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.
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.
“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.”
“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.
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.
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!