National Parks on the Air is to ham radio operators what Pokemon Go is to gamers. That's the best analogy I can come up with.
On our recent vacation, Hubby (who is a ham radio operator aka ham), wanted to do some activations. That means that he wanted to set up a radio at some approved national locations and see how many other ham radio operators he could talk to in a short amount of time. I was okay with that. He's certainly done his share of quilt shows and photography stops. So I told him I would help if he needed it. Turns out he did because his computer, where he usually logs his contacts, interfered with his radio. So I logged his contacts by hand. That sounded easy enough. I can write, and pretty fast too. But it wasn't quite that easy.
To begin my story, let me set the scene. It was a pleasant day with temperatures in the mid 80's, and a fine, steady rain. The location he wanted to activate was the beginning of the Santa Fe trail, and once we decided that a little gravel parking site and a little monument was actually THE site, we pulled in to the parking area so Hubby could set up his antenna. The rules state that you have to be within so many feet of the monument, and since we were also pulling our travel trailer, we were fairly limited where we could park. Notice the power lines in the picture below? That's where the fun began.
Once Hubby had his antenna mounted on the hood of the pickup, he set up his radio on the center console and we got into the back seat so we could have room to move. Hubby began looking for an open frequency (I think I got that right) but all I could hear was static. When I'm in the office with Hubby, I usually think the noise coming from the radio sounds more like sounds over a transistor radio (if you are old enough to remember those), but this was worse. Hubby said it was the electric lines overhead. Horrible place to set up a ham antenna. The running pickup and his laptop were making the static worse, so he turned them off and he said that made a difference. Still sounded like static to me. Hubby called some ham friends who were at their home computer and they helped him find an open line to transmit on and they posted it to a facebook page that is just for National Parks on the Air. Hubby began calling CQ on that open line and finally we heard something over the static that sounded like it might be someone saying their call sign. Or it could have been a different level of static. Hard to tell. Somehow, Hubby managed to pick out a few letters of their call sign and asked them to repeat it until he understood it, and then Hubby would repeat it so I could write it down along with the time and how good their signal was. This went on for about twenty minutes and then more of them began calling to Hubby. I guess they saw our friends' post on the facebook page.
I couldn't understand anything they were saying. All I knew is that with the heat of the radio, Hubby shouting his call over and over, the windows rolled up, and no air conditioning, it was getting pretty steamy in there. After another ten minutes of rapid fire calls and jotting down letters and numbers only Hubby could hear, and with sweat streaming down my neck, back and everywhere else, I told Hubby he was going to have to roll down a window. "Now?" he asked in disbelief. "Yes, now," I said. "It's a sauna in here and I can't breathe."
So he jumped out of the pickup - in the rain - got into the front seat, and stuck the key in the ignition. He lowered the driver's window about two inches and without looking back, lowered my window about a half inch. Then he jumped out of the pickup, jerked the backseat door open and jumped in before I had a chance to stop him. So I pointed to my window and said, "Really?" He reached over the seat this time, put the key in the ignition and told me to roll it down as much as I wanted. I pressed the button and nothing happened. Nothing happened because Hubby has this habit of using the driver's door handle as an arm rest, and that's where all the window buttons are located, including the one that keeps everyone else from being able to open or close their window.
By then, Hubby was CQ-ing again, and was none too happy when I told him he had locked my window button and I couldn't roll down the window. So he lunged out of the pickup again, jerked open the front door and turned on the button, slammed it shut and jumped back in the back seat, dripping wet because the nice, pleasant light rain had turned into a heavy rain. He picked up his microphone, turned to me, and asked through clenched teeth, "Anything else?" "No, I'm good," I replied cheerfully, "CQ away."
Then an ear-splitting squeal joined the static and I could no longer hear those sounds that I thought might be another voice. But Hubby kept picking out a letter here and there and got a few more contacts in the next thirty minutes, and then he too decided the conditions were just too bad to continue. As if they hadn't been bad all along.
That experience was enough for me to wonder why anyone wanted to spend time trying to talk on a short wave radio. But for some reason, trying to hear other people shout numbers and letters makes Hubby happy, so I was willing to do the next NPOTA activation with him, and hoped it wasn't raining and that we weren't parked under power lines.
We were a little late getting away from the RV park and Google map showed the next activation quite a ways from the highway we were on. We wanted to eat dinner with our daughter and her two foster kids at the next campground, so Hubby groused that he would just not do that activation. But after the last fiasco, I thought he needed to do it and talked him into going to the next one. The signs on the highway said it wasn't far away.
As it turned out, it was just a few miles off the highway. It was at a Civil War battlefield, and they had a nice, big, paved, parking lot. The skies were cloudy, but not raining, and there was a cool breeze blowing through our completely rolled down windows. This time, there was no static and even I could clearly hear the call signs unless they talked too fast. I logged onto facebook while Hubby found a frequency and within seconds of posting it online, we had people calling. Hubby described it as a tidal wave of calls and said it was a real adrenaline rush. This time I had trouble keeping up with the logging as Hubby went quickly from one call to the next, and finally, after I filled up several pages, he announced that he would take two more calls and then we had to move on. People clamored to be picked so Hubby took several more calls before he quit. If I understand it right, everyone who calls and gets through to the ham doing a NPOTA activation also gets points, and this particular site hadn't been activated very much, so a lot of people wanted the contact.
As we drove away, I asked Hubby if he was glad we stopped for this, and he said doing this one made it all worthwhile. Since I feel that way about getting the perfect photograph, I can totally understand. But I still can't understand calls signs when people say them fast. So slow down you guys! Next time, I will be ready.