I worked all day Wednesday, then had a short conference call with my part time job in order to check in on some things, packed up, and dashed off home. We arrived home around midnight.
Thursday was an errand day. We set up the antennas, the station, I got blood work taken, went shopping with my mom, took a conference call for the company, visited my grandparents, and did some other related things.
The antennas went up smoothly. The fishing line arrow had no trouble finding a nice branch in the tree. We then hoisted up the folded 40 meter dipole and staked off either arm to the ground. I took a hint from a ham message board in tying down the antenna. Rather than run the rope through an insulator from the end of the antenna to the stake, I tied the rope off at the balun and then weaved it through the ladder line and tied off the ends on the stakes. It worked out nicely.
The end-fed wire for 80 meters went up pretty easily, too. We tied it off, ran it into the office, and it was ready to go. Both antennas tuned well.
The rest of the station was easy to set up. Here's what it looked like:
On Friday, we woke up early and were on the road to Rochester, NY. It's about a three and a half hour drive there. The trees were quite lovely and there are more windmills being built up in the mountains.
When we arrived, we met up with my brother and went on our Rochester city bus tour. It was an all afternoon tour and it was a lot of fun. I learned all sorts of things about the city. Rochester used to be a mill town where they made flour using the energy from the high falls. The falls of Rochester are located on the same ridge as Niagara Falls. This is where water was diverted to run the large waterwheels that powered the mills:
After the bus tour, we checked into our hotel and then went out for dinner. My brother and I enjoyed a German beer at a Scottish restaurant. Well, we are half German and half English/Irish, so I suppose that is almost appropriate. Dad got the Irish stout to celebrate his Irish heritage. Mom was happy with "natural wine" (that's what my Japanese friend calls water).
After dinner, we went to a hockey game. It was the first home game of the season for the Rochester Americans, so everyone was excited! But the Amerks lost :( Even so, I had fun. It was neat to see the players in person - they seem a lot bigger than on TV.
It was also entertaining to watch the mini-blimp fly around during the intermissions between periods.
Saturday we slept in. We went to Borders in the morning. Nobody bought anything, though my brother and I oohed and ahhed at the Classical history shelves. We had fish and shrimp at Red Lobster for lunch to continue our celebration. Then, we were off to a lecture delivered by Bill Nye the Science Guy. It was entertaining to see him in person - he is like a childhood hero for many college students and recent grads. We all grew up watching his show after school on weekday afternoons. I learned some interesting things about sundials at the lecture. The message was one of responsibility and opportunity.
Well, after the lecture, it was time to drive home. Another three and a half hours in the car. Whew. We stopped for a quick hamburger on the way home. Once we pulled in the driveway, I was off to check the antennas and get fired up for the contest. It was about 8:00 pm. I had already missed much of the contest, but I still had plenty of time to enjoy it.
PA QSO Party
My first contest experience was quite an adventure! I didn't call CQ, but stuck with S&P (search and pounce). When I first fired up the radio, I found the bands hopping with signals. It was thrilling and fascinating and a little bit terrifying, all at the same time.
In order to S&P, I had to find some calling stations. I found that there was a lot of variety in the calls. The basic call looked like this:
CQ PA DE KB3DT K
CQ (calling any station)
PA (PA QSO Party)
DE (this is)
K (I finished transmitting and am waiting for a response)
Here were some of the CQ variants that I heard:
cq paq n3kr
cq pqp k3gy k
cq pa w3so pqp
cq pa de w3ok/nha (special bonus station in Northampton county, PA)
cq pa n3rn n3rn sus k (station giving his county in the call)
cq pa de k8jq/wv (station in West Virginia participating in the PA party)
cq pa pa k4np al (station in Alabama participating in the PA party)
After finding a guy calling CQ, the next step was to set myself on that frequency and wait to catch his exchange. I wanted to be sure that I knew what the information was before I tried to answer him since I can't copy well when I am jumpy. Sometimes this was frustrating because I could wait a while before I heard someone answer the guy and exchange information.
Eventually, though, I caught the exchange. The next step was to pounce! It was my turn to share information with the guy calling CQ. As I set myself for the first contact, I could feel butterflies in my stomach. Besides my friends Bill NG3K and Cal K4JSI, this would be my first new CW contact on the air. When the guy finished calling, I found that my fingers refused to move! I was so nervous that I couldn't bring myself to answer him. This happened a couple times, actually. But at one point, I just went ahead and did it - I tapped out my call sign. And he answered me!
KB3RGM? Uhoh, he got my call wrong.
DE KB3RGW KB3RGW NR 00-? 001 UNI K
This is KB3RGW (repeat) this is my -- (mistake) first contact and I am in Union County.
If I remember correctly, it took a little bit of work to get the information exchanged correctly and heard on the other end, but eventually, we got it. It was about the sloppiest code I've sent, but I sent it! I made my first new CW contact :D
I found that making contacts was harder than I expected. I had a lot of people come back asking for repeats of my exchange and I wasn't prepared for that. I should have listened to abbreviations like AGN and SRI because I was not expecting those.
Through the weekend, I also learned the challenge of QRP. I tried calling a couple people who didn't even acknowledge me, but kept right on calling CQ (like k8jq). Some others heard me, and we got about halfway through the exchange, but then they gave up one me (like w3ok - which was so disappointing!). Now I see why successful QRP contacts are so rewarding.
In the end, I made 6 successful contacts:
Six is not all that many, but considering that I was a bit rushed and outlandishly nervous, I consider that a success. My final score looks like this:
1 contact x 2 points (80 CW) = 2
5 contacts x 1.5 points (40 CW) = 7.5
Contact points: 2 + 7.5 = 9.5
Multiplier points: 3 counties + 2 ARRL sections = 5
Score: 9.5 x 5 = 47.5
QRP points: 47.5 x 2 = 95 points (I think)
My score could have been a lot higher if W3OK wouldn't have lost my signal :(
Looking back, I can't believe that I've learned enough in the past four months to be able to do all that. In June, I didn't know how to send any code, had no idea how to set up my own antenna, and didn't even know what QRP was. But this weekend I set up an HF station, two antennas, and worked 6 amateur radio stations in three states. My thanks to everyone who helped me and to my family for letting me take over the yard for the weekend :) I had a lot of fun and I can't wait to improve even more. No doubt I will make plenty more contacts in the next contest. Still, this first CW contest will be one to remember!
I operated Sunday afternoon, but I also attended church, took a walk with some friends, visited family, and spent time with some other friends from church.
Today it was off for a visit to the family chiropractor and then to the family doctor to check in on things. We also ate a tasty lunch in town. We hit the road about 3:00 pm. Another three and a half hour drive, this time to Silver Spring. I left the yard as I found it - quiet and empty of antennas. I think my family is relieved :P
I checked in on my pine tree before I left, too. When I had left it in May, it was just a tiny thing with about ten branches. Now it must have a hundred branches!
We stopped in at Gettysburg on the way back to Silver Spring to see my grandparents. They are digging up the road and things are a mess! Still, it was nice to see them and their new dog. It's too bad we had to be in such a rush to get back on the road.
Well, we made it back to Silver Spring and here I am. I have work to get back to tomorrow and even as soon as tonight. I am far behind after the long weekend...