My Quest for Ham… Part 1

IMG_4114In today’s post I’m not talking about recipes or pork, but Amateur Radio. Many refer to anyone operating these radios as “Hams.” My story starts with a tree that knocks some sense into me…

As anyone who has fallen trees may relate, the “hinge” part of a cut is important. It keeps the tree trunk connected as it falls, so it goes in the direction you planned on. I was learning this concept back in 2012, the hard way. “No… NO… NOOOOO!” Yes.   I had just fallen a tree onto my pickup. I was parked some distance away, uphill, so I was lucky to receive only a crease on one side of the bed, while the rack paid a noble sacrifice.

IMG_4113Here I was, a green 20-something, out in the woods by myself, cutting & falling dead snags, with no cell service. What if I had rendered my truck useless? What if I got cut or injured? What if the kids were with me? As I cut and removed the tree from my truck, I realized I had to make a change. If I’m going to spend lots of time off-grid, with kids, I need to have a means for getting help. That’s where amateur radio entered my life.

The following winter, I passed my entry-level Technician test, just by practicing questions on my smartphone app. (Morse code is no longer required.) They use amateur radio to coordinate the sled dog race, so an exam was offered for new operators. (If it worked for a 200-mile race across the wilderness, surely it would suffice for my needs.) I bought myself a nice handheld, and magnet-mount antenna for a start.

IMG_0770I started using it regularly, letting my friend know when we were heading out, where, and when we should return. I showed the kids how to use it, in the event I get incapacitated. Eventually, I got a good antenna to permanently install on the truck, and found that this reached into town from quite a few remote locations.

The following year, I volunteered for the Eagle Cap Extreme Sled Dog Race, to run a rIMG_6650adio at the finish line part-time. I got to meet lots of great folks, hang around the campfire all night, and take note of arriving teams, relaying their status to race central. It was here that I got exposure to HF and the use of Win-Link.

Basically, it allows you to send emails over the radio. Wait, What?! They had a remote campsite in the wilderness, where they staged supplies, teams, veterinarians,  etc. Not only were they talking and relaying into town, but they could send weather reports, and ask for supplies too. “Okay,” I thought, “now that’s pretty neat.”

I continued to make friends, and helped a few with some antenna projects. Before long, I had acquired a more powerful radio for use in my truck. It also has the ability to act as a repeater for my handheld too. In application, I could be miles from camp, and have it repeat my calls into town. I started checking in to a weekly “Net” to hear of the news, etc. and before long was wishing for a better setup at home.

In part two, an emergency “shakes” me into taking action at home…

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