Operating naked on the beach!

Howdy and welcome back! I spent the day at Rooster Rock, a clothing-optional beach on the banks of the Sandy River in Oregon. Since I burn easily I got a cheap tent from Target to get very sandy and to keep me and my gear safe from the sun! As a bonus this specific tent actually has a pass through for cables in the front corner to the left of the door which is pretty great for running solar panel connectors and feed line. I didn’t have any successful contacts, but that’s not surprising given the difficulties I had tuning the Superantenna. I couldn’t manage to get a decent SWR on the QRP radio. The real point of the post is about portable shelter options that can keep you out an entire day even when you’re literally naked. This was able to keep me and the gear cool enough to keep going. Folding a corner of the tent up allowed the interior mesh to breathe away from the sun. In the picture below you can see through the door that the rain fly has been lifted.

A tent on a beach with some small trees and brush in the background. Two small solar panels rest next to the tent. An antenna is set up behind the tent in the brush.

We weren’t able to get the best spot but at least we got something out of the way on a path and had enough space to set the tent up. I had enough clear space to keep the solar panels going all day as well. They kept the battery kept everything charged and running. I tried to see if I could make any UHF/VHF contacts but I was in a gorge so I had very limited luck. I’m sure you’re just as shocked as I am. I then tuned the Superantenna as best I could for 20m and tried to make some contacts but I wasn’t getting out. I heard a bunch of stations on the east coast and in the midwest including participating in a New England radio event or QSO party for the 4th of July weekend. I wasn’t able to get out to anyone though. In addition to those stations I could also hear but not reach Paolo IK5SRF in Tuscany, Italy. Paolo had quite the pileup going.

Interior view of a tent front the door showing a small folding table, three-legged folding camp chair and equipment resting against the walls of the tent. Through the mesh you can see the river.

A view of the radio setup, the table, and chair. This three-legged chair is actually pretty comfortable.

A view of the top of a metal folding table with a radio, water bottle, sunscreen, a pen, and notepad. Brush and beach sand is visible through a mesh panel.

My conspicuously-empty log book with only notes and the radio.

At the end of the day breaking the tent down was pretty easy. We were able to tear down the entire site and radio station in about an hour, have it loaded into the beach wagon and off we were. Much of that time was as usual rolling feed line so it’s not a pain to unroll later.

Mt. Hood National Forest vehicle camping trip and comms

Hello all! It’s been a hot minute since I sat down and wrote about something! Today I’m writing about a car camping trip I took last weekend to Mt. Hood National Forest and some experiments with communications I did. Some of this is actually about cellular comms and some is about amateur radio fails. We spent the night at two spots – one at about 1,100 ft. and another around 3,500 ft. This becomes relevant mostly because of cell coverage, but also to some extent regarding stations I was able to receive doing SWL (shortwave listening).

The first night we spent I didn’t get a chance to set the portable HF radio up, but I did test my new WeBoost Reach Drive RV. I had no cell service with Verizon at that location and decided to mount the WeBoost high gain antenna on the the cargo basket. I then attached the small low gain antenna and connected the setup to my 40AH Bioenno LiFePO4 battery. After cycling my phone into and out of airplane mode I had 1X and enough service for voice calls. I did a couple tests and was able to reach a couple people via telephone as a test. Not bad! The cell booster drew approximately 1A at 14v using the DC hardwire power supply which I fitted with Anderson PowerPole connectors in a “right hand red” configuration to match my off grid power setup.

We found the second spot much earlier and had some daylight to set up. This spot was much higher in altitude than the first spot and was much colder. The weather was pretty rainy so we erected a shelter using a synthetic tarp, tarp poles, and some paracord that we keep around just for such an occasion. I intended to do some HF radio work but I couldn’t tune my hybrid Superantenna / Chameleon Mil Whip 2.0 setup to save my life so instead I figured I’d do some SWL later at night. In the mean time I decided to test the WeBoost again since the setup was fairly easy. I set it up again and cycled my phone into and out of airplane mode. I was getting a 3G signal at first with occasional bursts of 4G before I fired the system up, and after it was all said and done I had fairly solid 4G service with a decent speed test of 7Mbps. Even though I wasn’t able to tune my antenna on 20 or 40m I was able to do some excellent shortwave listening with the Lab599 TX-500. I was able to get the BBC World Service shortwave broadcast discussing the current COVID-19 situation in India on 6005KHz out of Ascension Island. I heard another station broadcasting in Arabic and playing music that I couldn’t find in listings. Both stations had some QSB, but the station in Arabic was significantly more faint with more significant QSB (irregular signal fading that occurs as a signal reflects off of the ionosphere). I suspect the higher elevation I was at helped me get stations much further away than I’d normally be able to in the metro Portland area. I’ve been able to pick up Radio Havana, Radio New Zealand Int’l, occasional Japanese stations, and lots of Chinese stations (if I’m up at 4 AM) in Portland. A good resource for finding shortwave stations is https://short-wave.info. I’ve also been able to reliably pick up a Russian numbers station designated M12 as well which broadcasts from Khabarovsk Russia.

Car camping for the weekend

So, we decided to go car camping this weekend and naturally I decided I’d bring my QRP rig and HT (handheld transceiver). The goal was to sleep in the back of our car and cook using a propane camp stove while not paying for a camping spot. I also wanted to see how well my QRP setup worked with fewer resources including charging and little space to store the setup and supporting equipment. For this I picked my Superantenna/Chameleon Mil Whip 2.0 kit and Lab599 TX-500 kit. Neither kit includes feed line. Keep that in mind while reading…

A burning camp stove sitting in the back of a vehicle with its hatch back open in the dark. The stove has a pot on one burner with an avacado and knife roll near it. A woman stands to the left with a head lamp helping prepare food.
Cooking after we arrived at our chosen spot.

On a Friday after work we packed the car and left. A couple hours later we made it to our spot on the Oregon coast with some decent moonlight between spurts of rain. We made dinner in a fairly heavy wind out of the back of the car. We could hear the relaxing sound of crashing waves against rocks that we could barely see. After having some dinner we set up the folding mattress in the car and settled in for the night.

Waves on the Pacific ocean are visible beyond a chainlink fence with wooden posts with a gray sky. A bird can be seen flying by and the inside of an out-of-focus and open car door is visible on the left side of the frame. The sky is gray and cloudy.
View waking up from the car

After waking up and getting ready we made some breakfast and coffee on a nearby park table. We had to wait till the rain stopped to make food but I was able to make some coffee in the rain without issue. I was half way through my coffee and food when I realized I didn’t pack any feed line! Fortunately we were close to a town that happened to have a store open that morning which had a box of left over parts labeled “CB Radio Parts”. There was a small RG-58 coax cable with PL-239 ends and thus my problem was solved! I purchased the cable and got underway for our hike.

A radio sitting on top of an ammo can attached by cable to a duplexer and, Raspberry Pi 4 in a case. A small travel router is also attached by power cable to the ammo can. A number of small bags and a backpack are visible in and partially in frame. The ground is a forest floor with branches, sticks, lichens, and leaves on the ground.
Radios set up with a duplexer for VHF and HF operation

We did a short hike and as we neared the end of the hike we found a small but well worn trail leading off the main path, so we took it in search of a spot where my partner could water color and I could set up and operate. Not too far down the offshoot trail we found a fairly open patch of moss with a fallen tree that I could use as a bench. I set up the Superantenna using the ground spike for simultaneous HF and 2m operation using the Superantenna MC2 and MP1C, topping the loading coils with my Chameleon Mil Whip 2.0 for increased SWR bandwidth over the titanium whip that comes with the Superantenna kit. Unfortunately the photo I took of the deployed antenna was corrupted by the time I got to uploading it. The UHF/VHF side of the Comet CF-706 duplexer was connected to my Yaesu FT3D so I could attempt contacts on the 2m calling frequency (146.520Mhz) and monitor/send 2m APRS packets.

I tuned the antenna using my NanoVNA for 20m and started working SSB phone. I attempted to respond to a number of calls and tried calling to no avail. After 40 minutes of trying between 5 and 8.5W I decided to switch to JS8Call. I have yet to make a phone contact on my Lab599 TX-500 on any band. I’m hoping I can just chalk this up to being run over by higher power stations. As I was setting my station up for digital comms I noticed something unexpected – the maidenhead coordinates in JS8Call hadn’t been updated automatically as js8cli would normally do, and I also noticed the time on the Pi varied by a minute from my cellphone. That’s highly unusual as the GPS unit typically corrects any RTC drift that might occur. The next step was to check my GPS unit’s LED through the vent holes in the case. It’s flashing one second on, and one off. For the specific Adafruit Ultimate GPS board I run that means the GPS hasn’t acquired a lock. I waited a few more minutes and found that it still hadn’t acquired a lock and decided to check the board for any broken or loose connections. Since the entire setup allows me to disassemble it without tools I did to inspect it. I found no loose connections or other apparent issues. It was time to reboot by fully removing power as had worked sometimes in the past. Still no luck following a full power down / power up sequence! I then leveraged my phone and tablet GPS units to get a position. My phone eventually got a location and grid square using the HamGPS application, but my phone had been on and tracking satellites for the entire hike. My Pi and tablet had been off. This is interesting because I had an OK view of the sky despite the very tall trees surrounding the patch. I hoped my GPS unit wasn’t damaged or malfunctioning and decided to manually set my JS8Call location from my phone, automatically acquire a timing offset from other stations in JS8Call and move on. I had a couple stations hear my heartbeats but couldn’t make contact with any operators directly. I also attempted to send an SMS message to a friend but alas no one was hearing my transmissions as the band seemed to have closed. Overall not the best luck, but it was time to head back to the trail head so we had daylight to drive out and make camp.

An open hatch back of a vehicle loaded with bags. There is a Raspberry Pi in a case and travel wireless router attached to a battery in a bag.
Hooking the Raspberry Pi and wireless access point up for testing after the hike
Successful test of the GPS from the car without the trees overhead

I decided to hook the gear up in the back of the car as my partner got the dog ready to head out in order to determine if my GPS unit was actually broken. I hooked everything up to the big battery that was in the trunk and after a minute or so the GPS lock LED flashed once every several seconds. This indicated a lock, so I fired the tablet up, logged into the Pi, and checked the reports with cgps, a test GPS client provided by the gpsd-clients package. They lined up with where we were. Even though I could see sky clearly through gaps in the canopy the GPS unit wasn’t able to acquire satellites in the time we spent in the clearing.

A soft-sided cooler, LED lantern, water bottle, beverage in a can, and a radio attached to an ammo can by a power cable and a duplexer sitting on top of a wooden park bench.
TX-500 set up for shortwave listening (SWL) and for 2m operation with my Yeasu FT3D

After arriving at camp and rigging the car for sleeping I set the radio up for shortwave listening and got my Yaesu FT3D connected to the duplexer after this photo was taken. It was a windy and chilly but great day. It was time for a beverage and some relaxing SWL and taking in the scenery before turning in for the night. I used the same setup as I did on the hike, except with a tripod for the antenna and no radials since I was receiving only. We were able to hear a number of stations, but settled on Radio Havana English (6.0MHz if I recall correctly) since they were playing music instead of the typical religious content with creepy-sounding voices you typically hear on US shortwave stations like WRMI in this part of the US.

An antenna is mounted on a tripod in the foreground. Directly behind it is a park bench with someone sitting on it and some radio equipment with a cooler. The background is a fenced-in green area and the Pacific ocean and steep rocks in the background.
View of the setup on the park bench

Lessons learned:
– Don’t forget your feed line. I got lucky enough that I could acquire some, but if this was a disaster or if I were on a hike/camping in a remote location I would have been unable to operate.
– Even though you can see a lot of sky in an area, it doesn’t mean your GPS can acquire satellites. Be prepared with some mechanism to acquire and set your location and time for something like JS8Call.
– When documenting something take a couple pictures in case one of them gets corrupted.

A random field day (Jan 16, 2021)

I had the opportunity to spend a few hours in the Oregon countryside while my partner had a meeting. Naturally I decided to do deploy my new radio, the Lab599 Discovery TX-500 along with my second purpose-built digital comms Raspberry Pi. The other is used with my Yaesu FT-857D.

Picture of radio equipment in the back of a Prius along with a folding chair facing the hatch back.

I began by setting my rig up in the trunk of my car. Since I wanted to at least simulate running off grid on battery I didn’t connect my radio to the car and opted to use my 40Ah Bioenno LiFePO4 battery. I had intended to bring my smaller 12Ah Bioenno LiFePO4 battery which was actually purchased for the TX-500 kit, but I had spaced it and left it on the charger. Despite the cloudy weather that is typical of Oregon this time of year I also brought my GoalZero Nomad 20 to see if I could extend my runtime even if slightly and to give it a good test. Every little bit of extra juice helps, but I only used 1.8Ah of battery the entire 5.5hr deployment! The solar panel did provide an additional 0.8Ah which is 44% of what the battery provided.

Folding solar panel placed on top of the car roof with cable running to hatch back.

Solar panel on the car and facing south

Buddipole power mini lashed to a 40ah LiFePo4 battery
Buddipole Power Mini and 40Ah Bioenno LiFePo4 battery.

The first antenna I deployed and ran was my Superantenna kit, but instead of using the titanium whip supplied with the kit I added the Chameleon Mil Whip 2.0 to get more efficiency and significantly wider SWR bandwidth. I tuned the antenna up for 20m using my NanoVNA and ran JS8Call on the TX-500’s dedicated Raspberry Pi… using my tablet as a keyboard and screen over VNC. I had a number of successful contacts from the Southwest to AK and managed to relay a text message to a friend in NM via an operator in-state running 9w!

Superantenna deployed on a tripod topped with a Chameleon Mil Whip 2.0.
Superantenna w/ tripod and Chameleon Mil Whip 2.0

I did try to make some SSB phone contacts but there was a contest going so I didn’t really get too far. As the sun started going down I noticed the 20m band was starting to close, so I tuned to 40m and the contest was still going on so I wasn’t able to make any contacts. It can be difficult to raise anyone during a contest because a lot of folks are talking and running high power so it’s very easy to be drowned out.

In general I also like to try more than one antenna or antenna configuration per deployment so I set up my Chameleon EMCOMM Portable III in an inverted “V” configuration with the center point hung using an arborists’s weight and some paracord in a tree. I was able to make some JS8Call contacts and was able to hear a lot of distant operators. Again, I was unable to make a contact using SSB phone despite the fact that the tuned inverted V configuration should technically be more efficient than a loaded vertical. I’ll need to do another test on another day.