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.”
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.