Posted on Sunday late in the contest:
Finish contest first, get some sleep, get through Monday, write stuff, post here.
Edit Monday evening:
- Contest finished at last!
- Some sleep was too little!
- Getting through Monday was hard. I had a “fall asleep right here right now” experience all day.
- Writing stuff will be for Tuesday. I even might add some pcitures.
To AE5X and ON4BHQ: You know you’re big on the Internet when people start commenting stuff you didn’t even write or post yet 🙂 😉
And now the actual WPX story.
Almost three months have passed since my last serious contest (ARRL SSB). So I had to show up or turn in my ‘Active Contester’ badge. I must admit I seriously thought of skipping this one too. I am just too tired from all the things going on simultaneously in my life and I had an extra hectic week leading up to the contest with scarce free time sacrificed to work. Mandatory extracurricular activities, stuff like that. Free time is normally used to set up and rest before the contest. No rest, setup absolutely not ready, tired and no time – the mood was set and I was stretching my arm’s muscle as a warm up to throw the towel. Add to that the mediocre propagation said to become absolutely crap during the weekend…
And that horrible weather. Yes I absolutely positively need to include a small rant about the WX again. After an endless winter we got treated with a bunch of relatively nice days a few weeks ago. Not good days but we settle for any dry day and call it nice weather. But almost three weeks ago it started raining again and it only stopped raining for a shower to pour down on us. And it’s cold. COLD! The last week of May and the forecast talks about frost and even winterish precipitation in the higher part of the country. Temperatures haven’t topped 10 °C very often lately. As I type this it’s 20 °C but windy and it rained for a few minutes, and the forecast says only 12 °C tomorrow. All these temperature swings and rain make people sick. Flu and cold, running noses, sore throats. And the collective state of mind of the nation is set to gloom.
So I didn’t have time to prepare the station. The shack is messy and partially torn apart in an unfinished attempt to make things better. So no SO2R then. Outside I couldn’t do a thing since it kept raining. And raining. Even Friday afternoon was wasted. So I briefly thought of skipping this one too. Then during evening dinner the sky turned blue and the sun appeared. Rejoice! Around 7 PM local time I went outside and cranked up the tower. Yes, it was dry, the sky was blue and an orange setting sun for all to see. It was warm too. I was wearing nothing but a T-shirt… under a winter sweater… topped by a polar hooded fleece sweatshirt with the hat deployed over my head. End of May – I’ve done the same for ARRL CW or CQ WW SSB in a T-shirt and NO sweaters (plural)!
Anyway while cranking up the tower I was thinking about 80m. I never do 160 in WPX (real contesters know why) but my 80 GP was totally down. The elevated radials weren’t back in the trees yet after I trimmed them and worse: I cut down a whole row of trees for which I need to come up with a solution for the radials. Since I had a good hour of daylight left and it was actually nice outside for a change (covered under enough layers of textile of course), I put the radials up where I could. For the time being. Since the configuration changed, I needed to adjust the length of the vertical wire but after having done this a dozen times a year in the past, I’ve got it mastered. A small calculation told me it was 80 cm too long. Like this: calculate desired resonant length and take difference with actual calculated length from measured resonance frequency and then adjust wire accordingly. The analyzer’s display showed it was resonating at 3400 kHz. Makes sense since I removed the 160m wire (capacitance). I could now do a real All Band effort and spend more time on 40/80 should the higher bands turn out to be problematic. I decided to go unassisted for a change since I was about to run most of the time and WPX is a run-brings-mult contest, more than any other contest.
A quick test in the shack learned that all was working and then I watched some TV and went to bed with the alarm set to start one hour into the contest. But first I took a warm wake up shower. The shower has become my standard nightly starting routine. It washes away the sandman’s leftovers. I don’t like the frantic first hour of a contest so I took a break right at the start like I often do in 36/48 formats. Once in the shack I turned to 40 and got another shower. A proverbial cold one this time. The EU’s had very weak and fluttery signals and what I heard from the DX side… Normally I find K1LZ in the very low end on 7001 or so. He’s like a beacon (together with K3LR) and I didn’t really like it this time. Not too strong but with a weird sound to it. A and K numbers were very high so I knew what was coming. I hoped for improvement but instead it grew worse over the weekend.
Nevertheless I was off to the races on 40 but after a while I got chased away by a scheduled automated transmission on 7047.5: W1AW QST W1AW QST and then a lot of text-to-CW so I quit my run and did an S&P sweep while looking for a new QRG. The rates weren’t anything like CQ WW with good propagation so I had a hard time to stay awake. It seemed best to hit the sack again at 0415 utc with 273 QSO logged on 40 in three hours time.
Back after some sleep and breakfast. In the mean time I had decided that this would be a laid back effort, just for fun and I held the option open to quit on Sunday. If it wasn’t fun because of the lack of propagation/DX/rate, I would not zombify myself by Monday and risk landing on the couch again by the lack of sleep which in turn would weaken my defense and give germs and viruses free game. I came to this conclusion after a quick excursion to 15. DEAD. It took me sixteen minutes to log eight contacts there. So off to twenty again. Hey, wasn’t this the strategy for a cycle LOW? End up on twenty when the sun is up and stay there until it goes down?
I quote from a recent ARRL propagation bulletin, which made me chuckle:
This is, after all, the peak of the current solar cycle, or close to it, so no surprise that solar indices are up. But based on past solar cycles, many of us expected more. The latest forecast predicts a peak for this cycle in Fall 2013, but of course that will be determined afterward, and based on a long running average of sunspot numbers. So don’t miss this one. Don’t wait until a year after the peak, then lament not being on back when. Today may have the best Spring propagation for a long time.
“Today may have the best Spring propagation for a long time.” Say what? Good thing I haven’t sold / binned my stamp collection yet. Might as well pick up philately again.
The game was all about moving back and forth between a productive 20 and a slow 15/10 to take whatever we could. Right from the start I engaged in the Real Time Scoring program (link) and decided to race against fellow WWYC lid LN5O (Rag LA6FJA). Little did he know. There were some other Single Ops skyrocketing away (UP0L, S53MM, LZ8E: WTF???) so I needed a benchmark more in my league. LN5O, DJ1MM and UC7A seemed to be always around my score so I picked those. I really like the real time scoring! Adds a fun twist to the contest. And it serves as an extra motivator as long as you don’t get depressed by big scores. If only more competitive contesters used it. Along the way it hit me: there wasn’t a separate category on the score board for unassisted so probably LN5O and others will be assisted which gives them the higher mult advantage. It struck me that while lagging in QSO and mult numbers, my total score was bigger so I seemed to be working more DX. That’s worth something too.
I took liberal breaks and even watched Millionaire Matchmaker Saturday night to make sure any remaining brain activity would cease. After that it was time to attack 80. By that time the rain had returned so that gave me some static. I found 80 very noisy and sometimes it was hard to copy even the louder signals. Rate boomed for a while, presumably “fresh meat skimmer pile ups” and while no DX it was still double points compared to the higher bands and a lot of those weird German prefixes were very welcome. DOx, DMx, DGx wear out the imaginary mult bell easily. I interrupted the 80 run for a return S&P sweep on 20 for a bunch of multipliers. When 80 was dry it was back to 40. Sunday at 06.15 utc I decided to take breakfast with the family and later on, after grinding it out on 15/10 I took another extended lunch break including a badly needed nap.
I decided I was not going to quit prematurely. Maybe, just maybe I could reach 2000 QSO? In the evening I got texted by ON3DI who apparently took a look at the online scoring board to see what I was doing. He asked if I would be able to manage 2000 QSO so there you go: an incentive to at least try it. If I extrapolated the current rate with about five hours left, it was possible if the rate didn’t drop even lower than it already was. It wasn’t really big fun but there was DX to be worked both running and S&P’ing. I was tired however. At a given point I jumped up from the seat to see that thirty two minutes had passed since my last QSO. An unintended power nap. It did me well except for the strained neck from sleeping ‘chin up’. Later on I lost my running QRG by not responding as I doze off in a microsleep. Not resting and being tired already before the contest takes its toll. Add to that the constant attacks of snot and strep throat, and it’s clear that I’m running on empty when it comes to energy and stamina. That bothers me a lot because I have felt and lived like an Iron Man in the past. It’s not that I’m getting old is it?
In retrospect I should have made sure the SO2R setup was working. Especially when unassisted. I could have boosted the rate with the second radio which would have made things less of a drag during those many slower periods. Shoulda coulda woulda…
Where were the Belgians??? They call me by the dozen (ok, one dozen) in CQ WW where they represent zero points but now every prefix could as well be a mult! I only worked a few – the regulars.
In the end I’m glad to have done the contest. I didn’t do it seriously and had no real targets. I like WPX a lot (the format, the 36/48, a real exchange to be copied) but this time the sun really threw a monkey wrench in the ionospheric propagation…
Some rare pictures!