How to Talk Simplex on Ham Radio

A few years ago I re-immersed myself into ham radio. The hobby is quite complex and I was born at night but not last night, so how hard could it be to talk simplex to another operator just a half-mile away? Well, sit down as you might learn something.

I passed my technician’s test on March 8, 2003, but it took three days to be officially licensed. The FCC granted me privileges to operate with the call sign – KC8VYI.

I didn’t know squat about ham radio. A business acquaintance in Idaho had urged me to get my license. For about two years I dabbled in radio and attended several club meetings in my hometown of Cincinnati, OH. I just couldn’t get comfortable and the people at the club meetings were distant and not welcoming.

I dropped out of the hobby and boxed up my radios.

Fast forward to June of 2011 where I met Lee Hillsgrove, Sr. at an exciting public service event on the sides of Mt. Washington, the tallest peak in New England – home of the world’s worst weather.

That rainy Friday in June, I was a complete beginner and had no idea how to turn off the European 1750 Mhz burst tone on my brand new Yaesu VX-7R. I felt like an idiot. Lee tried to help me, but as we ran through the settings buried deep in the memory chip of the HT, we got nowhere fast.

I was bound and determined to figure it out and did hours later. It was a good feeling.

But the Talking-Simplex monster was still lurking in that fancy Yaesu VX-7R.

Four months later, I was to meet Lee for breakfast before we worked all day providing communications for the NH Marathon. Driving to breakfast I made a bonehead mistake.

Being a newbie in ham radios, this happens just about every time I touch a radio.

Lee and I were to meet somewhere in Bristol, NH. We were coming from different directions, he from Danbury and me from Meredith. The local repeaters in this area provide so-so coverage in this pretty hilly area, so Lee suggested we use a simplex frequency.

Lee’s an expert radio operator. Because neither of us knew what diners would be open, we decided to coordinate where to eat when we got close to one another. The plan was to be on 146.500 MHz.

You know what they say about best-laid plans, don’t you? Well, I was able to transmit and Lee heard me just fine. However, when he transmitted back to me, I could clearly see his signal via the S-meter on the screen of my Yaesu VX-7R, but no sound came out of the HT. Yes, I did have the volume up. He was deaf to me, if you get what I mean.

Because he was an experienced operator, he instantly knew what the problem was. But alas, he couldn’t tell me how to fix my radio settings because I couldn’t hear him.

It was so easy. I had my Tone Squelch setting set to On and had a preset tone set up.

You may not think that’s a big deal, but the purpose of these Continuous Tone-Coded Squelch System (CTCSS) tones is to keep a radio quiet until it hears a simultaneous sub-audible tone during the voice transmission.

These CTCSS tones are very low frequency audio tones, usually less than 300 Hz, and are overlaid on the primary radio frequency you want to talk on. These also are helpful in activating repeaters. But that’s a subject for another day.

These CTCSS tones are much like a key is to a door lock. If your radio is set up waiting to hear the tone, it’s not going to *open up* (create audio) unless the transmitting radio is equipped with the *key* (the same CTCSS tone).

Since my radio was set to listen for such a tone, it did it’s job and sat there oh so quietly not letting Lee’s transmission out of my speaker. Remember, I could see his radio signals activating the S-meter, but there was no audio.

It’s also mandatory that you turn off the + / – repeater shift function on the radio. If you don’t you’ll be transmitting out at .600 Mhz higher or lower on the simplex frequency in the 2-meter band you’ve chosen to operate.

For example, if I would have had my HT set to a -, negative shift, setting, I would have transmitted out at 145.900. In this case, Lee would not hear what I was transmitting because my radio was not transmitting on his receive frequency of 146.500!

It’s always those little things.

Lee was smart enough to switch to a local repeater frequency that was able to provide both of us with a modest signal. In a mild panic, I had enough sense to try this and I caught up with him. Minutes later we sat down for breakfast.

Once Lee had my HT in his hands, he was  able to get my radio working perfectly in less than 30 seconds. He turned off my tone squelch, pressed my talk button and it automatically made his radio chirp.

Additional Simplex Operating Tips:

Altitude is everything. When you operate in simplex mode, you want your radio waves to reach out as far as possible, especially if you’re working with a low-wattage handheld (HT) radio like the Yaesu VX-7R. It only transmits at 5 watts. But 5 watts broadcasting from on top of a mountain can carry quite a distance indeed.

If you’re blocked by terrain, trees, buildings, etc. simplex might only reach out a mile or so and even less.

Remember that propagation changes as the sun rises into the sky and excites the atmosphere. You may be able to work simplex early morning and evening with great success at a given distance, but have issues at high noon and midday.

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QRP Radio, Snow and the Pemigewasset River

“What are you doing?”

Jim Cluett, W1PID, was calling me at 10:00 a.m. on this brilliant sunny day just after St. Patrick’s Day. Just hours before it was only 9 F outdoors, but the temperature was climbing rapidly as spring is nearly here.

“Well, my to-do list is pretty long, why do you ask?”

“I have a larva idea. Let’s do one of your proposed tiny dXpeditions. We’ll eat lunch in Bristol and then head down to do radio along the Pemi next to Profile Falls.”

Here's where we were. Click the map. It takes you to an interactive map.

Here’s where we were. Click the image. It takes you to an interactive map you can zoom in and out to see where this magical place is.

I had been begging Jim to take me on one of his outdoor radio adventures. Just two days before I had tried to tempt him to do a six-hour trip to the seacoast to do QRP outdoor radio.

Because the trips are small, I called them dXpeditions instead of the grand DXpetitions that are real honest adventures.

A dXpedition with QRP radio? Calm winds. The sun is blasting out infrared waves like water from a fire hose. My first QRP outing with my mentor?

Only an idiot or someone who’s incarcerated would say no to that. Fortunately I make my own hours and don’t wear an ankle GPS device stamped “Property of the Belknap County Sheriff”, so it was an easy decision.

“Okay. Sounds good. I’ve got to go top off the battery in my HB-1B. Where do you want to meet in Bristol?”

“Bring some matches so we can start a fire. Be on 146.52 and we’ll talk ourselves in.”

“Oh, I’ll bring some firewood too.”

“We don’t need firewood. There will be plenty there.”

Obviously Jim was in a daze about what deep snow does to wood. Several things come to mind:

  • it buries it
  • it can encase it in ice this late in the winter
  • it soaks it with water making it impossible to ignite

What Jim didn’t know is that I was fascinated with everything fire as a youth. I became an expert at starting campfires on all my Boy Scout campouts.

If a fire is involved in some outdoor activity and the temperature is 60F or below, that’s like icing on the cake for me. That inner Boy Scout in me was screeching to get going.

In my garage I’ve got a dandy box of kindling wood. In the box are slats of oak from shipping pallets. I quickly cut them up into 7-inch long strips of different sizes and stuffed them in a thin cardboard box. The cardboard would help get the oak burning. I put this box in my backpack so Jim wouldn’t see it.

Here's the fire Jim, W1PID, ended up building while I was trying to make QSOs. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s the fire Jim, W1PID, ended up building while I was trying to make QSOs. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

I have a special Klein tool backpack that’s perfect for taking on outings like this. It’s got all sorts of great compartments and holds everything I need for an afternoon doing outdoor ham radio.

Jim’s a fantastic mentor. I’m so very lucky to have him help me. He’s got a great sense of humor and loves to tease me. I’ve been told I’m an easy target because I don’t get offended by jokes and general sarcasm.

He and I are exact opposites. I’m the type of person that will talk to you on an elevator. Jim’s not one to do that and he’s very much a private person. That’s okay. We need all kinds in the world. I’m blessed that he’s decided to share his wealth of ham radio and outdoor skills with me.

I also feel Jim’s a magician for any number of reasons. Magicians are masters of illusion. A great magician will never ever do the same trick twice, nor will he tell you how magic’s done.

Jim treats some information like magic. It’s not important for me, or others, to know all the details. If you were to ask Jim, I suspect he’d just say certain details just get in the way. Or he might be like my old German plasterer, Jack Betsch. Jack’s favorite line was, “Less said is better.”

Realize Jim’s an expert operator and loves outdoor radio, QRP and Morse. Suffice it to say, all those things I enjoy as well. Morse to me – and I’m just beginning my journey – is mesmerizing. I find it challenging and mystical at the same time. There’s something magical, in my opinion, communicating using a simple interrupted tone.

Before long it was time to leave. I double checked and had all my gear, sunglasses, and my high-visibility heated Milwaukee jacket. I didn’t think I would need to turn it on, but one never knows. I had no idea where we’d be operating from, so I wanted to be prepared for anything.

“W1PID, W3ATB calling.”

Jim came back right away. “Meet me in the Park-n-Ride lot next to 1-93. We’ll take just one car from here.”

I pulled into the parking lot, grabbed my gear and jumped into Jim’s nice red Subaru Outback. He had a big smile on his face and I thought I could sense he was as happy to be going on the outing as I was. Before long, we were in Bristol, NH hunting down the Pub and Pizza restaurant.

Lunch flew by with our conversation touching on a multitude of topics including hungry zombies flowing up from Boston, MA. Once we boxed up Jim’s leftover mushroom pizza, it only took a few minutes to get to the parking lot below the stunning Profile Falls. Jim is intimately familiar with the area as he hikes, rides his bike and does outdoor radio in this area almost year round.

The trail from the icy parking lot was packed snow, but I wore my Kathoola microspikes anyway. A few years back I slipped in similar conditions and hit my head hard on some glare ice hidden under the innocent snow. No way would I ever take a chance like that again and I’ve discovered the microspikes are simply wonderful accessories to prevent falls on ice.

Within five minutes we broke out of the woods to a giant clearing next to the crystal-clear waters of the Pemigewasset River. The sky was so blue it hurt your eyes to look at it. I spied two picnic tables under an 80-foot pine tree.

“That’s where we’ll set up,” Jim said.

The snow was still deep on the level ground and fortunately quite hard. Only now and then would my foot sink in about 6 inches.

But surprisingly, at the picnic tables, there was no snow on the ground nor on the tables. Everything was dry as a bone, including a thick bed of pine needles and leaves that hung around since last fall. What’s more, I spied plenty of dead branches scattered about that would be ideal for a fire. No wonder Jim told me not to bring firewood.

“You set up at this table. See that one branch up there? I want you to get your antenna up there so it drops straight down to the table. You only get three chances. After that, I’ll take over.” Jim knows that my par end-fedz  multi-band antenna works best when it’s nearly vertical.

Jim brought all his own gear and was set up and ready to operate before I had my microcord unwound. My first attempt at slinging the partially-filled water bottle generated a huge belly laugh from Jim because I let the cord go an instant too soon. The bottle sailed over a much lower branch.

“Remember, if you can’t do it, I’ll get it up there for you.” This teasing comment was followed by his loud laughter that probably echoed throughout the river valley.  I didn’t need to be reminded about how I was still a newbie at slinging water bottles up into trees.

I would have joined in the laughter, but I was too intent on getting the partially-filled water bottle over the branch.

Here's my water bottle in the soft pine needles under the giant tree. It was a perfect throw over the branch 30 feet above me if I don't say so myself! Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s my water bottle in the soft pine needles under the giant tree. It was a perfect throw over the branch 30 feet above me if I don’t say so myself! Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Bingo! My second throw was perfect. I got the water bottle up over the correct branch and moments later lowered it to the ground. Within minutes my 125-feet of 1/16-inch microcord was operating as a handy halyard pulling my par end-fedz multi-band antenna into position.

I was ready to go. Here's the HB-1B, earphones, my micro Pico paddles, notebook and pen. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

I was ready to go. Here’s the HB-1B, earphones, my micro Pico paddles, notebook and pen. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

I had my HB-1B unpacked in no time as well as my small Pico paddles. I was ready to go.

While I was doing all of this, Jim had already worked at least two Russian stations and I believe one in Belgium. He’s very very talented and just snags other stations when they finish up a QSO with someone else. He rarely sends out a CQ.

Here's Jim, W1PID, snagging far away stations faster than I can send CQ and my call sign. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s Jim, W1PID, snagging far away stations faster than I can send CQ and my call sign. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

“Why are you sending CQ?” Jim could hear my CQ CQ CQ ghost signals on his rig.

“You don’t send CQ. You go find a strong signal and then work him. Sending CQ is a huge waste of time. When you hear a station strong here, there’s a great chance he’ll hear your weak 5-watt signal.”

Can you see why I’m so lucky to have Jim as my mentor?

He sat down next to me, took over my rig and within minutes worked W1AW/8 in OH. Jim told me this operator was part of a club participating in an ARRL Centennial contest trying to make contacts in all the states.

“Go ahead. Work him now. Send him a 599 and be sure to add NH. He’ll know what’s going on.”

I did as commanded and BOOM, had my first QSO by the Pemi. The sun reflecting off the gurgling water of the Pemi made it look like a thousand diamonds were shimmering on the surface. It was a perfect  environment to capture my first NH outdoor radio contact. To say it was very satisfying, would be a gross understatement.

That's me! I've got a smile on my face because of the weather, the company and I just completed my first outdoor QSO next to the Pemi! Photo credit: Jim Cluett, W1PID

That’s me! I’ve got a smile on my face because of the weather, the company and I just completed my first outdoor QSO next to the Pemi! Photo credit: Jim Cluett, W1PID

“Go ahead and work some other stations. I’ll start a fire.” Jim already had satisfied his QSO appetite and was thoroughly enjoying watching me, the grasshopper, get one or two more.

“Where are the matches I asked you to bring?”

“Oh, they’re in my backpack. Get out that cardboard box too.”

Jim opened my backpack and pulled out both the matches and the box and said, “What’s the box for?”

“Open it and see.”

Jim opened the flap, shook his head and mumbled, “I thought I told you not to bring firewood.”

“How was I to know we’d be in a location where a giant pine tree would act like an umbrella?” The 80-foot-tall evergreen we were under did a magnificent job of deflecting most of the snow. Jim, of course, knew this was the case as this picnic area was as familiar to him as his own backyard.

Soon I smelled the fragrant aroma of a fire that was roaring inside a metal cooking stand positioned next to the picnic area. Jim had a splendid fire going using all natural materials to start it. Not one piece of my oak or cardboard was used to build the blazing fire.

The sun, the smoke, the companionship of a mentor that has the patience of Job and a sense of humor dryer than a tub of alum was the ideal brew for the soul on this spectacular late-winter day.

An hour passed like it was five minutes. I gathered two other QSOs and it was time to pack up to go back.

Jim and I walked 500 feet downstream in the deep snow that was now softened by the sun so that every now and then we sunk down 8 inches or so. He wanted to show me another location where he and N1LT and W1JSB had operated alongside the Pemi and where the smaller Smith River surrenders itself to the much larger Pemigewassat River.

As we were walking back, Jim proclaimed, “You know at the end of the day it’s been a good day when you’ve had fun in the middle of the day.”

I’ll second that. Thanks Jim for inviting me to one of your very special places to gather invisible radio waves from the brilliant blue sky. It’s a day I’ll never forget.

 

Carl, VE3DZB, Canadian Club and a Hustler Whip

CW, or Morse code, is a magical form of communication. You just hear a single tone that’s interrupted by spaces of different lengths.

If you’re listening to a person, you can often sense emotion by the changing tone and pitch of her/his voice. While it’s possible to do this with CW, it’s not practical.

That said, I brought this point up with my CW mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID and he had a much different perspective.

“Morse is one of the most intimate modes. Words… spaces…. circumstances. What’s not said. You can feel things in a fist. You’d be surprised. If you want emotion, listen to the tapes of Morse at sea during a rescue or a sinking. It’s really unbelievable.”

Because I’m so very new to Morse, I don’t have enough experience to have sensed emotion yet in my few QSO’s, but I do know that Jim has yet to be wrong.

The lens I look through at this early stage of my ham radio journey has a short depth of field because my QSO’s are so abbreviated. I’ve had but one 25-minute rag chew and at a receive rate of just 7 or 8 WPM not much can be said when each operator only has about 12 or 13 minutes of the conversation.

I’ve come to discover, so far, when you have a CW QSO, you don’t know the rest of the story, or even much of the story of the person you’re communicating with.

Sure, they might share some of their tale, but it’s rare you glean lots of details about them in that first encounter.

Part of Carl’s story leaked out last week during a CW QSO.

But a few hours ago, after my mail arrived, I was blessed to discover some amazing and humorous details about what was happening in Carl’s life before and during our short QSO.

Carl wrote me a letter about our QSO.

It was such a profound letter, it choked me up when I read it to Jim over the phone. It meant so much to me, I had Carl’s letter and QSL card framed.

This is Carl's letter and QSL card. It hangs in a place of honor in my shack. Photo credit: Tim Carter

This is Carl’s letter and QSL card. It hangs in a place of honor in my shack. Photo credit: Tim Carter

The first part of the story is fairly simple. Last week I was in my shack and fired up my ICOM-7000 to see if someone would answer my slow-speed CW.

It was one of those moments in time, like two ships passing in the night.

Little did I know it, but a 90-year-old man in Canada, Carl – VE3DZB – was wanting to get on the air too. He was on a very personal mission.

We both were trying to get something. Me practice. Him validation.

I transmitted my CQ, and Carl came back. I could hear him quite well and he had a great fist.

After exchanging our RST reports, he sends:

“TDAY MY 90TH BDAY.”

WOW! I sure hope I’m able to be on the air at 90. Heck, I hope I’m on this side of the grass when I’m 90!

I sent congrats, we exchanged 73’s, and it was over as fast as it started, both of us steaming towards the horizon.

I was ecstatic because Carl was a DX contact for me being in Canada. He was my third DX contact.

Sure, Canada is not that far from me in New Hampshire, but you know what, I’ll take what I can get.

I sent him my QSL card the next day and pretty much forgot about the QSO.

Then today, I get Carl’s letter and his QSL card – the other side of the story.

There’s no sense me sharing the details. Just dip yourself in the magic waters of a 90-year-old man who satisfied a deep personal goal on his birthday and what he had to do to be able to fulfill the aspiration.

But before you splash yourself with Carl’s story, I hope you take away from it what I did.

You just never know how much pleasure you may bring to someone with a simple QSO.

Carl’s letter is going to be framed and put in my shack on the wall.

Tell me if you don’t think that’s a good idea.

Happy Birthday – again, Carl! And many many many more for you OM!

This is a scanned copy of Carl's letter. I cut off his postal address and email address. That's nice-to-know information, not need-to-know.

This is a scanned copy of Carl’s letter. I cut off his postal address and email address. That’s nice-to-know information, not need-to-know.

A European CW Pileup

Yesterday was a cold winter afternoon. I had been working all day and decided to go up to the shack before leaving for afternoon mass. I had maybe 40 minutes or so of play time before I had to jump in the shower.

Twenty meters was hopping. I started to listen and copied a few QSOs that were clear as a bell. These guys were going my speed. At this early stage of my CW apprenticeship, I just copy at about 7.5 WPM. I was happy to capture, hear and understand the conversations.

I didn’t have much time left, so I dialed up to 14.059 Mhz and found that frequency wide open – at least here in New Hampshire.

If you’re new to ham radio, realize any given frequency can be as busy as the New York City subway on a Monday morning at 8 am, but you may not hear a thing. It’s all a matter of what the ionosphere is dropping on top of your antenna at that given moment.

My confidence has been rising weekly doing CW. I only started in the beginning of November, 2013 and hit a brick wall right away because I was too impatient. I wanted to get on the air right away without being able to really hear each of the letters, prosigns and punctuation instantly in my head. That causes enormous frustration, believe me.

If you’re a pro CW operator, you’re probably laughing at my grasshopper status. I ask you to stop and think back to when you were just starting. I’m willing to wager you weren’t hearing the code at 25 WPM or better. But I digress.

I sent out my CQ and right away, here comes Steve Gee. Welcome to my shack, Steve!

Although I’m new to CW, I new INSTANTLY he was a DX contact. DX means international.

Steve’s call sign is M0GNG. That’s a zero, not the letter “O”.

Rock on! I’m getting into the northeast part of the UK. SWEET!

How did I know Steve lived in that part of the UK?

When I’m on the air, I have my computer fired up and have a page open to QRZ.com. There you can enter in any operator’s call sign. If you have an account at QRZ.com, you get to see the operator’s address. If you don’t have an account, you can see some information about the operator, and validate their call sign.

Steve said my signal was strong and gave me a report of 599. I gave him a 559 only because he was not super crisp. I was transmitting at about 75 watts.

He told me it was cold there and I replied back it was “VERY cold here in NH.”

We said 73 (goodbye) to each other and then it started.

The pileup. The European pileup.

I should have been prepared.  Steve gave me a clue.

My signal report was 599. That means my 20 meter signal was BOOMING into Europe at that precise instant of time. My radio waves were blanketing European ham radio antennas like snow has covered my lot all winter long.

All of a sudden a flood of operators were pounding out my call sign. One can only think they were as happy to get a USA contact as I was to connect with Steve in the UK.

WOO HOO!

The one that stood out the best had another non-USA call sign: IK7LKK.

That’s Italy. WOW! My first Italian contact!

It was Vic Panniello calling me from Foggia, Italy. He’s just about 20 miles (32 kilometers) west of the Adriatic Sea, so it was magical for me to snag him.

Here's Vic Panniello in his cozy ham shack in Foggia, Italy. TNX Vic for the QSO! 73 Photo credit: Unknown friend of Vic!

Here’s Vic Panniello in his cozy ham shack in Foggia, Italy. TNX Vic for the QSO! 73 Photo credit: Unknown friend of Vic!

The protocol during a pileup is for the other stations to stand by as I complete the QSO with who I decide to select. That’s what happened, so it was cool to see that side of ham radio in acton.

I was so excited about the pileup and back-to-back European QSOs I called my CW mentor, Jim Cluett, W1PID.

“Jim, I just did TWO European QSOs back to back. I had a pileup of guys trying to get me!”

“Tim, that’s fantastic! Who were they?”

I gave Jim Steve and Vic’s call signs and he looked them up while we were on the phone and he said, “Did you see Vic in his shack?”

“Oh yes, I had the page up during the QSO.”

“Did Vic say Dear Tim during the QSO? Some European operators after making contact with you often will say ‘FB DR TIM’ – you know, fine business dear Tim. I would have expected Vic to say CIAO at the end of his QSO.”

“Yes, I believe I copied that, but was so excited I missed some of the QSO. I got the important stuff – his call sign and my RST!”

Because I was running tight on time and had to get ready for church, I had to end my call with Jim.

Who knows, I might have had three, four, five or ???? more European contacts in the logbook yesterday if I could have hunkered down and clawed my way through my first European pileup.

Well, that’s what tomorrow is all about, right?

The hunt is on! I hope you’re my next QSO. Remember, we can try to schedule one. Just click my Contact page and let’s set it up.

D-STAR Repeater Repair Franklin, NH

 

Doink.

I glanced down and my chat window had opened. Who was it but W1DDI, Mark Persson.

Mark is the repeater coordinator for the Central New Hampshire Amateur Radio Club and he was planning a trip to the club’s W1JY 147.3000 FM repeater and the W1VN 449.6750 D-Star digital voice repeater site, to see why the D-STAR connectivity suddenly stopped working.

Mark was going to go with Jim Cluett, W1PID, as they both are in the early stages of dipping themselves in the magic waters of D-STAR. They’ll both tell you it’s a fascinating aspect of the digital part of amateur radio.

After watching their demonstration of D-STAR at the last club meeting I have to say I’m in full agreement. I’ll be getting a D-STAR radio within a few months if all goes well.

“Do you mind if I tag along?” I’ve got an interest in the club’s repeaters and had never seen where the Franklin repeater is located.

“Heck no, grab your snowshoes as we’ll be hiking to the top of the hill,” Mark said.

Mark contacted Jim and it was decided we’d try to meet at the parking lot of the Veterans Memorial Ski Area on Flaghole Road in Franklin, NH at 2:15 p.m.

This is a great little map hanging on the outside wall of the base lodge - the only lodge! - at the ski area. Our repeater is in a little shed at the top of the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

This is a great little map hanging on the outside wall of the base lodge – the only lodge! – at the ski area. Our repeater is in a little shed at the top of the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

I carpooled with Jim to the site. We rode in his sweet red Subaru Outback, one of my top three colors. As usual, I tried to to a Vulcan mind meld trying to suck as much knowledge from Jim as possible in the short ride as we drove south on NH State Route 127 from Sanbornton to Franklin.

Suffice it to say it’s not hard, as he’s only too happy to foster the sharing of hard-earned tips about the ham radio hobby.

“It’s a marvelous day, isn’t it?” Jim exclaimed as we made our way up the ice-encrusted-normally-gravel Flaghole Road. His AWD Subaru maintained steady footing with Jim at a safe speed.

“Mud season is going to be wicked with as deep as the frost has penetrated this year,” Jim said while rounding a bend.

I remember my first mud season in New Hampshire back in March of 2009. When I saw a temporary warning sign emblazoned with ROAD IMPASSABLE – Travel at Own Risk placed where the blacktop stopped just 100 feet from where I turned onto my street, I realized NH mud deserves respect. Staring at 12-inch-deep ruts in the gooey stone-and-sand stew, my mud season baptism was official.

As we drove to the repeater site, Mark and Jim were in radio contact. Mark had a five-minute lead and was getting his gear out when Jim and I pulled into the parking lot.

“I don’t think I need poles, what do you guys think?” Mark was emulating Johnny Cash dressed completely in black with his stylish snow pants, black hat, and black Hollywood sunglasses standing in his black Ram truck that Darth Vader would covet.

Mark Persson, W1DDI, is looking back asking if I'm OK while Jim Cluett, W1PID, blazes the trail to the top of the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Mark Persson, W1DDI, is looking back asking if I’m OK while Jim Cluett, W1PID, blazes the trail to the top of the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

“We don’t need no stinkin’ poles,” I replied as I was confident the snow grooming machine had compacted the snow so it would be easy walking both up and down the slope. We proceeded up the hill staying along the edges of the ski areas so as to not be in the way of skiers.

This quaint ski area is a hidden gem. It’s off the beaten path and is what many small ski areas in New Hampshire used to be like in the 1950’s and 60’s. You feel like you’ve stepped out of a time machine when you walk into the cozy lodge with the picnic tables, snack bar and roaring fire. The entire operation is staffed by volunteers, just like our ham radio club.

In no time we were at the top. As I pulled up the rear I looked over to my left and saw a woman in the telltale red ski patrol jacket with the white cross. She was with another man and I could tell they wanted to say something.

I gave them strong eye contact and pulled my Baofeng UV-5R HT from the pocket of my lime-green heated jacket with the 3M reflective stripes to communicate we were on a mission. They quickly skied down the small slope to talk with me.

“Hi! I’m a ham radio operator and my buddies and I are checking on one of our repeaters,” I said to Ellen and Dave Coulter, wife and husband team, who were now next to me.

“Oh, all of us on the hill were talking on our radios wondering who you were as the three of you clawed your way to the top. Too bad you didn’t bring skis. You could have used the lift and then glided back to the bottom,” Ellen said in a very cheery voice.

It looks far colder than it was. Ellen Coulter and her husband Dave were very cordial and didn't run us off the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

It looks far colder than it was. Ellen Coulter and her husband Dave were very cordial and didn’t run us off the hill. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

By the time I made it to the repeater shack, Mark and Jim were inside troubleshooting. For at least a week they were unable to make the D-STAR components connect to the Interweb allowing them to fully utilize their sweet ICOM D-STAR radios.

It didn’t take them long to narrow down the problem to the USB modem.

Jim Cluett, W1PID, is in the red jacket making sure Mark Persson, W1DDI, doesn't get in over his head. :-) Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Jim Cluett, W1PID, is in the red jacket making sure Mark Persson, W1DDI, doesn’t get in over his head. 🙂 Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

There wasn’t much to do after that so Mark locked up the shed and decided to see if his tongue would stick to the cold 60-foot-tall antenna mast. Much to his surprise it almost did!

Mark Persson "hamming" it up at the base of the Franklin repeater antenna. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Mark Persson “hamming” it up at the base of the Franklin repeater antenna. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

As we started back down to the base area, we gazed to the north at the stunning view of the White Mountains. No doubt I was looking at snow-capped Mt. Lafayette in the distance. Too bad I was so distracted as to not get a photo!

“I’ve come here with Judy to toboggan. You’d be surprised how fast you get going on that slope just in front of the lodge over there,” Jim stated as we got closer to the parking lot.

Here's the cozy Veterans Memorial Ski lodge. Come during the week and you have the entire hill to yourself. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Here’s the cozy Veterans Memorial Ski lodge. Come during the week and you have the entire hill to yourself. Photo credit: Tim Carter, W3ATB

Minutes later we were back at the vehicles with the fried USB modem in Mark’s pocket. He intended to put it on his test bench to determine why it might have failed.

It was a grand excursion and everyone was in a great mood. You can bet if we go up again in the winter on a weekend, I’ll have my K2’s, boots and poles with me!

I’m going to ski down that hill, not walk!