Tuesday, September 21, 2010

No PB&J (Peanut Butter or Jack)!

This past weekend, my wife and I headed out for our last weekend of camping on the Denali Highway. The weather the last few weeks here in our part of Alaska has been awesome! We were hoping to squeeze in one last trip with our new travel trailer before we winterized it. It was also the last weekend for the Polar Bear Club to have their last summer event. I thought this was a great opportunity to enjoy some of the great Alaskan outdoors and also do a bit of QRP portable operating. We headed out Saturday and planned on returning home on Sunday.

I did a bit of the Feld Hell Club's Hiram Sprint and while I was making trips around getting the trailer ready, I was calling CQ now and then. Before the contest ended, it was time for us to depart. We had an uneventful trip out to where we were going to camp for the night. I got the trailer set up and it was not long before I heard signals on the air, most being those operating the Washington State Salmon Run contest (CW of course). It sounded pretty good but my operating would be short lived.

After getting my station set up, I found I had an extremely high SWR on my portable antenna.  I had never before experienced this issue with my Buddipole so I began to try different configurations and troubleshoot my problem. I was not making much headway before being interrupted by a passing motorist who had an apparent flat tire (pretty much shredded). It was a young gal who was traveling by herself and after stopping her car not far from our trailer, she came walking back to my location asking for assistance.

The Denali Highway is mostly non-paved and is very well known for damaging many hundreds of tires each summer. I don't feel comfortable driving on the highway with only one spare, let alone none! And this was the case of this gal from California. She was driving a small Datsun 280Z, 1980's vintage, and she had no spare tire, or jack for that matter!

To make a long story short, I spent quite awhile getting to the point where I could get her car jacked up and her tire removed. She was able to flag down a passing motorist and catch a ride to Cantwell. A few hours later, she returned with a new tire on her rim. I assisted her with putting the tire back on her vehicle and getting her on the way.

After watching this very nice gal from California drive off, it was only a matter of minutes when I saw a truck pull off of the roadway behind where we had been camped. Turns out, it was a co-worker of mine!  He was out enjoying the nice weather and was looking for photo opportunities. I chatted with him as we watched the sunset and after he left, I spent the rest of the evening with my wonderful wife and our family beagle.

The next morning, I enjoyed the sunrise and once everyone was up and had breakfast, we decided to head on our way. I opted not to operate as we had a schedule to keep due to a busy week ahead. Things did not work out as planned for me, but my plans worked out for someone else. I was able to help someone in need on the Denali Highway. We made it home without any tire events but I hope to do some operating as Polar Bear 197 in the coming winter months. We have winterized our travel trailer but after I get my antenna issue resolved, I will hopefully be back on the air as /P with my QRP signal from some place in or around Denali. You may wonder why I mentioned Peanut Butter in my title and that was going to be my sandwich of choice while I was operating. That was replaced with a warm, sit down supper with my wife and our dog (who you see in the photo above). I may not have PB&J on my next adventure but I will for sure have my radio!

Saturday, September 11, 2010

Raining CQ Wallpaper

In checking our mailbox this weekend, I once again found a large white envelope addressed to my station. It was for my operational effort in the 2009 CQ World-Wide DX Contest - CW of course. Since my strongest band is 20 meters, I often enter the Single Operator, Single Band, 20 meter category. There are several categories but this one by far allows me to take full advantage of my strongest band, assuming propagation allows it. In looking back at my 3830 submission I see I wrote the following after the contest;

  CQ Worldwide DX Contest, CW

Call: KL8DX
Operator(s): KL8DX
Station: KL8DX

Class: SOSB/20 HP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 26

Band  QSOs  Zones  Countries
  20: 1646    27      70
Total: 1646    27      70  Total Score = 355,990

Club: North Coast Contesters


This contest has it all, from excitement to frustration. My original
goal was to work an all band entry but that changed on Friday. Seems
our constant weather pattern as of late has been low pressure after
low pressure from the Gulf of Alaska. As it works its way into the
Interior, along comes the strong winds that accompany it. That kept
me off the low bands on Friday and I opted to start then as a 20 meter
single band. As the weekend progressed, the winds died down but I
decided to keep my pace on 20 and only QSY'ing for those that requested.
And as I write this, we are just now feeling the effects of yet another
storm forecasted to bring 75+ mph wind gusts over the next 48 hours.

Many great highlights and lots of on air friends encountered. I'm
still a greenhorn at pile-up management but had fun so I appreciate
the patience of everyone. Add in northern latitude conditions, some
interesting echo effects from signals, it can make for some really
tough times picking out a callsign, or even parts of a callsign.

Band conditions were pretty good into Europe this first night but even
with high power, it took some calling. The second night, the path over
the North Pole was far from good and it seemed like the only good
propagation from Alaska was into Zone 33. I was excited to snag 35
though which was surprising! Nothing heard toward Europe on 15 meters
from my station. As for anything toward Asia, I normally work them
off the back of my beam so a few more repeats are sent their way.

I kept checking 10 meters and I did not hear a peep on that band all
weekend. Tried one QSY to 10 but that yielded nothing. I also tried a
few QSY attempts on 15 but I got skunked there as well. On Sunday, I
kept getting several dupes so I confirmed my suspicions after the
contest and found a station posted me as KL7DX and not by my actual
callsign. It happens frequently.

I will update my blog with more contest details but in summary, this
turned out to be my best effort ever in a contest. Not much by contesting
station standards but from my small station, I'm excited to once again
reach another goal and milestone in my casual contesting career. I have
received lots of great information from the Alaska DX - Contest group
for which I am deeply appreciative.

Thanks again for the QSO's and may the holiday season bring you joy, good
health, happiness, and of course, plenty of DX.

Phil KL8DX
Denali National Park, Alaska
Radio: Icom 756PRO
Antenna: Mosley TA-34-XL @ 43 feet
Amp: Ameritron AL-1500

I obviously busted a few callsigns but that is sure easy to do when my CW is not the very best at higher speeds. But, contesting is a great way to better your operating skill.  As we well know, the bands aren't always 599 all the time. I like the challenge as it helps me become more familiar with propagation, filters in my Icom, and just dealing with multiple stations calling me at once, which tests my mental filtering ability. I prefer to park and call CQ and manage stations rather than search and pounce but if my run totals fall low, I'm turning the VFO! The Alaska contest group here have been very helpful in providing me with operating tips which is crucial in this propagationally challenged part of the world.

With the help of contests, I have been able to achieve my WAS (Worked All States) on the 3 major modes (SSB, RTTY, and CW) not to mention my DXCC, which I will be submitting for here in the coming weeks with my LOTW contacts. My hopes are to continue my quest at operating the major contests this coming winter as there is not much more to do when it's 30 below outside and dark. I would love to have a "golden log" which I have yet to achieve. But, with goals and hard work, I'm sure it's possible. Gives me something to work for but either way, I'm proud to hang another CQ certificate on my wall of the shack.  QRZ?

Monday, September 6, 2010

Worth A Million Plus

My certificate just arrived in the mailbox from my operating in the 2010 CQ World Wide RTTY WPX Contest.   I knew one was coming as I read the results in the July issue of CQ Magazine. I am always curious how I did. Alaska, in comparison, does not have as many contesters as most states but the few are the ambitious type who are very competitive.  Below is my 3830 submission shortly after the contest. As you can see, I had a few removed in the scoring process but I'm still excited about my result.


Call: KL8DX
Operator(s): KL8DX
Station: KL8DX

Class: SOAB HP
QTH: Alaska
Operating Time (hrs): 28.62

Band  QSOs  Pts
  40:  55  256
  20:  695  1659
  15:  148  338
Total:  898  2253  Prefixes = 457  Total Score = 1,029,621

Club: North Coast Contesters

This mode is one of my favorites but it can be extremely rough on the equipment. I'm not sure my AL-1500 has been right since this contest. As you can see, my operating time was 28.62 hours according to N1MM Logger. I was allowed to operate 30 hours as a single operator and wish I had put the entire 30 hours in. 40 meters is by far not a strong band for me but I was happy with what I was able to work.

My "hind sight is 20/20" moment after contests are normally if I spent too much time calling CQ and not enough time looking for multipliers. Depending on the contest, this can be crucial, especially to a small station like mine. You won't see any records broke by ARS KL8DX. I'm in it for fun but it's always nice to receive the culminating wallpaper for ones effort. With not very many KL8's roaming the streets during contest rush hour, I normally have people looking for me in prefix related contests. Sometimes I can be a double multiplier (depending on the contest) and once I'm spotted, I can't work stations fast enough. But again, I'm a DX'er by trade and a very amateur contester. My CW is far from fast and I'm still perfecting my digital macros. I hate SSB contests the most, probably due to the many very wide stations that I have problems tuning out when I'm next door to one. At least with RTTY, running FSK, I can narrow filter down and have some chance of hearing a weak station calling me, or coming back to me. The same applies to CW contests. For that very reason, you will find me in very few SSB contests.

I strive to learn from each and every contest with hopes of becoming better. I have never operated a full 48 hours in any contest and I guess the reason is, I'm there to have fun. So many factors weigh in which will determine how much time I will spend in any given contest. The main is the band conditions. I refuse to spend an entire weekend in my shack to yield a small amount of contacts. I can make better use of my time. Propagation is a huge factor living this far north and it always seems the solar wind kicks up over a contest weekend. Why is that?

With that said, I attempt to compete against myself from year to year. I will always try to beat my previous years score. This is the first time I have ever scored more than one million points in any major contest. Not a big accomplishment to many but I'm tickled with it. I think my 40 meter run was extremely beneficial to crossing this milestone. Again, strategy is a huge key determined by many "at that moment" factors. 

In the end, I scored a grand total of 891 QSO's with 451 multipliers for a total score of 1,003,475. Had I busted a few more callsigns, I would have not made the million point club (not that there is one).  I can honestly say, as far as contests go, this was almost the best my small station could do in the time I operated. I believe my strategy played out well and luck was on my side. In the end, it was all those who called me and hung in there that made this score possible. My station is small so the signal is normally not very strong so thanks to those who go the extra mile to pull my weak signal from the atmosphere. My million plus certificate is now hanging proudly on my shack wall which seems to be filling up with certificates. No, it's not that I have received that many, it's because my shack is pretty darn small.