I’ve finished a month of QSOs and thought it’d be fun to look at the results.
Early (5pm) in the evening, I can hear activity along the east coast, Mexico, and Cuba(!), but I am unable to get through. Not surprisingly, most of my contacts have been between 7pm and 10pm (02 – 05 UTC), when the sun’s dropping and signal propagation is improved.
Most of my contacts have been on 40m (7.074MHz), but I’ve been branching out because that band has become insanely busy, especially in recent weeks as more people have been playing with the FT8 digital mode. In the map below, red dots are 40m, green dots are 30m, yellow dots are 20m, Pink = 17m and Blue = 80/160m.
40m – locally (within a few hundred miles) early morning and late afternoons, longer at night, when I’ve reached New Zealand, Australia and Hawaii. Unfortunately, it can be insanely busy, with people inadvertently transmitting over one another (… insane considering this is a 50Hz-wide signal).
30m – medium-range during the day, long at night. People on this band seem to be pretty chill.
20m – this is the most interesting band for distance contacts. Although I have picked up stations in Samoa and Fiji, they couldn’t hear me over the other folks.
17m – when it was working well, I was able to talk with the east coast in the early evenings.
80m – Pretty noisy and, so far, only usable at night. When there’s been a strong signal nearby, I’ll see echoes. (For example, someone transmitting on 1000Hz will also show up on 920/1080Hz and 840/1160Hz, albeit at a weaker strength.) Because it’s 80Hz off, I assume I’m seeing multi-path.
15m, 12m, 10m: Dead to me. I haven’t been able to receive anything on these yet.
160m – Not feasible with my current setup due to the antenna length and power required.
This is all subject to the propagation gods (sunspots, flux index, seasons), of course, so I’m looking forward to seeing how it changes as we get into winter. I will hopefully worked out a weather-alternative for sitting out on the deck.
The other aspect of HF vs VHF is folks are much more likely to log their connections because they use them in a variety of contesty-ways and challenges. Because it would be easy to cheat, there are three common services used to record electronic records.
Logbook of The Web— this is owned/administered by ARRL, the equivalent to the AOPA of radio, and its focus is on award veracity. Setting it up is a three-part verification process that feels absurd. You sign up. If you’re a US license holder, you’ll receive a postcard 3-5 business days later with a one-time password. Type that in, then wait three more business days to receive an electronic certificate.
You can manually “sign” logs with their custom tool — it feels like code signing a program:On the back-end, if they receive an equivalent log from the other player, the log is considered validated. As of today, it doesn’t support FT8 because the ADIF committee hasn’t validated it as an official protocol, which is because it’s still in release candidate 1 (with two imminent — thank goodness I can build from source!). For logging purposes, most folks currently map it to DATA, hoping that when they approve it, they’ll simply re-upload.
eQSL – this service does validations, but also provides electronic QSL cards (eQSL – get it?) that you can print out for your collection. Thus, its primary value is to save you from printing & mailing cards all over the planet.
It’s free, but for a small donation, you can customize your “cards.” For example, here is one from someone I had a contact with last month:
A third option is QRZ.com. While LoTW and eQSL feel like they’re from the 1990s, QRZ.com is more 2007-ish. Its logbook is closer to feeling like a database:
I should also mention qrzcq.com, which is a qrz.com knock-off. While it initially felt more grounded (early 2012-ish), its database is outdated.
It’s really unfortunate these sites don’t have better interoperability. QRZ can post to and read from LoTW, but through a process where you paste your password into a web dialog. (Am I the only one who sees a potential issue here?) Data exchange can lose of precision. One site uses start time, another uses end time. For a few QSOs that lasted longer, they show up as separate contacts. In the zeal to prevent gaming, they give up deduplication. And some have really terrible deduplication (*cough* QRZCQ) I had to delete and re-upload my log.
So I also maintain my own database… I have ordered a bunch of cards to send out via postal mail (kind of like PostCrossing!).
Well that was an enjoyable week! 88 geocaches in 6 states (DC, DE, MD, NJ, PA, WV) with 375 miles of biking (and some Ubering) over 9 days. Highlights were the guided tours of Gettysburg, PA (by a professional guide) and Washington, DC monuments (local, at night).
Pre-trip: This was about as bad shape as I could be in for the ride. In June, shortly after signing up for the ride, I sprained my ankle on a hike. Then in August, I caught some sweet bronchitis for 4 weeks: I was in not-so-great shape for the ride.
Day -1: Fly to Philadelphia. A 6-hour non-stop + 3 hour time zone change + meeting two fellow riders at the airport to share a shuttle (that I ended up having to book) consumed the day. The hostel was pretty far from public transportation or places to eat, but we found one that would deliver a tasty, greasy Philly cheesesteak:
Day 0: Get my bike, ride around in Philadelphia.
The stories of aggressive Sports Fans and a recent viewing of Twelve Monkeys made me super leery about spending a lot of time in Philadelphia proper but, convinced by a fellow rider from Canada who wanted to explore, we biked from the hostel into downtown.
Ben Franklin is popular.
There are lots of row houses, something I vaguely remember from early childhood. They must be pretty small, because people sometimes leave their pets outside.
Day 1: French Creek State Park: Rain. Valley Forge
I didn’t sleep well due to the First Day Of Tour jitters. Also, the cheesesteak didn’t agree with me. (Note to self: you are no longer 19.) I was rearranging stuff for a while before going with the Showers Pass jacket. I’d need it, as it rained moderately hard for the first thirty miles.
A few miles in, I had achieved wet rider equilibrium: soaked to the bone, but warm as long as I was moving. I really don’t remember much except stopping to try to help out other riders with various repairs. At one point, someone’s derailleur crapped out (new bike, too) and I stuck around until one of the ride leaders came. I felt kind of bad, but it was really wet outside and this was kind of my only vacation.
While stopping at the restroom at Valley Forge National Park, I discovered to my glee I could shunt the hot air from the hand dryer into my jacket. After about twenty minutes of this, I was feeling better and decided to tour around the park, getting virtual geocaches. I thought I’d be clever and make my own route back onto course before coming to a bride that was out of service for the indefinite future. Denied, I trekked back. The rain stopped, but it was pretty gusty.
An hour later, the sun was starting to peek out. I actually had to apply sunscreen, which was kind of nice.
About this point in the day, I started having a lot of shifting problems due to a stiff link. Each third pedal would skip gears. Really annoying, too. I plugged forward, albeit slowly. One of the last riders caught up and, with his map wet, wanted help with directions, but didn’t want to ride at my extra super slow speed. Cat and mouse ensued.
In camp, I got some help finagling the link free so the bike was ridable. Two other folks with $6000 Co-Motion bikes were having minor issues and the guy with the derailleur was going to look for bike shop options. The ride leaders told us that Pennsylvania bike shops are generally closed on Mondays, so we would probably be SOL, but we could try Hanover.
I had good cell coverage (and a backup power supply) and found a shop in Intercourse (snicker) Pennsylvania, located near Blue Ball (snicker), that purported to be open on Mondays.
Day 2: Get a replacement chain. Buy groceries.
This was a pretty area with rolling hills and, of course, Amish minding their own business. As fascinated as I was, I respected that as best I could. The cows, however…
I did find this gentleman rather majestic on his horse-drawn plow.
Intercourse Cycles was pretty awesome in getting me in and doing the spot repair (replacement chain; and while we’re at it, let’s put new pads on the front). While they worked, I went next door for espresso. Yes, even in small towns, you have multiple caffeinated options!
Back on the road, and with a decent amount of time before I had to head back to camp, I enjoyed the rolling hills of Amish country. I came upon a buggy and, not really knowing the etiquette, waited until it was safe to pass with a wide berth.
A mile later, I was dragging on an uphill and heard him clop-clop-clopping behind me, providing me some motivation to keep pedaling until I hit the flat roads again.
Day 3: Get to camp waaaaaay early. Buy food. Cook for 15.
One facet of these tours that I’m not super crazy about was the shared cooking. In it, you and someone else are obliged to buy food (with shared funds) then cook a meal for 15 (13 riders + 2 ride leaders), clean and then have some kind of dessert. I drew the longest day (in miles) of the tour, also somewhat tardy by my wanting to indulge in the Utz potato chip factory tour:
Very disappointingly, Snyder’s of Hanover, makers of awesome sourdough hard pretzels, does not appear to have a tour for hungry, pretzel-loving cyclists.
And finally, I made it to the grocery store where we bought three meals’ worth of food for fifteen people. Two carts, just under $400 worth because we over estimated the pasta consumption:
We got into camp and found the van with all the cooking equipment hadn’t arrived yet. (!!) So we got started on dinner late through no fault of our own. We made garlic bread (with real garlic & butter), spaghetti with meatballs, and a spinach salad with roadside heirloom tomatoes. In retrospect, we overcooked. I had intended for the garlic bread and salad to be consumed while we cooked the other stuff, but people didn’t quite follow and the garlic bread got cold. (But, oh my, was it good.)
I ate, then slept, well.
Day 4: Camp Misty Mount.
On these tours, I’m usually pretty excited to eat and get out on the road as soon as I can to enjoy my day at a snail’s pace. However, the obligation of cooking requires one to unpack, set up, make coffee, cook breakfast, put out lunch stuff, wait for people to finish, clean, box up. Fortunately, I had gone with Snacks I Like — candied ginger, mango, various nuts and salty pretzels — and had a relatively short ride.
I rewarded myself with picking up a bunch of puzzle caches I pre-solved.
This was a nice facility, apparently a Christian social camp during other times. Although we camped in the field, they were nice enough to leave all of the dorms and common areas unlocked. I got to do laundry, charge all of my devices, have a long, hot shower. One of the other campers slept inside the common area to avoid the cold.
Day 5 & 6: Gettysburg.
Gettysburg and the Civil War were events that I was super oblivious to (thank you, Texas schooling) until I stopped on a business trip in 2008. The magnitude is overwhelming. I was looking forward to coming back and spending more time, up close.
The tour included the interpretive film narrated by Morgan Freeman, whose marvelous voice would be fine for even reading cereal boxes. The organizers made the next day short to accommodate an optional (yeah, right, as if I’m going to not do it) guided bike tour of monuments.
The tour concluded around lunch time, but could have easily been two days. The guide was awesome and I have a better appreciation of the significance of Gettysburg and the sheer carnage (something I’d see even more of in Antietam).
Because this was in Union territory, most of the Confederate monuments were erected relatively recently. Above is Louisiana’s.
The ride to camp had significant elevation gain. We had been repeatedly warned that Camp David was near the top of the hill and, under no circumstances, should we stop here and take photos. Camp David, formerly Shangri La, is a retreat used by presidents. It is, as they say, a poorly kept secret. There are no signs beyond a couple of discreet “no stopping” and “no photography” icons. The larger sign simply says this particular campground is closed. More than one person knew someone who knew someone who didn’t adhere to the guidelines and found themselves enjoying some quality time with the US Secret Service.
Tonight, we had the luxury of cabins.
Day 7:Slave Auction Block, Harper’s Ferry, Brunswick, MD
Leaving camp required us to go right back up the hill, past Camp David, before plunging down. My Canadian counterpart thought it would be amusing to take my photo while struggling up the hill… as he was right in front of Camp David. As I crested it, I saw a van full of burly men, buzzed haircuts, zooming up. Kind of feared the worst, but was too chickenshit to stick around and watch it unfold.
I’d later find out that the van’s occupants were late for work and waved at my friend before going past the gate. My friend, wisely, chose not to press his good luck further.
Unencumbered by needing to buy food or cook, I enjoyed the slower pace to geocache. (Hint: under the sign)
There was a nice cluster of puzzles in Antietam explaining how much the undulating terrain played into completely unnecessary carnage of the battle.
The most unexpected thing I saw was in Sharpsburg (a geocaching called my attention to it), was this:
From 1800 to 1865, this stone was used as a slave auction block. It’s remained here for 150+ years as a sobering reminder. Wow.
Our route then joined the Chesapeake + Ohio (C+O) towpath. On the way to Brunswick, I crossed the bridge into Harpers Ferry for some more geocaches and to revisit the town on foot.
There is an interesting viewpoint where you can see the confluence of the Shenandoah River joins up with the Potomac River which continues south past Washington DC into the Chesapeake Bay.
In town, you can see markers showing the flooding over the years. According to the earthcache, 1996 saw two floods of 29′ or more.
Day 7: DC or Bust.
The C+O towpath looks like this for a long time. The canals (left) have gone unused, leaving stagnant water and algae pools. It’s dirt and generally fine on slightly-deflated 28C tires. (However, I would have preferred wider, especially later.)
Every few miles, the path opens up to a picnic area or local access. There are a series of towpath houses for the former operators of said towpath (when it was a thing). They have been preserved and are, apparently, rentable for overnight stays.
Continuing south, closer to Great Falls, MD, the locks are also in better shape, though not typically used for the original purpose. The park also gets very crowded and extremely difficult to ride on.
Inside Great Falls Park:
The most jarring experience was emerging from the C+O Towpath onto random Washington, DC, streets. The directions were hard to follow and I was soon relying on Garmin auto-route to get to the Washington Monument.
I was glad to get to the Hostel when I did because a presidential motorcade had occurred an hour later, severely delaying the rest of the group. Meanwhile, I enjoyed a good hosing off and pizza.
One of the local ride leaders offered to give us a nighttime tour of the Washington, DC monuments, something I could not pass up. This was the closest I’ve ever been to President Obama! There were some locals who apparently set up a kiosk on the street and extol their unique interpretation of Biblical Apocalypse.
Among the highlights were the Korean War Monument, with its subdued lighting. The facial expressions communicate a lot:
The size of the Vietnam Memorial was stunning. The names are ordered by year of death. The full moon reflecting on the bricks added a somber note.
What trip to DC would be complete without visiting Giant Abe?
Last stop before heading back to the Hostel was the Capitol Building. We had unencumbered access to bike around it.
Day 9: All good things…
The trip description originally suggested we’d be taking Amtrack back to DC, but nope, pile into the van, bikes on top, and drive. I think we were all pretty tired from being up so late, but the tour was totally worth it.
I hung out in Philadelphia airport watching the Washington – Philadelphia game in a sports bar with a local fan who seemed like an okay guy.
The excitement of visiting colleges with my daughter, her applying to the short list, and waiting on the results has is over and I’m seriously craving a week unplugged from work. I’ll be taking an organized ride in October from Philadelphia to Washington, DC. Since these trips are as much about seeing different things as the Zen of cycling, I’ll also be stopping for geocaches (and other site seeing) along the way. And maybe butterscotch Tastycakes, Cheeseteaks and those legendary tomatoes I’ve heard about.
I spent a good evening wondering if there was an efficient way to generate a “Find caches along a bike route.” Having plotted the estimated route with Google Maps, using its delightful Bicycle Routing option, I had a rough idea where I’d be visiting:
I was hoping to use this to guide me with Geocaching.com’s “Find Caches Along A Route” tool. For trips in the west (like this), the tool plus clever battle-shipping of pocket queries has been good enough. On the east coast, the tool’s auto-routing via turnpike or Interstate (but not, say, the C+O Towpath) makes it cumbersome. Even trying to force it (the two circles) is futile:
It’s really bad on the leg from Harper’s Ferry to Washington, DC — I could not get it to recognize the C+O Towpath because, look, there’s a huge interstate!
A coworker reminded me of the Map My Ride tool, which is really well-engineered for generating bike routes. What it offers above that, though, is the option of exporting said route to a KML (used in Google Earth) or GPX (used in Garmin GPS) file. I built this:
Trying to generate a set of geocaches from this was pretty involved. Google Earth’s user interface confounds me. (I find I’m shouting at it: stop. moving.) Garmin Basecamp is a promising candidate, but didn’t seem to work with so many points. Project-GC, which has completely upped the bar on geocaching stats, only does a point-to-point route with no fiddling. I’d have to generate eight separate groups.
I settled on this GSAKmacro. When fed an al dente KML file, it merrily generates bounding rectangles within ~1 mile (changeable) of the route. Next, I let GSAK fire off a bunch (120!) API calls of caches within each little box. It finished before I brought the takeout home.
Next steps are to whittle down the list of 1600+ caches to a reasonable number – focusing on the non-traditional or well-favorited. I have already started solving a crap-ton of puzzles at each endpoint, Just In Case I’ll be riding over one. Of course, since geocaching is also about numbers, I’m trying to figure out a scheme to make a side trip into Delaware (via train ride back?) or New Jersey (perhaps simply crossing the bridge from Philly) so I can say I have cached in both of those states.
Just skimming through the route, the two parts I’m most eagerly anticipating are the ride through Gettysburg — I last visited in 2008, astounded by the enormity of the place — and the ride along the Potomac from Harper’s Ferry to Washington, DC.
A year+ of hiking has wrought havoc on the screen of my Garmin GPSMAP 64 screen in the form of numerous scratches from the unit rolling 70 feet down Rattlesnake Ridge viewpoint (when the carabiner prematurely unclicked) and rubbing up against several rock faces as I scooted along a narrow ledge to get to some insane geocache. By last week, it was seriously hard to read:
Garmin offers an out-of-warranty repair for $99 (and three weeks), but since this is largely external damage, I looked into options for replacement glass. The only one I’ve found was some dude in the Russian Federation offering one for $32 and six weeks. Before I tried that, I considered some other options:
Toothpaste – this made no difference, but my GPS briefly had a minty-fresh smell to it.
Brasso – This removed the minty-fresh smell and replaced it with a petroleum distillate smell. The screen seemed slightly shinier, but the scratches continued to mock me.
Headlight restoration kit – for about $12 (Amazon Gold Box), the kits include a spindly thing that fit in a drill, three grades of sandpaper and some polish. This worked better.
Step 1: Disassemble the GPS. There are six 1.3mm Torx screws on the back.
Step 2: Gently pry the two sections apart a tiny bit. The screen and antenna assembly (bottom) are just sitting on the case. You’ll need to pry up the bottom, then slide it to the right so the antenna comes out of its shell. You can then leave everything else connected to the “bottom” of the case.
The combination will look like this:
Put this part in a dry place. Now with the plastic shell, push the keyboard membrane until the whole thing pops out:
There are a lot of scratches on this screen!
Since I was going off the headlight kit directions, I taped off the other plastic bits of the case. In retrospect, I don’t think this was particularly necessary since the screen juts out just a little bit higher.
Step 3: To the extent you can, clamp the GPS body to something that’s going to hold it firm, because you’ll want both hands to control the spinney motion of the drill.
Step 4: Dab some water on the pad/GPS. Using the 800 grit sandpaper (the coarsest), sand the screen. You’re going to feel bad about doing this, but it’ll get prettier.
As you sand, the screen is going to get a little goopy. That’s okay. Just keep adding water occasionally and sanding as evenly as you can.
Step 5: Switch out the 800 grit sandpaper for the 1500 grit sandpaper. On the Goldilocks scale, this is “mama sandpaper,” not as gritty as the 800. Repeat keeping things wet and sanding as evenly as you can.
This was the stage where I decided the masking tape probably wasn’t necessary, because guess what gets gradually sanded off?
Step 6: Rinse everything off and inspect. The glass may be a little hazy. If you see signs of the original scratches, repeat the two previous sanding steps again.
Step 7: Rinse everything off and swap the 1500 grit for the 2000 grit pad. Repeat. The more time you spend using 2000 grit, the better the results will be.
Step 8: Dry the screen well. The headlight kit came with some goo that you dab onto the cloth pad and use to polish the screen. You’ll want to keep it moist. Also plan to spend a lot of time on this step.
Step 9: Rinse and inspect. If everything looks great, remove the tape, clean both sides of the screen with Windex and reassemble the GPS. If the screen isn’t clear, you will want to polish it some more.
Step 10: Dry and clean. Assemble the GPS and test.
What can go wrong:
You still have scratches: start the sanding process over with the 800 grit paper.
Screen is hazy: Try polishing more with the 2000 grit. If that’s not doing it, back down to 1500 a little bit, then go back to 2000. Again, the super fine 2000 grit should make it look beautiful.
There is a round spot in the middle: This can be caused by uneven pressure applied by the drill spinner thingie. Your options are to either live with it — which is fine if it’s subtle — or get a block sander, the 800 grit and try to smooth it out.
The case doesn’t go back together: It’s hard to see in the photos, but there is a rubber gasket that goes around the perimeter of the case. Remove the six Torx screws, gently open the case, and reseat the gasket into the detente.
Shortly after last year’s McClinchy Mile, the Oso mudslide happened. This year, they changed the route from Arlington to Granite Falls, to Arlington to Darrington via the new road through Oso. A small donation was provided to the community.
Since this was both an excuse to get on my bike again after nearly six months off, and an opportunity to ride in a new area, I was pretty motivated to get out, even in the record-setting rain. So were a lot of other folks. Attendance was estimated to be above 200 people. (300 pre-registered + 80 day-of)
Anticipating a moderate rain most of the day, I went straight for the REI rain pants and Showers Pass jacket. I also had my very dorky Da Brim from last year’s Cycle Canada. As long as I was pedaling, I stayed warm enough. I didn’t have to think too hard about the route as it was essentially an out-and-back on 503.
There is a small pull-out at a viewpoint of the Oso Mudslide. Anticipating people would want to reflect, a porta potty has been left there. It’s weird seeing half the hill missing and the area generally covered with mud. Here is a panoramic view on my Flickr page.
On the way back, the stop at Rhodes River Ranch offered us the most delightful biscuits and gravy and fresh coffee. The facility is a working horse ranch that had such success feeding its workers that people also come there for the food. I really wanted to stay longer, but I was getting soooo cold not moving.
Considering how long I’ve been remiss in cycling, and how utterly rainy it was, the ride went pretty well. I was glad I had a few dry sundries to change into, but I needed a serious dose of hot coffee and car heater blasting to shake the chills.
This would be an outstanding route in nicer weather.
This is going to be another light cycling event year simply because I’ll have a lot of weekends sucked up by touring colleges with the kiddo; however, I think the big three are selected:
McClinchy Mile – March 15. I think this is the only local organized ride in March. This year’s event has a route taking us along the Stillaguamish River through the Oso landslide zone.
Century Ride of the Centuries – May 23 – 25. I think this may be the event I’ve participated in the most often. Pendleton has great roads, the CRoC rest stops have food second only to R.A.P.S.O.D.Y. (may it rest in peace), and the weather is usually pretty okay.
Cycle Oregon – September 12 – 19. This year’s “Hell on Wheels” is similar to the route I rode in 2008, my first Cycle Oregon:
Baker City – Farewell Bend – 51 miles, 1500′ gain
Farewell Bend – Cambridge, ID – 53 miles, 2600′ gain
Cambridge to Halfway, OR – 103 miles, 6600′ gain, including the out-and-back to the Hells Canyon Dam.
Halfway to Wallowa Lake – 84 miles, 7530′ gain – Over the top of the dam to an amazing viewpoint.
Rest day – there’s an optional 44-miles, but after the previous two days, I am going to want to take the tram ride up.