When people in southern Michigan want to get away from it all, they go “up north,” which means the northern part of Michigan’s lower penninsula and Michigan’s upper penninsula. For at least the last ten years, my family—including my brothers and sisters (but mostly my sisters, and their kids and now grandkids)—have been renting a set of cottages on Elk Lake.
For the last three years, I’ve been taking my Elecraft KX-1 and operating from up there. I have a really idyllic operating location. I operate from the screened-in porch of one of the cottages. From my operating position, I have a great view of the lake.
This year was the best in terms of amateur radio, anyway. The first year, I used the 28-ft. random wire vertical antenna described in the Elecraft manual. It loaded up just fine, but I had trouble making contacts with it.
Last year, I used the portable dipole I made with 30-ga. wire and twisted pair feedline. This antenna definitely works better than the 28-ft. vertical, but I still had trouble making solid contacts.
This year, I used the same antenna, and had much better success. For example, where last year, my contacts were mostly short ones with mediocre signal reports, this year’s contacts were much longer with generally good to very good signal reports. For example, the very first contact I made was with W3ANX. He gave me a 579 signal report, and we talked for 40 minutes. One of my other contacts lasted for 30 minutes.
I attribute this mostly to band conditions. When band conditions are poor, low-power signals tend to drift in and out of the noise, making copy rough. When band conditions are good, low-power signals stay above the noise and are easier to copy. When your signal is easier to copy, station you’re in contact with stay with you longer, and longer contacts, in my opinion, are more enjoyable, than short ones.
Another thing I noticed is that I heard stations that I never hear from home. Part of it is the difference in location, but it’s probably also due to the difference in antenna pattern. What I take away from this is that it’s probably a good idea to have more than one antenna per band, if you can swing it. Having two or more antennas with different antenna patters will allow you to talk to more people than if have just one antenna.
I also learned that my iPod earbuds have more output than the earbuds I had been using. While lately I’ve been using an amplified speaker on the output of my KX-1, when I pulled it out of my toolbox, I found that I’d forgotten to turn it off last time and the battery was dead. Not having a ready source of 9-V batteries, I plugged in the earbuds. Then, just for kicks, I decided to try my iPod earbuds. They were noticeably louder, so I used them exclusively.
All in all, it was a great vacation. The scenery was beautiful, weather was mostly nice, the food was great (we take turns preparing dinner), and the company fantastic. Add in the good band conditions, and you have an almost ideal vacation.