Saturday, August 22, 2009

10 GHz Contest, Weekend #1

The first weekend of the ARRL 10GHz Cumulative Contest was last weekend, the 15th and 16th of August. I had really desired to be a little more organised this year in an effort to increase my score over previous years. I managed (or so I thought) to get all the gremlins out of my equipment, and even had enough spare time beforehand to put together a spreadsheet of all the operators who planned on going out for the first weekend, their locations, and their mobile phone numbers. I was far too organised for this to be a smoothe weekend :)

First stop, I planned on being at Mt. Kearsarge from the time the gate opens (9:30a) to closing (6pm). I hadn't even made it to the gate when I realised that I forgot the antenna mast for the 2m ssb antenna. Hrm...well, there is a hardware store down the street from the mountain, I'm sure I could find something there. I did, a 5' 1.5" wooden dowell would do the trick. Thankfully I had a roll of gaffers tape with me to secure the antenna down. Ok, problem solved, off to the mountain! Next problem, they are painting the yellow lines on the road to Kearsarge. Ok, a few minute delay, not a big deal. Well, I get to the gate and the woman tells me I have yellow road paint all over the drivers side of my car and in the wheel well. GRRRR! I didn't drive over the line, just all the arosal they use to spray the lines collected via the vaccum action of the car. Luckily that will come off, with some elbow grease. I noticed the first 3-4 cars up on the mountain all had the same problem.

On to the mountain! I get set up fairly quickly and start to have a normal day contesting, but it was HOT! I had plenty of water with me, but I was getting baked. I had tried using this bugsparay/sunscreen that was on sale at CVS, but It clearly didn't work for either purpose. I got eaten alive and burned to a crisp. I'm not really complaining about that, it happens every year, I've learned to just deal with it. About noon time I start having a re-occuring issue with my rig, the main T/R relay isnt' switching when I'm transmitting. That means I'm putting 8 watts into a relay that isn't terminated! I figured out that it was my sequencer board, one of the relay contacts was intermittent due to a bad solder joint. I found that if I put pressure on the relay it would switch. I could continue the rest of the day like that and fix it at the hotel.....had I not broken a wire of the sequencer board while troubleshooting. D'OH!!! Well, off to Radio Shack I go. There has to be a Radio Shack here in town, right? WRONG! The closest I could find was 40 minutes away. Off I go.....

(Note to self: When packing the night before a contest rover trip, if you have the soldering iron in your hand and say to yourself "Nah, I won't need this"....ignore the inner voice, take it with you)

I finally get to the destination, only to discover this store is about as small as I've ever seen. I kept thinking "there's NO way they sell soldeing irons, I'm screwed". But, I asked the woman behind the counter and was shocked to find that they had no less than 5 types of irons and 8-10 types of solder! I take back all those bad things about Radio Shack over the years, they saved my bacon this day!

Now, here I am in a Rat Shack parking lot, the back of my car open, inverter running, soldering iron getting hot. In about 15 minutes I have the fixes in place and it seems to be working......Ok, back to the mountain.

After some mid-day traffic and a lunch break, I make it back to the mountain around 3pm to find Byron, N1EKV, making some contacts. I pull in next to him and get set back up. The rest of the day was fine, but they relay problem wasn't 100% fixed, there was something still wrong.

I managed to make 22 contacts at Kearsarge, which was the most I've ever made there (17 the previous year). I can only imagine I would have snagged a few more had I not made a 3 hour detour. I was the first person up the mountain, and I was the last one down (As the park ranger sat, staring at her watch). Now, on to my long haul to Gorham, NH at the no-tell Motel.

I had booked this room at an amazingly cheap rate of $50 a night. Afterwards I saw some really horrible reviews online. I expected the worse, but was pleasantly surprised. Everything was clean, no worries. So, I dragged the battery, battery charger and Microwave rig in and got to work. As it turns out, my parking lot soldering session was mis-guided. I completely missed the bad solder joint, but re-flowed a number of working joints :) I re-flowed the bad joint, and I finally fixed the problem. I got a good nights rest and was up at the crack of dawn to be at the gate at the Mt. Washington auto road at 7:30am. Mt. Washington Auto Road has got to be about the scariest drive you can make in a car. I've driven to the top of Pike's Peak (14,110ft) a number of times, but that was cake compared to this road. There was one point that I wasn't sure I was going to make it :) My fear of heights was in full swing, my knuckles were as white as ever.....but I made it.

I met N1JEZ, W1AIM and K1LPS at the mountain. We grouped together and had a really great day on Washington. Some of the highlights were working WA2FGK in Fn31bf at over 500 kilometers, VE3FN in both FN14 and FN15, and VE2JWH in nearby FN45 and FN46. All in all, I made 33 contacts in 12 grids. 12 grids in one day!!

It was a long, exhausting ride home, but well worth it. I'm alreadying hatching plans for the second weekend. Look for me on Saturday roving on Cape Cod. I'm likely going to be at 4 locations, including Marconi Station, FN51av. Sunday isn't planned yet, but I may look at doing a CT/RI/MA costal run for three spots. Tune in for more details!

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