills and magic when it comes to using just a few characters to extract needed data.

It didn’t take me but a nanosecond to put an X in between the parentheses after the word “yes” and click the “send” button.

After all, it was another much-needed bluebird day here in central New Hampshire and I had been working like a dog all week. An afternoon outside doing QRP (low power) radio was just what I needed to finish off the work week.

Thirty minutes later Jim and I were on the phone coming up with a plan. We had lots of options and it was decided bicycles should be part of the outing. I don’t have a bicycle, so Jim said he had one for me. I’m asking for a bike for Fathers Day, so hopefully I’ll have a nice machine in less than eight weeks.

I had been up and working since 6 a.m. and had a very important proposal to submit before I could head out. We decided to meet just before 1 p.m. and carpool to our outdoor tiny dxpedition.

“It’s good to see you,” Jim said as we pulled out of the gravel parking lot where I stashed my beastly F-250 4×4 Super Duty pickup truck.

“It’s good to see you too old man.”

“What do you want to do? Ride up in Old Hill Village or go over to the Rail Trail in Andover?”

We had been to Old Hill Village the past two adventures and I was afraid that more dogs had been let loose. For years I had wanted to ride on the Northern Rail Trail so it was an easy decision.

“Rail trail. Let’s go there and see what it’s like.”

Jim had biked there countless times, so it was up to him to select a section of the old rail line to explore. Little did I know, he had decided to do the trip from Andover, NH up to Eagle Pond, a distance one way of just under four miles.

This is the route we took. CLICK the image to access the interactive map. Map courtesy of Google Maps and Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is the route we took. CLICK the image to access the interactive map. Map courtesy of Google Maps and Tim Carter – W3ATB

The drive to Andover took a strong 30 minutes or more in Jim’s dandy VW vanagon camper. He uses it for our annual Field Day as his private command center and bug-free transceiving station. It’s also a great vehicle for outings like this.

“This would make for a great road trip vehicle, Jim.” I was trying to sow a seed or two for a one or two-day radio adventure later in the summer.

Once at Andover, we were out of the vanagon in seconds and getting ready to ride.

This is the bike Jim let me use. It was a fine machine. This photo was taken on the trail, not in the parking lot in Andover, NH. Photo credit: Jim Cluett - W1PID

This is the bike Jim let me use. It was a fine machine. This photo was taken on the trail, not in the parking lot in Andover, NH. Photo credit: Jim Cluett – W1PID

“Do you want a rubber band for your pants? It’ll keep your pant’s leg out of the chain.” I accepted and it turned out to be a good idea.

“Do you remember how to ride a bike?” That was a good question as I couldn’t remember the last time I was on a bicycle. I think Jim said that because it looked like I was going to mount the sleek two-wheeler while the kickstand was still down.

“Sure. I know how to ride a bike!”

“Well, on the other side of that playground be careful of some deep wicked sand.”

We were off. Just past the playground we passed through a large tunnel and I swear Jim was sending Morse code making beeping sounds in the long tube. Maybe it was something else.

“Are you going to ride back there or side by side so I don’t have to turn and yell at you?” Jim was leading the way and I was concentrating on how to switch gears on the 21-speed bike I was piloting.

“Side by side, buddy.” I pulled up to his left and we proceeded to peddle west and slightly  north.

Within five minutes my butt started to hurt. OUCH! But being the typical male, I sucked it up and didn’t say anything so as to not look weak. Little did I know it, but Jim was experiencing the same pain after not riding a bike for at least six months.

As we peddled on the trail, we passed all sorts of great scenery. Within the first mile we came up to an old covered bridge across the Black River. Suspended from that bridge, as well as the heavy iron railroad bridge that held up the bike path over the river, were vertical red and blue plastic tubes that stopped about one foot short of the water level.

“Those must be for the Proctor School kayakers,” Jim said. Proctor School, an exclusive private center of influence and networking, was located in Andover, NH. My guess is he was right.

As we continued the journey towards Eagle Pond, we passed large granite mile markers used by the old railroad engineers. On one side you might see “B 103″ and the other side “WRJ 40″. That meant from that point it was 103 miles to Boston and 40 miles to White River Junction, NH. I would soon discover Eagle Pond was just northwest of the WRJ 37 mile marker.

“Potter Place is just up ahead. Let’s pull over there.” Jim didn’t say his butt hurt, but I now know that was the primary motivation for the stop at the quaint restored railroad station at Potter Place, NH.

In the summer, all sorts of railroad carts, luggage carriers and other gear is outside. Jim said you could tour the station during normal hours. We sat on the dry grass just opposite this station to the right of the photo to munch on peanut M&Ms hoping that would provide pain relief. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

In the summer, all sorts of railroad carts, luggage carriers and other gear is outside. Jim said you could tour the station during normal hours. We sat on the dry grass just opposite this station to the right of the photo to munch on peanut M&Ms hoping that would provide pain relief. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Once at Potter Place, I was glad to get off the bike. Either I was a sissy, I had overly sensitive gluteus maximus muscles and/or the bicycle Jim lent me was left over from the Spanish Inquisition.

We rested up, looked at Richard Potter’s headstone and munched on a large bag of peanut M&Ms I had brought along for the ride. At our last outing, Jim had purchased a small bag of them at the Hill Village store and shared six of them with me. There are not many in those small bags.

If my math is correct, Richard Potter was born in 1783! Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

If my math is correct, Richard Potter was born in 1783! Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

After ten minutes at the rail station we got on the bikes and made the final dash to Eagle Pond. By the time we got there, my butt was screaming like a newborn baby for mother’s milk.

Eagle Pond was glorious. The sun was still high in the sky even though it was after 3 p.m. A  small dirt road that crosses the Northern Rail Trail led to a popular parking area that the local teenagers must use on Friday and Saturday nights to neck and advance the human species. Fishermen park there too to cast into Eagle Pond.

Jim, W1PID, is pondering how he's going to loft his water bottle up into the tree trailing his green halyard that will pull up his thin 33-foot antenna wire. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Jim, W1PID, is pondering how he’s going to loft his water bottle up into the tree trailing his green halyard that will pull up his thin 33-foot antenna wire. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Jim got his antenna up in a flash. It took me three attempts at slinging my water bottle up about 40 feet over the exact small branch that would allow my 10, 20 and 40-meter end-fedz antenna to drop straight to the ground. Jim’s taught me that a perfectly vertical antenna provides the best performance.

By the time I had set up and was ready to operate, Jim had already captured invisible radio waves with his Elecraft KX3. Here’s who he connected with while I was preventing getting skunked:

  • HA9RT Hungary
  • EM90WF Ukraine
  • HA8FK Hungary
  • KA4RRU Virginia
  • 4Z5IW Israel

I connected my HB-1B quad-band QRP radio and jumped on 20 meters. I heard several strong signals but after 15 minutes I was unable to get a contact. I tried jumping into an ending conversation, but either the other operators were tired or they couldn’t hear my 5-watt signal.

Finally, I was able to have an exchange with KG9HV. It was John in Lafayette, IN. Jim’s able to get DX (international contacts) with ease and I struggle to go 1,000 miles. I simply need to get better and faster listening to Morse code. That’s the issue. It’s not the radio, it’s not the antenna, it’s me.

“I didn’t get skunked!” I tooted my horn to Jim as he was all packed up and ready to ride back to Andover.

“Good.” Jim was probably pondering how far we could get before his butt would be screeching at him to stop.

Minutes later we were headed back to Andover. We had almost 4 miles of downhill biking in front of us. Railroad grades are very slight in most cases, and this stretch of the Northern Rail Trail appears flat but it’s not. I could tell it took less effort to ride the bike towards Andover and the comfort of a large seat in the vanagon.

“Hey, look down at that river. It’s got to be 70 or 80 feet down wouldn’t you say?” Jim was straddling the center bar of his bike and had stopped where the bike trail was just above the Black River. The slope down to the clear rushing water was very steep.

“No way. I’d say it’s maybe 35 or 40 feet. Perhaps 45 feet at the most,” I replied. There was no way it was 70 feet. Jim had shown me earlier in the ride how his plastic-lensed glasses had been damaged by the high heat of his coal stove when he opened the door years ago. Perhaps the micro cracks were distorting the view.

“Well, do you have a timer?” I posed this question to Jim and he indicated he had his nice analog wristwatch as well as a digital timer on his cell phone.

“I’m going to throw this rock to the water. You time when it splashes. Give me a 3, 2, 1 countdown so we can time it accurately.”

“Three, two, one.”

I flung a piece of railroad ballast out horizontally and it immediately succumbed to the pull of gravity and kerplunked right in the middle of the river.

“1.5 seconds,” Jim said.

“Well, what’s the square of that?” Jim looked slightly perplexed.

I said, “Well, it’s less than 4 and probably less than 3.”

Jim got out his cellphone and fired up the calculator. The result was 2.25.

“Multiply that by 16,” I said.

“It’s 36,” Jim said.

“Well, it’s about 33 feet from the ground up here down to the water. You need to subtract the 3 feet the rock was above the ground at as it left my hand.”

“What? How did you figure that?” Jim was visibly disturbed.

“It’s easy. The physics formula to determine how far an object falls under the force of gravity is:   s = 1/2at².”  ( s = distance in feet, a = 32 ft per second squared and t equals time in seconds)

There was silence. A long pregnant pause as Jim processed this factoid.

“Well, I’ve possibly been wrong about many things in my life as I’ve been estimating vertical distances inaccurately for decades.”

“It’s no big deal. I was taught how to do this back in college by my geology field professors.  We’d have to throw stones to measure the thickness of a rock formation.”

Jim had me toss another stone to check the timing. We got nearly the same result.

It was time to get back to the vanagon.

As we peddled, Jim said, “Is your butt sore?”

“You bet it is! That’s why I stand on the peddles every five or ten seconds to lift my butt up off the seat.”

I was glad to hear I wasn’t the only one suffering.

Soon I could see the tunnel up ahead that marked the spot we started. There was still a patch of soft snow and ice leftover from the bitter winter. It would be gone for sure within 48 hours.

The parking lot and vanagon was just on the other side of the tunnel. You can clearly see Jim and the remnant snow and ice. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The parking lot and vanagon was just on the other side of the tunnel. You can clearly see Jim and the remnant snow and ice. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Minutes later we were back at the vanagon and both our butts were singing “Hallelujah!” as we got off and loaded them into, and on the back of, the vanagon.

Jim started up the vanagon, backed out and headed up the slight hill to turn right to head into Andover.

“Hanz and I came up here in the winter to ski on the trail once. They hadn’t plowed the parking lot and the snow was 3 or 4 feet deep is my guess. Once we parked I thought it wasn’t such a smart idea to do that. We just barely got out.”

I’ve driven quite a bit in snow and know that if a car or truck gets into deep snow where it drags on the bottom of the car or truck, you’ll not go anywhere, much less up a hill.

Jim looked at me sideways and said, “Well, maybe it was only 6 inches. You’ve shown me that I’m not too good at judging distances.”

We laughed and stopped at the corner to get our requisite reward of an ice cream bar and a Dove bar. Sitting on the wooden bench outside the store looking across at the Proctor School, we both reflected on the fine adventure.

Soon we were back in the vanagon headed for home.

NOTE TO SELF: Purchase bike with comfy seat.

Two Different Days at Old Hill Village, NH

Just two days before, Jim Cluett – W1PID, and I had come to the empty fields and lots that just seventy-five years ago were filled with cows, sheep, schools, stores, people and wagons.

But now tall grass, massive trees and peepers call this giant flood plain home. Jim and I were drawn back to the western shore of the Pemigewasset River at Old Hill Village because the temperature was soaring towards 80 F.

“I think it’s impossible that we not go out today, what do you think?” Jim called me while I was putting the finishing touches on my weekly syndicated newspaper column.

“I agree. I need to finish my column and could be ready to go just after lunch. I also need to stop at the post office on the way there.”

“Fine. Let’s meet at the store at 1:15 p.m. I’ll be on 146.52.”

Driving to the relocated Hill Village store down NH Route 3A with the windows down was good for the soul. The winter of 2013-14 had been long, cold and harsh. To feel warm air provided by Mother Nature instead of a furnace was delightful.

Jim was waiting for me as I rounded the bend in his new paprika-colored Subaru. We were at the parking area next to Needleshop Brook in just minutes.

Two days before I didn’t have much time, but today I had the entire afternoon available and we made use of it.

Snow and ice still covered the old roadway down to Old Hill Village, so you had to watch your step. Jim and I made our way down to the old north/south Main Street of the old village in no time. The Needleshop Brook was frothy and furious with thousands of gallons of meltwater.

Little did Jim and I know that billions and billions of gallons of meltwater were headed towards Old Hill Village because of the warm temperatures and rainy day that was just 24 hours away.

Here's meltwater racing down Needleshop Brook towards the Pemigewasset River. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s meltwater racing down Needleshop Brook towards the Pemigewasset River. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

The dry fields filled with grass laid flat by the heavy snows would soon be under 15 or more feet of floodwater!

On my first visit to this tranquil spot, I got skunked. I tried hard to make a Morse code contact, but it just wasn’t in the cards. Much of it is due to my inexperience and the short amount of time I had available. Jim was able to pull QSOs out of the air like one might pull tissues from a box.

On this second visit to Old Hill Village, Jim and I did more hiking than operating and when we did set up for the first time, I was able to snag a quick conversation with KD8WFX, Dan, who lives in Maumee, OH.

We had selected a spot along the west bank of the river along a narrow trail that was used by snowmobilers. Jim was set up about 150 feet south of me.

After I finished my QSO with Dan, I walked down to tell Jim.

“I just got one!” Jim was happy for me and I walked back to try for more. After a minute or two I glanced down and saw Jim was pulling down his antenna and packing up.

“Okay, I’ll stop and pack up too.” I yelled down to him.

“No. Don’t do that. Continue to operate. We have all afternoon.”

Minutes later Jim came down to see how I was doing. He asked if he could share one of the halves of my earphones so he could hear what I was listening to. Then he heard me send my call sign apparently at the pace a snail would traverse the trail we were sitting on.

“You’re scaring them all off. It’s like you have that thing on reverse.” He was talking about my nice HB-1B multi-band QRP (reduced power) radio and the very slow transmit speed I had it set to.

Many experienced operators don’t have the patience to work with newbies like me.

As soon as the words lept from Jim’s mouth, we both erupted in laughter. Jim tried to apologize for teasing me, but it’s all in good fun and I’m never offended.

Truth be told, if you want to become proficient at Morse code, you have to practice. It’s that simple, and Jim knows that I’ve not been practicing as much as I need to.

We decided to get back to more hiking and bushwacked it across a small field to get back to the main road that parallels the river. We headed north.

After about a half mile, we came to a triangular-shaped concrete railroad mile marker that had been moved from the old abandoned railroad right of way to the old roadway that headed north out of Old Hill Village.

Here's the concrete signpost. Walk to the other side and you'd see "F 8". Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s the concrete signpost. Walk to the other side and you’d see “F 8″. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Train engineers used these durable signposts to tell them where they were. In our case, we were five miles south of Bristol and eight miles north of Franklin.

Soon after passing the sign post we were met with rising water from the Pemigewasset River that had covered a low spot in the road. We walked over to the riverbank and gazed in wonder how no one was here to enjoy what we were seeing. I was stunned once again at how few people soak themselves in the natural beauty of the area.

After a few minutes we decided to head back towards the cars. Along the way we spotted a giant pine tree whose branches overhung the roadway.

“Do you think you can get your antenna halyard line up over that branch?” Jim was talking about a branch that was just about 50 feet up in the air.

“Sure. I’ll bet I can do it in one toss.” Jim just grinned as he knew it would be more luck than skill if that happened.

The branch we snagged is just above the top of the photo. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The branch we snagged is just above the top of the photo. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

He got out his partially filled water bottle and green cord and proceeded to throw his bottle straight up missing the branch we wanted. His second attempt was right on the mark.

I got out my gear, swung the bottle around in a cicle and let go. Up up up my bottle soared like a pole vaulter on the way to an Olympic gold medal.

My bottle cleared the branch by three feet and fell to the ground trailing my lime-green microcord. It was a fine throw if I don’t say so myself.

“That was a pretty good throw.” Jim proclaimed, my mentor of few words. If only I could garner such praise with respect to my CW (Morse code) skills and magic.

We set up with Jim’s superb Elecraft KX3 radio. It was a teaching moment. He wanted to show me how to snare a contact and what acronyms to use to abbreviate the exchange of information. Within a few minutes he had snagged two contacts, one of them EH4GT in Spain.

Jim worked him and then handed me the Pico Paddles. “Go ahead, send your call sign.”

The paddles were set to a very fast speed and I was nervous.

Moments later it was over. The unnamed operator had heard me and sent back my signal strength report. For most of these operators it’s all about the number of contacts in a given amount of time, not about talking about the wife and kids.

Soon it was time to head back home. Without us realizing it, it had gotten late. We made it back to the cars passing the old rock dam structures that were stacked up the banks of Needleshop Brook.

I was amazed at the giant rusted riveted pipe that carried water down to some mill or factory farther down the stream. Who worked there one hundred or more years ago? What did they make? That’s what dreams are made up of when someone forgets to write it down in history books.

The rusted pipe with the rivets must be 20 or more inches in diameter. Imagine the men who assembled it so many years ago. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

The rusted pipe with the rivets must be 20 or more inches in diameter. Imagine the men who assembled it so many years ago. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Fifteen minutes later Jim and I were sitting on a wooden park bench bathed in late afternoon sun eating an ice cream sandwich, sharing a bag of potato chips and slurping down two root beers.

“Oh, I didn’t realize it was so late!” Jim looked at his watch and it read 5:45 pm.

I was also stunned as it seemed more like 4:30. That’s what happens when you walk around the empty fields of Old Hill Village – time gets suspended.

Another Day

The day after working a set of Morse code paddles in reverse and eating ice cream sandwiches it rained.

It was a warm rainy day. The rain ate snow like Jim and I devoured the mostly air-filled bag of chips the day before.

Countless gallons of water streamed down the mountains into the Pemigewasset River causing the employees at the Franklin Falls Dam to restrict the water flow.

Here's the north side of the Franklin Falls Dam on the Pemigewasset River. You can see the floodwaters starting to back up behind the dam. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s the north side of the Franklin Falls Dam on the Pemigewasset River. You can see the floodwaters starting to back up behind the dam. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

When that happens, Old Hill Village becomes Old Hill Waterpark. The roadway we sat on just 72 hours ago was now probably 15 feet underwater.

On Thursday, April 17, 2014 I emailed Jim in the morning:

“I’d love to see the water in Old Hill Village.”

His reply email subject line read “how badly” and the text was, “Do you want to see it?”

Plans were made to meet at the Hill Village store of Endless Ice Cream Bars at 1:15 p.m.

It didn’t take long to get to the parking lot at the bridge that crosses Needleshop Brook.

It also didn’t take long to get to the end of the road leading to Old Hill Village as the Pemigewasset River had become the Pemigewasset Sea.

Here you see the shoreline of the Pemigewasset Sea as it laps at the old roadway along Needleshop Brook. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here you see the shoreline of the Pemigewasset Sea as it laps at the old roadway along Needleshop Brook. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Water was creeping up the roadway that lead down to Old Hill Village.

“Let’s go off on this trail. I’ll bet there’s a small field to set up in.” Jim knew the area well after exploring it for years. He feels Old Hill Village is one of the most beautiful spots in New Hampshire.

I feel this perception is grounded more in the solitude he finds there, although it is a gorgeous spot. I’m more of a hill and mountain man myself when it comes to views.

It didn’t take long to find a nice spot next to the sea that sported dry grass flattened by the heavy winter snow. Little did we know, but someone must have been there hours before with their best friend.

As Jim started to get out his gear to fling his bottle and cord up into the tree so we could pull up his antenna wire, I proceeded to put my right boot into a mushy pile of you-know-what.

There’s no mistaking it when you step in dog doo. It’s slippery, and you can feel it ooze out each side of your boot.

“Damn it!”

“What’s wrong? What’s happened?”

“I stepped in a pile of dog s * * *!”

BWAHA HA HA HA HA HA HA!,” was Jim’s response as I tried to wipe my boot off in the grass. Soon I joined him in the laughfest as what were the odds that I’d find a pile of dog crap in 3900 acres of land.

“Oh man, that REALLY SMELLS.” Jim didn’t have to tell me, even though my nose is not the most sensitive one on the planet.

I had disturbed the outer oxidized layer of poop and now the odor molecules were racing out towards us like bullets from a machine gun.

As Jim continued to set up his radio, I pulled up handfuls of dry grass to cover up the mess and where I had stepped hoping this would slow the escape of the foul molecules that were tormenting us.

Jim was on the air making contacts as I was trying to scrape the goo from the treads of my boot with a dried twig down at the water’s edge.

I came over and sat down next to him to see him operate.

“Do you smell that?” Jim was mentioning that the foul stench was still surrounding us.

“Of course I do.”

“Well, it’s bad. Is there still some on your boot?”

There it is. Need I say more? Can you smell it? Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

There it is. Need I say more? Can you smell it? Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

I looked. Sure enough there was some of the brown pudding on the right outer edge of my sole.

I got up, walked to the edge of the open area and used wads of dry grass to clean my boot.

“Go down and stick your boot in the water to clean it,” Jim suggested.

Yeah, right. What was I going to use to scrub the boot?

Moments later I was sitting next to Jim as he rotated the dial to find more invisible radio signals.

Jim sits cross legged when he operates. I’m more a straight-legged guy.

Two inches or so right in front and to the left of my boots was the clear cover to his KX3 with his glasses in it.

See the clear plastic case with Jim's glasses in it? Moments later it was near his backpack as he tried to save it from the offensive goo. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

See the clear plastic case with Jim’s glasses in it? Moments later it was on the other side of the Elecraft KX3 radio as he tried to save it from the offensive goo. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Jim silently moved his plastic case a few inches to the left away from my offensive footwear. I noticed and didn’t react.

A minute or two later I shuffled around and my boots crept nearer to the plastic cover.

Jim picked it up and moved it to the other side of the radio.

“What, are you afraid I’m going to ruin the lid?”

Once again the valley filled with laughter. I think there was more laughter in the air than floodwater in the Pemigewasset Sea. It was the hardest both of us had laughed during any of our outings.

Time was short because I had to run two errands and be back at my home to meet another ham radio operator, Lee Hillsgrove, Sr. Lee was going to help me switch out a front brake caliper on my Ford truck.

Jim and I packed up and headed for the cars.

“You better clean off that boot in the snow to keep the floor mat in that Volvo clean.”

I found some corn snow and proceeded to clean my boot of the last vestiges of the dog dirt.

“Let’s go down and look at the brook,” Jim suggested once my boot was like new.

The water was raging and it was no small feat to navigate the steep bank and get to the water’s edge.

I taped a short video of the rushing water while Jim snapped a few photos.

We celebrated with another ice cream sandwich and it was time to head home.

Our radio outings seem to more about nature and nature’s calls than radio. But that’s okay by me. I enjoy being outdoors and all that goes with it. Jim’s just lucky I stepped in it rather than him sitting in it!

Old Hill Village in Central New Hampshire

Yesterday I visited old Hill Village for the first time. My mentor, Jim Cluett- W1PID, invited me on this scenic and peaceful hike on an early spring day. It was the first day of the year you could be comfortable outdoors in short sleeves.

We were going to try to operate our small portable outdoor radios, but the sun had different ideas. You just never know how well radio waves will propagate on any given day.

Yesterday was one of those days where the 20-meter band was just not working well in central New Hampshire.

Old Hill Village is on the banks of the Pemigewasset River in central New Hampshire, just about six miles north of Franklin, NH. In the 1940′s, the entire town was moved to higher ground to make way for a massive flood control project by the US Army Corps of Engineers. They operate the Franklin Falls Dam to help ease flooding in the more populated areas in southern New Hampshire.

It had been a long, harsh winter and just two weeks before snow covered much of the land in central New Hampshire. But in the past ten days, much of it had turned to liquid heading towards the Atlantic Ocean. There were still patches of snow and ice where the snow had drifted or was shaded by trees.

Here's Jim, W1PID, walking on some hard pack snow that's soon to be on its way back to the Atlantic Ocean via the Pemigewasset River. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Jim, W1PID, walking on some hard pack snow that’s soon to be on its way back to the Atlantic Ocean via the Pemigewasset River. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

To protect property downstream, nearly 4,000 acres of land on either side of the river north of the dam was purchased by the US Government and transformed into little-used public area. The primary occupants are wildlife and the rare occasional human walking across the land.

Concrete sidewalks, chunks of asphalt and man-made walls along Needle Shop Brook bear witness that this was once a bustling area enjoyed by several past generations. No doubt many a garment or sock was stitched by needles made in Hill well over 100 years ago.

The following photos and video can probably do a much better job of communicating what it was like there yesterday. You’ll hear more about Old Hill Village from me in the future.

jimhill580

Here’s Jim with his favorite and cherished walking stick. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

jimoperatinghill

You can’t see Jim’s small radio in front of him. He was busy doing Morse code and was able to make contact with several other operators in the USA and Europe. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

mainsthill

This is the old Main Street in Old Hill Village. You’re looking south. Most people don’t come here, so if you’re looking for solitude, this is the place. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

 

SOTA Activation Mt. Morgan NH W1/NL-009

 

Author’s Note: My very good friend and mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID, said, as I was writing this story, “Why is it taking so long? It’s simple. You hiked, it was hard going in the snow, you got to the top much later than you thought, you were too tired to operate HF and you took some photos. What more is there to say?”

Well, a lot more – maybe too much. Read for yourself and be the judge.

“Short notice. Do you want to do a SOTA (Summits on the Air) activation today of Mt. Morgan? Two of my non-ham friends would come. Be at the trailhead at 12:30ish.” It was April 6, 2014 and a gorgeous early spring day in central New Hampshire.

Cliff’s, N1RCQ, email had more important information in it, but that’s all that my brain focused on. His email made it to me at 10:53 am, so I had to choose what to do and didn’t have lots of time to dilly dally around.

I was excited to do more outdoor radio, especially HF (high frequency) using my HB-1B rig doing CW (Morse code). I had my first SOTA activation eight long months ago so I was itching to do another. Mt. Morgan is part of the Squam Mountains chain that guards Squam Lake’s northern shore and the 210-degree panoramic view from the north northeast to the southwest would be stunning today.

Those thoughts put up a barricade in my mind about what might be in store.

If you were to ask my wife when she saw me crawl through the door just before 7:00 pm, she’d tell you I chose poorly.

I failed to do the math to calculate what I’m calling the Summit Multiplier (SM). When conditions are perfect, you’re in shape, you have all the right equipment, you’ve got plenty of energy and water before you leave and have extra in your pack, the SM is 1.00.

Anything that makes the average outing more difficult adds to the SM.

Cliff’s an expert hiker. I’m not. Put 0.35 in the SM column.

Cliff’s friends, husband/wife team Kirk and Lori, are also very experienced hikers.

We still were in the throws of late winter even though the calendar said spring had arrived two weeks ago and there was not a cloud in the sky to block the warm rays of the brilliant sun.

I knew there was still abundant snow in the woods and on the mountains as I can see it from my home. Around my own house, the snow on the ground was still 18 inches deep in places with piles next to the driveway 4 feet high!

But just days before, I walked on some great hard pack snow with my good friend Jim Cluett, W1PID, to operate once more by the mystical Pemigewasset River at Profile Falls. How bad could it be going up Mt. Morgan late in the season?

Bad – very bad.

Cliff and I drove separately to the trailhead on State Route 113. You can find it about 4-plus miles from the intersection of 113 and State Route 3 in Holderness, NH. This is a popular area for hikers as Rattlesnake mountain – it’s really a small hill – is just south of Mt. Morgan on the south side of Route 113. Hikers have their choice of Rattlesnake, Mt. Morgan and Mt. Percival and there is abundant parking on either side of the road at the trailheads.

“Did you bring your gators?” Cliff asked me while he was getting red gortex ones from the back of his Toyota SUV.

“No, I don’t have any.” I’ve meant to get some, but I just put it off the last few years. Add another 0.15 to the SM.

You may be thinking the animal with the big jaws and sharp teeth, but that’s not what Cliff had.

Gators are ingenious clothing accessories that keep snow out of your boots, they keep your lower pants legs dry and they can even be used to keep small stones from getting in your boots as you hike across scree.

Kirk and Lori arrived about ten minutes after Cliff and I and it took just a few minutes for all of us to be heading up the trail.

We soon discovered the snow was about 16-18 inches deep on the edges of the trail and slightly less in the center of the trail where hikers’ footfalls had compacted the frozen flakes that had fallen for months. By this time of the year it had turned to corn.

This is what the narrow trail looked like just down from the summit of Mt. Morgan. Stray from this and your foot's going for a ride. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

This is what the narrow trail looked like just down from the summit of Mt. Morgan. Stray from this and your foot’s going for a ride. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Imagine billions of bags of frozen baby corn kernels scattered on the ground and you need to walk on and up them. With the air temperature screaming towards 50 F, the melting of the snow/ice corn made for tough walking.

I was equipped with my Kathoola microspikes, but I felt more like I was walking through dry sand at OBX – the Outer Banks of North Carolina.

It was 2.1 miles from the parking lot to the summit, but I’m here to tell you it was like walking 5 miles, maybe more.

Late season corn snow definitely deserves 0.50 added to the SM.

A Three-Hour Hike

“When do you think you’ll be back?” Kathy asked me as I was scurrying around to get ready to leave.

“Oh, I should be back by about 3:30.”

Idiot. Did you even do the math? Did you not remember Cliff thought it could take well over an hour to get to the top? Add 1.25 to the SM.

Because I was short on time getting ready and had a late breakfast, I skipped lunch. I had three delicious Peanut Toffee Buzz Clif bars in my backpack so I was in good shape, right?

Wrong. Add 0.35 to the SM.

I was soon to discover we’d not even summit until 3:30 pm and it’s a strong 40-minute drive to get back home to the delicious bacon potato soup that was to revive me from the low-energy coma I was soon to be swallowed by.

No Mile Marker Signs

I now know why most trails don’t have mile markers on them. If they did, most rookie hikers would turn back and go back down to their cars. The rookie hiker’s psyche is very fragile and fatigue screams at you that you’ll never ever make it to the top.

In certain situations, the mental battle that rages in a person’s brain between bravado and sanity causes distress and all too often death. Every year bold hikers die on trails thinking they can do it, when in fact they’re walking towards their doom.

I routinely walk 3.3 miles around the block at my home, so in my head the 2.1 miles was child’s play. Maybe Mt. Morgan miles are measured in Jupiter miles.

You know how one human year is equal to about seven dog years, well, maybe hiking miles are like that because after hiking what was undoubtedly only one mile, I felt like I had gone two.

It was glorious hiking through the forest, but I soon discovered the hard pack snow was only about 12-16 inches wide. If you strayed from that pathway – and it was easy to do in the slippery corn – you post holed.

Post holing is why you wear gators. When you post hole, your foot drops down 16 inches faster than a peregrine falcon dives to get its supper.

Here's a typical post hole made by a hiker. This one was near the summit and about 20 inches deep. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s a typical post hole made by a hiker. This one was near the summit and about 20 inches deep. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

If the sudden drop catches you off guard, you can easily go off balance and fall into the snow.

Are we having fun yet? Oh yes, we’re on a SOTA and CW adventure. It’s worth it!

The Ladies

Part way up the trail, Cliff told me to go ahead as Lori and Kirk were struggling a little bit in the corn because they had no ice traction devices on their hiking boots.

I had no issues going ahead alone and bathed myself in the glory of the woods, the natural beauty and the vision of operating soon from the summit. The trail was clearly marked, I was wearing my lime-green Milwaukee heated sweatshirt, so there was no danger I’d get lost or not be found.

Fifteen minutes later I heard a couple of sprite-like voices and there ahead coming down the trail towards me were two fit middle-aged women.

“Hi! Are we pretty close to the summit?” I asked because by now I surely must have gone 1.6 miles.

There was a long pregnant pause and the one woman cast a quick sideways glance at her friend. I knew I was not going to like what she was selling.

“Uh, you’ve still got a ways to go to hit the summit. We crossed the ridge some time ago.”

“(MENTAL GROAN) Oh, well I’m closer than I was a few minutes ago!”

We parted ways and undoubtedly they said, once I was out of earshot, “Oh, that poor old goat’s probably not going to make it.”

I slogged on and put that minor mental setback deep into my mind. I’m going to get to the summit in no time I thought.

Hunger was clawing at me so I stopped and gobbled down one of my Clif energy bars. I wanted to devour a second one, but thought the better of it. I might need it later. That proved to be a very good decision.

Ten minutes later, Cliff caught up.

“Lori and Kirk are behind and will meet us up top. Let’s get going. It’s close to when we’re supposed to be on the air.”

When you decide to do a SOTA activation, you post your intention on the SOTA website and other operators on the ground wait for you to get to the top so they can work you.

It’s smart to put in an approximate time for when you think you’ll summit in case of issues like:

  • snow corn
  • no lunch
  • no gators
  • inexperience
  • first hike of the season

Little did I know, but when Cliff and I had this brief exchange, we were probably standing at mile 1.2. The ladies were right, not only did we have a ways to go, we had yet to tackle the steepest parts of the trail

I decided to get out my cute Baofeng UV-5R HT and I keyed it up to see if anyone was out there on 146.52. This is a small handheld ham radio that costs right around $35.00. It’s a great little radio that does 80 percent of what my more expensive Yaesu VX-7R can do.

Sure enough, KB1RJD, Herm up north, came back.

“Tim, you’re 5 over 9 and sounding great. Are you at the summit?”

Hah! I wish.

“(Huffing and puffing) No Herm, Cliff and I are not yet there. I think it could be another 20 minutes.”

“No problem. Merle and I are here and will just monitor waiting for you to summit.”

Cliff and I pushed on. We were on a mission.

Soon the trail got steeper. My microspikes saved the day. The steep sections were like giant steps. You’d scale a steep section that was about 200 feet long, and then the trail became slightly less steep.

After about 20 minutes we came to a trail intersection indicating we still had 0.4 miles to go.

What idiot came up with that determination. Surely we had already gone 3 miles.

We were at the intersection of another trail and the summit cone was still up a few of the giant steps. The trail incline got even steeper as we marched on.

I was so fatigued by this point, I didn’t even bother to look at my watch. I didn’t want to waste any energy. I was just focusing on moving up. Perhaps 15 minutes passed.

Up ahead was another trail marker. We were now just below the summit cone. In good weather, you have two choices at this point. Climb a very steep rock face plucked by the Wisconsin Continental Glaciers that covered much of North America, or you can add an additional 0.2 miles to your afternoon walk to get to the top.

It was too dangerous to climb the rock face. Cliff decided to sprint the remainder of the way as we were well behind our planned transmit schedule.

I was close. I could feel it. My brain did the right thing and shot some adrenaline into my blood. This magical chemical masked the fatigue and I made it to the summit perhaps five minutes behind Cliff.

When I broke through the trees and saw the deep blue sky I was overjoyed. I had made it!

The stunning views were magic eye candy that rewarded my aching body and growling stomach.

Here's Cliff, N1RCQ, operating at the summit of Mt. Morgan. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

Here’s Cliff, N1RCQ, operating at the summit of Mt. Morgan. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Cliff was getting ready to transmit as he didn’t want to loose the chance of activating this peak. We had worked far too hard to not get the required SOTA simplex contacts for the official activation.

As I was trying to recapture some strength, I was overpowered by the stunning views stretching from the north northeast all the way around to the west.

Here's the view up the Mt. Washington valley looking north northeast. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s the view up the Mt. Washington valley looking north northeast. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

You're now looking pretty much east and that's Red Hill in the center of the photo. One of our club repeaters is on this small hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

You’re now looking pretty much east and that’s Red Hill in the center of the photo. One of our club repeaters is on this small hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

This is the magnificent view to the south. The closer ice-covered lake is Squam Lake where the movie On Golden Pond was shot. The lake farther away is Lake Winnipesaukee and the lake where I live, Lake Winnisquam is a sliver on the right. I can see Mt. Morgan from my deck and back yard. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is the magnificent view to the south. The closer ice-covered lake is Squam Lake where the movie On Golden Pond was shot. The lake farther away is Lake Winnipesaukee and the lake where I live, Lake Winnisquam is a sliver on the right. I can see Mt. Morgan if I go up to an observation platform above my house. I slight ridge of land on the east shore of Lake Winnisquam blocks the view from my deck and house. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

This is the view to the southwest. The large high-resolution photos really show detail. Photo credit: Tim Carter - W3ATB

This is the view to the southwest. The large high-resolution photos really show detail. Photo credit: Tim Carter – W3ATB

Once I caught my breath, I took a few minutes to soak up the natural beauty. It was a perfect day, although it would have been nicer had it been about 15 degrees warmer and no wind. But still, the early spring sun was bathing us in warmth.

I love views as you see in the photos and probably would have been happy with the hike even if I didn’t gather my required contacts to activate the peak. It was time to do it.

I retrieved my Baofeng UV-5R from my pocket and started to log contacts one by one. Cliff would grab them first, then hand them off to me. We were on 146.52 MHz and I was operating at 5 watts with the factory rubber duck antenna. I should have brought my Yaesu VX-7R with the 1/4-wave antenna to ensure maximum transceiving capabilities.

Here's my log for the SOTA activation. You can see I got more than enough contacts to get my single point. I should have received 5 points if you factor in the SM!

Here’s my log for the SOTA activation. You can see I got more than enough contacts to get my single point. I should have received 5 points if you factor in the SM!

 

Here I am talking with one of my SOTA chasers. Those are the operators on the ground or other summits you connect with. Photo credit: Cliff Dickinson - N1RCQ

Here I am talking with one of my SOTA chasers. Those are the operators on the ground or other summits you connect with. Photo credit: Cliff Dickinson – N1RCQ

After making the required SOTA contacts, I finally took time to sit down and enjoy the view. I had been on my feet for at least three hours and it was just great to sit down. It was pretty much impossible to do this on the trail unless you wanted to be soaked sitting in the wet snow corn.

Thirty minutes later Lori and Kirk summited and we all chatted about the stunning views.

Cliff asked me if I was going to set up my HB-1B and do HF, but I was so exhausted, I decided that was for another day when the temperatures were warmer and I had the needed energy to concentrate on the incoming Morse code.

Before heading back down the trail, I inhaled another one of my Clif bars. It really hit the spot.

I looked at my watch and it was now after 4:30 pm. One of my contacts was a club member, Frank Towle – KC1AAQ, and I asked him to call Kathy to tell her I’d be very late getting home. I didn’t want her worrying if a yeti had eaten me like in the older video game Ski Free.

Cliff, Lori and Kirk decided to hangout more at the summit, but I decided to head back. Little did I know it was a wise thing to do.

I started racing down the mountain, and that proved to be almost as much work as it was going up. The snow corn was treacherous, and combined with my fatigue, I started to stray from the trail and post hole.

Soon my wool socks were soaking wet and my feet started to get chilled. The sun was getting lower in the sky and the shadows in the forest got longer and longer.

Believe it or not, I had to take five breaks going down the mountain. I would have never guessed that would be the case, but the walking in the snow was exceedingly difficult.

I thought it would take forever to arrive at the parking lot. My mind was being flooded with thoughts of rest, food and warmth. I can see now why hikers fall, and get disoriented. Your brain does funny things when you stress it like this.

After an hour and ten minutes, I made it back to my truck. I felt like a sack of rags as my friend Jim Cluett would say. Wet, hungry rags at that.

Will I do it again? Will I do more SOTA summits? You bet.

Next time though, I’ll try to keep the Summit Multiplier closer to 1.0 instead of 2.60!