Wow! That was so much fun! I packed my panniers and a small backpack with my QRP HF radio station and accessories, some energy bars, extra water and some warm clothes. I re-inflated the tires on my bike and off I went… it was good to be cycling again, I never cycled much last year due to a medical problem, and I was itching to get into the saddle again now that spring is here (well not officially, but it sure feels like Spring!).
I was wearing my Yaesu VX-8r clipped to my backpack chest strap with a 15″ dual-band extended rubber duck antenna (a Diamond SRH77CA), with the speaker microphone. Most of the antenna was shadowed by my shoulder, maybe 5″ poked up above my shoulder. I was beaconing APRS as I was cycling, with my symbol set to ‘bicycle‘… woo hoo! I’ve wanted to do that for some time!
It wasn’t too long before Bob VA3QV appeared on the VE3MPC repeater, Bob was on his way to Starbucks to fill up his thermos flask. It was fun chatting on the repeater while cycling, holding the left handlebar with my left hand and holding the speaker microphone with my right hand. It’s quite challenging, I may need to get the bluetooth option.
The ride over was a hair over 9km and I completed it in 40 minutes, a fairly leisurely pace. It was cool, according to the VA3UW weather station, around 0°C. I arrived at Weston park just as Bob was arriving at 9:30am, with a half hour to spare before the pot hole net starts at 10am. I shot some video of Bob as he erected the hamtenna and we chatted about how easy the antenna was to work with. Only took about 10 minutes from start to finish. I remembered a really fun video that Steve, WG0AT made as he built his buddipole up and I thought I could have a go at making the same kind of thing.
It was good to see how all the pieces fit together. The antenna packs up surprisingly small. This kind of antenna would be advantageous if there was no trees to support a wire antenna.
I set up my station by throwing a 28′ wire (24 AWG silver-plated teflon coated) with a weight attached to the end by a rubber band up into a tree, down to a park bench. It never ceases to amaze me that the wire is able to seek a branch which is at exactly the correct height such that the wire is fully extended with the connector at the right height to attach to the radio. For counterpoise, I used similair wire – #26AWG in this case. Two lengths, one of 16′ and one of 32′ running along the ground. I unpacked the radio, paddles, earphones and batteries and hooked it all up with a few minutes left to the start of the net.
Ed VE3GX and Ernie VE3EJJ showed up on frequency and Bob fine tuned his radio and chatted with Ed, and at that point I realized that I had left my ponoma BNC-to-banana plug adapter at home … so I McGuyver‘ed it by removing the solder-less banana plugs, stuffing the wire into the BNC socket and securing it with electricians tape, so I was able to check in to the net on time after all It was good to be checking into that net, it’s been too long!
I picked up Frank VE3YY on the VE3MPC repeater but partway through our QSO, the repeater died mid-QSO, and it never came back
After the net, Harold VA3UNK arrived for a visit. It was great to grill ask Harold about the radio operations at the 44th Canadian Ski Marathon. My wife and I were driving through from Ottawa to the Laurentians as few weeks ago while the ski marathon was going on, and we thoroughly enjoyed monitoring Jamie VA3JME controlling the repeater communications taking place on the VE2CRA repeater at Camp Fortune, and the VE2RBH repeater in Rigaud.
In fact my wife asked me to volunteer us to help out next year. So I appreciated the chance to find out more about it. Harold mentioned he is planning to design and build an NVIS antenna for his vehicle which will provide a reliable communications path for sending email without using VHF packet or pactor. Interesting stuff!
During Harolds visit, Bob tried out the hamtenna on a bunch of bands. 10m and 12m were pretty dead, but 15m was alive with SSB contest activity. Bob made a handful of QRP contacts, including some DX, a good test of the hamtenna, which it passed with flying colors. Weston park has one small issue – no evergreen trees for privacy …so I took off by bicycle to the nearby mall for a comfort stop. A good chance to grab a coffee and a sandwich. Luckily I had electrical tape in my backpack, and it came in really handy to seal the holes in my coffee cup for the ride back to the park
Upon my return, Harold left and then Patrick VA3CMD popped by. We scanned the 20m band at Bob’s FT-817 but it was too crowded with kilowatt stations for QRP to stand any chance. I went over to the bench and my KX1 and Patrick popped one earbud in, then I called CQ around 14.061MHz and almost right away, an answer from Jack, W7CNL in Boise, Idaho. Must have been around 2pm. The propagation wasn’t that great at the beginning, but it got stronger throughout the QSO, We started by exchanging RST 559/569 then a little later we were reporting RST 579/589 and then at one point, Jack’s 5W was ringing my earbuds, then by the end of the QSO we were back to RST 559. Jack’s monoband yagi was doing a great job, and it was a really enjoyable QSO sitting on the park bench and warmed by the sun. Jack asked about the state of the snow, and I reported that it had started melting away… we chatted about polar bears, compared notes on our QRP stations.
After Patrick left, David VE3ZZU was on the VE3TWO repeater, and he was having some issues with a new GPS option on the VX-8r. We ran through the menus and compared notes but we couldn’t come up with an explanation as to why David’s digipeated packets (his callsign was showing up on his station list, so he was being digipeated!) but were not being IGATE’ed over to APRS-IS. Whenever a local digipeater digipeats my APRS beacons, they get gated to APRS-IS every time, without fail.
On that subject though, I noticed that I had not seen my callsign being digipeated all day, either on the ride to the park or during my stay at the park. On the ride home, I stopped on the bridge over Riverside Drive between Smythe road and Main street and sent a beacon just to test out my radio, and it got digipeated fine. I realize looking at the map that only a handful of my APRS beacons were picked up by APRS-IS. 2 from Weston Park (these were heard by VE3WCC-1), a handful of packets from Starbucks at the Elmvale mall (these were picked up by VE2REH-3) a couple of beacons at Smythe & Saunderson, and 2 beacons on the bridge, all of which were copied first by VE2REH-3-3. I realize that in all cases these were heard when I was holding the VX-8r up away from my body.
So I need to improve my bike antenna! Those digipeaters are not close by, and you need a decent antenna and some power to be reliably digipeated. Thanks to a chance encounter on the ride home, I have some ideas about how to do that! After Patrick and then Bob left, I spent another hour in the park mostly just listening around on the KX1. At one point, I heard Paul W0RW/PM on 20m 14.059MHz but despite returning to Pauls CQ about 15 times in 10 minutes he could not hear me this time around. So I left the park and stopped at Starbucks for another coffee, comfort break and to put all my warm clothes back in the bags.
On the way home, I heard another bike mobile station on VE3RIX repeater. Mike ‘on the bike’, VE3BUP was out cycling and chatting on the repeater, and he was on Main, heading back towards Smythe, so we were minutes away from crossing paths. As I cycled over the bridge, and down onto Main street with one hand on the handlebars and the other holding my microphone, I was a little distracted by the traffic, and when Mike hailed me I missed him calling to me I hadn’t realized we were quite that close to passing each other, so when I released the P.T.T. Mike said ‘you just passed me!’ … anyway, we got turned around and had a good chat in person on the sidewalk. It was fun to see Mike’s bike mobile setup with a SLAB attached to the bike frame, along with an amplifier and a half-wave vertical antenna on the rack. Quite a setup, Mike!
The remainder of the ride home, Mike VE3MPM was driving back down to Ottawa from Gatineau Park, so Mike, Mike and I chatted on the repeater, Jamie VE3JME also popped in. It was a fun conversation and sure helped pass the time cycling home and packing everything away.