Friday, June 19, 2009

All Who Wander Are Not Lost. They're Roving!

I wonder how many people out there are just like me? For years, you've looked at the photos in QST or CQ VHF of those "nuts" out there running around with their cars, trucks, and vans covered with antennas, hauling out microwave dishes to the summit of some distant mountain, or parked on some snow covered peak with a flat tire? You've sat and looked at those photos, and thought, "Man, those guys must be crazy!"

Well, take it from me. If you're ever had those thoughts while looking at the photos. You were right!
What's missing from those photos are the smell of bug spray, body odor, and road grime mixed with coffee, soda, and bad road food. Those photos can't convey the sore muscles, the slurred speech, or the blurry vision. They can't begin to reveal the frustration of answering a million questions from curious on-lookers, or showing your drivers license to the third policeman in two days.

But they also can't provide you with the sense of accomplishment as you give a friend a grid square that he's being trying to get a QSL card out of for years. They can't provide the thrilling sensation of working K5QE on 2 Meters and 222 after nearly two years of trying. Photographs can't provide the feeling of your heart skipping a beat when Marshall comes back to you on 222, saying "Man, you're loud!".

Nope, roving is just something that no amount of research, planning, or conversations with seasoned veterans can really prepare you for. Like most of the best things in life, it's something that you really have to experience for yourself. Having done so once, I can't wait to go out again.

================ PROLOGUE =========================================
My preparation for this rove was problematic at best. To start with, I traded for a new Dodge Ram 1500 just two weeks before the contest. This involved removing the radios from my old truck, and having to do an entirely new installation in the new vehicle. We also had a long planned family camping trip/vacation from Sunday to Friday June 12.

This lead to a bad scramble of borrowing equipment (Thanks to Bill Caps, AF4OD and Jimmy Long, W4ZRZ for loaning me microwave gear, connectors, and a lot of advice!) Then we had to engineer mounting, packing, etc. I decided on a combination of "run and gun" and "stop and shoot".

A pair of KU4AB stacked loops were added to the truck, along with a simple 1/4 mag mount for six meters. This took care of the "run and gun" part. These were married to my Yaesu FT-857D which is permanently installed in the truck, and provided for over 90% of my QSOs. I even made a number of contacts on the loops on 432, though I don't recommend it. Many times on 2 Meters, the loops received comments like, "I can't believe how loud you are for a rover". The trick was getting them up high and clear. I used a fiberglass "painters" pole, which I painted black and mounted with stainless steel hose clamps to the frame of my Tarheel trailer hitch mount HF Antenna.

This allowed me to extend the top loop to over 12 feet, and near the 15 foot legal limit. Unfortunately, during the afternoon on Sunday, while on a dirt road on Beck's Mountain in EM61, a low hanging limb broke the mast. I had another painters pole as a backup, but the repair took me off the air for over an hour.

When parked, I removed the Tarheel from the trailer hitch, and used an aluminum push up mast where attached to the trailer hitch. Thanks to Marcus Thomas, KF4YHP for the mast, and ideas! This allowed me to get all the other yagi's up high and in the clear. Unfortunately, I had to rely on "used" LMR400 that turned out to cause major problems on 2 Meters, 432, and 1.2ghz.

The other issue is that this set up averaged over an hour each time, and proved very costly to my efforts. Next time, we're going with a PVC frame to support the antennas, and "run and gun" all the way. Still it made for an impressive sight.

My wife Abby Rayburn, who is very handy and has a workshop that would be the envy of any man, solved a lot of other engineering issues prior to the contest, including fabricating the brackets and standoffs for the tall mast. She also did the driving on Saturday! Thanks my love!

==================HIGHLIGHTS & LOW POINTS==============================

My two meter beam had issues on Saturday, so Sunday I switched to a backpacker style 4 element beam from Arrow Antennas. This little antenna worked wonders! On the opposite end of the scale, the 222 system performed like a champ putting out loud signals with only 125 watts from the Mirage, and the DEMI transverter can hear a pin drop!

Thrills included working K5QE, and giving out EM61 to some local friends who've had a hard time getting cards from that grid. Six Meters was open just about all day on Saturday, which disappointed me. When six is open, it's hard to find folks on 2 Meters or higher. My main goal was new grids on the higher bands, and 6 Meter openings make that difficult. I'm sure September will be best for that effort.

Working my first QSO's on 3,5, & 10Ghz was also great fun. I'm adding a transverter for 902 for the next contest, and ditching the FM rig. Now maybe I can work someone besides Jimmy and Craig!

Breaking off the mast for the loops was a low spot...and we had a lot of severe weather in Alabama, including hundreds of lightning strokes per hour, so Sunday afternoon operating time was curtailed as I waited out the downpours. Jimmy Long, W4ZRZ suffered some lightning damage as well. At one point while in Pike County (EM61) we had over three inches of rainfall in less than an hour! I got off the dirt roads of Beck's Mountain just in time thanks to a "heads up" from Jack, WA5UUD who was watching my back.

Lots of room for improvement over my first effort, but it was a joy to work stations with ease that I usually have to strain to hear from my indoor location. See you all again in July and September.

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