As mentioned previously, at the beginning of this year, I made a resolution. Not something unrealistic, like losing 25 pounds (which I should do) or to give up smoking (which I don't do anyway). No, my resolution was to get on the radio every single blessed day of 2005, and make at least one QRP CW QSO. My motivation greatly enhanced by the fact the North American QRP CW Club offered it's "QSO a Day" award around the same time I began to contemplate undertaking this task. Talk about timing!
It's December now, and eleven months have passed with, so far, a QRP CW QSO being made each and every day. I have come to learn a few things:
First - This goal, while obtainable, seemed a lot easier to achieve than reality has borne out. I really didn't take into account the declining solar conditions at the bottom of the sunspot cycle. I didn't think that there would be nights when a QSO with someone within the state of NJ would seem like the greatest DX I have ever worked! There were evenings this past January and February, when the ionosphere was sooooooo screwed up from Coronal Mass Ejections, that a QSO with a guy some 30 miles away from me was as difficult as working the DXpedition on Kure Atoll this past fall. Luckily, I was able to work the guy 30 miles away - I never really even heard the guys on Kure all that well.
I didn't take into account things like school plays, recitals, civic meetings which eat up a huge chunk of evening "free time" (a term I use VERY loosely!). Getting home late some evenings and then running down to the basement shack got me operating when a lot of other guys were calling it quits for the night. I know we all need our sleep because we have to go to work tomorrow; but hey! I'm trying to accomplish something here! And I have found, quite remarkably, that is indeed possible to nod off during the middle of a CW QSO. There have been a number of times that my neck snapped and my head jerked as I caught myself dozing off!
I kind of thought that summer vacation was going to be a problem; but it turned out not to be. We rented a cabin at Lake George and I was able to take my K1 along with the PAC-12 antenna; and made the required QSOs. My family is very understanding (for which I love them dearly - especially my wife, Marianne); and fortunately, so was George - the owner of Stepping Stones Resort in Diamond Point, NY. (An unabashed plug for George and Stepping Stones, who were and continue to be very, very gracious).
My brother-in-law's wedding in late July was another concern. That was a hectic two days; but it turned out I had to come home the night of the rehearsal dinner as I had to be home to let our dog Jesse out to do his "business" for the night and again the next morning. This allowed me to squeeze in my QSO in for that Saturday.
Second - I didn't realize how rewarding this quest would become. Not just for making at least 365 consecutive QSOs; but also for a lot of "fringe benefits". My code speed has increased significantly. At the beginning of the year, I was comfortable at the 16 - 18 wpm range; and I could copy at up to 30 wpm for short bursts. Now, in December, I am quite comfortable in the 20 - 25 wpm range and have no problems copying in the 35 - 40 wpm range for short amounts of time until my brain cramps. And I can tell that this spiral upward will continue if I keep at this. The only downside is finding guys who can keep up a QSO at these speeds. Sadly, they seem to becoming fewer and fewer.
I am very fortunate to have a lot of friends that I have met through Amateur Radio. Some like Bob W3BBO, I have met locally. But MOCADing has allowed me to have made friends that I know only from QSOs on the air. These are genuine friends, who I have come to know and have had multiple QSOs with. It is so nice to hear a callsign and know who it is on the opposite end before making contact. There was one instance in particular, that I recall especially. I was in QSO with Jim Stafford W4QO, relatively late one evening in September. From the basement, I was able to hear my son crying in his bedroom. I immediately dropped everything to go and see what the matter was. My five year old had had a nightmare and needed some TLC, which he received. About twenty minutes later, after Joey was securely tucked back in bed, I went back to the shack to fine Jim - on frequency - patiently waiting! He was wondering what the matter was and was relieved with the explanation. He was actually on the verge of reaching out via the telephone to make sure there was no dire medical emergency. Other than the brotherhood of Ham Radio; where could you find that kind of concern and camaraderie?
And there are plenty of others like John AE5X and Gary K8KFJ, who I have come to know from working during QRP Sprints. It's always nice to run into them on the air, only to hear a "Hi Larry" come from the other side! Bob KB2FEL originally from NY and now from WV is also a good contesting "buddy". He always has a great signal and a friendly attitude. Then there are great guys like Geoff W1OH who took the time to send me information on great vacations destinations like Prince Edward Island. Then there are Tom KB3LFC and John K3WWP who I have come to know through the NAQCC and on the air. Also, there is Charles W2SH, who I found out, doesn't live very far from me. I have also come to know Lloyd K3ESE from the air and through a QRP club we both belong to, the Flying Pigs QRP Club International. Lloyd's political views and mine are like oil and vinegar - they DO NOT mix; but LL is a superb CW op. His fist is excellent and he is a joy to copy. His enthusiasm for QRP, CW, building and operating portable know no bounds. Did I mention Lloyd's sense of humor? - definitely quirky; but always amusing and funny.
Third - I have increased my knowledge of propagation. I have come to know what all these solar numbers and indexes actually mean; and I can know ahead of time whether or not it is going to be an easy go on a particular day. Directly responsible for my knowledge is Paul Harden NA5N. Reading his "plain language" articles and postings to the QRP e-mail reflectors has taken a complicated science; and has made it much more understandable.
I fully expect to make my goal; and make another 30 more QSOs to finish off December. The NAQCC is doing the award thing again in 2006; and I may actually try again. You may or may not be able to reach the goal; but I will guarantee you one thing. The attempt is truly an adventure and a learning experience; both at the same time.
See you on the air,
73 de Larry W2LJ