Category Archives: Hobbies

Backpacking Trip

This past weekend Sunny and I used our driveway as a trailhead. We loaded up our backpacks at the kitchen table and walked to Fay Bainbridge Park (about 3.2 miles away). Once we arrived in the park, we camped overnight, packed up camp and returned home. We called it a “test trip.” We had built up two backpacks with a lot of new things. I had been collecting a pack, a moderately light tent, a small and light sleeping bag and some lightweight cookware. It was also a test for Sunny, who hadn’t camped in a couple of years and had never backpacked, to see if she would like backpacking.

I found it difficult to pack gear for Sunny. On the one hand, I didn’t want to go out and buy a bunch of top-of-the-line backpacking equipment for her, only to find that she didn’t like it and never use the equipment again. On the other hand, I didn’t want her to hate backpacking because she had a heavy pack with substandard gear. I packed the gear so that she had a lighter load, about 15 lbs (compared to mine at 31 lbs).

I brought my APRS tracker to test it out for walking pace. I’d run it a few times in the truck on a magnetic mobile antenna (which is why I use the car icon on the APRS map), but hadn’t yet run it in my pack with the little rubber antenna that came with it. Also, while the beaconing pace that I’d set was insufficient for a car, I felt that it might be the right pace for walking. I didn’t need a tracker for this trip but felt it might be necessary if Sunny didn’t like backpacking and I decided to hike alone on more harsh terrain.

Building a fire was a challenge. It was like the wind was only blowing while we were trying to get the fire going. We had this fuel cube that you dice into powder and then set aflame. Sunny was able to do this with the flint and steel set that was in our packs. The problem was, the wood supplied at the campground was only tinder and fuel. Without kindling (which you aren’t supposed to collect in the park), this cube didn’t burn fast enough to burn the wood. I used three cubes of fuel. After we got the fire burning, the wind died down. The weather was enjoyable, although the wind blew heavily later. We didn’t let the fire go out until bedtime, with some wood that Kelley brought by from the house (Ok, yeah, that was cheating).

We tuned into the 9 o’clock net. Sunny was going to work the radio. At the last second, she asked me to check-in instead. The net lasted for over an hour. Sunny went to bed while I tended the fire and listened to the net.

Sleeping didn’t go well for either of us. The tent was a $17 sellout deal on Woot.com. It is a two person tent with a weight of just over 3 lbs. It rolls down to a small size so that it doesn’t dominate my pack. It would be a great tent if I were on a solo trip. For the two of us, on a rainy day, it was a pretty close situation. The lack of a vestibule area had us trying to sleep around our packs. A miss on the instructions for the sleeping pads, had us become one with earth (ok, a euphemism for sleeping on hard ground). At 3 am, I climbed under my sleeping pad and blew it up. After that, I slept for a couple of hours.

In the morning, around 5 am, I got out of the tent and drank a couple of cups of coffee. Sunny was still sleeping. Making breakfast would have to wait a little while. So, I walked down to the end of the beach access boardwalk. While I was taking a few snapshots of the city, I noticed something moving in the water. It was a sea lion. I tried to get a picture of it. It went underwater. Then I checked my original picture and saw that I had accidentally captured it in my last photo.

While I was doing that, I saw dolphins off to my left. Swimming dolphins don’t make good photos if you’re above the water. They make a good video. So, I changed the camera into video and recorded the two dolphins in a short clip.

Then I went back to the campsite and grabbed the water bottle to refill it. I went up to the pavilion on the hillside. From there, I could see most of the lower park. I snapped some pictures and noticed that Sunny was awake.

We cooked breakfast, packed up camp and walked home. When we got home, Kelley asked me if the trip was a success. In the “See if Sunny likes backpacking” category, success. In the “See what equipment works” category, success again.

And now, on to planning the next adventure.

CampingSelfie

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New Radio (UV-5X3)

I bought a BTECH UV-5X3 radio this week. As the name might suggest, it is a five-watt radio that works three bands: 2m, 1.25m, and 70cm.  It is Chirp compatible, allowing me to condense the programming from my two radios that cover these three bands into one radio.

While programming the radio, I decided to add more repeaters. I have become entertained with the proximity search on the RepeaterBook.com mobile app. With this, I can pick the repeaters to add to the radio in order of their distance from the house. I’m eager to try this program out when I’m away from the house, as well. It would be nice not to need to program the radio each time that I go to another place.

There were some things that I wish were better in the experience. For example, If you buy a 5X3, get the tri-band antenna accessory. Having to switch antennas, only because you’ve changed the channel, isn’t a great customer experience. Likewise, the proximity search works on the RepeaterBook.com website. BUT… if you export the list to a Chirp file, the site doesn’t respect the “sort by distance” parameter, leaving you with the right repeaters, in the wrong order.

Still, I’m looking forward to making this radio my primary handheld radio for events and regular use.

Field Day 2014

The Gregson Field Day Team
The Gregson Field Day Team

I was planning to have an awesome adventure for ARRL Field Day. I bought a new radio, had it set up, but also had other plans. My wife had a conference in LA, and my daughter, Sunny (who I’d wanted to do Field Day with), wanted to go camping. So, the plan became go camping and have Field Day at the campsite. As the date for Field Day approached, my daughter started telling me that she wanted to do things other than radio on the camping trip (play soccer, go fishing, make s’mores, etc.). So, this became a camping trip with Field Day as a side story, rather than Field Day with a camping backdrop.

A little history

I began amateur radio when I was an Engineer at HP. The HP Boise site had a  Field Day event every year. Most years, there were a lot of participants from the HP Boise Amateur Radio Club (HPBARC). This gave us a lot of radio knowledge and skill in one place. I tended to be the cook a lot, and worked a radio here and there. When I left HP in 2005, I moved to the Seattle area, and did Field day with KB7YWE (who had also moved from Boise) for a couple of years. When I moved to California in 2009, I did field day from my apartment (which my neighbors hated) for a couple of years. I usually worked 10m – 20m because a 40m dipole in an apartment complex was really awkward.  All told, the fewer people we had, the harder Field Day was. I don’t recall getting more than a handful of contacts in any Field Day since the HPBARC days.

Equipment

This year, I had a mobile rig ready to go, and a really cool antenna. Now I could tune the antenna (without leaving the truck) for any band 6m – 40m. I also had 100w of power, where my older radio had 50w of output. And, of course, if my antenna were in a poor spot, I could always start the truck and move to a better spot.

This worked very well, as I didn’t need to move the truck at all. I found that I had better range going west than I did going east. This is unfortunate since there are people to the east and water to the west.

The Camping

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Our campsite was rather normal. We had a tent, a fire ring, a gas grill, gas stove and a picnic table that was cluttered with stuff. We had what we needed to enjoy the trip. We ate steaks both nights, and s’mores both nights. For lunch on Saturday, Sunny made a fruit salad while I worked the radio.

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Logging

When I was doing my dry runs with the radio, I was using QRZ on my Chromebook to look people up and log my contacts. Being in my driveway, I could use my home wifi for internet service. Once I was at a campsite, this option went out the window. So, I used paper logs and typed in the contacts when I got back to the house. It was only after I typed all the results into QRZ that I realized that I can’t download them back out as a summary for the contest logs, without paying for the XML downloads.

Improvement for next year: Boot the Chromebook into Linux and run radio logging software on it.

Time Spent on the Radio

I didn’t get to spend a lot of time on the radio. I did hop on at the beginning of the event. I worked a few stations and then Sunny got into the truck to see what I was doing. She noticed that I was keeping track of everything on paper. And, just as she did with the shopping list when we got the food for the trip, she wanted work the clipboard. I thought that would be kinda cool; I could work the radio while she could participate in the way she wanted to. I told her what to write and where on the log sheet to write it, and she picked it up pretty fast.

We heard a station, KH6LC, identify itself as a Pacific section station. This meant that they were on an island in the pacific, usually Hawaii. Plus, the operator was saying, “Aloha,” a lot, a pretty bold clue. I said to Sunny that I really wanted to get this one. I tried calling a few times and sure enough, they answered. It took a little bit of patience on their side (which I really appreciated), but after a few attempts, we had exchanged information and completed the contact.

After the Hawaii contact, I told Sunny that I’d like to try a couple more, and then we’d do something “fun.” She said back, “That’s ok, I’m kinda having fun with this.” I really like that she said that.

A little while later, Sunny wanted to try working the mic. Like any first timer, she was a bit timid, and afraid that she wouldn’t know what to say. Soon, she was calling out my callsign, and after 6 attempts to contact other stations, WB6QND, from Los Angeles made contact with her. She was so happy, she did a little dance in her seat. That was her first QSO.

After a while we went off and did some other camping activities, played soccer and cooked dinner. At the end of our second campfire, Sunny went to sleep and I hoped in the truck to make more QSOs, making my last one at 11:45pm. I went to sleep. I ventured onto 40m which was challenging, because there were so many stations on 40m that you could here the adjacent stations while trying to make contact.

I woke up the next morning, with the sun. While Sunny slept, I make a few more QSOs. Once Sunny woke up, Field Day ended for me, as I cooked breakfast, broke down camp, and headed back home.

Results

All-in-all, we made 27 QSO’s the best total since I participated with HPBARC. Also of note, I put less time into this Field Day than any other that I’ve participated in. I look forward to next year, when I can put more time into making contacts and improve on this total.