Sunday, November 19, 2017

Another Update

I finally inspected the radio (Yaesu FT-857D) and other equipment that were in my backpack when I fell and broke my arm. I set everything up--including the Yaesu ATAS-25 vertical antenna--inside my house; it all seems to be working fine. Because I was indoors, my signal did not get out very well. I did have fun listening to all the hams taking part in a sweepstakes on 40 and 20 meters, though. I have been out of touch with happenings in the amateur radio world for the last few months, so I do not even know which contest it was.

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

Update: a Progress Report on My Recovery

On October 31, I had a followup appointment with my orthopedic surgeon. Overall, things are looking positive; the metal plate and screws are all still in place and have not come loose, and the doctor says she sees signs of possible healing of the fractures in the bone. I no longer have to wear the very bulky sling that I had been wearing--virtually 24 hours a day--for the six weeks after the surgery. Sleeping is much easier now, although I still cannot lie on my left side and there is still some general discomfort. I have also been cleared to drive again, which makes life easier for my wife and mother, who no longer need to take time off to drive me to my twice-weekly physical therapy appointments.

Speaking of my physical therapy, it is progressing with signs of progress. I still have far from full movement, but I seem to be move the arm a little farther each week. After the trauma of the injury and going through surgery, the muscles knotted up and are reluctant to relax (for lack of a better term).

Now that I am getting more confident in my ability to do little things, perhaps I will soon open the backpack I was wearing when I fell and inspect my radio equipment--I have not been able to bring myself to do that yet. The Efactor antenna--which I was carrying in my right hand at the time of accident--took some of the brunt of the fall and is bent out of shape; I think that I might be able to repair it, though.

Saturday, October 21, 2017

Activation Report: Point Reyes, SOTA W6/NC-542 (and the aftermath)

On Thursday, August 31, I set out with the intention of activating Point Reyes Hill (W6/CC-071), which is located in the Point Reyes National Seashore. The normal way to access this summit is to drive up to the top of Mt. Vision Road, then walk in about one-half mile to the activation zone. However, when I turned onto Mt. Vision Road from the highway the road was closed and gated due to extreme fire danger (there was a "Red Flag" warning that day). Luckily, I had the option of an easy "Plan B": a SOTA summit known simply as "Point Reyes" (W6/NC-542) is located at the extreme end of the peninsula near the lighthouse, which is popular for public tours.

It was simply a matter of parking in the lighthouse parking lot and climbing a quarter of a mile or so to the top of the rock. Although it was hot and tinder-dry just a few miles inland, the point itself was cold, windy, and, at times, foggy.

The activation itself went off without a hitch, although it took approximately three hours to log the four contacts required to qualify (I ended up logging five contacts). My new Efactor antenna worked fine, although I was only able to log one contact: Joe, AA0BV, who just happened to be on Mt. Tamalpais, the site of my previous activation. I eventually logged four additional contacts on 20- and 40-meters SSB and called it a day. This is the point where my real adventure (or, rather, misadventure) began.

I successfully navigated through the scrubby brush, "bushwacking" my way down to the trail back to the parking lot. Within a few hundred yards of end of the trail, I stumbled on something and fell. I landed on my left shoulder; I suspect the weight of my backpack with the radio equipment contributed to the force of the fall, as I went down hard. (Luckily, I was nowhere near the edge of the cliffs that can be seen in the photos below.)

My first thought upon hitting the ground was "I hope no one saw that!" That quickly changed, however, when I realized that I no longer had the use of my left arm. I suspect that I had dislocated it at the shoulder--at least I hoped that that was the worst thing that happened. I rolled onto my back--I was still wearing the pack with radios--and laid there like an upside-down turtle, assessed myself, and weighed my options. I was able to move my wrist and wiggle my fingers, which was a good thing. There was no way I was going to be able to get up and move by myself, though. I reached for my cell phone with my right arm and...there was no signal. I started to get a little scared at that point.

Luckily I was in an area with many nearby tourists; I swallowed my pride and started calling "Help!" After a few minutes, a couple of people heard my call and came to my aid. For some reason, they wanted to sit me up then help me walk to my car; I was having none of that, as any attempt to do so caused excruciating pain and discomfort. I told them I needed an ambulance. More people began to show up and someone volunteered to go call 9-1-1.

I estimate that it took at least 30 more minutes before someone reached a location where they had a strong enough signal to make the phone call. After that, it took 20-30 minutes for the Marin County Fire Department engine company and ambulance to respond from the nearest town (Point Reyes Station). In the meantime, a park ranger arrived and stayed with me.

When the paramedics and additional rangers finally arrived, they secured my arm, loaded me on a stretcher, and carried me to the ambulance. What followed after that was a long two-hour, winding, bumpy ride to Marin General Hospital in Greenbrae. Fortunately, the paramedic was able to give me morphine so that it would not be too painful.

At the hospital, x-rays showed that I had suffered an impact fracture of my humerus (upper arm bone) just below the ball joint in the shoulder; there were actually a number of small fractures, and the shaft of the bone was displaced. It was a pretty bad break.

To make a long story short, I continue my recovery as I write. On September 11, I underwent surgery, in which a metal plate and eleven screws were necessary to put the bone back together (as I said, it was a bad break). In the time since the operation, I have been doing physical therapy to regain full (-ish) use of the arm. The physical therapist says I am making good progress, although it seems slow to me (I have to keep reminding myself how lucky I am that it was not worse, as bad as it was). I have been wearing a bulky sling since I was injured and expect to until the end of October, at least.

I hope to be able to return to work sometime in mid-December. I work for Amtrak as a passenger train conductor, so it's imperative that I get as close to full-function of my arm as possible before I do return. I am fortunate to have access to short term disability payment plans from both the Railroad Retirement Board and my union, so I should not run out of money in the interim.

It has taken so long for me to post this story because I only recently have been able to start using both hands to type.

Portable station W6SAE, set up for SSB operation on 2 meters.

Here is a closeup of the Efactor Dual-Band 144/432 MHz antenna in action.

This is my Yaesu ATAS-25 antenna, for HF SSB, and VHF FM.

Another view of the operating position.

Activation Report: SOTA W6/CC-063

I activated Mount Tamalpais (W6/CC-063) on July 29. It was my second activation of this 2,500-foot summit since I became involved in Summits On The Air (SOTA). One of the purposes of this activation was to try out my new Efactor Dual-Band 144/432 MHz Antenna on single sideband (SSB). Unfortunately, I left the main part of the antenna at home and did not realize it until I had arrived at the mountain. Luckily, though, I did have my Yaesu ATAS-25 vertical antenna and was therefore able to activate the summit. I logged four contacts on 2-meter FM (146.520 MHz) and six on 20- and 40-meter SSB. I did not accomplish my main goal--testing the Efactor antenna--however; I was determined to rectify that situation with my next activation.

The biggest accomplishment of this activation was that I logged three summit-to-summit contacts, the most distant being in Washington state.

Thursday, July 27, 2017

SOTA Alert: Mt. Tamalpais, W6/CC-063

I have tentatively planned for Saturday, 29 July 2017 to be my first activation using the Efactor Dual-Band 144/432 MHz antenna. I plan to be on Mount Tamalpais (W6/CC-063), just across the Golden Gate Bridge from San Francisco. I would be most appreciative of any chasers in the Northern California area with SSB capability on these bands who watch for my spots and/or listen for me on that day. This will be my first activation in which I attempt 2 meters and 70 cm in single-sideband (SSB) mode. Depending on how things, go there is also a possibility that I will operate HF SSB  (40 meters, 20 meters, etc.).

Monday, July 10, 2017

My QSL Card

The photo on the left is of the summit of Point Reyes Hill (W6/CC-071); to the right is Captain Pomin Rock (W7N/TR-027), with beautiful Lake Tahoe in the background.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

Efactor Dual-Band 144/432 MHz Antenna

I read a review of this antenna on Page 65 of the June 2017 issue of QST magazine and decided that I "needed" to have one. It is omnidirectional, horizontally-polarized, and intended for single-sideband (SSB), digital, or CW (Morse Code). Due to its light weight and compact size I intend to try it for 2-meter and 70-cm SSB during Summits on the Air (SOTA) activations.

It is made up of two dipoles in semi-circular configurations. The two U-bolts between my thumb and forefinger allow mounting to either of two sizes of antenna mast (one or the other is used at a time).

Efactor Dual-Band 144/432 MHz Antenna

My Latest Radio Acquisition

Several months ago, I purchased a used Yaesu FT-897 transceiver for use in the shack. I was initially using the FT-857D for both base and portable operations, but I decided that it would be much simpler to have one radio for each purpose rather than to switch the 857 back and forth between the two.

This is appears to be an earlier-model FT-897, as opposed the later FT-897D, although it can be difficult to tell between the two--the labeling on both versions is identical. From online research, I was able to determine that the 897D has the five 60-meter channels already programmed into its memory, while the 897 does not; mine does not have it, so it seems to be the earlier version. My initial confusion stemmed from the fact that the radio I bought was advertised as a "D" version; the radio works fine and meets my needs, though, so I consider this to be a non-issue.

Functionally, the FT-897 is essentially the same radio as the 857 in a slightly larger package. The menu items are all the same; the toughest part for me was getting used to the arrangement of the knobs and buttons, which is different than on the 857.

I also bought an LDG AT-897 Plus antenna tuner, which mounts on the side of the radio (as seen in the photo below).

Here's a view of the radio shack, with the FT-897 in the space formerly occupied by the FT-857D. Note the AT-897 Plus tuner mounted on the side of the radio.

The View from Goat Mountain...

...or, at least a view of my portable station on Goat Mountain (SOTA W6/NC-010).

My standard HF rig for portable operation is my trusty Yaesu FT-857D, running through an LDG Z-11 Pro II automatic antenna tuner to a Yaesu ATAS-25 vertical antenna (seen elsewhere in this blog). I usually operate at 50 watts power, although lately I have occasionally upped it to 75 or even 100 watts due to difficult band conditions. For power, I use a Bioenno BLF-1206A Lithium Iron Phosphate (LiFePO4) 12V 6Ah battery. The ATAS-25 is tuned for bands from 40 meters up to 70 cm, although I generally use my Yaesu VX-6R handheld and a homebrew vertical for VHF and up.

Catching Up (Again): SOTA Activations

First of all, I would like to apologize to anyone who has been following this blog; I have not been keeping it up-to-date. I have been pretty active, especially in regards to Summits on the Air (SOTA) activity, but I have not been as motivated to maintain the blog as I should be.

I have activated 16 summits since my last activation report (Mt. Tamalpais, W6/CC-063) on December 17, 2016. So far, they have all been in Northern California:

  • 29 December 2016: W6/CC-051 (North Peak), 2 points -- Highlights: QSO with AC1Z in New Hampshire on 20 meters (14 MHz), plus three summit-to-summit (S2S) contacts and two National Parks on the Air (NPOTA) contacts. I was operating with 50 watts, single-sideband (SSB).
  • 15 January 2017: W6/CV-017 (968), 1 point -- Highlight: N4DA, near Atlanta, Georgia, on 20 meters SSB.
  • 31 January 2017: W6/NC-406 (Sulphur Springs Mountain), 0 points -- I only logged three contacts on 40 meters SSB, and did not qualify (a minimum of four is required). Conditions were tough on this day.
  • 14 March 2017: W6/CC-049 (Cold Spring Mountain), 2 points -- I logged my first contacts on 15 meters (21 MHz) SSB: K3TCU in Pennsylvania, and W9MRH and WA2USA in Indiana.
  • 30 March 2017: W6/NC-151 (Mount Vaca), 2 points -- My longest-distance QSO was with WA2USA in Indiana on 14 MHz SSB.
  • 2 April 2017: W6/NC-422 (990), 1 point -- I initially tried taking part in the AM Rally but was hampered in part by a solar flare. I was able to log some good QSOs on 20 meters SSB, including two each in Minnesota, Kansas, and Montana. Also, an S2S with W6CLB, who was doing his first SOTA activation nearby.
  • 22 April 2017: W6/NC-432 (Chabot 2 Benchmark), 1 point -- Conditions were badly deteriorated on this day, but I was able to log the minimum four contacts over a two-hour period. On a positive note, I was able to log two S2S contacts, with AC2KL in Utah and NS7P in Oregon on 40 meters (7 MHz) SSB.
  • 2 May 2017: W6/NC-298 (Vollmer Peak), 1 point -- Once again, difficult conditions but I was able to log the four QSOs needed to qualify. 
  • 2 May 2017: W6/CC-045 (Mount Diablo), 2 points -- Most contacts logged were on 2 meters (146.520 MHz FM), but I did log three contacts on 20 meters SSB with Arizona and New Mexico.
  • 11 May 2017: W6/NC-010 (Goat Mountain), 6 points -- Three of my five contacts were on 17 meters (18 MHz) SSB.
  • 23 May 2017: W6/NC-379 (Taylor Mountain), 0 points -- I was only able to eke out two contacts: W0MNA in Kansas, barely readable on 20 meters SSB, and K6EL, loud and clear from San Francisco on 15 meters SSB. I left my 2-meter handheld radio in the car; otherwise I might have been able to round out my contacts on 146.520 FM and have qualified.
  • 4 June 2017: W6/NC-417 (Abrott Benchmark), 1 point -- As has become common for me, I was just able to log the minimum four QSOs need to qualify: two each on 40 and 20 meters SSB.
  • 15 June 2017: W6/NS-290 (Big Hill), 6 points -- My first Sierra Nevada activation of the year, this summit features very easy access and spectacular views. I logged 8 contacts on 40, 20, and 17 meters (SSB) and 2 meters FM.
  • 27 June 2017: W6/NS-248 (7008), 6 points -- Hill 7008 is located at South Lake Tahoe, California, literally across the street from the airport. Four QSOs on 40 and 20 meters SSB with Oregon, Arizona, and Texas.
  • 28 June 2017: W6/NS-397 (Tahoe Mountain), 6 points -- Virtually a stone's-throw away from the previous summit; once again four contacts to qualify (20 meters SSB), plus one local on 146.520 FM with WA6EWV for good measure.
  • 1 July 2017: W6/SN-039 (Leviathan Peak), 8 points -- I stopped here on my way home from South Lake Tahoe. The spectacular views of the Sierra Nevada mountains and the state of Nevada made it totally worth the mere four contacts that I logged. A highlight was an S2S with AE7AP in Montana.