Challenges Abound for 2008 Jan VHF Sweeps!

Wow! Of all the contests I've been in, that was one of them. Ok, this one had a few more challenges than most :-) . I appreciate the thanks I've received--you're welcome--but I had a good time despite the challenges. While I still activated 8 grids, I knocked off five hours early to watch the Packer game (awwwww shucks). That meant I had less operating time in each grid than I'm used to.

First off, we KNEW it was going to be cold. And when it's cold, quite often the conditions aren't so good. Well, it turned out to be REALLY cold and conditions were not good at all (for the most part). I loaded the radios on Thursday. I was able to do that in a cold garage and it wasn't too bad. Then on Friday I loaded the antennas. It wasn't bitter cold that day. Just standard runny nose and cold hands tying down the antenna rack to the roof rack. The antennas are stored in a barn and the coaxes had been coiled. Well, they took a set to that coil. I was too kippy with the 2304 coax and while bending it, the jacket cracked with a "snap". I looked at the braid and it looked ok. So I went with it anyways and it seemed to work but will have to be replaced. 

Saturday morning, it was bitter cold. -8 at the house and seemed to average -10 to -12 while I drove along. I started out nice and early for a comfortable drive to the grid corner west of Wausau, WI. I stopped in front of the bank in Hillsboro to take a picture. Though my car said -12, the bank said -5. I've taken January rove pictures in front of the Hillsboro bank many times over the years. I remember the first year was in 1991 and it was my first contest with three bands. Got back underway.

Starting out in Hillsboro, WI.  Car thermometer said -12

Soon, the first challenge arrived to nibble into my time margin. While I'm driving east of Mauston, WI, the tire "low pressure" warning light came on. Hmmmm. Could be a slow leak. I pull over and measure all the pressures. 32/34/34/30. Wonder if it's the 30psi or if it's just COLD. I drive to the next town and (on 2nd try) find an air hose that works. I pump all to 40psi. I stupidly used my

bare hand on the air chuck and while holding it on the four tires, I "burned" my thumb and first finger. It's hurt for three days now but seems to be getting better. Hmmmmm Warning light still on. Well, it must just be COLD. I'll have to watch them. As I'm driving northward on I-39, it occurs to me that it MIGHT be the spare. So when I stop for lunch in Wausau, I press on the spare sidewall with my thumbs and it seems softer than perfect but hard enough if I had to use it as a spare. I did not measure it because I didn't want to take time to drop the spare. Anyways, this fiddling around ate up my time margin and I arrived at my first location (EN-44) fifteen minutes late. I'm pretty sure it was -12 at my first location. To be honest, most of my time was spent inside a heated car. But the few minutes at the start and end of each grid raising or lowering the 6m dipole WAS kinda brutal. I teared up pretty badly and I had to have my gloves off for some of my knot tying.

Well, it's not the first time I've been behind schedule :-)  . Over the next few hours I slowly caught up. On Saturday, I started in EN-44, moved to EN-45, then EN-55, and finished in EN-54. All the spots are within about 5 miles of each other.

Highlights of the first day are many. The beautiful blue sky, bright sun, and sparkling white snow made for a pleasant day. Charlie NØAKC was wonderful with all his Q's and following me around. John KB9TLV also did a good job of tracking me but I had a heck of a time hearing him on some bands. Bob K2YAZ came in just fine across Lake Michigan on 7 bands while I was in two grids. And the Twin Cities guys like WØZQ, NØKP, and KAØRYT were great. Ken W9GA and Jerry WA9O did a fine job hunting me out from Milwaukee. Conditions were not so good and had lots of profound QSB. CW was really important on this day. It made q's SO much easier to just whip through them on CW. So much easier than asking for repeats on phone. Get this, on Saturday, I had 118 total QSO's and 69 of them were made with CW (58%). Another highlight was Multi-op K9NS finding me in my second grid. After that, we continued to work many times throughout the remainder of the contest. I think it peaked at minus five during the day.

I took down at 10pm local and got underway headed south. A beautiful moon lit up the snowy countryside. It got colder and colder. It was -15 to -18 most of the drive during the night. I pulled into a cheap motel in Dodgeville, WI about 2am. I had pre-arranged my late arrival with them. I thought I set an alarm to get up at 6am to be on the air at 7am. Well, I guess I failed setting the alarm because it didn't go off. I was awakened by other noise in the parking lot outside my motel room. Checked my watch--it was already 7:03am. Darn! Well, I showered up and fired up the car for the day. Here's where more challenges surfaced. It was -14 and the knobs on the radios would not turn very easily. The LCD displays didn't display very well. And the 6m rig tends to howl (audio) when the temp is cold. So I set the heat on high and hoped the vehicle would warm up quickly. I hustled out to the spot I like to use for EN-42 about 2 miles north of town.

Large jpeg of Map above

Google map of rove

I actually made my first Q at 7:52am. Late, to be sure, but not too bad. I slowly caught up throughout the day. Sunday was another sparkling day. Temps warmed up to 3 degrees at the peak. Plenty of additional highlights on Sunday. I worked Bob K2DRH from all four grids on all bands except 2304 failed in my last grid.  The big Multi-Op K9NS was a near sweep.  They hunted me out most of the time and I worked them when I found them CQ'ing down the band. Over in Milwaukee, W9GA and WA9O again made a point to look for me. Ken does a great job of letting me know that he hears me when I'm pointing in some other direction. I spin his way as soon as I can tidy up in the original direction. He has been amazingly patient.

Some more highlights are operators on multiple bands in grids I traditionally don't work. For instance NGØR now on many bands from EN-25--what great news. Vince, NØVZJ gave needed mults from EN-35. John W9RPM gave four bands from EN-43. Later, I was pleased to work KCØIYT/R on many bands--several for new mults. Jon WØZQ and Dave NØKP, again, did a fine job working me all the way from the Twin Cities on this second day. They were smooth sliding to 222, 432, and 903 for additional CW Q's. I must mention that conditions were usually best on 432. And 903 did surprisingly well.

I went QRT at about 23z to go down to my little house in the valley to watch the Packer game.  Sure, activity seemed down. But I knew most of the operators I worked all weekend. For me it was great to work all of them --multiple times in most cases. Yes, I CQ'd to dead air at times. But at other times I was getting swamped. I was working multiple stations in one direction when I would be called off the back by familiar stations. I hate to make anybody wait. What's good about the grids I activated is that they are reachable from two major population areas. That's good for activity but a challenge for spinning the beams.

EN-43tq near Hillsboro, WI
© 2008 Bruce Richardson

When the going gets weird, the weird turn Pro. --HST

Conditions on Sunday were better but by no means good. I didn't work into Michigan, Illinois, or Iowa like I usually do. CW again played an important part being 42% of my QSO's. While I was repositioning between EN-53 and EN-43, I listened to NØKP and WØZQ ragchewing up in the Twin Cities and I was down in deep valleys. So, conditions were ok there for awhile.  I'm actually quite pleased with the weekend. I feel a sense of accomplishment for eeking out so many contacts via CW. I hope I helped many of you with QSO volume at a minimum and some needed grids at best. I feel that meeting or conquering challenges made this a rewarding weekend. Also, to activate 8 grids and still knock off five hours early gave me all the activity I could ask for.

Downsides: Not working EN-64. Not working EN-63. Low activity. The Packers losing. Oh, I heard a few stations on .200 I would have liked to work but I couldn't get their attention through the madhouse. The downsides really aren't too bad this time.

I wish we had more rovers in the region. I want to go Rove in other places but we need a rover to activate the grids I did in future contests. I recommend them--plenty of activity in multiple directions. Thanks again to all who worked me and waited for me. I appreciate you for being there to work.


Bruce Richardson W9FZ/R




















































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