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I just got back from a great QRP vacation!  Well, actually it was a family reunion, but I packed up some QRP gear and planned to operate at night when the group quieted down.  I have been building and QRP equipment for a few years now, but only recently started carrying it to the field.  This was my second attempt, and I still have lots to learn about operating in the field.

Anyone who has set up and operated on Field Day knows that field operations present a whole new set of challenges.  For me the first and maybe the most important challenge is to fit my stuff somewhere in the car.  Whenever we go on a family vacation, the car is always loaded to the top with sports gear and various teen paraphernalia.  The baggage for our June trip to Emerald Isle (my first QRP excursion), included 3 Boogie boards, a surf board, 2 sets of SCUBA gear, and enough CDs for a week with no replays.  Fortunately we are not as well equipped for mountain sports, so my QRP gear didnít have so much competition.  Still, I wanted to be compact (in the spirit of QRP), so I packed in a medium size toolbox.  My 2-step packing method is to put in essential stuff first and then just pack until the toolbox is full.  On the previous beach trip, the first step hadnít been thought of, which created some extra challenges later.

For this reunion, my parents rented a place at Chetola, a resort in Blowing Rock, NC.  It was a bit upscale for us, but we made up for that by overcrowding the place and making some kids sleep on the floor.  I was expecting something a little more in the wilds, with tall fir trees to hold up my wire antenna.  Instead I had to make do with beautiful landscaping that included lush grassy lawns and 2 short pine trees beside the building.  Antennas are the second most important challenge for me.  On my first trip, there was only enough room for a short 30-ft. random wire, but I still made contacts on 40 and 20.  On this trip, I brought 80 and 40 m rigs and the same short piece of wire.  The extra spool of wire apparently didnít fit in the toolbox.  My slingshot didnít make the cut either, but fortunately we did bring fishing gear, so it didnít take long to get the wire looped over one of the trees.  This should be called a Lazy-S antenna since it dropped away from the tuner, then went over the tree and hung down the other side.

I actually did a pretty good job of packing the radio equipment.  After my first trip, I made a list of all the cables and adapters needed for each piece of QRP gear.  If you donít count the wire and the slingshot, I had everything needed and used almost everything I brought.  Here is the list:
DSW 80 transceiver (very compact and cool)
NorCal 40A transceiver (my favorite and most productive QRP rig)
ZM-2 antenna tuner (small, very capable, essential)
CMOS Super Keyer II (too big, now building a new tiny keyer)
Bencher paddles (too big, but hard to part with)
5AH gel cell (heavy, but worth the weight)
Various coax jumpers and adapters
Various cables for power, keying, etc.
Wall wart to charge gel cell
Headphones

How did it all work out?  Wellllll.  I donít have a list of DX stations I worked, but I did tease some guy in Georgia until he copied my call.  And although they tried, most of the MPARC QRPers couldnít hear me, but Neil and I managed a 3-minute QSO consisting mostly of ďagn pse?Ē or ďKK4R de WA4CHQ ??Ē

QRP isnít really that hard.  So what went wrong?  First I blamed the antenna, so I went to the Shack and bought 75 ft of wire and added it to the Lazy-S to make a pine tree loop of over 100 ft.  It tuned up nicely on both bands, but on 40, I only managed the 2 puny QSOs I mentioned, and on 80 I heard nothing except noise and W1AW.  That was enough for me, so I didnít operate any more, but I did check a couple of things.  The loop was oriented in the vertical plane on an East-West line, and the land rose steeply to the South, so if there was a favored direction, it was North.  Chetola, in a narrow valley, was not placed with radio in mind.  The other thing I checked was the propagation report - we were having a geomagnetic storm.  Combine low power, a wimpy antenna, bad terrain, a poor location, and a geomagnetic storm and what do you get?  A family reunion!  It was a great vacation too!

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