Thoughts on one year as a ham

Triumph Bonneville on a rainy day.

I awoke this morning at 6 a.m and headed out on my motorcycle to meet up with a group of hams for breakfast. Then we rode out to a VE testing session held at the local public television studio.

Exactly a year ago to this weekend, I sat in the very same room and met for the first time some of the same hams I’d just had breakfast with.  A year ago, I took and passed my Technician license exam at a VE session hosted by the club I now belong to.

It’s really incredible the difference a year can make. When I walked out of my first testing session with a fresh CSCE in-hand, I really had no idea what the hell I’d just gotten myself into. The summer turned into winter and I did nothing with the hobby. I researched radios, but it would be nearly December before I even purchased one, a Yaesu VX-7 handheld, and it was that same month I started attending meetings of the Columbia Amateur Radio Club and checking into the weekly nets.

Then things really started moving fast. By the end of December I’d upgraded to General, and had spent most of my hobby time working FM satellites, listening and occasionally attempting contacts. I hung around the local repeaters, mainly just lurking, and made desperate and failed attempts to contact ISS astronauts whenever the station passed overhead.

I had some time off in January earlier this year, as relatives gathered to be with a close family member who was entering his final week of life. In dark situations, I tend to fixate on activities that allow me to block out a large portion of reality — books, gaming, etc. Studying for the Amateur Extra license required that level of intense focus and detachment. Eventually we held a funeral. I traveled to a hamfest the next day and passed the Extra.

I can look back on the year with no regrets. I’ve met almost all my initial goals with the hobby, and then some:

  • I’ve setup an HF station
  • Started this blog to keep track of my progress
  • Worked 70 DXCC entities
  • Learned various digital modes (PSK31, JT65, RTTY)
  • Became a VE
  • Participated in winter and summer field days, in the latter case, operating 15 meter digital modes
  • Operated “backpack portable”
  • Tried my hand at fox hunting
  • Joined the local club
  • Decoded slow scan TV from a satellite
  • Started operating QRP
  • Had a contact with W1AW (on 5 watts SSB!)
  • Started learning CW
  • Volunteered for five events in a public service capacity

And then there are the happy surprises that have come out of the hobby. I’ve made some very good friends here in the local club. We’ve bonded over bikes, video games, VE sessions, late-night chats on 80 meters, Field Day trials, the challenges of working events, hamfests and food.

We closed Saturday’s VE session having granted one Technician license and two General upgrades. By now it was late morning and it started raining — a cold rain for summer here, not a torrential downpour, but a saturating rain that soaked straight through my jeans, jacket, gloves and boots.

Busy traffic and wet road conditions made for a harrowing journey home for this inexperienced rider. But at least I wasn’t riding alone.

A year ago I got into the hobby for the radios. I’ve stayed in the hobby because of the people.

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