Yesterday was the 2015 Freeze Your Butt Off amateur radio contest hosted by the warm and cozy members of the AZ ScQRPions Club. Let’s see, it was a frigid 81 F in the valley yesterday in Phoenix, while the mercury in central NH was clawing it’s way at Noon past 20 F.
It’s no wonder the boys in Phoenix want us to freeze our butts off so they can snare QSOs poolside with their paddles. But I digress.
The past ten days in central NH had some bitter cold weather, with morning temperatures at or below 0 F. It did get near 32 F about three days ago, and it felt like a spring day to be honest.
So when my outdoor radio mentor Jim Cluett, W1PID, suggested we go out and try to see if we could compete in the Freeze Your Butt Off contest, I was all in. Without Jim knowing it, I invited a newbie ham, John Haven, KC1AAG to come see what outdoor radio was all about.
Jim suggested we go back to the picnic shelter at Profile Falls where we operated on a cold and rainy day before Christmas.
We decided to meet for lunch before and then head off to see what we could do. Jim brought along some nice hand warming alcohol-fueled camping stoves that would do well to keep our hands from locking up. We had a problem starting the first one, but the second stove put out a robust flame that really took the chill off our fingertips.
Jim’s resonant dipole antenna trimmed for 20 meters worked well for us. He made a nearly perfect throw with his water bottle to an overhanging branch immediately next to the shelter to hoist the one end of the dipole up into the trees above. I thought the throw was perfect, but he would have preferred it to be 4 feet to the left.
Surprisingly, the Smith River, which is immediately adjacent to the shelter, was frozen. It’s a fast-moving river and I was shocked to see it encrusted with a layer of ice. But since the WX has been so cold, it made sense.
As soon as Jim connected the antenna to his KX3, he heard KS8M, Mike, booming in from OH. We had decided to share the antenna so as soon as Jim signed off with Mike, he handed me the antenna so I could work him on my trusty little HB-1B four-band transceiver with built-in battery.
“Hurry, send him your call!” Jim was worried I’d miss him. I worked my tiny micro Pico paddles but only heard dahs and no dits.
“My darn plug isn’t in all the way. Calm down.” Outdoor QSOs to Jim on a frigid day are quite possibly more valuable than gold bars are to Tommy Thompson.
Within seconds I was up and running and had completed a valid QSO with Mike.
Fortunately there was little wind and I was not getting cold at all. I should have had my gloves on more often, but I found it hard to use the paddles and write. It was so cold, the ink in the ball point pens froze so we switched to traditional pencils. John was kind enough to use his pocket knife to sharpen them.
It was time for me to hand back the antenna coax, and once again within a minute Jim, the pro, had found John KB2HSH. Jim and I were both able to work him and we got a generous 579.
I gave him a 599 RST as his signal was so strong I thought it might break my nice little AYL portable mini speaker that I use to hear the sweet CW sounds that seem to pour out of my easy-to-use HB-1B.
This was John’s first outdoor radio experience and he came prepared with snacks and all sorts of gear to make the expedition more comfortable. John’s always willing to pitch in to help and he seems to be excited to get deeper into amateur radio, although his busy travel schedule makes it tough.
What John doesn’t realize yet is that he can be traveling all through the Southwest with his new soulmate Trudie and be on the air with a thin wire and small radio at any number of gorgeous scenic locations. I think he’ll catch the bug just as soon as he upgrades his license privileges to General class.
After 45 minutes of the sub-freezing temperatures we decided to go get a cup of coffee and a fat pad (doughnut) at the nearby Dunkin Doughnuts in Bristol, NH.
It was agreed we had a great time, although we’d never win the fun Freeze Your Butt Off contest with so few QSOs. Maybe next year we’ll do it on my lower deck next to a roaring outdoor fire! We’ll show those boys from the valley how it’s done.