Monday evenings around our house are usually busy. My family has a standing activity and I use that time to get things done or sometimes to read in the quiet for a moment. Last night, however, I decided that since the weather over the weekend got the best of me, I’d head out to Cuyahoga Valley National Park – K-0020 and do a quick after dinner activation. There wasn’t enough time to cycle there (which is part of my personal challenge with activations these days…I want them all to be cycle powered!) so I actually drove someplace on a weekday – a truly rare occasion!
The park is beautiful this time of year. The trees have filled in and the insects aren’t out in force just yet. The area around The Octagon was completely deserted. My personal operations table was vacant, as it always is, so I set up the Chameleon whip with extension and got my IC-705 up and running.
If you look at the title picture associated with this post, you will notice something that hasn’t been present in any of my activations to date. Next to the IC-705 you can make out the red parts of a cwmorse.us portable paddle. It’s even plugged in.
I’ve been studying Morse Code for longer than the #CW100Days challenge. Despite the encouragement of operators online, I haven’t had the guts to actually key up. My thought was that I could go to the park, relax and activate it with FT8, and after I got my 10 in, I could swap over and call CQ to see what would happen. Maybe I don’t really know how to use my IC-705 (again). Maybe no one is on the air at that hour on a Monday. Maybe the bands would be garbage. The odds of someone coming back felt tiny, so why not plug the paddle in and see if I had the guts to use it?
After logging QSO number 10 on FT8 (which did seem to be having less than superior performance on several bands), I closed the computer. I set the IC-705 to CW and started calling CQ POTA on 15m. Nothing. Totally dead. I looked at the POTA app and moved over to 40m as it seemed like others were there. Maybe I could hunt if I couldn’t attract hunters? I spotted myself with a rather pathetic comment of “First CW QSO attempt 12 wpm pse!”
I called for 2 minutes or so. Just as I was about to pack it in, I was startled by some dits and dahs coming across loud and clear. Very loud. Very clear. We were in “599 Territory”.
Forget “E” and “A” and “T” and “S” because the most useful character I’ve learned is “?”. I sent it a lot. And finally, I got KD8OOB! I would soon learn that I was talking to an operator in Cincinnati – not all that far away!
Before leaving home, I made notes based on the POTA CW Guide that includes a video from Thomas K4SWL. In that video, there is a script. I copied it and printed it out with my notes. Without it, I don’t know what I would have done. I think I did an OK job with my sending and got everything across. I was so happy to get “73” from KD8OOB that I was grinning from ear to ear.
I scribbled some notes and as soon as the “73” was gone, there was another callsign. I don’t know why, but I didn’t expect that. So…I got another contact! For some reason, I was far more panicked with the second one and for the life of me could NOT decode a “G”. So I wrote down “- – . A” which of course was a contact from Georgia. I got two contacts from Georgia to add to my list before something went weird with 40m. I looked up and realized that I needed to leave anyway, so I called QRT and went to the POTA site to set myself as done. I was greeted by a comment on my spot from KD8OOB:
The QSO Map for the activation looked like this. The big dots I drew on the image are for the CW contacts.
This is an activation that comes with at least two lessons that I can find. The first of which is that hams are courteous. The way that these more experienced operators downshifted to make the QSO work with a guy who can barely keep his legs under him at 12 wpm felt really good. I don’t know why that’s at all surprising. Every QSO that I’ve had has been a good experience. Tripping all over myself on phone modes during activations or contests has never been met with anything other than good natured patience. I don’t know why I thought CW would be different, but it certainly wasn’t. I sent more “?” than any other character I’m sure and it was replied to with slow, generously spaced characters. That’s courteous operation right there.
The other thing that I learned is that the supportive hams online were right. Hitting 12 wpm and getting on the air is the way to go. Killing key fright early seems like something that everyone needs to do. Joining LICW and seeing that there are slow speed nets and places to find “Code Buddies” was a great decision. I will be leveraging the club more and more as I work on becoming a solid CW Operator.
Since I’m paying attention, this particular activation checks a Ham Radio Goal off of the list. I made a CW QSO. Next up will be to do an all-modes activation. I know that I have to keep setting and reaching goals with any hobby to keep it interesting. There are a couple that I have in mind for the coming months. This is just the beginning!