The Chaser’s Curse

by vk3arr

The chaser’s curse: the moment you see a ton of high-point activations coming up followed by the realisation you won’t be around to work them. That was my lot for this week, although it wasn’t a complete washout in the end. Unfortunate circumstances (ie, my own damn fault) had meant I flew out to the US on Monday for two days of work meetings on the East Coast, and then straight back again. The date line meant I experienced no Friday, the Airbus meant I experienced little sleep, and by the time I’d driven home from the airport, it was well past UTC rollover on Saturday, with no activations around. I’d missed Rik and Mitch’s 10 summit adventure, plus all the early Saturday ones.

I am proud to say that my first reaction when arriving home wasn’t to turn on the radio and start chasing, but after greeting the family and unpacking the bags, Item Three on the list was checked off. I listened for a while, heard nothing, tuned up the antenna, and kept listening.

Eventually, I managed to hear Tony VK3CAT activating VK3/VN-004, receiving him at a 53. His report to me was a 43 and a mention that my signal was right down towards the noise. A subtle suspicion crept into my brain through the lack of sleep, and once the QSO was over, I checked my RF output setting on the radio and noticed it was still down on minimum power from when I tuned it up. I’d managed to work Tony on less than a Watt of power. I’ll take that for an opening chase for the day.

Tony would frustrate me for the rest of the day however, through no fault of his own. His second summit was activated on 7090, but I missed out on working him before the Naval net came on. I heard Allen jump in before Tony was due to QSY up to 12m, but by the time I’d readied myself to transmit, the Naval net was underway, and it would have been impolite to try to chase Tony. I instead jumped up to 12m, but I’ve never heard a signal up there, so it was no surprise I couldn’t hear Tony. His final activation for the day was interrupted at my end by the requirement to set fire to a large pile of wood in my wood oven. He was there when I left with the blow torch and paper, but gone by the time I got back 5 minutes later. I hadn’t been able to overhear if he was QSYing or just doing a short activation. My wood oven raged with fire, but it was my Chaser Heart that was burnt. The only consolation for my poor planning was some awesome pizza two hours later.

If truth be told, I didn’t really have much opportunity on the Saturday to chase that much. I spent plenty of time with the kids and helped out around the house, all while trying to stay awake as long as possible to [a] eliminate the jet lag and [b] avoid having to have nightmares about Hawthorn beating Geelong. I made a deal with my wife that Sunday would be my day to talk to people on mountains.

The morning started with Andrew VK1NAM, portable in VK2 on South Black Range (VK2/ST-006). I tried to listen for Andrew on 20 metres, but I heard nothing, probably deep in the skip zone. I worked Andrew on 40 metres either side of UTC. His signal was very strong, 5 and 7, which was lucky, as local QRM kept jumping in to try to wipe out the signal. Andrew stayed above the noise for the most part, but it wasn’t always easy. I probably came off a bit brusque or non-talkative this morning as a consequence – it was more avoiding the PTT to stop myself swearing on air more than anything.

Mitch VK3FMDV was also out on Flinders Peak, nice and close to me and a summit I’ve climbed many times since I was a child. I worked Mitch either side of UTC too, strong signals both ways, although my latter QSO was again almost drowned out by QRM. I could hear some other signals occasionally on 7090, Andrew VK2ONZ was out there, soft but never getting high enough that I’d have been confident of working him.

The final successful chases for the day were of Kevin VK3KAB, first on VK3/VN-002 Mt Bullfight, and then on VK3/VN-004 Bill Head. Kevin’s signal boomed in, 56 and 57, while my QRP 5W signal was received 55 both times.

The lessons learnt for this week:

  • Don’t be an idiot and schedule overseas work trips when activators are showering points down upon chasers. OK, so the trip was planned ages ago and the activations relatively recently, but I can still be annoyed!
  • Don’t be an idiot and go to the US East Coast for two days. You spend the next few days making silly mistakes like not checking your RF power output.
  • Less than a watt is still a powerful communications mechanism. A couple of hundred kilometres between Tony and myself, but we still got through. This shouldn’t surprise people in a modern environment where mobile phones are putting out milliwatt signals across tens of kilometres.
  • Wood fired pizza is the best. It’s even better when it’s made in an oven you built yourself. Everyone should build one. Go and do it. Stop reading this and start planning now. Oh, and the side benefit: fire!

The final tally, 256 points at the end of the weekend. Past the 250 mark! It’s also the 0x100 mark too, for all the computer scientist out there.  I’m also going to be heading up to Goulburn to see family during this coming week, so if anyone has a simple summit that can be activated with a 2m handheld and a Slim Jim, quickly enough to avoid annoying the wife, I’m all ears.  I’m guessing one of the Canberra suburban summits might be a candidate, but I can make no guarantees that I’ll get approval to do so.